Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
National Confab : The South-South Perspective
culled from Daily Independent of February 8, 2005
May I premise by expressing my sincere gratitude and appreciation to the Steering Committee of the South-South Peoples Assembly for the honour done to me by the invitation to deliver one of the keynote addresses at this historic and epoch-making gathering of the leaders and peoples of the South-South Geo-political Zone of Nigeria, holding here in Yenagoa, capital of Bayelsa State of Nigeria, and the acknowledged headquarters of the Ijaw Nation.
May I also commend the Elders Council of the South-South Peoples Assembly, which, together with the Steering Committee, has been able to bring to reality this and other previous gatherings of the marginalized and long-suffering peoples of the South-South Zone of Nigeria, which in truth are actually the peoples of Nigeria now comprised in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states, as presently constituted. I have to say that the cardinal points of our dreams, hopes and aspirations, which they have so far articulated, are quite apposite, relevant and topical. Those cardinal points are the following, namely:
1. True federalism in Nigeria, with a good measure of autonomy for the federating units;
2. Resource control by the federating units in Nigeria;
3. A revenue allocation formula that recognizes the principle of derivation, with a minimum of 50 per cent to be retained or paid to the area from which the relevant natural resources are produced;
4. The convocation of a National Conference to address the foregoing and other contentious issues; and
5. The election of a worthy son or daughter of the South-South zone as the next President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
All the foregoing points are matters which are contemplated and extensively dealt with by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which has been subscribed to by the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and duly enacted as a statute in force throughout Nigeria. Accordingly, it would be uncharitable for any one to accuse us of vain and unbecoming thoughts or of any hopeless aspirations.
As had been assigned to me, I will be speaking on the topic “The National Political, Reforms Conference – A South South Perspective”. Kindly take due notice of the word “A”, which I have underlined. As a word, “A” also means “One”, and so what you are about to hear is just one South-South Perspective: on The National, Political Reforms Conference: that has been proposed, and is about to be inaugurated, by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, GCFR, President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Before I proceed, I need to make it perfectly clear that I will not be speaking as a politician, which I am not; I will not be speaking as a legal practitioner for Shell, which I am; and I will not be speaking as a legal practitioner against Agip, which I am. I will be speaking as a humble but self-respecting son of the South-South Zone of Nigeria, who, by extraction is of the Ikwerre Ethnic Nationality, from Rekpakwolusi Village, Rumuokoro in the Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State. I am only a legal practitioner, for which I am thankful to God that my training and practice as such have given to me the most useful insights into the institution of government, the administration of justice, and the maintenance and enforcement of law and order.
But I like to say that I stand for justice, that pure and undiluted river of goodness, graciousness, kindness and mercy that should flow in all our dealings with our fellow men. Not the justice of the law courts, which, invariably and from time to time, suffers from the vicissitudes of human nature. The saga of the Resource Control and Onshore/Off-Shore Dichotomy Supreme Court case is still fresh in our memories. And the matter is still in court. Let me recall the anecdote about the English Barrister who hailed a taxi cab in London, and demanded to be taken to “The Courts of Justice”. The amused cabbie looked askance at him, and, in the finest cockney accent, retorted: “You mean the Courts of Law, Right?” The moral of that story is that justice, as delivered by the courts, is always according to law, and unjust Laws and Constitutions can never produce justice as we know and want.
In these modern times, governments are instituted by constitutions and laws; human societies and nation states are ordered by such constitutions and laws, which prescribe rules and regulations in that regard, and justice is administered by institutions established for that purpose by the constitution and laws of nation states. Nigeria is such a nation state, and we all agree that we are to be governed by a constitution and laws. My assumption therefore is that the National Political Reforms Conference will be all about the constitution and laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and it is on that premise that I proceed.
The proposed National Political Reforms Conference
As we have read from widely circulated national newspapers and magazines, the proposed National Political Reforms Conference will be constituted by some three hundred and fifty four (354) or so persons, six (6) or so to be nominated by the governors of thirty-six (36) states of Nigeria, some fifty (50) or so to be nominated by the President of Nigeria, and some to be nominated by duly registered political parties, while some others are to be nominated by religions groups and some civil society organisations and associations. So far, the one very serious complaint about the constitution of the conference is about the sole right reserved by the president to nominate fifty (50) members. This is admittedly a legitimate complaint, as a solid block of fifty (50) persons, representing the President alone, if not checked, can unduly influence or undermine the decisions of the Conference in such a manner as may be detrimental to the interests, aims and aspirations of the peoples of the South-South Zone. My humble suggestion is that the President of Nigeria, as father of all Nigerians, should remain above the fray, in the manner of speaking; he should be detached from the Conference, in the manner known with statesmen; and he should remain aloof, and allow his children to deliberate on all matters, and reach such decisions as they consider to be in their best future interests.
