By Jaye Gaskia
In recent times there have been some renewed talks, and agitation for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference [SNC], or any conference, but with more or less constituent powers!
These calls and talks have been pouring and coming in from various quarters, including from the Senate president, and even muted speculations from the presidency of the country.
Well, to be certain, some of these calls are quite self serving, and are usually taken up and parroted in increasingly more strident manners by various wings of the ruling class, at moments of deep intra class ferment, and as a mode of competitive whipping up of popular emotions and stoking up of mass illusions in the supposed responsiveness and sensitivity of the ruling class. The closer to elections these periodic intra class turbulence breaks out, the more vigorous the competitive calls and dismissals of the urgency of a Sovereign National Conference! The more theatrical of the ruling class elements even go as far as hinging national survival, and collective existence on the convocation or not of the said conference!
Now let us try to pay much closer attention to the details of the issue or issues in contention; let us put the demand, struggle and call for the convocation of the SNC in context and in proper perspective.
A Sovereign National Conference [SNC] or a Constituent Assembly [CA], with full constituent powers, in reality means an assembly or conference whose authorities supersedes that of the existing state structures; a conference or assembly, that is supreme to the existing government, and whose decisions, can in the final analysis only be ratified by a popular referendum! It means that its powers are subject only to the outcome of a popular, free and fair referendum.
Now there are several ways through which such a sovereign conference or a constituent assembly can be convened; it can be convened at the height or as the concluding phase of the victorious overthrow of an existing power structure by a popular insurrection or insurgency; in which case we are here speaking of a revolutionary process, an uprising that is culminating in a victorious revolution; where the victorious revolutionary forces are trying to reorganize society and establish incipient organs of popular power. This is the first and purest instance. This was the only way for example that such a sovereign conference or constituent assembly could have been convened under the intransigent military dictatorships; it was through it that the June 12 presidential elections result could have been revalidated, the winner installed as the president and head of an Interim or transitional government etc. But this was also unfortunately the path not taken, the path not favoured by the dissident factions of the ruling elites/class then organised into NADECO and its many incarnations. This was the path, understood, but also feared by a section, the majority, of the popular resistance organised by JACON and UAD in the anti-military struggle.
There are other ways such a sovereign conference or constituent assembly can be convened! This includes a situation and context where the existing state structures and the faction of the ruling class holding power on the one hand; and the opposition forces from both the dissident factions of the ruling class and the popular and exploited subordinate classes have more or less mutually exhausted themselves in a fierce contestation. Hence such a sovereign conference or constituent assembly is convened to organise the resolution of the conflict, and reorganize the society to take account of competing demands in the uprising. Such a situation will create a dual power situation. We were at such a moment in the immediate aftermath of the twin murders of Abacha and Abiola. It was a path which again, the agitators for the SNC did not take.
One other way in which such a conference or constituent assembly can be convened will be in a moment of deep ferment, deep enough to instigate and fuel the implosion of the ruling class into antagonistic and increasingly irreconcilable factions. During such a period the call for the SNC and CA will gain in stridency, and it mat then eventually be convened in an attenuated manner; with the existing state structures retaining their validity, and powers, and with decisions of such a sovereign conference or constituent assembly subjected to a referendum, before they become executive bills which must be passed into law by the legislature. Even as such, this will still create a dual power situation, and it is little wonder that although different factions of the ruling class are making such demands, they are not prepared to take the necessary steps towards actualizing their demands.
But even more important questions than the question of process needs to be raised and discussed! These are questions of content and quality. When the ruling class factions talk of the SNC what do they mean? They are essentially speaking of and reducing this to a conference of ethnic nationalities; they are essentially posing the problem, in primarily ethnic and nationalities context rather than in social context. They want representatives of the ethnic nationalities alone to sit together.
Now how might the representatives of the ethnic nationalities to the conference or assembly be chosen/selected/elected? Which ethnic nationalities are to be represented at this conference? And in what proportions might they be represented? No one is raising or addressing these germane issues if the conference or assembly, sovereign, constituent or not, were to be convened as a conference of ethnic nationalities!
