14th February, 2011
The convocation of a Sovereign National Conference is now a challenge before civil and human rightsÂ activists writes EROMOSELE EBHOMELE
The fifth BekoÂ Memorial Anniversary symposium, which was held last Thursday afforded the participantsÂ to once again call for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, a programme that the lateÂ Beko Ransome Kuti lived part of his life pursuing.
While the event also allowed the participants to once again praise the man whose struggle for theÂ emancipation of the country would not be easily forgotten, it was also a time for the comrades toÂ reflect on how far they have carried on with the fight since the death of the medical doctor-turnedÂ democracy activist and his colleagues in the struggle, Gani Fawehinmi, Aka Bashorun and AnthonyÂ Enahoro. Some of them felt guilty that they have not done enough, others saw the challenges ahead ifÂ they would come together in favour of the countryâ€™s future.
Dr. Abubakar Momoh of the Lagos State University (LASU) was the first to actually drive up theÂ emotions of those who attended the event when he told them that the amalgamation of the country inÂ 1914 was an aberration. According to him, the amalgamation of the country by the British was doneÂ without asking the people if they were prepared for it.
He said the colonial powers depended on the use of force to get the people to do their biddings andÂ when they were leaving, they left behind the instrument of force which included the police and theÂ military. â€œWhat happened in independence in Africa was that these instrument of violence wereÂ inherited…Colonialism did not bring about the advancement of the people but was the development ofÂ exploitation,â€ he said in his lecture, Beyond Elections, Building A Capable State. He added thatÂ resources from Africa were used to sustain the First and Second World Wars. â€œWe always believe thatÂ elections would solve issues. That is why the anarchy we find ourselves today is contrived.â€
Dr. Sule Kano of the Uthman Dan Fodio Universty, Sokoto corroborated Momoh in his speech when heÂ described as painful the fact that those in government used public funds for their private activities.Â â€œMost times, leaders exploit our state of illiteracy and bamboozle us with various slogans.
â€œIt has become so scandalous that in the Aso Rock Villa, there is no library. You can see why yourÂ rulers are ruling you on the basis of ignorance. They do not read or have knowledge, but they canÂ oppress.
â€œNigeria is a State that was created under the capitalist mode of production and the whole essence wasÂ to build a society which on the basis of capitalism generate surplus for the British State. Today, weÂ have only three per cent of our youths in school and the government is deceiving the people that weÂ would be one of the top 20 economies by the year 2020.
â€œIf the government could take one-third of the national budget while the house of the president isÂ furnished with N2billion, whereas the amount made available to educational training is not more thanÂ N300million, then you can see that we are going nowhere,â€ he said.
Pa Alfred Ilereâ€™s comments were more thought-provoking. He said: â€œWhat I see now in the country is soÂ frightening because the young people that are in the civil society have become terribly handicapped.Â When we moved into this struggle between the 1950s and 1970s, many of us had lucrative jobs and carsÂ as journalists and students who had bursary awards and lecturers who were earning good pay and wereÂ able to take care of their families.
â€œToday, graduates leave school and after 15 years, they have no jobs to do and there is no sign that aÂ solution would come soon.
â€œIn those days when Beko was alive, we would meet with the progressive and radicals in Lagos and whenÂ there are issues, we present the feelings of the masses with the hope that the government would lookÂ into it. And actually in those days, they do set up panels just like the one of the Anglo-NigerianÂ Defence Pact and issues with student demonstration. But these days, lecturers go on strike for fiveÂ months and the government would say â€˜if they are tired, they will go back to workâ€™. If doctors are onÂ strike, the government would say when they are hungry; they would go back to work.â€
â€œThere is only one group that is speaking the true language today and that is the organisation calledÂ Boko Haram in Maiduguri. The language is being used to pass a vote of no confidence on WesternÂ education. The language the group is speaking is spoken in every village in Nigeria. The educatedÂ western elite in the country today is seen as a fraud. He takes a good job and all he does with theÂ job is taking care of himself and his family.
â€œHe is so scared of his environment that he builds structures and put barricades. Of late, he had toÂ buy bullet-proof cars and wear bullet-proof vests to be able to live within his environment. Thus, youÂ could see that we are heading to nowhere except anarchy. Countries have fallen in recent times. TheÂ Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Yugoslavia collapsed, and Somalia became ungovernable.
â€œAre we actually a State? Did we prepare to be one people? This is one area that the Bekos of thisÂ world took time to address â€”that the colonialists created a haphazard nation and to make it work,Â there must be agreement between the different nationalities on how to work together and until that isÂ done we are not running any goal-driven country,” Pa Ilere said.
He continued: â€œWe have recommendations from the PRONACO peopleâ€™s conference. No country would remainÂ stable if you rely on the instruments of coercion to intimidate the people. There should be welfareÂ package for all Nigerians. There should be unemployment allowance. There should be free education, inÂ fact, there is actually nothing like free education because the people will pay when they startÂ working and that is exactly what we are saying here. Elections lead to nowhere but violence. We shouldÂ have a transitory sovereign national conference to determine how the country is to be run free ofÂ corruption and oppression.â€
The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Edo State, Osagie Obayuwana, who was in theÂ struggle with the Beko, said until the country decides to come together and discuss if the people wantÂ to continue to live together, we all might just be deceiving themselves.
