Sovereign National Conference – A Historical Imperative for National Survival and Regeneration – Late Dr. Sulaiman Kumo

Clearly, Nigeria must be the most over-governed (and the most poorly managed) country in the world today. And the conclusion must surely be unavoidable that, the only advantages derivable from the current arrangement accrue almost in their entirety to the various personnel operating the system and their confederates. The masses have been totally disinherited and cannot even be assured of general security and “law and order.”


 1.  The issue of redesigning and restructuring Nigeria has been a subject of `political disquisition throughout the country for well over a decade. And it has lately acquired a new vigour and vitality, and has now become the central issue dominating both the political terrain and the people’s minds. It   has indeed also become an issue upon which must depend any process of pulling the country from the current perilous brink, and putting it back upon the rails, to move it forward. The issue does not seem likely to either “fizzle out” or run away, nor be swept under the carpet any more. The sensible thing to do, it seems to me, is to bring it to the fore and look it squarely in the face, and approach it from the angle of principle rather than political opportunism or expediency. And, on this assumption, the best way to go about it is, perhaps, first to remember our political history (as a country) which began less than half a century ago, when our founding fathers, after a great deal of consultations and deliberations and after taking account of most  relevant factors of the country’s “facts of life”, decided on a federal republic under a parliamentary system of government. But the First Republic collapsed for a number of reasons – the most important, it is submitted, being the failure (or refusal) of its political leaders to accept (and operate under), the exacting conditions demanded by democracy. The military, which took over, redesigned and restructured the country (in the military’s own image) into virtually a unitary system with which we have since been saddled. And for a variety of reasons, which again include the refusal of the current political office holder to abide by the rules of democracy, the system is collapsing before our very eyes, by installments. What is more, there are clear, palpable signs that the country is headed towards disaster if it continues along the path it is now being led. We must, secondly, bear in mind the fact that we are a “plural” society where differences, irreconcilable differences, of “world view” among different groups exist. Any attempt to force uniformity on such an unalterable diversity would only lead to unacceptable consequences. This fact must be recognized and appropriately     accommodated in any restructuring and redesigning of the country.  Finally,     we must bear in mind that under the existing system of thirty six states, and perhaps a thousand or more local governments, the economic cost to the  people, of carrying the heavy burden of this grotesque caricature of a “federation” currently operating in the country, must be unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Clearly, Nigeria must be the most over-governed     (and the most poorly managed) country in the world today. And the     conclusion must surely be unavoidable that, the only advantages derivable from the current arrangement accrue almost in their entirety to the various personnel operating the system and their confederates. The masses have been totally disinherited and cannot even be assured of general security and “law and order.”

2.    In view of the foregoing, it seems clear that Nigeria is in urgent need of redesigning and restructuring into a federal and democratic Republic. Nigeria    can only thrive and prosper, as a single corporate entity, if its political leaders accept these two basic principles – of a federal system operated under a true democracy, with all its exacting standards, rather than the current so called democracy of official make-believe. It has to be a federation composed of viable federating units, a federation in which the Federal Government is given a few specifically enumerated important powers and functions, with the     federating units keeping all the residual powers and functions. In other words, the minimum position should be to revert to the 1963 constitutional     arrangements, with such modifications as may be necessary, desirable or expedient, in order to streamline the system and ensure its operational    efficacy, taking into account changing times and changing circumstances of the country.

3.    In dealing with the issue of the composition of the proposed new “federating units” it is necessary to ensure that all relevant factors and all relevant     considerations (such as the wishes of the people, communal homogeneity, and contiguity etc) are taken into account in the process. Thus, for example,   within the Northern Region of the 1963 Constitution, there may be areas which may demand a separate existence of their own and insist on the    “excision” of a “Middle Belt Region” from the North. This may be due either to  their desire to insist on striking their own separate identity, or because they feel marginalized”, or because they perceive some economic advantages in going their separate way. Each of these may be a valid reason for their demand (and there may be other equally valid reasons), and it would be difficult to justify opposing such a demand and nobody should try to oppose it. However, it is of equal importance to ascertain which parts of the proposed area actually wish to opt out of the North and which, if any, prefer to remain within the North. And both these preferences have to be accommodated within the limits of feasibility, on a local government by local government basis.

