Reflections On The National Dialogue And The Way Forward ♦ By Prof Mahmoud Hamman

Nov. 13, 2013

By Prof Mahmoud Hamman

Department Of History, A.b.U. Samaru, Zaria

NewsRescue- When President Goodluck Jonathan unexpectedly announced in his Independence Anniversary speech of 1st October 2013 that he would revisit the issue of National Conference in spite of his earlier pessimism on the matter because of the ‘sovereign’ epithet attached to its nomenclature by its most ardent advocates, many people were quite frankly flabbergasted. This was partly because hitherto the champions of this extraordinary forum are fundamentally not only ethno-centric in their approach, but also suffer from very serious misunderstanding of the history of the area that came to constitute the Nigerian state and the significance of the latter as geo-political entity.

The impression created all along was that the ethnic champions failed to get official blessing from successive Nigerian Governments, especially that of Chief Obasanjo which ushered in the Third Republic at a time when the advocates of the conference were most vocal, essentially because all what they stood for were inimical to the corporate existence of Nigeria as a nation-state and the peace and progress of his people. So Jonathan’s announcement sounded to many people like an official endorsement of this discredited crusade. Moreover, when the President constituted the Advisory Committee on the National Dialogue, its composition also raised some eye brows. Apart from appointing a well known ethnic champion and advocate of a ‘Sovereign National Conference of Ethnic Nationalities’ as its  chairman, there were also other members who had secessionist tendencies in the past, albeit both of them are now no longer members of the Committee. In addition, the President’s statement during the inauguration of the Committee, that the latter was at liberty to give the proposed Conference any other name it deemed fit, also raised some apprehension about the motives of the Government.

Apart from the above concerns, there are also problems of practical nature which are quite worrisome. One of these, of course, is the timing of the Conference / Dialogue. With the 2015 General Election coming at the beginning of that year, the country has barely one year to prepare for and conduct the election. As it is, the Presidential Advisory Committee is still at the level of consultations across the country and there is no certainty on how long it will take them to collate and analyse the multifarious views expressed by Nigerians and submit their Report to the President preparatory to the convening of the National Conference. So, all said and done, this exercise will definitely overlap with the 2015 elections.

Another area of concern is the lack of specificity as to the fundamental objectives of the National Conference from the point of view of the Government which set the process in motion. Thus it is up to Nigerians to decide the agenda of the conference.

It is on this core that one begins to doubt the sincerity of the Government on this matter as regards its avowed desire to provide Nigerians with a forum where they could iron out their differences. In point of fact, presently, these so called differences among Nigerians are not considered particularly serious by any section of this country compared to other problems like insurgency, youth unemployment, kidnappings, armed robberies, banditry, infrastructure deficit, oil theft, unbridled corruption and other abuses of office, by public officers which are undermining the very well being of every Nigerian regardless of creed, tribe or section.

In spite of these observations however, the advertorial of the Presidential Advisory Committee in the print media of 11th October 2013 deserve some response from well meaning Nigerians, just in case the proposal is realised. Again this sprite, one would like to make the following comments on some of the topics highlighted in the said advertorial:


(a)  The composition of the conference

The conference should compose of two types of delegates. The first should consist of one delegate elected from each Development Area in the Country. This is because the Development Areas are the lowest territorially defined administrative units in Governmental hierarchy and therefore closest to the people. It will give virtually every cultural group an opportunity to be represented without raising the now discredited spectre of barefaced tribalism and religious bigotry. The second type of delegates should consist of professional representatives elected by their organized professional associations in public and private sectors at the national level. Each recognised association should provide two delegates for the conference. The definition of a profession should be broad enough to cover every occupational group including the officials of religious associations at the national level.

(b) How delegates to the conference should be elected

To begin with, It is advisable that the Advisory Committee to distances itself and the subsequent National Conference from the insinuations peddled around that the conference is supposed to be an assembly of sovereign ethnic nationalities or tribes that should sit together and negotiate how they will live in Nigeria.  The President did not mention the word ‘Sovereignty’ or ethnicity in his inauguration speech. But many ethnic champions are attempting to give the proposal an ethnic connotation in order to undermine the existence of Nigeria as a corporate entity.

The whole concept of ‘sovereignty’ as ultimate autonomy in the context of ethnic political status in Nigeria is a fallacy, at least with reference to the period between 100 and 1000 years ago of our historical experience. Moreover, the claim that ethnic groups are monolithic primordial entities existing in some kind of water tight compartments is a wishful thought that has no bearing on the historical processes that determine the formation and transformation of peoples and state not only in Nigeria but the world over.