The guidelines said to have been issued concerning the conference indicate that the following are the central elements of the reform agenda to be deliberated upon, namely:
1. Constitutional Reforms;
2. Political Party Reforms;
3. Electoral Reforms;
4. Judicial/Legal Reforms;
5. Civil Society Reforms;
6. Consultation and Consensus Building;
7. Police/Prison Reforms; and
8. Reforms of the Structure of Governance.
That is admittedly a comprehensive list, and I dare say that most, if not all, of us are happy with it, because all the areas of concern to us, and the several cardinal points articulated as crucial to our hopes and aspirations as the peoples of the South-South Zone can conveniently be tabled under those central elements.
It is pertinent to remark, however, that boldly penciled down as a No-Go Area is what has been categorized as ‘The indissolubility of the Federal Republic of Nigeria’. This is understandable, because our beloved President swore to hear true allegiance to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in accordance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and to discharge his duties always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic. But then, we all agree that, as declared in Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution now in force, “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this constitution derives all its powers and authority”. It seems to me, therefore, that if Nigeria will survive and endure as one indissoluble Federal Republic, that will be a matter for the people of Nigeria to agree upon, and such agreement can only be secured when a complete cessation is put to all forms of discrimination, unjust deprivation and marginalisation, and all other forms of injustice now being inflicted on the people of the South-South zone. And so, as some Civil Society Organisations have said, I agree with no ‘No-Go Areas’, and no limits whatsoever, should be stipulated for the conference.
Another point that has to be addressed is the legitimacy of the conference, and the need to convince all of us and the international community that the Conference will not be a waste of valuable time and resources; a charade as some prophets of doom have predicted that it will be. That is precisely why some have called for a legislative instrument to be put in place, to give legal validity to the Conference, and the necessary legitimacy and force of law to the decisions to be ultimately arrived at by the Conference. The Human Rights Violations Investigation Commission, the Oputa Commission, is still of very recent history, and it would be truly sad if we allow such a calamity as befell that Commission and all of us to befall us again. And so, my humble suggestion is that allow necessary steps be taken to put the appropriate law in place before the conference is duly inaugurated.
And then the question whether or not we should attend and participate in the conference. I say that we should attend. And experience has shown that faceless persons who have hijacked political power in Nigeria, the unseen forces that have, without our consent, forcibly purported to take control of the destiny of our nation, always manage to ensure that Nigeria continues to move on, and on. We should be there, if the Conference holds. As my grandfather used to tell me, a man who is absent when the meat of a freshly slaughtered animal is being shared, does not get any share. I commend that parable to you all.
Another reason why we must attend the Conference is that it will, hopefully, afford us another opportunity to dialogue with our fellow-Nigerians, and convince them about the justice and equity of our demands. I know as a fact, that most Nigerians have become sufficiently aware of the sorry plight of the peoples of the South-South Zone, especially the areas that have suffered so much despoliation and degradation of their natural environment as a result of the harmful effects of oil and gas exploration. I firmly believe that they too have the milk of human kindness in them, and that they will readily come and stand beside us, convinced by force of logic and superior argument that we all together can find a better way to the promised land, the Nigeria of our dreams.
Selection of representatives/delegates, etc.
The matter of selection of representatives and delegates to the Conference is one of the most crucial importance, and I must urge this distinguished assembly of the leaders and peoples of the South-South Zone to direct particular attention to the same. As indicated from the published guidelines for the conference, it is the states, not the geopolitical zones, that are to send six (6) representatives each to the Conference. Political parties, religious organisations, and civil society organisations and associations are also entitled to send determined numbers of delegates. It seems to me, therefore, that each of the states in the South-South Zone should do a thorough and painstaking job and select their best men and women for this rather crucial assignment. Square pegs for square holes and round pegs for round holes, their best eleven, for what promises to be a “World Cup football final”, in the manner of speaking. On no condition should the Conference be used as a forum for politicking by aspiring politicians and future political officer seekers. That will surely damage our prospects, as such persons are most probably likely to forget the objectives of their mission.
I am unmindful of the fact that in this day and age, “Loyalty and commitment” have become the critical acid test for the selection of our political representatives. Commendable as that may be, especially in the political arena, we must remain ever mindful of the fact that the matters to be discussed by the Conference, and the benefits to be derived therefrom, if the Conference is the success which we all hope that it will be, will transcend our narrow political interests, and the primordial sentiments of our indeterminate ethnic interests, because we are all constituted, basically, as ethnic nationalities. And the benefits to be derived from the Conference will surely outlive and outlast the present political parties and their political office holders. And so, let us ensure that the loyalty of the persons to be selected as the representatives of the states will only be to their selfless service to the governments and peoples of their respective states, and their commitment will only be to the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the South South Zone.
