A Call For Genuine Sovereign National Conference, An Alternative to Chaos, Catastrophe and Disintegration

                                  by

                         Chief Gani Fawehinmi
                 Chairman, National Conscience Party (NCP)

 


  Being text of a speech delivered at a Press Conference in Lagos on
  March 22, 2000

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The root cause of our national tragedies is the fundamental defects that
have always afflicted the process of determining every constitutional
frame-work of the polity. Our constitutional arrangements since 1914 to
date (2000) have never truly reflected the political, economic, social,
cultural and religious realities of th country.
                                     
Above all, the people of the country have never had the opportunity to
make inputs into, accept or reject any constitutional frame-work through a
referendum. Consequently, the masses of our people have always been
treated as aliens in all constitutional processes from 1914 to 1999 as all
constitutional flame-works have always been imposed on them whether or not
they like them.nprincipled policies of governments, loss of moral
sensitivity.
                                     
SNC As Solution to Grievances

There are so many grievances and accusations against Nigeria and by
Nigerians which the Sovereign National Conference must consider and
resolve with the sole objective of designing a new Constitution (the
Peoples' Constitution) for the country which will cast into extinction all
the evil tendencies which have conspired to make Nigeria' a virtual
'ghost' country, deeply and invidiously polarised in all directions since
1914 to date and more seriously since January 15, 1966. We must pull
Nigeria back from the brink and from the precipice with a Constitution
made democratically by Nigerians through the SNC and affirmed in a
referendum by Nigerians. The alternative to this path of sanity is to
continue disastrously to pretend that pious political preaching, posturing
and exhortations and the use of governmental power of brute force will
contain the mounting crises. They will not. It is time to call a spade a
spade and face the reality of our fate squarely, sincerely and
courageously, so as to prevent a disintegration of the country.
                                     
The Sovereign National Conference being advocated is to rebuild this
single sovereign nation from its collapsing foundation, not to tear the
country into several sovereign nations. If we don't, I shudder to think of
the catastrophic consequences to the very existence of the country and its
horrible effects on the black race, Black Africa and the world at large.
                                     
Let us move away from the brink. The answer is the Sovereign National
Conference. We must prevent the experiences of Rwanda, Burundi, Srilanka,
Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia from happening
in Nigeria.
                                     
The only opportunity we have to do this is the convocation of a Sovereign
National Conference. We need to talk, talk and talk ourselves to true
peace, genuine justice and appropriate peoples' Constitution in which all
Nigerians will find a fulfilment of their hopes and aspirations and
unshaken guarantee of peace, stability and prosperity.
                                     
How To Convoke A Sovereign National Conference

The Sovereign National Conference, which is the only option left to save
this country from sliding into disintegration, must be convoked as quickly
as possible.

The Sovereign National Conference is not to govern the country but to find
solutions to all the problems that afflict the polity. All the governments
under the present constitutional dispensation should be preliminarily
involved in the process of convoking a Sovereign National Conference.
Consequently, the President of Nigeria, the President of the Senate, the
Speaker of House of Representatives, all the thirty-six (36) Governors of
the states of the Federation and the thirty-six (36) Speakers of the
thirty-six (36) state Assemblies must quickly meet jointly to set up the
Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee . The National and State
Assemblies should promulgate laws in support of the SNC so that fresh
elections are held at the expiration of the tenure of the existing
Government in year 2003 on the basis of the Constitution that will be
drawn up by the SNC and subjected to a referendum of the people.
                                     
Composition of Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee

We recommend that the Planning Committee should comprise 50 members-25
officially selected and 25 non-officials who will be selected across the
country based on their track records of patriotism, honesty, integrity,
hard work, and ability. The Chief Justice of Nigeria will swear this
committee into office as members of the Sovereign National Conference
Planning Committee.
                                     
Duties of the Sovereign National Conference Planning Committee:

The SNC Planning Committee should be mandated to: (a) Conduct elections in
collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC),
into the Sovereign National Conference. (b) Determine the venue of the
Conference. (c) Ensure the full inauguration Conference.
                                     
Composition of Sovereign National Conference

(a) We must use what we have to achieve what we want.  By virtue of
section 3(6) of the 1999 Constitution, there are seven hundred and seventy
four (774) local governments in Nigeria. Each local government area will
elect a member into the Sovereign National Conference. But such election
must not be on party basis.

(b) There are important interest groups which cannot be involved in the
election at local government level but whose views could be of paramount
importance in the resolution of grievances that could come before the
Conference. These groups include: The Judiciary, the Army, the Navy, the
Airforce, the Police, the Customs, the Prisons, the Immigration, interest
groups, professional and trade associations such as those of Teachers at
all levels of educational system; Lawyers; Medical Doctors; Pharmacists;
Nurses; Engineers; Sociologists; Political Scientists; Administrators;
Secretaries; Accountants; Bankers;  Architects; Quantity Surveyors;
Journalists; Students; Farmers; Market women and petty traders; Artisans;
Organized Labour; Employers;  Chambers of Commerce and Industry; Women;
Religious bodies including Christians, Moslems and Traditional
worshippers; Civil Servants at local, state and Federal levels; Human
Rights Community and pro-democracy organizations; Ethnic organizations
fighting for self-determination; and Traditional Rulers, etc. Each of
these groups will in its respective organization elect representatives to
the Sovereign National Conference based on its numerical strength. The
modalities for doing this can be easily worked out by the Sovereign
National Conference Planning Committee.
                                     
