I AM sad and troubled for our nation. I just cannot sleep when I consider the amount of innocent blood that has been spilt in the 24 hours before I wrote this piece.
Kano, Bayelsa, Bauchi….it goes on and on. So much blood, so much hate, so much division and so much destruction. And at the end of it all, just in the space of one afternoon, Nigeria’s second largest city of Kano has been brutally raped and violated and no less than 260 innocent and defenceless Nigerians have been butchered mercilessly in broad daylight and are now lying dead in the mortuary or the cemetry.
Many bodies are still lying under the rubble undiscovered and unrecognised even in death. I am convinced that there is only one thing left for President Goodluck Jonathan to do if he wants to turn the tide of public opinion that is mounting against him and if he wants to save himself, save his government and save Nigeria.
He must find the courage to convene a Sovereign National Conference of the various nationalities that make up the geographical expression called Nigeria in which the terms and conditions of our continued union will be fully renegotiated. If he can do this quickly and if he can pull it off sucessfully his image will be redeeemed and his name will be carved in gold in Nigerian history forever despite all that has happened in the last two years.
If he does not do this the islamist slaughter, the sectarian bloodshed and the inter-ethnic mayhem will just continue, his government will eventually fall and Nigeria may well break up in the process. Mark my words. Depending on the choice that he makes he will either be known as the saviour of Nigeria or her destroyer. May God guide our President and cause him to make the right choice.
When I first made this suggestion about the convening of a Sovereign National Conference on my facebook page many asked why it was that the government of President Olusegun Obasanjo, which I served, did not convene a Sovereign National Conference at that time and why I didn’t support such a course of action then. My answer to them was as follows. A few of us most certainly did push for a Sovereign National Conference when we were in power.
Some of us in that government, including Chief Akin Osuntokun, Professor Julius Ihonbere and a few others pushed for it very hard but you know very well that essentially President Olusegun Obasanjo is a conservative and he resisted it. As a matter of fact that is what qualified him and that is why he could be trusted with power and the job of President in 1999 by the northern power-brokers that brought him out of jail and put him there.
They knew that they could trust him not to let them down and not to do what they did not want. And what they did not want was a Sovereign National Conference because they saw it,wrongly in my view, as a precurser to a break-up of the country. The Yoruba nation, on the other hand, have been pushing for an SNC since 1993 and the June 12th annulment and many of our people were killed over the years in the pursuit of that noble cause.
Again when OBJ’s government was in power every single one of the six zones in the country endorsed the call for an SNC except for the north-west and the north-east.
That was four for it and two against it. Yet OBJ would still not do it. Instead he listened to the objections of the two core-northern zones and came up with that celebrated and famous quote that ”we cannot have two sovereigns at once” and that ” the Nigerian people have given their sovereingty to me through my mandate and I will not relinquish it to any conference”. Of course, some of us, including me, took him up on that publically and we disagreed with him openly.
My leader and my boss and the man that I still consider to be the father of our nation, President Obasanjo, with the greatest respect, just didn’t get it then and perhaps he never will. We discussed this matter with him privately on many occassions and he resisted the idea but with the recent developments in our country I am sure that he wished that he had listened to us at that time.
When we joined his government in 2003 there were many of us who had been NADECO men who urged him to find the courage to call the SNC but the man regarded us as dangerous radicals and he felt that we just wanted to break up Nigeria. Well he was wrong, we were right and history has proved this to be so.
If we had had this ”sovereign” national conference long ago we would have had a better, stronger, restructured and more united Nigeria by now which would have been a true reflection of the will of the people. We would also have had either a true fedration or a confederation. We would not have still had what is in real terms essentially a unitary government with a Federal facade and we would not have still been busy killing ourselves over the little crumbs that we get from the federal table.
The reason that it was not so urgent when OBJ was in power, despite the fact that even then most Nigerians wanted it, was because religious and sectarian violence and ethnic and fratricidal butchery that we see today did not exist at that time.
Our government was able to contain the violence and threats of the Niger-Delta militias, the OPC, MASSOB, the Egbesu Boys, the Bakassi Boys, the Arewa Youth Congress and the core northern pro- sharia lobby through a firm and strong ”no-nonsense”-style of leadership and we did not have to deal with a vicious and extreemly violent, well-funded and well organised islamist sect with an Al Qaeda-style agenda like Boko Haram at the time.
Sadly, now we do and we are on the verge of a monuemental disaster and violent break up of the country. Worst still Boko Haram and those that secretly support, arm and fund them have made it clear that they are at war with the government, with the security agencies, with CAN, with christians and with muslims that do not share their extreemist views and or espouse their vicious brand of islam.
They have also said that they want a northern Nigeria which is free of christians, which is free of western education, which has an islamic fundamentalist/Taliban-style government and which practices full sharia law. They are not just demanding for this but they are also waging an open and terrible war and what is essentially a form of ethnic cleansing and genocide against a section of the people of northern Nigeria in order to achieve it. If we had a conference such demands could be put there peacefully assuming that is what the people of the core north really want. Other regions and zones also have their legitimate demands which should and would also be considered.
We either settle these fundamental issues by talking about it around a table at a Sovereign National Conference whose findings and resolutions would be binding on ALL our people or the consequence is better imagined.
By FEMI FANI-KAYODE was former minister of Aviation under ex-president Obasanjo.