To the National Conference Advisory Committee,
Public Hearing in Lagos, 1st November, 2013.
A joint Statement by the Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF), the Movement for National Reformation, (MNR) the Centre for 21st Century Issues and the Council for Peoples Close to Nature.
Presented by Mr. Alfred Ilenre, Secretary General, EMIROAF.
I represent, Mr. Chairman, the Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF). I am an indigenous Nigerian from Edo State, of the Esan tribe extraction.
I was the Director of Mobilisation and Strategy at the Pro-National Conference Organisations and also represent the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forest, a network of indigenous and ethnic organizations with ECOSOC States.
We are happy to be part of history which the meeting in Lagos today by the National Conference Advisory Committee represents. It was in this city of Lagos, that the first treaty in the territory now known as Nigeria was signed by the British in the cause of their colonial expansionist mission in Africa with the king and chiefs of Lagos in 1861.
1. The calls for a sovereign national conference to correct the colonial injustice of coupling together different nationalities with different culture and historical background to form one country without their consent pre-date the present regime.
2. There is a group of Nigerians which has been very cynical and suspicious of whatever the Nigerian ruling elites suggest or plan towards the development of the democratic system in the country since independence.
3. There is a school of thought that believes that a National Conference will lead to Nigeria break-up.
4. Many of the antagonists of a national conference have the view that the ruling elites including the politicians, the military and the bureaucrats have taken Nigerians for a ride for too long. That the trust the masses reposed in them has been betrayed severally and has cost the people dearly.
5. The reason for the failure of Nigeria up till this moment is the fact that Nigerian leaders have been so afraid to discuss issues that touch on Nigeria’s future destiny, good or bad.
6. The military government when it came on stage in 1966 dismissed the independence constitution and started ruling by decrees. By the time the military withdrew from power in 1999, it had imposed so many constitutions, laws and regulations that Nigeria as a nation began to lose substance in the eyes of reasonable people.
ISSUES AT STAKE
7. In all the decisions taken at the constitutional conferences organised by the colonial government before independence, decisions were by consensus. But in all the constituent assemblies appointed by the military regime in 1979 under General Obasanjo, 1989 under General Babangida and 1994 under General Abacha, decisions were by votes without any regard for the views of the ethnic nationalities as the building blocks in a heterogeneous country. The 1999 constitution under General Abubakar was simply a document drawn up by a handful of people selected by him.
8. Democracy is about majority rule just as it is also pre-eminently about the protection of minority rights.
9. The military regime had no any justifiable reason to dismiss the federal system of government on coming to power only to replace it with a unitary system on leaving power. The civilian administrations of Alhaji Shehu Shagari 1979 – 1983, Shonekan interim government for three months, and the Obasanjo regime from 1999 – 2007, The Yar’adua era from 2007 to 2010 and the Jonathan administration from 2010 to date belong to the unitary model of government. The democratic experiment since 1999 had failed, woefully.
10. The nationalists were aware that Nigeria made up of three major ethnic nationalities of Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba surrounded by motley of over two hundred smaller ethnic and language groups has no any chance of survival as a unitary state. Right from the outset at independence the Nigerian system had within its bowel, the seeds of self destruction.
11. The National conference Advisory committee as the guide light to the national dialogue should endeavor by all means to produce a conference agenda that will give Nigeria the opportunity to run a totally democratic federal constitution.
12. We have agreed that Nigeria is a heterogeneous community that could not be administered as unitary state. Therefore it is our view that only a lose federation based on the ethnic nationalities as the federating units can offer the Nigerian state a measure of cohesion for unity and stability.
13. The duty of the National Conference should be to correct the faults created by the unitary structure inflicted on Nigeria by decades of military adventurism.
14. Considering the huge success made in the area of social and economic development under stable and peaceful environment in so many multi-ethnic countries like, Switzerland, Canada, the United Kingdom, India etc. we advocate for the adoption of the collegiate or the parliamentary system in Nigeria against the unworkable Unitarian presidential system.
15. The ethnic nationalities should be grouped into their distinct regions. Each region should be free to create as many states of its own as it wishes, provided such states are viable.
16. Each region should exercise it’s right to establish its own authority, police resource and environmental control..
17. The army should be arranged inline with regional command with each region having its own regiment.
18. The National police service should be organized along national, regional, state, local government, community, industrial and occupational institutions units, each unit exercising its own autonomy, subjected to a set national standard
19. Representation at the conference should be based on equal representation since decisions will be by consensus. Each ethnic nationality could include as many delegates as it could cater for, outside the official delegation list.