SNC Not just An Assembly of Nationalities

The import of the recommended composition of the SNC above is that the SNC
should not be conceived solely as an assembly of nationalities. Multiple
nationality is just one of the realities of Nigeria as a plural society.
Other realities of Nigeria such as religious differences, social
stratification, gender subjugation, professional and economic interests
must also be considered.

Observer Status At the Sovereign National Conference

Observer status should also be given to international bodies such as the
UNO, OAU, ECOWAS, EU, Commonwealth, National and International Human
Rights and Media Bodies, etc.
                                     
Function Of The Sovereign National Conference Primary Function:

The primary duty of the Sovereign National Conference is to address and
find solutions to the key problems afflicting Nigeria since 1914 to date.
The concern is to remove all obstacles which have prevented the country
from establishing political justice, economic justice, social justice,
cultural justice, religious justice and to construct a new constitutional
frame-work in terms of the system of government-structurally, politically
economically, socially, culturally and religiously. Furthermore, the
conference is to receive and deliberate upon all grievances and whether
contained in memoranda or letter from individuals or groups within and
outside Nigeria. The Sovereign National Conference will he enjoined to
discuss and deliberate on everything under the sun with regards to Nigeria
and how to preserve the country in which Nigerians will have fulfilment of
their hopes and aspirations. In other words, a Nigeria where every ethnic
group will find succour; and where the masses, the neglected, the
persecuted, the deprived and the cheated will find solace. In short, the
Sovereign National Conference is to rebuild the country called Nigeria
from scratch and to establish a new constitutional structure for a new
Nigeria.
                                     
Referendum

The Constitution made by the people' Sovereign National Conference will be
subjected to the people's referendum for the first time in the history of
Nigeria.
                                     
Economic Restructuring

It is perhaps imperative to stress that contrary to the conception of some
new organizations and individuals who have just woken up to appreciate the
necessity of the SNC, the work of the SNC should not be limited to
political restructuring based on ethnic factors. A key concern of the SNC
is economic restructuring.
    

The SNC should discuss and resolve the character and nature of the
economic system that can ensure sustained improvement in the material
lives of the ordinary people. The SNC should be concerned with
establishing an economic system that will guarantee economic rights of
Nigerians, whether rich or poor.
                                     
The ordinary people must enjoy the right to work or unemployment allowance
in the absence of jobs, cost-free housing, education, health, water,
electricity, etc. In a restructured polity, access to social services by
the masses should he regarded as fundamental rights. An obligation ought
to be imposed on all levels of government to provide social services such
that citizens constitutionally, legally and politically can challenge the
government in the event of non-provision. If the provision of social
services is made to the the constitutional responsibility of all tiers of
government, then national resources will be utilized meaningfully in the
interest of the larger society. Accountability of government to the people
will equally be promoted because governance will acquire a focused and
definitive character. When a government has so many constitutional
responsibilities and the people are aware of their constitutional rights
and are prepared to fight for them legally and politically, looting,
stealing, misappropriation of public resources will be minimized if not
eliminated.
                                     
Relationship of Sovereign National Conference To The Present
Constitutional Dispensation


The Sovereign National Conference is not to govern the country. It is to
find solutions to the problems of the country. It will therefore not
interfere with the governance of the country at the Federal level, in the
States and at the Local Governments. Those to govern the country have been
elected in 1998/1999 to do so for 4 years and their tenure will end in the
year 2003.
                                     
Those elected on December 5, 1998 to the Local Governments, on January 9,
1999, to the States and on February 13 and 27 to the centre are now
functioning within the confines of a fundamentally defective
constitutional arrangement, which was made on the 5th of May 1999 after
their elections. Since the military- imposed 1999 Constitution is
fundamentally defective and is incapable of satisfying the aspirations of
the people, there is a need for a democratically drawn up Constitution
through the SNC. The existing Constitution has proved incapable of
containing national chaos and steady decline into catastrophic and bloody
disintegration in which the teeming poor masses will bear the brunt while
the rich many of whom have looted public treasury will find succour and
solace in foreign countries. It would be foolhardy to want to protect such
a Constitution. It is in the interest of democracy, in order to avert the
impending disaster that a new Constitution be drawn up through a mass
participatory process.
                                     
Conclusion

Our humble contribution contained in the text of this Press Conference
should not he miss-understood. Our major concern is to draw public
attention to the urgent need for a SNC. Our viewpoints here are mere
suggestions rather than a rigid and unchangeable blueprint.  Though some
other forces equally make demands for SNC, none has given thought to the
practical way of setting it in motion and explaining the relationship to
the existing power structure.
                                     
We hope that the ideas in this publication will spur the relevant organs
of Government to take necessary action if they are genuinely interested in
taking Nigeria forward positively in the interest of the masses. Public
officials who are committed to the principles of democracy, justice and
freedoms for our people should not feel threatened by the convocation of
the SNC. It is either we allow the SNC to peacefully save Nigeria or
Nigeria may be no more on the long run. Though the initiative to convoke
the SNC has been placed on the shoulders of the existing government,
organisations of the civil society have a responsibility. The ruling
classes hardly take an action in the interest of the larger society
without the pressure of the masses from below. We therefore hope that this
publication will motivate other organisations in the civil society to
intensify the pressure for the convocation of the SNC.