OBASANJO’S LETTER GUNNING FOR THE SOUL OF DEMOCRACY

OBASANJO’S LETTER GUNNING FOR THE SOUL OF DEMOCRACY
BY ALFRED ILENRE.

The open letter of appeal by General Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigerian president 1999-2007 to President Goodluck Jonathan has continued to generate public debates in the Nigerian media. There are several views, for and against, some sensible and some senseless.

One point that was made clear in the Obasanjo letter is the fact that Nigeria has a fundamental problem with a long history to resolve.

The fact remains that the societal maladies mentioned in Obasanjo’s letter as bad as they may be, did not start with the President Jonathan administration. To continue to blame the systemic failure of Nigeria caused by decades of military rule on President Jonathan is to deliberately choose the path of deceit and confusion.

Ever before and after independence there were opinions, observations, fears and predictions that the centrally controlled system imposed on the Nigerian nation state may not endure and survive against the overwhelming forces of ethnic and sectional loyalties.

Said, Sir Alan Burns, a British Administrator and historian in 1904, six years after Miss Flora Shaw a British lady journalist had created the label Nigeria meaning the area around the River Niger. “There is no Nigeria nation, no Nigeria language and no Nigeria tradition, the very name Nigeria was invented by the British to describe a country inhabited by a medley of formally warring tribes, with no common culture and united only in so far as they are governed by a single power”.

“Nigeria is a mere collection of self contained and mutually – independent native states, separated from one another by great distances, by difference of history and tradition and by ethnological, racial, tribal and religious barriers” – Hugh Clifford 1914 Governor General.

“Nigeria is perhaps the most artificial of the many administrative units created in the course of European occupation of Africa”– Lord Malcom Hailey 1955

“The Nigeria State is “a notoriously precarious lumping together of people whose separate identity is at least as real a matter as their acceptance of national unity” – Rupert Emerson 1960, A British Notable

‘There is no universally acceptable and understood rationale for the existence and functioning of a state called Nigeria and efforts at an artificial creation of a national mythology, a Nigeria ideology will be unproductive because of overwhelming forces arraigned against it from the side of tribalism, regional diversities and culture chasms. Neither the masses nor the elite can be expected under these conditions to develop the kind of perspective – durable, constant and in dept – requiring and bringing forth sacrifices, intense devotion and loyalty, discipline, dedication and faith. Henry Bretton 1960, a British Historian

“In nearly all the matters which concern the ordinary Nigerian citizen, it is of the regional government that he is thinking when he thinks of government at all. The most important functions for the federal government for the future are just defence and external affairs” – Henry Willink 1958

“I support the Biafran cause not because Nigerian leaders are corrupt, there are corrupt leaders everywhere. I support the Biafrian struggle for national sovereignty because Nigeria is too big and complex for one man to rule.
President Charles De’Gaule of France 1968, during the Nigeria – Biafra war.

It was in consideration of these geopolitical and ecological realities that the Nigerian nationalists agreed to a federal union with regional autonomy for the corporate parts, the policies which the military later abandoned on coming to power.

General Obasanjo made so many furious allegations against President Jonathan and his team, some which are: that the President surrounded himself with sycophants, that he is disloyal to his party and does not observe the P D P ground rules: that over 1000 people have been kept on political watch list: that there was a presidential assistance to get a condemned murderer out of jail; that the government is secretly acquiring weapons, hiring and training snipers at the same underworld venue where the late General Abacha trained his hired assassins; that there was a shady deal between the President and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in 2011 for political gains and many more. The proof of these allegations are neither here nor there as they all look more like the same kind of vulgar abuses, rumors and gossips the opposition parties had continued to heap on the President Jonathan administration since his election in 2011.

General Obasanjo has to do more to help the undiscerning public by providing them with evidences to enable them reach their conclusions.
The Nigerian military departed from power 14 years age in 1999, after over 30 years of a barren rule. The index of military officers who rose to power through coup d’état or through democratic processes between 1950 and the 2000 all over the world shows that only seven made some elements of success of civil governance. They are; General Tito of Yugoslavia, Gamel Naser of Egypt, General Park of South Korea, General Suharto of Indonesia, General De’Gaule of France, General Pinochet of Chile and General Eisenhower of the United states of America. Yet, there is the caveat that they would have done better in office but for their military background. Politics with all its complications and complexities is not a game for Generals.

It is time to tell ourselves the home truth that corrupt practices in Nigerian is due to so many factors including the imposition a unitary system of Government on Nigeria coupled with the infliction of the 1999 Unitarian presidential constitution on the country instead of taking us back to the independence constitution that made provisions for the practice of true federalism.

