The primary duty of the Sovereign National Conference is to address and find solutions to the key problems afflicting Nigeria since 1914 to date. The concern is to remove all obstacles which have prevented the country from establishing political justice, economic justice, social justice, cultural justice, religious justice and to construct a new constitutional frame-work in terms of the system of government-structurally, politically economically, socially, culturally and religiously.
Chief Gani Fawehinmi (2000)
Openmind Foundation is about Education, Empowerment and Change. Out of frustration over the state of Nigeria in terms of poverty, slow/lack of solid human development, terror, corruption and disunity, etc., some Nigerians have attributed these conditions to a faulty country foundation. “The foundation of this country was built upon dishonesty, corruption, selfishness, tribalism and all evil. We need to visit our foundation again, destroy every evil brick, rebuild with love and respect for one another, integrity of the heart, sacrificial living, love for our father land,” COMETI, a blogger, argues. She is not alone in that view. The intensified activities of Boko Haram since the election of President Jonathan Goodluck, is reminding many, once again, of Nigeria’s ugly past, and culminating in growing/renewed calls for Sovereign National Conference (SNC). The purpose of this article is to provide readers with information on the history and purpose of Sovereign National Conference. It is only through reliable information that quality decisions about Nigeria’s future can be made. We will crown the discussion with a reproduction of the text of a speech delivered in March 2000 by late Chief Gani Fawehinmi at a Press Conference in Lagos. The speech is entitled, “A call for genuine Sovereign National Conference, an alternative to chaos, catastrophe and disintegration”.
The Governor General of Nigeria between 1920 – 31 , Sir Hugh Clifford, described Nigeria as “a collection of independent Native States, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers.” (Nigeria Council Debate. Lagos, 1920). This description captures the problems of today’s Nigeria vividly. The ill-faithed Ad Hoc Constitutional Conference, which got dismissed by Lt. Col. Gowon on November 30, 1966, can arguably be considered the start of demands for a Sovereign National Conference. Describing the purpose of SNC, Theophilus Emiowele Osezua wrote:
The Sovereign National Conference will give ethnic nationalities an opportunity to examine the questions that have made Nigeria such a disaster and come up with some answers such as the right of every nationality to have greater control over their resources.
The above explanation might sound somewhat selfish, discriminatory and divisive. Therefore, it is not surprising that Dr Ramsom-Kuti, the former Director of the Centre for Constitutional Governance, argued that “to push home the meaning of SNC, an understanding of the history of Nigeria is crucial”. In support of the statement, he wrote:
Long before 1914 when Nigeria was amalgamated, the present space was not a void. People, empires and modes of production existed. The far North was ruled by Hausa Habes which was the home of many tribes, Hausa Magajiya, Abyssinian or of coptic stock. From 900 to 1500 AD. The Hausaland was besieged by political forces from Bornu, the Berbes, Tuyaregs and Arabs. The most formidable was the 1804 Jihad which swept the Habeland, imposed an oligarchy, seized the people and the land until the advent of British rule. The Yorubaland had the Oyo empire which triumphed until about 200 years ago, we also have the Bachama, Birom, Angas, Tiv, Kaje, Nupe, Ijaw, Igbo and numerous others. The merging of the Southern and Northern protectorates in 1914 was accidental so also was the name, Nigeria given to its people. It is important to say that British rule was not forged on negotiations with Nigerians, but negotiations with ethnic nationalities. So also there was no “Nigerian position,” but ethnic nationality positions. The 1960 independence, to our knowledge, was preceded by a curious finding conducted by Henry Willink supported by Gordon Hardow, Philip Mason, and JB Shearer which compiled a report on July 30 1958 now known as the Willink Commission of Enquiry. I advise the senators to read carefully the various positions of nationalities visited by the British agents in compiling their reports. It is of note that every nationality in the space called Nigeria had a position and there was not and will never be a ‘Nigerian position’ except that imposed by the few people in power (www.nigerdeltacongress.com).
This position is shared in a published academic work by Major Abubakar A. Atofarati, student, US Marine Command and Staff College (1991/92). He wrote:
The Federation of Nigeria, as it is known today, has never really been one homogeneous country, for its widely differing peoples and tribes. This obvious fact notwithstanding, the former colonial master decided to keep the country one in order to effectively control her vital resources for their economic interests. Thus, for administrative convenience the Northern and Southern Nigeria were amalgamated in 1914. Thereafter the only thing this people had in common was the name of their country since each side had different administrative set – up. This alone was an insufficient basis for true unity. Under normal circumstances the amalgamation ought to have brought the various peoples together and provided a firm basis for the arduous task of establishing closer cultural, social, religious, and linguistic ties vital for true unity among the people. There was division, hatred, unhealthy rivalry, and pronounced disparity in development” (http://www.africamasterweb.com/BiafranWarCauses.html).
Perhaps you are beginning to appreciate the position of those who claim that the foundation of Nigeria was built upon dishonesty, corruption and selfishness, and consequently demands comprehensive and all inclusive re-engineering. The late human rights activist and lawyer, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, stressed the importance and urgency of SNC in a Press Conference on March 22, 2000. He lost his battle with cancer on September 5, 2009 and is greatly remembered for his human rights activities. In reproducing his 2000 speech, we are honouring him and his work. The full text of the speech now follows.