One of the unavoidable consequences of the emergence and development of centralised political systems in the Nigerian area was the progressive loss of autonomous existence or sovereignty by ethno-linguistic groups that were incorporated into such polities even if they had maintained some traits of their cultural heritage like languages and belief systems. Most of the 513 or so Nigerian ethno –linguistic groups had lost this sovereignty to indigenous centralised polities like the kwararrafa and Borno empires, the Hausa states, the Alafinate of Oyo or the Oyo empire, the kingdoms of Benin, Nupe, Igala, the Sokoto caliphate, etc for several centuries before the advent of British colonialism. Those ethno-linguistic groups that survived these centralising polities eg, the Tivs and the Igbos, among others, eventually lost their autonomy to the British in the period between 1900 and 1960. Thus by the time of Nigerian Independence in October 1960, there was virtually no ethno-linguistic group in the country that could claim to be autonomous or sovereign in the period ranging from 50 to 1000 years or so earlier. It was this communal sovereignty which was first lost to the indigenous centralised polities and subsequently to British colonial conquerors that the Nigerian independence movement sought to recover from the British for all the peoples of the country but under a completely new dispensation dictated by the exegesis of a modern nation state that sought to strengthen pan–Nigerianism.

It is against this historical background that the election of the delegates to the national conference should be governed by the principle of equality of all adult Nigerian citizens, based on territorial and professional platforms as opposed to ethnic constituencies, as suggested earlier.

Elections based on ethnic or tribal categories would be impossible in the prevailing circumstances of Nigeria at present because of the fluidity of these primordial entities and the enormous differences between them in terms of population and spread. Democracy being partly a game of numbers, the so- called mega tribes would like the number of ethnic delegates to be based on population size, while the so-called minorities would prefer equality of all ethnic or tribal groups regardless of population size. This controversy alone would create a major log-jam even at the level of preparation for the conference. Hence the merit of territorially defined constituencies for the purpose of electing the delegates.


(c)  The size of the conference

The size of the conference should depend on the number of Development Areas and professional Associations we have in the country. On the average, we have about 30 Development Areas per state, with the most populous states like Lagos and Kano having close to 100 each. This means that we shall have about 1500 delegates from the Development Areas. For the professional Associations, we may expect not more than 200 delegates nationwide on the basis of 2 delegates per professional association. So the total number of delegates should be about 2000 maximum, which I consider to be quite manageable.

The professional delegates are to be drawn from the labour unions, both in the public and private sectors, professional Associations like the Nigerian Bar Association, the Nigerian Dental and medical Association, the various Associations of Engineers, the Nigerian Labour Congress, the Civil Service Unions, ASUU, Association of Pharmacists, Bankers, Insurance Workers, Shippers Council, Road Transport Workers Union, the Aviation Industry Workers Union, Farmers, Animal Breeders and Fishermen Associations, Market Traders Associations, etc.

It is very important that some stringent conditions should be spelt out for the prospective delegates to the National Conference. This should include the question of individual maturity, education and ethical standards. For age, I recommend that only those who are 35 years and above, should contest for the elections, while for education, I suggest that delegates should have at least a BA/Bsc degree or HND qualifications from recognised institutions of higher learning in Nigeria or abroad. This requirement is necessary in order to enable participants in the conference to understand the issues at stake, follow the proceedings well and contribute meaningfully to the dialogue.


The proceedings of the National Conference should be within the purview of the Nigerian constitution, and its recommendations should be submitted to the National Assembly for a thorough debate and possible adoption of some of them for incorporation in to the constitution.


The election of the delegates, proceedings of the conference and the preparation of its Report should all take not more than 1 year from whenever the process commences.


(a)  Revenue derivation and sharing among the three tiers of Government

There are presently a lot of complaints by the states and local Governments about their revenue allocations from the Federation Account. It is said that the over 50% share of the Federal Government is on the high side and that this should be reduced in favour of the states and LGAs. There are, however, fundamental questions that should be raised in relation to this issue as follows:

i Effective utilisation of the revenues that accrued to the 3 tiers of Government in the past. It is regrettable to note that much of the controversy on revenue issues in this country is focused on derivation and the sharing formula and not on transparent and effective utilisation of the revenues. The result is that the level of performance, transparency and accountability is extremely low. All the 3 tiers of Government suffer from this malaise in spite of the various anticorruption measures and agencies that have been introduced since 1999. Until a radical move is made in tackling corruption in Nigeria, eg by introducing the Chinese type of punishment in the form of long prison sentences, or execution of perpetrators, I do not see any need for changing the present revenue sharing formula since it will not have any positive impact on the masses anyway.

With respect to the petroleum resources, the conference should settle the issue of who owns the petroleum and other mineral resources in this country – the Federal Government as stipulated in the constitution or the communities of the areas from where the minerals are derived? It is now common place to hear some communities claiming ownership of the petroleum resources simply because they are derived from their localities in spite of the fact that so far there has not been any constitutional amendment to support that claim.


(b) The dismal performance of the LGAs

The performance of the Local Government councils in the entire country in terms of meeting even the sanitary requirements of their people is worrisome. They virtually have zero developmental impact on the citizens under their jurisdiction. The illegal appropriation by the state Governments of the lion’s share of their statutory allocations from the Federation Account has only worsened an already bad situation. This illegal behaviour of the state Governments should be criminalised and appropriate sanctions inflicted on them, eg by recovering the appropriated amounts from their monthly allocations. However, this cannot be possible until free and fair Local Government elections are held as and when due in accordance with the provision of the constitution.