Comrade Obayuwana decried the impunity with which those in government operated anti-people policiesÂ without remorse. â€œAt the beginning of the year, budgets are made, projects are outlined but at the endÂ of the year, we are told the Ministries were only able to implement the budget to the tune of betweenÂ 25 and 30 per cent,â€ he said maintaining that it was the function of the kind of state the people hadÂ allowed exist, which had turned Nigeria into a source of raw materials and a market for finishedÂ goods.
â€œThe National Assembly claimed to have amended the constitution but did not touch the part which isÂ most vital to the people. There should be health services to all on the basis of need and not abilityÂ to pay, right to housing and most importantly the right to a job fully justifiable in the sense thatÂ every youth can ask the government to provide him a job,â€ he added.
He described Beko as an enigma and that keeping his company was a most pleasant experience.
Reverend Tunji Adebiyi, a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition, used his time to reflect onÂ some activities of Beko and the other activists of his time in the country. According to him, the lateÂ Beko was a doctor who had time to mingle with Nigerians and fight against oppression of people by theÂ military. He added that most of the reasons why Beko was imprisoned by the governments of the day wereÂ related to fighting for the people he did not know.
He said: â€œIn the regional government, every region through cash crops and the revenue generated wasÂ able to cater to the needs of its people. Then the military came in and set up states which now relyÂ on the centre for revenue.
â€œI remember in 1996, Beko and Sylvester Odion Akhaine were in prison and the Campaign for DemocracyÂ (CD) had to be organised by Frederick Fasehun.
â€œWhen the military, during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, said they wanted to celebrate unknownÂ soldiers, we said we wanted to celebrate known soldiers. We advertised the event and behold, on thatÂ day, soldiers were everywhere with armoured tanks at the Ojuelegba venue of our event to arrest us.
That day, we did not use our vehicles because they were looking for us. But we entered a danfo, got toÂ Ojuelegba and the soldiers were there and did not recognise us. We passed by, signalled to theÂ pressmen who were there waiting for us and they got us and we relocated to Masha area of Surulere.
Within 10 minutes, the comrades were there and Dr. Fasehun asked me to pray. I was praying with myÂ eyes open, looking all around and decreeing that the freedom will come. After that, Fasehun gave hisÂ speech and Joe Okei, who was not Odumakin then, was the acting secretary. She gave her speech.
â€œWhen she was getting too long, I dragged her to round off. And immediately, we finished, we wereÂ moving inside the next available bus when we heard gun shots. The newspapers carried it the next dayÂ that despite all the armoured tanks, the CD was able to beat them to it.â€
He agreed that civil society groups have not done enough now as according to him, there are no moreÂ armoured tanks on the streets and the people were now free to publicly express their opinions andÂ protest against any move by the government to derail. He also tasked them to continue the move for aÂ Sovereign National Conference as this was the only solution to the countryâ€™s challenges. â€œWe must notÂ forget the efforts of Beko, Gani Fawehinmi, Aka Bashorun and Enahoro in identifying how we could buildÂ a capable state. They gave their voice in favour of a Sovereign National Conference.â€
The President of the ArewaÂ Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Shettima Yerima, told P.M.NEWS, that theÂ country was heading towards anarchy if it fails to convoke a Sovereign National Conference where theÂ need for true federalism would be discussed. He agreed with Adebiyi that the civil society groups hadÂ not done enough, adding that it was because some of those in the struggle are more interested in whatÂ they would get.
â€œThe situation has become so bastardised that some of us are now guilty of abandoning the legacies ofÂ our past leaders. Today, there is no Gani Fawehinmi, Beko and Enahoro are no longer there and we donâ€™tÂ have a replacement for any of them. As I speak with you now, some of us who have found our ways intoÂ government these days have now pocketed the institutions that produced some of us.
â€œSome of us actually came into the struggle for selfish interests and because of this, there isÂ confusion as against the ideals these people (the national leaders) fought for, which includes aÂ society where there is justice, fairness, equity and justice.
â€œI subscribe to the fact that we are moving towards anarchy because the stage is getting set daily andÂ the people have become aware that those vested with authority in the country are daily becomingÂ careless with it.
â€œThe people are now getting tired and my worry is that those who do not understand the system are nowÂ carrying arms. The Boko Haram is there in the north as a threat to national security, the militantsÂ are in South-South. So, you can imagine what would happen if we begin to have their likes in theÂ South-West. It would become obvious that the end of the country has come,â€ he said.
He maintained that the countryâ€™s politicians are scared of a Sovereign National Conference because itÂ is clear that once it holds, they would not be able to come back to their positions again. â€œThey wouldÂ not be relevant in the polity and they would lose power. This is why they pretend that all is well andÂ when you call for it, they would tell you it is not necessary, but it is very germane to theÂ continuous existence of this country,â€ he emphasised.
Now that the comrades know they have not done enough to keep the legacies of the past leaders alive,Â Nigerians may be waiting to see how they would unite to redirect the course of their destiniesÂ positively.