20. The case that the centrally controlled ex-colonial nation states were dictatorial, murderous, harmful and worse than slavery and colonialism was first presented at an international conference when in 1923; a team led by Mr. Deskaheh, leader of the Iroquoi Indigenous Nationalities Confederation of Canada visited Geneva, Switzerland to present the conflict that existed between his indigenous nationalities and the government of Canada at the League of Nations. They were refused official hearing on the ground that the matter came under the internal affairs of Canada. Mr. Deskaheh and his team were declared persona-non-grata by the Canadian government. But the Deskaheh team had made their point at the lobby that the centrally controlled nation states left behind by the colonists where different nationalities were forced to live together without their consent was evil that breeds violence and death. The government of Switzerland granted political asylum to Mr. Deskaheh and his team in Geneva. By 1957, the case for the indigenous nationalities was re-opened when the International Labour Organization (ILO) in its Convention No. 169 presented issues about the rights of the indigenous peoples to self determination at the UN meeting in Geneva. It is an irony of history that Canada and Switzerland today are the world two most decentralized countries, most politically and economically viable, most peaceful and stable. The United Nations and its agencies including the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, International Labour Organization, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the United Nation Convention on Biological Diversity etc, have initiated policies that respect indigenous, cultural and ethnic diversity and their right to self determination.
21. The United Nations General Assembly in its resolution A/61/L67 of September 12, 2007 adopted what it named, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It clearly outlines how indigenous communities and ethnic nationalities can peacefully pursue their right to self determination in nation states without resorting to violence.
22. Article 3 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, says and quote, “Indigenous peoples have the right to self determination and by virtue of that right they can freely determine their status and their economic, social and cultural development.
23. Colonial boundaries were drawn arbitrarily without any consideration for ethnic and cultural differences.
24. Serious problems emerged in Nigeria soon after independence because people and ethnic nations were forced to live together without their consent.
25. There were arguments for and against whether to adopt federalism, unitarism monarchy or any other system, but the votes for federalism won the minds of the nationalists. The Nigerian federalism was distorted, destroyed and abandoned by the military after over 30 years in power.
26. What the coming conference should be all about is to find a formula on how to universalize the knowledge of the Nigerian people to enable them withstand and confront their ruling educated elites who are also exploiting their own people like the colonialists did.
27. The validity of Nigeria as a nation has been a subject of bitter debate since 1962, when the central government backed by a mindless beaurocracy started to intervene unconstitutionally in the internal affairs of Western Region. Ever since then, Nigeria has only been kept together by international protocols, treaties and conventions, supported by the instruments of coercion.
28.Presently, Nigeria lacks the social and cultural cohesion, public appreciation, goodwill, trust and mass support to depend upon, internally to make it survive.
THE VIRTUE IN ETHNICITY
29.Ethnicity is a people’s way of life, it is their life style, it is their language, it is their territory, it is their nuances, their world outlook, their accent and behavior, their culture, their mode of dressing, their songs, dances and festivals, the way they show their joy, the way they celebrate births, and the way they mourn the dead, it is their entity and the environment they are born into, it is their DNA and blood walls. It is their home land, it is their heritage for which they are prepared to live for, fight for and die for. Of the seven billion population distributed by nature all over the world, there is no person who does not have an ethnic nationality to call his own.
In the words of Professor Alfonso Martinez of Cuba, a United Nations expert on indigenous peoples and self determination issues “Those who condemn ethnicity on reasons not beyond class interest should be ignored”
30.As we had always maintained, Nigeria has lived the better part of its 53 years of independence through betrayal, back – stabbing, corruption, tyranny, violence, arrests, detentions, civil wars, coups and counter coups, attempted coups, show trials, public executions, retrogression, failed structures and collapsed public institutions caused by a lopsided central government dominated by men and women who have no any inkling what independence struggle was all about.
The decision to organize a national conference to sort out our differences is a good idea whose time has come.
•It should be a conference of ethnic nationalities.
•Equal representation of delegates from the 18 regions recommended in the Pronaco Draft Constitution.
•Identified groups shall have the freedom to nominate their representative by whatever mechanism.
•The process must be all inclusive, process-led and transparent.
•Decisions shall be by consensus.
•Professional, non-government organizations and the civil society organizations should attend as observers and be free to make their contributions.
•International, regional and sub-regional organization including the UN, the Commonwealth, the EU, AU, ECOWAS etc. could attend as observers and make their input.
•A team of resourceful men and women of integrity drawn from the civil society organizations should serve as mediators where there is a disagreement.
•There will be no no-go areas.
•At least 30% of delegates must be women.
•Youth, People Living with Disability and other marginalized groups should be represented at the Conference.
Note: The organizations mentioned above, sponsoring this statement participated at the Peoples National Conference organized by the Pro-national Conference Organization held under the late Chief Anthony Enahoro as chairman. We fully support the report and the draft constitution which was a product of the conference, earlier presented at Akure to this esteemed body by Mr. Baba Oluwide Omojola on 18 October 2013, before his sudden and painful dead, after the presentation. We recommend the PRONACO documents as working papers for the national conference proper.
There should be conference resolutions at the end of the delegates deliberation, based on every agenda item, geo-political structures, systems of government, fiscal arrangements, citizen rights, social-economic interests, the Economy, the judiciary, the legislature etc. All issues must touch on the citizenry, individual and group ethics, morality and freedom.
There should a draft constitution as a product of the conference to be subjected to a mass appraisal and a referendum.
Secretary General, Ethnic Minority and
Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF).
• Chief Emakpor Ajise
• Diran Fagbongbe
• Titilope Akosa