I just finished listening carefully to the communique by the Northern Elders’ Conference as read in his characteristic ebullient and fluent manner by my friend from way back Hakeem Baba-Hameed. And its content resonated so much with me.
It will appear that the crux of the communique was to address the threat of secession by the Igbos should the Presidency elude them but really what touched me was what the communique said beyond break away threat.
But let me first dispense with the issue of secession. The communique made some points which no right thinking person would quarrel with. Firstly, that this country must not go to war again as we did in the past to stop any part of the country that insists on going on it’s own from doing so. I am very sure that there are not many of us that would disagree with those sentiments; simply no war again we don’t want it. In fact the received wisdom is that no nation survives more than two internal wars and remains the same.
Surely most of us will argue that the state of insecurity in the land today is not that much different from that of a country in a State of war but the point that is being made here is that no more state led wars. It is unnecessary. It is ill advised and its consequential cost on peace, harmony, developmental aspirations must be avoided at all cost. It is progressive thinking in my opinion not to pretend that the door to secession could be permanently shut regardless!
But on breaking away by any part of the country; how do we ensure that is the wish of a generality of the population concerned if we don’t have the provision in our constitution to conduct a referendum. It is necessary that we don’t allow the vocal but powerful minority to simply impose their wish on a generality of the population. We hope that it will not come to that. If it becomes necessary there must surely be a way out such as inviting the United Nations to conduct the exercise. But if we collectively don’t want balkanisation, what to do is known by almost everyone.
What largely is pushing the sentiments for separation for shouting out loud is marginalization. It is a truism that you cannot have peace without equity, justice and empathy just as you cannot muzzle separatist sentiments without a deliberate attempt at inclusion. I have argued in the recent past that this peace which has eluded us all these years can be bought on a platter by a collective decision to zone the Presidency during 2023 elections to the South East. But from what is trending so far that goal is off the beaten track. Though some prominent voices have spoken up, it is certain that we don’t have a critical Mass to push this matter through.
In the same breath I have argued that if we chose a southern Candidate carefully, that he will win the elections no matter where the opposition is from. And good enough fate, chance and luck has gifted us such a candidate. I think that one political party should bite the bullet. But not to worry too much. Just as you cannot stop the sun from rising; so with an idea whose time has come. It galvanises it’s own momentum.
But what really uplifted my spirit as I listened to the Communique is the recommendation that we should undertake restructuring before election 2023. This view has been canvassed severally by various interests in the past. Not too long ago there was this recommendation that we should establish an interim government post the tenure of this administration which has been roundly pooh-poohed as an unnecessary ill advised distraction.
That recommendation comes from a highly respected voice which must not be treated lightly. But the message really is that if we must not continue to delay the promise which this country holds, that the structure as it is today is not conducive for impactful leadership. This must be serious food for thought and I think it might be necessary to galvanise a consensus around it. The Sri-Lanka experience now loading which might result in a completely failed economy might not be as far-fetched as most of us might wish to think!
The Northern Elders’ Forum is also of the view that the Constitutional review recently undertaken by the National Assembly barely scratched the surface of the matter. That it is inadequate and that there is the need for engagement with identified critical stakeholders for input. Hakeem does not think that there is a need for National Conference. I think so too. We have recommendations painstakingly gathered over the years which all that needed to be done, is to take them off from the shelves where the reports have been gathering dust to drive a consensus for prompt and urgent implementation. What readily comes to mind now is the 2004 National
Conference Report initiated by President Jonathan which consumed enormous resources and which has since suffered for the usual lack of attention. May be it is time to revisit this report if the recommendation to restructure gains traction and is approved to be undertaken
A read some misleading account of the details of this Communique this morning on social media where it was erroneously claimed that the Northern Elders have ordered Igbos out of the North. Really! That must be the figment of some warped and mischievous mind. The video is in wide circulation and there is no point whipping up negative sentiments to continue to sow the seed of discord.
I believe there is consensus across board that balkanisation is not the preferred path to follow. But our leaders must be intentional for this goal to be realised. Elections 2023 represent a watershed for the future of this nation and we pray that God will come to the aid of Nigeria in distress.
Boniface Chizea , is a development economists and consultant