After years of trying to avoid the issue, Sovereign National Conference (SNF) has bubbled up again in Nigeria. Against its repression by mass psychological denial of the insurmountable problems bedeviling Nigeria, SNC has still managed to rise to the surface. Against its suppression by sectional and personal interest which benefit from the people's woes and Nigeria's dysfunction, SNC worms its way back to the surface. It is like lava or molten rock which can no longer be contained underground: it erupts as a volcano with evident force.
So, can we get something straight? No matter how Nigeria spins its status and denies its problems and prides itself in its pretense, it is still a rumbling volcano, and there will be destructive eruptions, and there will be need and calls for SNC. SNC itself is like medicine: when one reaches for medicine, one is finally admitting that there is threatening illness which cannot be wished away; and that this medicine will remedy the illnesswhen taken correctly. Yes, like all medicine, if it is not taken correctly, the illness can only persist.
Nigeria is a place where lessons are never learned, it seems. Not only that, Nigeria acts like it does not matter that she refuses to learn obvious lessons. Faced with serious illness, Nigeria feigns ignorance. When it is finally faced with complete destruction, it reaches for medicine. Typically, it reaches for the wrong medicine, out of denial, until compelled by failure to try the right one. Then, she manages to take the medicine but not as the doctor prescribeddeliberately.
SNC-like activity did not start occurring (and failing) in Nigeria with Obasanjo's failed so-called National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) of 2005. Forty years before that, on Saturday, January 2 1965, then Prime Minister of Nigeria, 'said today that to avoid bloodshed an urgent meeting of regional representatives should be called to resolve Nigeria's election crisis' in response to widening and serious electoral crisis to which the South had reacted with the threat of secession. The meeting or conference never happened, because within the ensuing day, then President Nnamdi Azikiwe, with the aim of preserving one-Nigeria, was intimidated by the North into a compromise, which essentially handed power to the North over the rest of Nigeria. Supposing that meeting of regional representatives had actually happened and they truly tackled the issues equitably then? We'll never know; but what we certainly know is the catastrophic result of that failure, and it didn't take long to manifest. That result continues today.
On September 12, 1966, a 'National Conference' authorized by Gowon's Military Government commenced in Lagos to help find a solution to Nigeria's life-threatening quandary (remember: it is the latter half of 1966 in Nigeria). Representatives came as regional delegates from the four regions (East, West, Midwest and North); 26 prominent Nigerians joined them. After intense discussions and negotiations, by September 17, they were all leaning towards a loose Confederation. But Gowon and his Military government stepped in firmly against such a confederation; they wanted their style of 'Federation' and of course, one-Nigeria. What followed is well-known to everyone.
There was yet another attempt: the now famous or infamous Aburi Conference, this time, of Nigeria's leaders themselves, in January of 1967. This time, Gowon himself was present, a participant. The transcripts of the meeting are clear on the agreement: Loose confederation. But before the ink had dried on the agreement, Gowon was to renege on it. This set off the fuse that finally lit the Biafra-Nigeria War.
As 'Volcano Nigeria' continued to erupt during Obasanjo's regime in the 2005, he was reluctantly forced to accept the need for SNC. But in his characteristic power-mongering complex, he stole the concept from activists and turned it into his own thing: the NPRC was thus borna stillbirth, though, because he had unilaterally fixed the endpoint of the conference to be the endorsement of one-Nigeria. Thus failed the conference; SNC energy was dissipated for the time being then. Until now.
Today, as President Jonathan and his government and politicians have moved from total denial of the need, to an endorsement and a serious and credible plan of action, for SNC, he seems to be forgetful of why previous SNC's failed. SNC fails in Nigeria because of the insistence on the outcome of one-Nigeria. David Mark, the President of the Nigerian Senate, appears to be speaking for the government when he stated that a 'red line' has been drawn placing the discussion of the unity of Nigeria in the 'no-go area'just like Obasanjo's NPRC and Gowon's misadventures before him. This time around, at least one group, the Afenifere, has come out with courage and the wisdom from previous experiences to advice President Jonathan not to draw any red lines. There should be no no-go areas.
As for David Mark, he insults the peoples by taking away and denying them their natural right of sovereignty. Sovereignty belongs to the people, even if the people are foolish, passive or cowardly enough to allow a political class such as is foisted over them to trample on their rights. In Nigeria, the people have their individual ethnicities: that's natural; no one can wish or take it away from them. That's where sovereignty is based and vested. Ethnic nations are sovereign. It is these sovereign ethnic nations who will be represented in SNC if the conference is to be given the chance to succeed. And if the SNC is to be effective, no one or force should presume to set, or actually set, the outcome. The ethnic nations must work out the outcome among and between them, whatever that will be.
Yet, it is mindboggling to observe the mindset of the Gowon's and Mark's of Nigeria. On January 1 1965, in the thick of the latest crisis rocking Nigeria, President Azikiwe 'described Nigeria as a nation charged with suspicion, fear and hatred' Has that changed since then? No. Gowon himself also observed that 'After six years of independence, we seem to be further away from national solidarity' (Associated Press. September 12 1966). Earlier, he had declared that there seemed to him 'no basis for Nigerian unity, which has been so badly rocked, not only once but several times' 'Rocked'? This was still in August 1966; the war had not even happened yet. Has the rocking of Nigeria stopped? No.
President Jonathan has been advised elsewhere to be the Soviet Union's Gorbachev of Nigeria. He can use the Sovereign National Conference as the vehicle for this function by ensuring that this is the meeting of delegates representing the different sovereign ethnic nationalities hithertofore caught in the destructive web woven as Nigeria by colonial intent. Or, he can be the Milosevic of Nigeria. Gorbachev led his people to and through a peaceful self-determination process resulting in the non-violent dissolution of the Soviet Union. The world did not end on that day, and the different nations separating out of old Soviet Union are on their own and managing their own respective affairs today.
Slobodan Milosevic was the Serbian leader and President of Yugoslavia who, in contrast, stubbornly insisted that Yugoslavia (of which Serbia was part) had to remain united even when the different constituent nations wanted to go their own separate ways. This led to a horrendous war with heinous atrocities committed on hapless civilians, including ethnic cleansing and genocidehorrible things that are familiar for Nigeria. In the end, those nations (Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo; as well as Slovenia) did all separate; Yugoslavia was broken up. Milosevic was arrested and sent for trial in the Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity which he had instigated and permitted. He died in prison after 5 years while his trial was still in progress.
Gorbachev or Milosevic: which will President Jonathan emulate? This will determine whether SNC is the usual dud and joke it has always been, or if this time around, it can release the peoples from their misery. In the end, like Gowon said, there is no basis for unity of Nigeria. Events and experience bear this out.
(Quotes taken from 'The Untold Story of the Nigeria-Biafra War' by Dr. Luke Nnaemeka Aneke. 2007 Triumph Publishing)
Oguchi Nkwocha, MD
A Biafran Citizen