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Setting Agenda for the National Conference

WE WELCOME the Federal Government's decision to set up The National Conference to enable Nigerians to come together and discuss the way forward. We believe it is a right step in the right direction. This Conference could not have come at a better time.
The conception of The National Conference is a fulfilment of the yearning of not a few Nigerians over the years. There has been a yearning for Nigerians representing different ethnic nationalities to come together to discuss the modus vivendi, a practical arrangement, by which plural Nigeria can continue to live together as a united country. Today, the fact that Nigeria is not a nation is blamed on the disparate congeries of ethnic nationalities of the Nigerian State. We are persuaded that the different ethnic backgrounds are not a viable excuse for our inability to forge a nation since the attainment of independence some 53 years ago. It is fatally easy to forget that the United States of America which is a quintessential nation is a potpourri of ethnic nationalities from all over the world. But everybody in the US is incurably patriotic; holding the American dream aloft and idolizing the US flag. Why is Nigeria's case different?
As a federation, Nigeria requires a federal constitution to bind the different ethnic nationalities together, but what we have today, sadly, is a military or quasi-military constitution, an amalgam of rank inconsistencies: federalism and unitarism (see the bloated Exclusive and Concurrent Legislative Lists), secularism and theocracy (see sections 10 and 275 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)), democracy and authoritarianism (see section 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution), etc. The faulty structure we operate presently is the direct result of our slip from federalism at independence into unitarism today. For example, the Exclusive Legislative List in the 1999 Constitution has 68 items, in contradistinction to the Independence (1960) and the Republican (1963) Constitutions, which had between 15 and 18 items. The Concurrent Legislative list in the 1999 Constitution has 30 items, fifty percent of which are categorized as exclusive legislative items. Other inconsistencies in the Constitution are numerous. For example, section 10 of the Constitution makes Nigeria a secular state whereas section 275 of the same Constitution makes Nigeria a theocratic state. The very first amendment of the US Constitution (1781) distanced the governments of the US from religion.
Next, in a true federation, such as the United States or Canada, there is always a Residual List, the unstated items in which belong to the federating units, not to the central government. That makes the states more than a trifle more powerful than the centre. But in the Nigerian federation, what we have is unwieldy centripetality rather than centrifugality (a strong centre instead of a weak centre). This explains why all road in Nigeria leads to the Nigerian Rome, Abuja, to which all the  Governors of the federating units travel at the end of every month, cap-in-hand, to collect doles from the Federation Account under Section  162 of the Constitution. We have an alternative to costly presidential system: the parliamentary system. Should we have a unified police force in a federal set-up?
The foregoing and several other problems militating against the socio-economic development of Nigeria constitute the mischief that the National Conference has been designed to cure. It is worthy of note that in spite of the several constitutional amendments by the National Assembly, that document is nothing near what we need as a nation.
Majority of Nigerians are looking forward to a federation and its concomitant true federalism, not a cross between a federation, a pseudo-federation and a unitary state. We are also persuaded that this is the only way this country can achieve appreciable level of economic growth. A cursory reading of the President address to the Conference would reveal that he, like other Nigerians, expects every member of the Conference to relegate self, ethnicity, politics and religion to a subaltern background while Conference lasts in the interest of national unity and progress.
Nigerians are still being hunted by the ghosts of former summits like this one, hence there is a feeling of déjà-vu, especially after such meetings in 1978, 1995 and 2005 failed to produce any positive result. We do not want this to be another talk-shop, or a jamboree for political strange bed- fellows to congregate and plan for 2015. To avoid this pass, the Conference should plumb for a simple majority or at most two-thirds majority as its voting pattern, which dovetails into section 9 of the 1999 Constitution. Nigerians expect that at the end of the Conference, the foundation for a people's Constitution, embodying renegotiated terms and conditions on which the diverse ethnic groups comprising Nigeria, can live together in peace, security, progress, prosperity, general well being and unity as one country under a common central government, would have been laid.

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