A Call For Genuine Sovereign National Conference, An Alternative to Chaos, Catastrophe and Disintegration
Chief Gani Fawehinmi
Chairman, National Conscience Party (NCP)
The root cause of our national tragedies is the fundamental defects that have always afflicted the process of determining every constitutional frame-work of the polity. Our constitutional arrangements since 1914 to date (2000) have never truly reflected the political, economic, social, cultural and religious realities of the country.
Above all, the people of the country have never had the opportunity to make inputs into, accept or reject any constitutional frame-work through a referendum. Consequently, the masses of our people have always been treated as aliens in all constitutional processes from 1914 to 1999 as all constitutional flame-works have always been imposed on them whether or not they like them. Principled policies of governments, loss of moral sensitivity.
SNC As Solution to Grievances
There are so many grievances and accusations against Nigeria and by Nigerians which the Sovereign National Conference must consider and resolve with the sole objective of designing a new Constitution (the Peoples’ Constitution) for the country which will cast into extinction all the evil tendencies which have conspired to make Nigeria’ a virtual ‘ghost’ country, deeply and invidiously polarised in all directions since 1914 to date and more seriously since January 15, 1966. We must pull Nigeria back from the brink and from the precipice with a Constitution made democratically by Nigerians through the SNC and affirmed in a referendum by Nigerians. The alternative to this path of sanity is to continue disastrously to pretend that pious political preaching, posturing and exhortations and the use of governmental power of brute force will contain the mounting crises. They will not. It is time to call a spade a spade and face the reality of our fate squarely, sincerely and courageously, so as to prevent a disintegration of the country.
The Sovereign National Conference being advocated is to rebuild this single sovereign nation from its collapsing foundation, not to tear the country into several sovereign nations. If we don’t, I shudder to think of the catastrophic consequences to the very existence of the country and its horrible effects on the black race, Black Africa and the world at large.
Let us move away from the brink. The answer is the Sovereign National Conference. We must prevent the experiences of Rwanda, Burundi, Srilanka, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia from happening in Nigeria.
The only opportunity we have to do this is the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference. We need to talk, talk and talk ourselves to true peace, genuine justice and appropriate peoples’ Constitution in which all Nigerians will find a fulfilment of their hopes and aspirations and unshaken guarantee of peace, stability and prosperity.
How To Convoke A Sovereign National Conference
The Sovereign National Conference, which is the only option left to save this country from sliding into disintegration, must be convoked as quickly as possible.
The Sovereign National Conference is not to govern the country but to find solutions to all the problems that afflict the polity. All the governments under the present constitutional dispensation should be preliminarily involved in the process of convoking a Sovereign National Conference. Consequently, the President of Nigeria, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of House of Representatives, all the thirty-six (36) Governors of the states of the Federation and the thirty-six (36) Speakers of the thirty-six (36) state Assemblies must quickly meet jointly to set up the Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee . The National and State Assemblies should promulgate laws in support of the SNC so that fresh elections are held at the expiration of the tenure of the existing Government in year 2003 on the basis of the Constitution that will be drawn up by the SNC and subjected to a referendum of the people.
Composition of Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee
We recommend that the Planning Committee should comprise 50 members-25 officially selected and 25 non-officials who will be selected across the country based on their track records of patriotism, honesty, integrity, hard work, and ability. The Chief Justice of Nigeria will swear this committee into office as members of the Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee.
Duties of the Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee:
The SNC Planning Committee should be mandated to: (a) Conduct elections in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), into the Sovereign National Conference. (b) Determine the venue of the Conference. (c) Ensure the full inauguration Conference.
Composition of Sovereign National Conference
(a) We must use what we have to achieve what we want. By virtue of section 3(6) of the 1999 Constitution, there are seven hundred and seventy four (774) local governments in Nigeria. Each local government area will elect a member into the Sovereign National Conference. But such election must not be on party basis.
(b) There are important interest groups which cannot be involved in the election at local government level but whose views could be of paramount importance in the resolution of grievances that could come before the Conference. These groups include: The Judiciary, the Army, the Navy, the Airforce, the Police, the Customs, the Prisons, the Immigration, interest groups, professional and trade associations such as those of Teachers at all levels of educational system; Lawyers; Medical Doctors; Pharmacists; Nurses; Engineers; Sociologists; Political Scientists; Administrators; Secretaries; Accountants; Bankers; Architects; Quantity Surveyors; Journalists; Students; Farmers; Market women and petty traders; Artisans; Organized Labour; Employers; Chambers of Commerce and Industry; Women; Religious bodies including Christians, Moslems and Traditional worshippers; Civil Servants at local, state and Federal levels; Human Rights Community and pro-democracy organizations; Ethnic organizations fighting for self-determination; and Traditional Rulers, etc. Each of these groups will in its respective organization elect representatives to the Sovereign National Conference based on its numerical strength. The modalities for doing this can be easily worked out by the Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee.
