Back to the sovereign national conference trenches

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Last year, I was invited by Lanre Idowu, of Diamond Publications, to review a book he edited, on the late Chief Anthony Enahoro.

Many issues struck me about the book and the occasion. Here was a man described as a frontline nationalist, yet not a single Nigerian from the North, was found worthy enough to contribute a chapter.

Similarly, the cast of authors was one whose viewpoints are so well known, about the Nigerian condition, that there was not a line contributed to the book, that one could not literally, recite, almost line-by-line.

The central argument running through the book, was that Nigeria was doomed, if it was not ‘restructured’; and the only means of arriving at that ‘restructuring’, to enthrone the panacea of ‘True Federalism’, is  a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) of the ‘tribes’ or ethnic groups making up Nigeria.

Of course, the leading light of the advocacy was Chief Enahoro, who argued that the Urhobo ‘state of nature’, only recognised the village, clan and tribe and its largest horizon, was the pre-eminence of the Oba of Benin.

I had argued in my review, that one of the drawbacks of the argument for SNC on the basis of ‘tribes and ethnic groups’ so forcefully canvassed by its proponents, is that it is very problematic, given the historical evolution of the many peoples making up Nigeria today.

Furthermore, that history cannot be reduced to Enahoro’s world of village, clan and tribe! The dynamics are much more complex.

Frankly, the argument for SNC on the basis of ‘tribes and ethnicities’, is an absurdity which has been canvassed by the same set of people from the 1990s.

Of course, it was a copycat idea, in the wake of the SNCs held in post-dictatorship conditions of French West Africa, from Mali through to Benin. Its Nigerian advocates vulgarised the idea and substituted the political and social forces of the original settings for ‘tribes’ in Nigeria.

The argument is then stretched further, that our Founding Fathers agreed to “True Federalism”, in the Constitutional Conferences of the 1950s. They conveniently forget to add that the Constitutional Conferences were attended by political forces; not ‘tribe.

In recent weeks, we are being corralled back into the old trenches of SNC. A choreographed campaign is taking hold of the Nigerian social space for SNC: from the gerontocrats of NADECO through to Wole Soyinka, Emeka Anyoku and younger elements, like Rauf Aregbesola, governor of Osun and of course the media ‘brigade’ of commentators. We are reminded, ad nauseaum, that SNC is the panacea to all problems that will midwife ‘True Federalism’. Boko Haram is the latest backdrop for the SNC troops to return to their trenches.

But as Simon Kolawole asked at the weekend, SNC advocates must “come out and tell us about its entire ramifications….Would it be based on states, councils, wards, ethnic groups or dialects? Would it be equal representation no matter the population of any group?

Three, how would representatives emerge-through election or selection?” I have the sneak feeling that the noisy advocates assume THEY will be representatives of their ‘tribes’; but I honestly think there are too many delusions associated with the noisy campaign for SNC, and the SNC cast has deafened us for too long with their noisy advocacy.

It strikes me that they have not carefully thought through their platform, despite the noise!

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