In this matter of loyalty and commitment, we must also be very circumspect, recognizing that at one and the same time, our representatives, just like ourselves, one and all, are not only indigenes of our various ethnic nationalities. They are also indigenes of their respective states in the South-South Zone, and also citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our representatives must therefore be men and women of wisdom and sagacity, who will quickly discern and protect those various and varying interests, if and whenever they arise. Those interests are often times in direct conflict, but they should all be ready at such critical times to cast their lots for the over-riding interest of the generality, for the common good of all of us. By so doing, the Ijaw man will protect the interest of the Ikwerre man, and so on and so forth. Yes, necessary alliances here, necessary compromises there, in the well-known spirit of give and take, with openness of mind, love and affection towards all. Bob Dylan wrote a son for PEACE in the world, in which he extolled “…the wisdom of the children, and the graceful way of flowers in the wind”, Children, as we know, are full of innocence, laughter and loveliness, and flowers gracefully bend for the mighty winds of death and destruction to pass. And so, even when we compromise, we must remain resolute and steadfast in the pursuit of our own interests. And it must never be forgotten, that before Nigeria was, each and every one of our several ethnic nationalities were here. The Almighty and Eternal God who created us, will surely not allow the winds of death and destruction to sweep us away from our lands and waters.
The South-South agenda for the conference
It seems to me that as acknowledged above, our leaders, past and present, have already marshaled the cardinal points of our own agenda for the conference, that is True Federalism, Resource Control and 50% derivation principle for revenue allocation. These points will, however, need to be further developed, even as we press for far-reaching amendments to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, so as to make meaning of the proposed reform agenda for Nigeria. May I, therefore, urge our Representatives/Delegates to the Conference to look critically at the matter of Legal Reforms, and to insist that all expropriatory constitutional provisions and statutes be expunged from the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I refer to such provisions and statutes as:-
1. Section 44(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999;
2. The Land Use Act;
3. The Petroleum Act; and
4. The Minerals Act.
Again, the matter of the development of our lands and waterways and the development of our human resources. For too long, we have battled the oil and gas producing companies in our clamour for infrastructural development, and the education, training, employment and economic empowerment of our people. It seems to me that the time has come when the matter of Corporate Social Responsibility, of the big multinational corporations,should no longer be left to the grudging generosity of members of their Boards of Directors, but should be made legal obligations, that will be unequivocally stipulated in our Laws. We cannot, and should not, continue to remain in need of roads, bridges, canals, electricity plants, and water treatment plants, or thirsty and hungry for educated and well-trained human personnel, jobs and other economic empowerment schemes, when we live in the abundance of valuable natural resources. To paraphrase Bob Marley, ‘It is only a fool who will remain thirsty in the abundance of water’.
And let me say that we have a responsibility to properly catalogue and articulate our agenda for the Conference, so that no one should be in any doubt as to our positions on all the relevant points. Witness that some of our fellow Nigerians are already meeting to articulate and present common positions on all the matters which they consider to be at stake. Let us copy their examples, and, if we can, mini-summits, at ethnic nationality, state and zonal levels, should be organized, so as to deal with that matter. And then let us proceed with unity and unison, united and undivided, as a House divided against itself cannot stand.
As I have tried to show above, the forth-coming National Political Reforms Conference is going to be very serious business, and I feel confident to predict that the deliberations and decisions of the Conference will invariably catalyze the making of a new Constitution for Nigeria, which Constitution I hope will address most, if not all, of the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of Nigeria. It is imperative, therefore, that we, the people of the states of the South-South zone of Nigeria, must fully participate in the conference, and ensure that the conference and the deliberations and decisions thereof meet our own hopes and aspirations. At the conference, our Representatives should never forget to keep on the front-burner all the issues that pertain to our hopes and aspirations for True Federalism, Resource Control, and 50% Derivation Principle for Revenue Allocation, even as we from the South-South Zone continue to pursue our dream that a son or daughter of the South-South be elected as the President of the Federal Republic.
May I now conclude, by again paying tribute, and gratitude, to all our leaders, past, present and future, and whether in or out of political office, even as I urge them all, most humbly, to unite. Yes, we have heard of polarisation among them, on grounds of politics and other such matters. This is rather very unfortunate, and most unhelpful. And, may I also appeal to them to continue to keep faith with our peoples and with our individual and collective hopes and aspirations. History and posterity will judge them with kindness, and those of them who have kept and continue to keep faith with us, and with our hopes and aspirations, will happily gain the gratifying testimony of our eternal gratitude.
And I pray that the Almighty and Eternal God may bless us all, and grant that we all, and the succeeding generations of our people, may continue to enjoy the immense and immeasurable benefits to be derived from our richly endowed lands and waters.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.