4.    In order to realize the above proposals, (i.e. the restructuring of Nigeria , a   demand that now seems almost universally accepted throughout the country), Nigeria must go through a National Conference – actually a “Sovereign National Conference” – which really ought to be organized very soon. But the question is, how can this be done? It is of course conceivable     that the present Obasanjo regime, which, for at least the last two years, has been inundated with this request almost on a daily basis, could achieve such feat; but it is, to say the least, improbable. What is more, there is no legal machinery for doing so under the 1999 Constitution. Of course there are provisions for constitutional changes, but not for convocation of the type of the Sovereign National Conference we are talking about. And in any case, we all know the whole of the current machinery of government, as well as the “Constitutional” edifice it purports to rest upon, have no legitimacy. Therefore the only way for Nigeria to move forward, is for the current regime to step aside, and be replaced within an Interim National or Transitional Government which should be given a limited period and a specific assignment. The period should not exceed one  or two years, and the assignment (in addition to holding the reins of government) should not go beyond organizing the S.N.C., implementing its   decisions and then conducting elections, to the winners of which power should be handed over.

5.    In order to ensure legitimacy and acceptability for the S.N.C., the composition of its membership must be based on at least 95% preponderance of elected representatives. And the decisions of the S.N.C. have to be put to the people for their approval in a referendum.

6.    We have already stated, in another contribution, what our hopes and expectations are, for the North, if it were to be reconstituted into one political unit, competently and efficiently managed, with its God-given resources properly husbanded and judiciously applied for the greatest good of all the people of the North. It is perhaps needless to add that we are envisaging the     North as an integral part of, and a leading player in, the Federal Republic of    Nigeria . We are not proposing secession from, or the disintegration of, Nigeria . We are only insisting that Nigeria has to be a democratic Federal Republic both in name and in actual fact. And it is common knowledge that this is actually what the majority of Nigerians want. The only exception has always been some members of the Northern elite – perhaps a large number of them. But it now seems that even the members of this group are    beginning to appreciate the untenability of their position. Because of this, it    seems to me that the appropriate thing for us to do now in this Workshop is:

a.    to try to outline what ought to be the North’s position on at least those issues the resolution of which is crucial to the success of the S.N.C – issues which are bound to claim a great deal of time and attention of both the “Conveners” of the Conference and “we the people of Nigeria”.

b.    to suggest some specific proposals on how to restructure the country including what should be the fate of the present states and local governments – at least in the North; and

c.    to show how the Northern economy can be transformed into a strong, buoyant, self reliant, diversified and expanding, and above all, securing the full participation of all the people in both its development and its benefits and its “dividends”.

7On the basis of the foregoing, the first question to ask is, which are the most     crucial issues which must primarily engage national attention? I would respectfully submit as follows: first, who is to convoke the Conference; second the mode of representation on, and the size of, the Conference; third   what should its remit be; and fourth, how are its decisions to be    implemented? We must suggest answers to these questions, and our suggested answers must be such as to command national acceptance and have national consensus behind them. This is necessary because unless there is a reasonably broad-based consensus backing the answers to these  questions, the Conference would be a futile exercise.

8. Now, my suggested answer to the first question is that, it is the Interim    Government which has to convene the Conference.  For, were the leaders of any group or groups such as “ethnic nationalities” or students’ unions (or even AASU) or the so-called NLC or “market women”, etc or even the CNPP (the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties) or the N.U.D. (Nigerians    United for Democracy) to convene the “Conference” such a move would only work towards producing a manifesto, but could achieve nothing else. So, the     Conference, to be worthwhile, can only be convened and organized by the Federal Government of the day and by nobody else.

9.    As for the second question, my suggestion is that, in order to be efficacious, the size of the Conference should not exceed the size of the Federal    House of Representatives. And its composition should be at least95%   democratic, that is to say directly elected, with not more than 5% appointed by the Government to represent interests which deserve to be represented, but which can not obtain representation through the electoral process. This proposal would rule out any possible use of such undemocratic and implausible criteria as “ethnic nationalities”, or tribal or labour or student unions etc, as a basis of participation in the Conference. It would also rule out the possibility of a Conference “packed” by Government (rather than peoples’) representatives.

