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Managing Nigeria’s conflicts

Happy Democracy Day in arrears!

Last week, we hailed the vice president’s call for a paradigm shift in African political elite’s economic engagement: we must begin to put the interest of our peoples, their present economic survival interest in the front burner, above the interest of other peoples. For example, while being sensitive to the challenge of global warming, we must not neglect for now, fossil fuels that we are endowed with and which, properly managed can meet our energy needs. We went on to explain how the fossil fuels should be managed politically for maximum benefit of all our peoples. We opined that they must be left in the hands of the elected leadership of the various states in which they are found. We took those positions in the spirit of the progressive Nigerian original union constitution of 1960, particularly sections 134 to 139 therein, which we cited and reproduce below for ease of reference.

Mining royalties and rents   

  1. (1) There shall be paid by the Federation to each Region a sum equal to fifty per cent.

(a) The proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that Region; and

(b) Any mining rents derived by the Federation during that year from within that Region.

(2) The Federation shall credit to the Distributable Pool Account a sum equal to thirty per cent.

(a) The proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of minerals extracted in any Region; and

(b) Any mining rents derived by the Federation from within any Region.

(3) For the purposes of this section the proceeds of a royalty shall be the amount remaining from the receipts of that royalty after any refunds or other repayments relating to those receipts have been deducted therefrom or allowed for.

(4) Parliament may prescribe the periods in relation to which the proceeds of any royalty or mining rents shall be calculated for purposes of this section.

(5) In this section “minerals” includes mineral oil.

(6) For the purposes of this section the continental shelf of a Region shall be deemed to be part of that Region.”

This week, as we celebrate Democracy, we say it is good that the federal government is taking steps to resolve the three intrinsically linked albeit major conflicts facing Nigeria at the moment, namely, Niger Delta, herdsmen/crop farmers, and Boko Haram. Today, we seek to contribute what we consider a best practice approach to managing these and other Nigerian sociopolitical conflicts.

The take-off point of our intervention is the need to realise that these conflicts, like all conflicts, are rooted in our relationship to and with one another as co-constituents of Nigeria. Various peoples that history has made one by our commonality of nationhood. It is equally important to understand that the root cause of these conflicts is our avoidable inability to meet the needs of the various peoples constituting Nigeria. We must remember that it is to meet those needs of the various people that brought our various peoples (more than 500 ethnic groups) together in the first place, at least pre and post-colonialism.

Those times that Nigeria enjoyed relative peace, especially pre and post-independence, notably mid-1950s-mid-1960s (and, probably, 1970 to 1985 and 1999 to 2006), were the periods when serious efforts were made to meet the needs of various constituent peoples of Nigeria. However, even during those periods, seeds of conflict were sown through military law making, in such laws as the Petroleum Act, the Minerals Act, the Land Use Act, and the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions. Those laws destroyed the bond of nationhood and relationship between the peoples of Nigeria. This bond of nationhood is epitomized by Sections 130 to 139 of Nigeria’s 1960 Independence Constitution. Those sections were a great attempt at legislating fiscal federalism.

When those constitutional guarantees of good neighborliness were removed from our constitution by various military juntas, notably, those of Generals Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo, the foundation of perpetual discord and conflicts were laid. Before this military betrayal of our union and their bastardization of our union constitution, the whole country was developing economically. Development meant job creation and youth employment. Note that the youths are the tools with which lazy political elites cause trouble and inflict violent conflicts.

In the above circumstances and background to the conflicts of Nigeria, if the conflicts are to be effectively managed and resolved, the process of conflict management and dispute resolution must be holistic. If the process must be holistic, it must be based on the understanding that the various Nigerian peoples are relating with one another to meet their various peoples’ needs mutually. In order to meet needs that form the basis of our relationship and union, we must restore aspects of the original 1960 Constitution, which guarantee fiscal federalism, notably sections 130 – 139 of the 1960 constitution and we must expunge section 44(3) of the 1999 Constitution, which directly contradicts he above provisions of the 1960 Constitution.

In conclusion, it must be understood that it was when the 1950 union constitution was neglected and abridged, particularly through Gowon’s Petroleum Decree of 1969, Obasanjo’s 1979 Constitution and Abdulsalami Abubakar’s 1999 Constitution, that the peace of Nigeria was truncated, hence the violent conflicts that we see.

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