SNC Not just An Assembly of Nationalities
The import of the recommended composition of the SNC above is that the SNC should not be conceived solely as an assembly of nationalities. Multiple nationality is just one of the realities of Nigeria as a plural society. Other realities of Nigeria such as religious differences, social stratification, gender subjugation, professional and economic interests must also be considered.
Observer Status At the Sovereign National Conference
Observer status should also be given to international bodies such as the UNO, OAU, ECOWAS, EU, Commonwealth, National and International Human Rights and Media Bodies, etc.
Function Of The Sovereign National Conference Primary Function:
The primary duty of the Sovereign National Conference is to address and find solutions to the key problems afflicting Nigeria since 1914 to date. The concern is to remove all obstacles which have prevented the country from establishing political justice, economic justice, social justice, cultural justice, religious justice and to construct a new constitutional frame-work in terms of the system of government-structurally, politically economically, socially, culturally and religiously. Furthermore, the conference is to receive and deliberate upon all grievances and whether contained in memoranda or letter from individuals or groups within and outside Nigeria. The Sovereign National Conference will be enjoined to discuss and deliberate on everything under the sun with regards to Nigeria and how to preserve the country in which Nigerians will have fulfilment of their hopes and aspirations. In other words, a Nigeria where every ethnic group will find succour; and where the masses, the neglected, the persecuted, the deprived and the cheated will find solace. In short, the Sovereign National Conference is to rebuild the country called Nigeria from scratch and to establish a new constitutional structure for a new Nigeria.
The Constitution made by the people’ Sovereign National Conference will be subjected to the people’s referendum for the first time in the history of Nigeria.
It is perhaps imperative to stress that contrary to the conception of some new organizations and individuals who have just woken up to appreciate the necessity of the SNC, the work of the SNC should not be limited to political restructuring based on ethnic factors. A key concern of the SNC is economic restructuring.
The SNC should discuss and resolve the character and nature of the economic system that can ensure sustained improvement in the material lives of the ordinary people. The SNC should be concerned with establishing an economic system that will guarantee economic rights of Nigerians, whether rich or poor.
The ordinary people must enjoy the right to work or unemployment allowance in the absence of jobs, cost-free housing, education, health, water, electricity, etc. In a restructured polity, access to social services by the masses should he regarded as fundamental rights. An obligation ought to be imposed on all levels of government to provide social services such that citizens constitutionally, legally and politically can challenge the government in the event of non-provision. If the provision of social services is made to the the constitutional responsibility of all tiers of government, then national resources will be utilized meaningfully in the interest of the larger society. Accountability of government to the people will equally be promoted because governance will acquire a focused and definitive character. When a government has so many constitutional responsibilities and the people are aware of their constitutional rights and are prepared to fight for them legally and politically, looting, stealing, misappropriation of public resources will be minimized if not eliminated.
Relationship of Sovereign National Conference To The Present Constitutional Dispensation
The Sovereign National Conference is not to govern the country. It is to find solutions to the problems of the country. It will therefore not interfere with the governance of the country at the Federal level, in the States and at the Local Governments. Those to govern the country have been elected in 1998/1999 to do so for 4 years and their tenure will end in the year 2003.
Those elected on December 5, 1998 to the Local Governments, on January 9, 1999, to the States and on February 13 and 27 to the centre are now functioning within the confines of a fundamentally defective constitutional arrangement, which was made on the 5th of May 1999 after their elections. Since the military- imposed 1999 Constitution is fundamentally defective and is incapable of satisfying the aspirations of the people, there is a need for a democratically drawn up Constitution through the SNC. The existing Constitution has proved incapable of containing national chaos and steady decline into catastrophic and bloody disintegration in which the teeming poor masses will bear the brunt while the rich many of whom have looted public treasury will find succour and solace in foreign countries. It would be foolhardy to want to protect such a Constitution. It is in the interest of democracy, in order to avert the impending disaster that a new Constitution be drawn up through a mass participatory process.
Our humble contribution contained in the text of this Press Conference should not he miss-understood. Our major concern is to draw public attention to the urgent need for a SNC. Our viewpoints here are mere suggestions rather than a rigid and unchangeable blueprint. Though some other forces equally make demands for SNC, none has given thought to the practical way of setting it in motion and explaining the relationship to the existing power structure.
We hope that the ideas in this publication will spur the relevant organs of Government to take necessary action if they are genuinely interested in taking Nigeria forward positively in the interest of the masses. Public officials who are committed to the principles of democracy, justice and freedoms for our people should not feel threatened by the convocation of the SNC. It is either we allow the SNC to peacefully save Nigeria or Nigeria may be no more on the long run. Though the initiative to convoke the SNC has been placed on the shoulders of the existing government, organisations of the civil society have a responsibility. The ruling classes hardly take an action in the interest of the larger society without the pressure of the masses from below. We therefore hope that this publication will motivate other organisations in the civil society to intensify the pressure for the convocation of the SNC”.
The information about SNC is now in your hands. What you do with it is your human right, as long as it doesn’t infringe other citizens’ human right.