Will the Yorubas for example be represented by Asiwaju, Afenifere [old and new], OPC [Faseun or Adams], the various Odua self determination groups, or by whom? Will the Ijaws be represented by Clark, Tompolo, Asari, Alameisiegha, the INC, IYC, Oronto Douglas; or by whom? In fact for the purpose of Ethnic nationalities conference that is sovereign and has constituent powers; will the Egbas, Okuns, Ijebus, Ondos, Ekitis, be considered separately or as part of the Yoruba nation? Will the Okrikas, Ogbias, Andonis, Kalabaris, etc be considered separately or as part of the Ijaw nation?
We insist that there are far bigger national and social problems confronting us as a people and nation, that have had a collective experience of slavery and the slave trade; the unequal trade which preceded colonialism; colonialism; and the internal class exploitation by a shifting alliance of national ruling class elements and international capital; as well as national exploitation through the global structures of dependence of a globalizing international capitalism.
We insist that the major fault lines in our society are class, not ethnic in nature; that the major contestation is between the ruling elites and the subordinate classes; that real issues are around the share of national wealth owned and controlled by ruling and subordinate classes in society. We know that 70% of our population are living in poverty, and that they come from all the ethnic groups in the country; we know that for every Dangote, Dantata, Abiola, Otedola, Adenuga, Emeka Ofor, Igbinedion, Iwnayanwu, Tompolo, Dokubo, Alaibe etc; there are several millions of people from those same ethnic nationalities who are poor, homeless or living in inhuman habitation; jobless and hopeless! We know that where as the state of public education is such that the education of the children of the poor is happening under conditions that are not conducive to learning; and that the education of the middle class is happening at increasingly unbearable costs to the families; whereas the education of the children of the ruling class is happening in choice private institutions at home and abroad. We know that one in two unemployed youths come from every one of the ethnic nationalities in the country; we know that the 18 million housing deficits is a burden borne exclusively by the poor and lower middle class from all the ethnic nationalities. We know that the problems associated with gross lack, inadequacy, and dilapidation of basic services in health, education, housing, and of basic infrastructures in roads, transport etc; is a burden disproportionately borne by the 70% of the population that are poor in the first instance; followed by the 25% that live on middle class income in the second instance; And we know that they come from all the ethnic groups.
We insist that the fundamental problem of our society is that emanating from the disproportionate access to, ownership and control of social wealth, including basic services. And we know this because a mere 10% of the richest Nigerians own and control 41% of national wealth, whereas the bottom 50% of Nigerians own and control 10% of national wealth.
We affirm that the real issue needing resolution at a sovereign conference or a constituent assembly, is the situation that makes it possible to have a national minimum wage of 18,000 Naira per month that is not even being paid to workers; in a country where the per capital income is over $1,500; where the wealthiest man has a personal fortune of $40bn [making him the richest African, and 25th richest man globally], an amount more than 60% of the entire country’s external reserves and savings; or where its wealthiest woman [who is also the wealthiest Black woman] has a personal fortune in excess of $3bn!; where the wealthiest.
This is the Fundamental, National Social Question that requires urgent attention, and that needs to be addressed through the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, or Constituent Assembly! We insist that the social forces that ought to be primarily represented at such a national conference or constituent assembly are such social and class categories and forces as Workers and their organisations; employers of labour and their organisations; Professional organisations; active coalitions of membership based citizens’ organisations and other social movements; Youth formations; Student Formations; Women Organisations; Artisanal groups and their organisations; Traders and their organisations; and political parties and political formations; representatives from the NASS and state Assemblies, the LGAs, the Federal and state executive councils; and only after these, religious delegates and delegates from ethnic associations that are organised.
But for us it is clear that the fundamental social forces in our society have been, and continue to be the social formations of citizens that have to do with how they earn their living and how they are trained, etc. These have been the social formations that have shaped our history, and continue to shape our daily existence.
It is only such a Sovereign National Conference or Constituent Assembly, constituted by these social forces rather than the ethnic forces that can dispassionately discuss the issues of restructuring of the federation, and agreeing the procedures and systems for real fiscal and political federalism. It is only in this context that issues around Federal minimum wage standards, local government autonomy, and democratic and representative community governance can be addressed in the interest of the wider population, and not in the treasury looting and light fingered interests of the ruling elite/class.
For the teeming majority of Nigerians who are the collective victims of the collective greed, avarice and misrule of the ruling elites, this must be our agenda for the SNC/CA, if we are ever going to put ourselves in a position that will enable us to Take Back Nigeria, and regain control of our destinies from the death grip of the rampaging pillage of these bands of organised treasury looters.
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