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The distraction of a conference

Every crisis in Nigeria seems to be followed by calls for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC). Its various synonyms include National Confab, National Conference, Conference of Ethnic Nationalities and so on.

The SNC was conceived in the wake of the annulment of the 1993 elections, widely believed to have been won by the late Moshood Abiola. Under the military government of Sani Abacha, strident cries were made for a SNC and a Government of National Unity. Former Attorney-General of the Federation, late Bola Ige, was an ardent proponent of the SNC and went on record to say it would address two major questions: Do the ethnic groups in Nigeria want to live together? and How do we want to live together?

With the return of democracy and the victory of a president of Yoruba extraction, the calls for a SNC petered out until the Niger-Delta insurgency came up; now followed by Boko Haram.

A history of the nation shows that there were indeed wide consultations held at every turn of our evolution. From the constitutional conferences of the pre-independence days to the formal and informal meetings of ethnic groups, a consensus seemed to have emerged, confirmed by the willingness of many to interact with each other (in business, education and marriage) despite cultural and ethnic differences.

The people of Nigeria do not need a political/cultural conference to determine their future. They want responsible and dynamic governance at all levels. It is the failure of some politicians that has given fillip to the renewed calls for a SNC.

Before 1960, we were told that independence will solve our problems. In 1963, we were told that getting rid of the military was the new battle. At the outbreak of the civil war, keeping Nigeria one was paramount then we asked for a return to democracy. Democracy brought corruption and people celebrated openly when Buhari overthrew Shagari. He was too stern though, so the 'smiling dictator' stepped in then 'stepped aside'.

Democracy came in 1999 and is still in place. We have a government in place but we must find new battles and so, the convocation of a SNC is what they tell us will solve our problems but have we thoroughly worked this democracy? Have we taken advantage of the constitution as it is?

The SNC will create more problems than solutions. The cacophony of voices from ethnic jingoists will rival a gathering of titans from hell. Nobody has yet decided on how to elect (or select) delegates from the over 800 tribes in Nigeria or whether business, political parties, military establishments, Nigerians in diaspora, the human rights community, NGOs and several stakeholders will be represented.

This generation cannot fight today's battle with obsolete weapons. SNC may have been relevant in the past but it is not anymore. The task we have is to deepen our democratic culture by using non-agitational means such as letter-writing to public officers, informed commentary, mass expository interaction with the lowest echelons of society and actually paying attention to government and contemporary issues, not just during subsidy crises or election periods.

Rather than seeking the next battle, we must thoroughly work this system, bad as it is or otherwise, before searching for a panacea.