Oct 5, 2013

Nigeria's Big Vote

Vote Second Tenure or Sovereign National Conference

By Yiro Abari

Currency showing diversity 

On October 1st, 2013, Nigeria marked its 53rd independence anniversary. As is the tradition, The President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, gave a speech, relayed live on radio and television. President Jonathan gave a traditional speech that often downplayed the shortcomings of the nation and played up its successes. Also, the speech was loaded with eulogy for ordinary people.  One thing was exotic in the speech though: the President touched on one of the most sensitive topics in Nigeria: the Sovereign National Conference. The President said he was setting up a committee to work towards the possibility of convening a Sovereign National Conference. The question of a Sovereign National Conference is one that a lot of Nigerians have asked for in the past but also one that a lot of other Nigerians have ran away from, due to a spectrum of reasons. In Nigeria we all know that a call for a Sovereign National Conference points to just one subject: the subject of a possible disintegration of the nation as there is nothing very sensitive that has not been discussed previously except the disintegration of the nation.

Two days after the independence anniversary, a local radio presenter hosted a show in which she threw opened the doors of her show to callers, requesting them to call and say what it is about Nigeria they love the most. As usual, there were brilliant and dumb responses. I did not call to express my feelings. Hard I called, I would have cited the beauty of the diversity of Nigeria and the potential it holds for the nation as my reasons for loving Nigeria. 

Two days before, another presenter hosted a special show to mark the anniversary. He looked at the history of Nigeria’s entertainment industry with emphasis on popular Nigeria’s entertainment in contrast to Nigeria’s folk entertainment. Among other things, he traced the history of Nigeria’s popular music. He then sampled music from some of Nigeria’s finest Highlife musicians. With just three artists taken from different regions of Nigeria, he was able to paint a picture of the beauty of Nigeria’s diversity and the potential it holds for the nation.  I was overwhelmed by the revelation that came with this. I realized that football shouldn't be the only binding factor of Nigeria but the beauty of our diversity as well.

I am a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, ANA, on Facebook. The forum has also enabled me to see the beauty and potential of Nigeria’s diversity. Authors are people who are lucky to be born with a little writing skill. At ANA’s Facebook page, authors post excerpts of their unpublished work so that colleagues can read and give comments. After reading some of the posts, I was blown and compelled to hold my head between palms in respect of the enormity of Nigeria’s human resources which comes from the bulk of our population which is more than sand on the seashore, in addition to the fact that authors often write from the viewpoint of the regions and cultures they come from, making entries colorful and gorgeous.
What preoccupies authors in Nigeria today and elsewhere, is taking part in one literary competition or the other. With what I was able to see at ANA, I felt bad for the rest of Africa, knowing that the Nigerians will always dominate a lot of these competitions due to the advantage of its status as one huge medley of assorted nations. This year for instance, four Nigerians were among the last five men/women standing for the Caine Prize Award. Of the four, one was Hausa, one Ibo, one Yoruba and the forth from a minority tribe. The prize eventually went to one of them. This is a typical example of the importance of our size and diversity: it will always work in our favor. It is the reason I see it as a crime to call for the breakup of this colossal piece of God’s invention called Nigeria.

When many Nigerians such as me and many others call for one united Nigeria, it is not out of desperation for wanting to belong to an oil-producing nation.  I am fully conscious of the reality that my state, taken alone, can never be poor. We are home to an envious collection of economic (!) mineral deposits. We were once a home to the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigerian Limited, ATMN that engaged the earth of my part of Nigeria for close to a hundred years, mining Tin and Columbite and eventually left due to abrupt policy changes by the Federal Government of Nigeria. So the ore is still there. My state and many other states across Nigeria have resources that can make them financially stronger than they currently are, in the event of the Niger Delta turning its back on the rest of us. If we call for one nation, it is not out of fear of poverty but out of love for a parent we are used to and brotherhood that we are also used to, not to talk of the benefit to us all.

Those who call for the fragmentation of Nigeria are either greedy or blind to the causes of frustration for many Nigerians. The calls for the division of Nigeria used to come from the southern half of the country as a whole. After the Obasanjo presidency between 1999 and 2000, the South-West suddenly went mute on the issue of Sovereign National Conference. A section of the people from the South-East and South-South are now the ones calling for a Sovereign National Conference. The Ibos have made it clear that their huge concern is being shut out of Aso Rock, to sum it up; that Aso Rock is close and yet far. In the same vein, the South-South is calling for a Sovereign National Conference because it desperately wants a second tenure for the-big-hat-man; it is all about the Presidency! This article serves to open the minds of Nigerians who are blind to the motives behind the call for a Sovereign National Conference.

It is important to note that the fragmentation of Nigeria will not change the status of the ordinary man in the emerging nations, should all other things remain the same. If the declaration of the independence of the Niger Delta region as a state can improve things ordinary Niger Deltans would have been among the happiest Nigerians long ago. This is because in addition to the monthly subventions that are due to the region from Abuja, there is the Derivation Funds, the Ministry for Niger Delta Affairs and the Niger Delta Development Commission all of which channel huge billions to the region. The revenue that accrues to Bayelsa, a state of just two million people, within a month sometimes equals that of the whole North-East region of Nigeria within the same period. Still, the leaders of the region are not satisfied.

‘The solution to Nigeria’s woes does not lie in a Sovereign National Conference. It lies in getting rid of the greed among political and traditional leaders. In the Niger Delta, these leaders unleash militants to the nation and tolerate oil theft. Now they add the issue of the Sovereign National Conference to threaten the rest of us into surrendering another tenure that sustains the billions going into private pockets and those of their executioners in the field. The selfish political leaders of the north also threaten the rest of the nation by openly talking in favor of Boko Haram. Years back, the South-West hard threatened the rest of us with Odua People’s Congress. Along that line, one can say that the Ibos have demonstrated a high level of statesmanship that should be respected. This is because it is difficult to link the activities of the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, to the regions political leaders.  Perhaps Ombatse is a weapon of greedy politicians of the North-Central region. Only time will tell.

There is the need for ordinary Nigerians, especially the youths to understand these underlying issues and work to overcome them. Since the power-sharing deal of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP, excludes other Nigerians, it means that the nation has other options. If the youths can understand these tricks and throw away divisions based on tribe and religion, they can channel their votes, overwhelmingly, to the right Nigerian. If the votes are staggering, it will be difficult for the Nigeria’s Independent Electoral Commission to, successfully, play games.

The youths can find energy in the understanding of the huge benefits of diversity that we already have. The source of strength that can sustain Nigeria’s unity is not only in football but in the beauty and potential of Nigeria’s diversity. One united Nigeria remains a most.

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