Thus the conference should strongly insist on periodic elections in all Local Governments of the Federation at the same time and under the overall supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission. This is because the State Electoral Commissions are creatures of the governors of the states, and hence they cannot be expected to be neutral umpires in matters concerning the state Governments.


(c)  National security and the resurgence of tribalism and sectionalism in the Armed Forces

The level of insecurity in the country today is definitely unacceptable – viz the unprecedented spate of insurgency, banditry, robberies, kidnappings, oil theft and bunkering. The reasons for these acts of brigandage should be seriously discussed in terms of the following:

  1. Wide spread poverty due to unemployment of the youth and moral collapse among public officers.
  2. The size of the security agencies viz-a-vis the population of the country. A realistic balance between the two should be worked out. What should be the optimum number of security personnel for a population of about 170 million people?
  3. The effective and transparent utilisation of the resources at the disposal of the security agencies. The armed forces got the highest budgetary allocation this financial year, but there has not been any corresponding dramatic improvement in their performance even in Borno and Yobe States until the intervention of the so-called civilian JTF in metropolitan Borno in particular. Banditry in Zamfara, Katsina and parts of Kaduna states has become a by –word and there is so far no sign that it will be arrested soon. The country loses over 100,000 barrels of crude oil everyday to oil thieves, and the JTF in the Niger-Delta said that this crime is perpetrated by powerful politicians and rich businessmen. Yet the federal Government did not ask the JTF to name the culprits with a view of arresting them for prosecution and recovery of the proceeds of their crime. Hence the general suspicion that these criminals may be close to some Government circles in the country and are acting in concert with big international oil interests who should be well known to the Government.

Another dangerous trend that is now unfolding among the security agencies and which is posing a greater national security, especially in the Armed Forces, is the alleged systematic resurgence of barefaced tribalism, religious bigotry and sectionalism in the process of recruitment and promotion of their personnel. The Nigerian media was awash sometime ago with complaints from serving military officers of the south–west geo-political zone who accused the south- east- dominated military high command of systematically frustrating and marginalizing them. The Jama’atu Nasr Al-Islam has produced statistics of the recent recruitment exercise into the Nigerian Army and admissions into the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna suggesting religious and sectional bias. Moreover, the National Assembly has recently set up a committee to investigate the allegations of tribal, sectional and religious discrimination that is alleged to be developing in the Nigerian Armed Forces.

Apart from weakening the martial spirit and espiritde corp of the armed forces in the face of the various security challenges in the country today, these alleged tendencies should also remind us of similar pattern of events that led to the sectional coup de’etat of 1966, the reprisals that followed and subsequently the tragic civil war of 1967-1970 which cost this country millions of lives.


(d) Public Health

The welfare of the people of this country can be boosted tremendously if the health services are seriously enhanced not necessarily by greater expenditure on that sector, but by changing radically our approach to them.  Public health cannot dramatically improve in any society until preventive services are properly and adequately addressed. Hence the popular saying that ‘prevention is better than cure’. Very unfortunately, however, in Nigeria and indeed most other African countries, preventive health services are not given the attention they deserve and hence the enormous burden that curative health services exert on their lean purses.

Against this background, I am suggesting that the National Conference should also focus its attention on the following health issues with a view of incorporating them into the laws of the country:

  1. All state Governments should construct standard toilets and baths in public places in urban areas, eg markets , motor parks, selected bus stops, public offices, sport fields and at selected spots one kilometre apart on every major street in the urban centres. Adequate water supply should be maintained in each facility.
  2. All Local governments must construct standard VIP toilets and baths at public places in the LGA, Development Area and District Headquarters.
  3. All Local Government Areas must periodically clear drainages, gutters and refuse dumps in their areas of jurisdiction.
  4. All states and LGS must enact laws and by-laws to prohibit the sale of cooked, roasted or fried food by vendors except in enclosed glass boxes.

These measures are supposed to lay the ground for enhanced public sanitary behaviour by making urination, defecation and hawking of prepared food in open air an offence punishable by fines or compulsory community service.



Recent experience shows that the constitutional provision that when the governor of a state is incapacitated, it is the Executive Council of the state that should raise the issue with the House of Assembly with a view of replacing him with his Deputy, cannot work. The simple reason is that since the members of Executive Council are appointees of the Governor and they will not be in hurry to lose their jobs in the event of the advent of a new governor, they cannot set in motion the process of the departure of their principal. There is therefore an urgent need for the conference to recommend an amendment to this clause to transfer this responsibility to the House of Assembly. The same should also apply to the Presidency.



It can be recalled that during his inauguration speech, the president said that the Advisory Committee is at liberty to give the National Dialogue another name if it deems it fit. In view of the agitation by a small but vocal section of Nigerians that the conference should take an ethnic coloration and my opinion that the forum should distance itself from primordial ethnic considerations because of their retrogressive and disintegrative potentials to the corporate existence of Nigeria, and their sheer unreality in the context of modern geo- politics, I strongly recommend that the forum be renamed ‘ALL- NIGERIA PEOPLES DEVELOPMENT CONFERENCE’.

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