10. As for the third question, the assignment of the S.N.C should be to deliberate, and submit proposals, on the following:

a.    the issue of political restructuring of Nigeria into a proper federal system based on viable, and credible, federating units (let us call them Regions)

b.    the division of powers and functions between the Federation on the one hand and the Regions on the other;

c.    whether we should revert to the parliamentary system, or whether we should adopt another system, or a hybridization of some system;

d.    How do we get an effective police force and under which authority should it be.

11. As for the fourth issue, the decision of the Conference should be put to the  electorate in a referendum. If at least 51% of the voters approve  them, then    the Interim Government must set the machinery in motion     to give effect to the Conference decisions.  The Interim Government has to implement the conference decisions and then conduct proper free-and-fair elections before handing over power.

12. Next, after the aforementioned issues, which should be settled even before the actual convocation of the Conference, there are two other issues which are bound to be crucial in the work of the Conference itself:  

(a) if restructuring is accepted, how many Regions units are to be created and how are they to be demarcated’

(b) which functions should go to the Federation and which to the Regions; and

(c) how is a new “revenue allocation formula” to be worked out so as to give the “derivation” principle adequate recognition in order to deal with the issue of the so-called “resource control”?

13.     First of all the issue of the number and composition of the federating units and    the functions and powers to be reserved to the Federation [12 (a) above] I would  submit that we revert to the 1963 arrangement – subject only, as suggested above, to the creation of the  Middle Belt from the former Northern Region if this is requested.

14.     As for the fate of the existing states and local governments, my proposal would be to convert the present states into Provincial Governments,     which  should be given all the functions of the present local governments as well as     the function of providing basic social services, such as primary and    secondary education, primary health care delivery services,    some aspects of agricultural extension and rural  development. And the present local governments should be replaced with a system of a large number of    “development areas” which should be local agencies for local   development  for both the Regional and Provincial      Governments.

15.     The next issue [12(c)] above about the formula for sharing revenues derived from the country’s mineral resources is bound to be a hotly contested issue – since it is still the petroleum resources located in the Niger Delta which are the main national revenue earner. Accordingly, a request for a reasonable share of these revenues to be allocated to the Region where the resources are located (i.e. the South-South) would be quite understandable, proper and just. But to request total “resource control” should be totality rejected. The best arrangement in this matter is for us to accept that the derivation principle must be recognized by allocating up to 25% of all the on-shore earnings to the Region where the resources are located.

16.     There are two matters among the issues which the S.N.C has to deal with, which we have not touched upon. These are: whether we should revert to the parliamentary

[or adopt another]

system and how to get an effective police force and under which authority should it be? As for the system, my suggestion would be to revert to the parliamentary system and jettison the current one. It seems to me clear that the current system is more suited to a military regime because of its encouragement of dictatorial proclivities within its operators and its apparatchik. It is a system which concentrates too much power in a few unrepresentative (and often incompetent) hands, and it is a system under which the principal operators are answerable to nobody and are removable by nobody whatever they may do that may warrant their removal.  We must bear in mind that this is actually the case inspire of the cynical provisions for “recall” and “impeachment” in the Constitution.

17.     As for the police, the best approach seems to me to be provincial police forces, recruited locally, trained nationally and even internationally and deployed locally. Nigeria needs a police force that comes from the people and works for the people defending them against criminals and not operating as an adjunct of an occupation army. Such a force must be competent in the basic police functions of crime prevention and detection. And must therefore have vast knowledge of its operational area and an in-depth and a long standing acquaintance with the totality of their environment. This is only feasible with a locally recruited and locally deployed police force. There should also be a Federal police force which should be few in numbers but highly trained and competent. Its duty should be confined to national and international categories of police work, sophisticated crimes and similar matters.

18.     Finally, how do we organize and get the proposals coming from this Workshop, to be accepted by the North and eventually gain acceptance at the Conference? My view is that first we must try to get a substantial Northern Nigeria-wide support for them, and thence we must join hands with the many other groups engaged in the business of trying to actualize the S.N.C. and the restructuring of the country and we must, thereafter,  try to get a majority of right thinking people representing the North at the S.N.C.


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