Some of us have been around since the Nigerian independence and have found nothing on record to prove that the present administration is doing less than the previous government. For the first time we see state budgets being implemented by the civil servants unlike in the past when a few bureaucrats shared the fund among themselves, members of their families and their friends

General Obasanjo’s letter has further exhibited the high level of ignorance, lack of knowledge and information of the Nigerian state about the plight of the Niger Delta people. Development experts had always said that the nature of the NigerDelta makes development expensive and in some cases impossible.

The Henry Willink Commission set up in 1957 by the colonial administration to look into the fears of the minorities and the means of allaying them submitted its report in 1958. It has this to say about the Ijaw tribe, “the Ijaw division is inhabited mainly by the Ijaw tribe of whom there are some 80,000 in the West but over 250,000 in the creek and swamps of the Eastern Region. They are said to be a people who have lived in the area now called Nigeria longer than any other of the large tribes and probably pushed down into the Delta area in times of which no record has survived. “The country in which they live is divided by creeks and inlets of the sea and of the Niger River into many small islands which no where rises above the highest tides and floods; their transport is by water and the construction of roads or railways would be prohibitively expensive. Theirs is a country which through no fault of man, has been neglected and which is unlikely ever to be highly developed; they are distinct in their language and customs from either the Edo speakers or the Yoruba”

The Niger Delta Development Corporation which was established in 1960 at the outset of independence to develop the region as a special area was abandoned throughout the 30 years of military rule in which Obasanjo played an active part.

Many of the younger elements in the Niger Delta including the late Adaka Boro and the late Ken Saro-Wiwa who tried to sensitize other Nigerians to know about the harsh environment under which the people live met with violent death in the hands of state agents who saw them as intolerable irritants that must be stopped. Nigeria has been so unfair to the Niger Delta people.
General Obasanjo said and correctly too that the international community knows us as we are and may be more than we claim to know of our selves. It is observed that most of the decisions the Nigerian federation had taken about the Niger Delta in the last three decades at the international scene had only put the country at odd with the rest part of the human race.
It has been established within the international community that the situation in centrally controlled nation states is worse than the situation under slavery and colonialism.
In 2007, when the United Nations voted for the adoption of the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples after 20 years of debates at the floor of the General Assembly in New York, the whole of Asia led by India, the whole of Latin America led by Brazil, the whole of the European Union including the UK, the Commonwealth of Independent States, South Africa, Ghana and some progressive minded African states voted for the Declaration Nigeria was among the only 13 African states that abstained from voting.
It is true that Nigeria has lost its prestige and integrity both at home and abroad, since the beginning of the democratic experiment in 1999, due to its policies and actions at the International scene which have become embarrassing.
Those calling for the indictment of President Jonathan or even making attempt at impeachment are not fair to the political class and they know it. The political class had been the most maligned in the 30 years of military ruling in Nigeria.
As soon as the military took over power in 1966, they consolidated the executive arm of government, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the Foreign Service, cultivated the media, dismissed the constitution and left the political class in the cold and in the wilderness of misery. If the politicians are bungling in their actions today it is because they have no political elders from whom to learn the ropes. Though lack experience, the political class should know that the General Obasanjo’s open letter is only gunning for the soul of democracy in Nigeria. It is wrong to continue to stress only on National unity without regard for ethnic diversity.
It is General Obasanjo by the contents of his open letter that should be invited to throw more light into his allegations and how to move the country forward and not the other way round.

Reading through all the wild allegations leveled against President Jonathan by General Obasanjo reminds me of the false and horrible allegation by political opponent against the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of the Action Group and his colleagues in the first republic that led to the culture of violence that has griped Nigeria since 1962.

All that has been said in Obasanjo’s 18 page open letter can be summed up in only one word – duplicitous.

Alfred Ilenre is Secretary General, Ethnic Minority and Indigenous Rights Organisation of Africa (EMIROAF).

C21st Presentation to the National Conference Advisory Committee

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.

BACKGROUND
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.

GUIDE LIGHT

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.

PROPOSALS

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.

BASIC INFORMATION

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.

COLONIAL BORDERS

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”

SUMMARY

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.

Recommendation

•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.

Public hearing on Political Dialogue
Public hearing on Political Dialogue
Presentation at the Public hearing
Presentation at the Public hearing
Youth, People Living with Disability and other marginalized groups should be represented at the Conference.

Resolutions

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.

Draft Constitution
There should a draft constitution as a product of the conference to be subjected to a mass appraisal and a referendum.

Alfred Ilenre
Secretary General, Ethnic Minority and
Indigenous Rights Organization of Africa (EMIROAF).

• Chief Emakpor Ajise
• Diran Fagbongbe
• Titilope Akosa