The Right To
culled from GUARDIAN, February 27, 2004
As I write this piece the national political reforms
conference has taken off. Even though I am not a nominee or delegate I am like
every other informed and concerned Nigerian a participant. That is my
inalienable right as a citizen of Nigeria by birth.
The 1999 constitution which is up to date is the supreme law of the land. Its
section 30 deprives the President of Nigeria of the power to revoke my
citizenship even if I by act or speech show disloyalty towards the Federal
Republic of Nigeria. Chapter IV titled Fundamental Rights, in the same
constitution gives me a whole range of freedoms to express myself and to
assemble with whomever I please. In short as a Nigerian citizen I am free to
talk nonsense subject to the laws of treason, sedition, libel, slander etc.
There is therefore no need for my state governor to nominate me before I can
have my say. The only difference between those nominated and myself is that they
will live in Abuja at government expense whilst making their individual
contributions to the dialogue, whilst I will remain in Lagos at my own expense
but still make my contribution. Nigerians must not unnecessarily be concerned
with the fact that most of us were not nominated. Those who lobbied to be
nominated would soon regret it if they had no agenda than personal
aggrandisement. The proceedings will obviously be open to the public and widely
reported in the media. Strong emotions have been aroused and a nominee who has
no plan to present strongly and passionately the views of his people will soon
be exposed and be forced to seek permanent lodging in Abuja after the
In sum those not nominated can still talk but will not eat chicken at
government expense or ride air conditioned government-provided cars or sleep in
government-provided hotel rooms whilst talking. For those who have not thought
about it that is exactly what the PRONACO version of a national conference will
be like. The delegates will be free to talk nonsense if they want but at their
own expense. There is therefore no need to go to court to establish PRONACO's
right to hold a conference and certainly government has no right to try to deny
those who want to talk at their own expense, that opinion. Of the two talks one
will be more credible to Nigerians than the other and that assessment is
dependent on those who talked, what they talked about and their conclusions.
It is evident that a good number of the nominees to this national conference
have passed the age of adventure. But I see much sense in the theory that age
and experience are indispensable in today's exercise. Most of those who took
part in those exciting days between 1946 to 1960 were below 40 years of age.
Most attained pre-eminence and high public office with no previous experience or
It is arguable that the mistakes of that era, are the foundation of our
present predicament as a nation. On the other hand it is necessary to have a
balance in the age question so as not to defeat the main objective which
hopefully is to re-create a Nigeria whose institutions are not only based on
fair play, justice and equity but relevant to the new millennium. Regrettably
the list of nominees fails in this regard offering instead a few relatively
young political jobbers as a palliative.
In a situation where majority of the nominees are rated conservative to
moderate, the absence of young activists will mean an unchallenged
pre-disposition of debaters to rely on old but now discredited principles in
nation building. The exercise in any case is not merely a constitution drafting
exercise. The drafting or amendment of the constitution is in fact the last
element in the process of re-constructing the country. The real event is the
opportunity for aggrieved people to make a case for redress. Unlike mere
constitution making which inevitably has been a phenomenon of class, dialogue
about structural adjustment concerns all-rich and poor.
That is why only a person actively involved in the agitation and struggle of
a people can legitimately and passionately present a case at a national
conference. It is not just any uninvolved Ogoni man living in Lagos that can go
and make a case for the Ogoni at this conference. Nor can any person not
involved these past years in one way or another in the struggle of the Anioma
people adequately press for and make a case for the Anioma at the National
conference. That is why it is disquieting that most of the nominees are not of
this mould, passionate activists, instead there is profusion of establishment
figures of advanced years who instinctively cannot support anything that will
disturb the status quo.
More importantly dialogue means the one talking, the other listening before
taking his turn to talk. Thus if the Ogoni nominee or Anioma nominee takes the
floor to make his case all must listen and debate the merits of the case, weigh
the case against other interests, and finally a vast patchwork of compromises
and adjustments is created. Anything else is a series of monologues. If any of
the peoples that constitute Nigeria go to Abuja with entrenched positions then
they have gone either to harangue, threaten or blackmail other people into
submission to their will. Fiscal federalism in a dialogue cannot be a
confrontation to the death between supporters of a strong centre and supporters
of strong states and a weak centre.
Resource control in a dialogue cannot mean that the south-south will rather
drink their oil than allow a kobo earned from the oil to be spent anywhere else
in Nigeria, nor can it mean that the rest of Nigeria must continue looting the
resources of the Niger Delta care less of the needs of those whose homeland and
livelihood is disrupted. Dialogue cannot mean that the concept of power shift
ends with the presidency.
Above all this conference is an opportunity for historical revisionists to be
put to shame once and for all. It is because of the lies told by self-interested
persons who happen to transiently occupy high public office that the Igbo have
continued to be denied full re-integration. It is because of lies liberally
sprinkled that for a long time the world did not know of the extent of
environmental degradation in the Niger-Delta, lies are the foundation of the
belief that all Northerners have enjoyed unfairly for so long the benefits of
ruling Nigeria when in fact the poorest and most deprived Nigerians live up
north because it was really a relatively small cabal who actually enjoyed the
benefits of political power.
In sum, the conferencees after three months of eating government chicken are
not expected to come up with a salad of vague ideas and concepts. We expect
rather a definitive position on fiscal Federalism, underscored by immutable
checks and balances to prevent looting of the treasury by any of the tiers of
government. By looting I mean irresponsible and mindless wastage made possible
by the apparent inability to control state governors for instance. We expect on
resource control a just solution consistent with fair play and equity.
The fact that the oil is found in the south-south a minority zone is no
reason why the rape of their environment should be compounded by making the
people beg for a fair share of the returns from the exploitation of oil.
Off-shore on-shore oil is blatant nonsense and the first order of business ought
to be to consign this pernicious concept to the dustbin. It is obvious that
fiscal federalism is related to resource control, advocates of a strong centre
are opponents of resource control. The more resources the centre controls the
stronger the federal government is vis-ˆ-vis the state governments.
We expect a definitive pronouncement on the question of power shift. A
settlement of the question whether it is a North -South matter or a six zonal
equation. Above all equity demands that it be applicable to all the tiers of
government down to the local government level. All the above are just some of
the many questions the conference will have to address. Their answers and final
outcome will determine whether there will be any need for more talks about this
country in the near future. In other words PRONACO's continued existence and
relevance is dependent on the outcome of the national political reforms
*Agbamuche is the Owelle of Akwukwu-Igbo and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.