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Published On: Mon, Apr 14th, 2014

2014 Conference: 1000 words for chairman, delegates

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National-Conference-Chair-Legbo-KutigiTuesday Column by Son Gyoh

Mr. Chairman Sir, please accept this contribution as a response to public invitation for memoranda and as an open letter to you and delegates at this conference. I seek this dual approach to my submission as it is a prompt to the delegates sitting with you and for the fact that like similar past conferences, what I bring to your attention has been mentioned by several contributors.

Mr. Chairman, I am a Diaspora Nigerian from the Benue valley area of north central Nigeria. I hear the Diaspora community have delegates in this conference but I fear there is little broad consultation to consider their contribution reflective of the broad concerns of the Nigerian community overseas. Mr. Chairman, I write to point out an issue which keeps getting mentioned yet ignored in previous conferences, and that is the issue of restructuring Nigeria as a nation state. Listening to contributions from delegates in the past week, the issue of restructuring the way Nigeria exists as a nation- state tops the concerns expressed across the board. Why is this issue always glossed over when many sitting in that hall know that addressing the structure of our existence as a sovereign nation is at the heart of the myriad of our developmental and political problems? Mr Chairman Sir, I do know that ‘the no go area’ of indivisibility and restructuring are mutually exclusive, as the former does not preclude the latter.

The fact that many of the delegates fall asleep or resort to playing scrabbles in such an important conference shows they have little confidence the exercise will address the fundamental issue with Nigeria. The neglect of restructuring Nigeria brings us full circle to a third national conference which is likely to end like previous deliberations that have proven to be nebulous and wasteful adventures. Is it possible a one off conference can aggregate the problems generated by a faulty structure and hope to resolve them? This is why many like I will reserve felicitating with the President until we see the outcome of this venture.

Mr. Chairman, as one contributor stated, ‘Nigeria remains one of the unfinished projects of this century’ and the focus of our polity on who gets what and which ethnic group grabs the power of appropriation is an indication that we have little trust people from other sections of Nigeria can be expected to represent our interest at the centre. We must appreciate there is valid reason for this apathy going by the way we have conducted the affairs of governance along ethnic affinity since political independence. It is a practice that has never been seriously questioned and one which has grown over time to become the norm and therefore, embedded in how we see ourselves and the way government officials offer their services. The challenge today is beyond the reversal of this culture, but adopting another structure that will neutralise the existing mind-set that redefines how we exist as a nation state. I hope that this time the matter of restructuring the country will be top on the recommendations and a clear roadmap identified on how to follow it through.

While I believe the delegates have the experience to discuss in more detail the structure that reflects our diverse values and collective aspiration, I will end this letter by making an initial proposition on the type of restructuring I think we should begin to seriously consider. I list three broad frames that cover what many have mentioned on guaranteeing participation, access and citizenship for all Nigerians. Firstly, we should seek a restructuring that reduces the concentration of power at the centre to minimise the inordinate and often misplaced ambition to occupy the Presidency which has ironically become a dividing than unifying institution. Secondly, a restructuring that is based on the emergence of a polycentric entity of atleast 6/7 geopolitical zones that enjoy a level of autonomy similar to the three regions we inherited at independence, but improved to respond to our current context. The advantage of polycentrism is the principle of an entity structured around several political, social or financial centres that corresponds to our local developmental aspirations. Thirdly, a structure in which each zone retain at least 30/35% of resources that accrue from that zone as derivative, allowing each zone and state to fuller explore their potentials. In such an arrangement, a specified amount received by the federal government from similar revenue is put to developing the resource potential of zonal states based on comparative advantage. Such a polycentric structure will for example provide for zonal police formations that exercise semi autonomy much in the sense of the British or American police structure such that ‘federal institutions’ become more visible in the zones and only coordinated at the centre. Each zone will also plan and develop their energy supply to meet their economic potentials as well as primary health delivery services which the federal government will work to standardise. Such a system will allow zones buy into projects through incentives and opportunities rather than the overt and covert violence that define the current structure.

What I have outlined here is just a ‘mind map’ of what can be developed in greater detail and should not be seen as suggesting a fourth tier of government as the zones only represent the de-centring of the federal tier of government . It is important you set this conference apart from previous gatherings that have proven to be a manifestation of the same ills that bedevil us as an entity held hostage by its own internal contradictions. Mr. Chairman, I will close by mentioning an unrelated pressing issue that needs to be urgently addressed today, and that is the role of the first lady in our polity and government. We need to be clear on their role and boundaries in affairs of government, if they have a budget and for what purposes and more importantly, how they can be audited and sanctioned. Our experience over the years has shown how that position has been abused as an extension of the office of the President to interfere with institutions of government and as a structure of willful appropriation.

Son Gyoh is reachable on whywhatwhichow@gmail.com

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