The need for a true National Conference, revisited

October 17, 2011 

With the cries for a National Conference growing louder because the need becomes more apparent daily, here’s a newspaper column from not too long ago that was a memo to the Obasanjo Panel which was a feeble attempt at a national dialogue.  Of course we all remember the farcical outcome as the retired General’s intent was not a genuine attempt at a dialogue.

If a traveller reaches a crossroad on a journey and cannot make up his/her mind on which fork to take, he/she must remain at that junction till he or she can decide what to do.  

Memo on ‘national dialogue’



To:                         All Delegates


I do not know whether to congratulate you all on the onerous responsibility you have been saddled with to dialogue with each other on which way forward for this country.  Ordinarily, we should all feel sorry for you because it is a heavy burden but in a country where avenues to serve almost always end up as avenues to exploit, I believe ‘congratulations’ may be very much in order.  There are already jockeying going on and re-groupings towards 2007, the new Year of Destiny for Nigeria that cannot but have far-reaching effects on whatever the outcome may be.

Like most citizens, I was pleasantly surprised when the President changed his position on ‘sovereign national conference’; ‘national conference’, albeit short of what many would have preferred, and came up with the idea of a ‘national dialogue.’  As recently as only a couple of months ago, I read go-get-them (Fani-Kayode) dismiss those in favor of such in not elegant language..  Even though ten percent of the delegates are presidential appointees, one hopes that this conference is not going to be – in a popular expression of my elementary school days – “working to the answer”.   Although looking at several of the names on the lists from the different states, another Arithmetical term comes readily to mind: recurring decimal.   While a fairly acceptable outcome to the majority may, therefore, be wishful thinking on my part I would like to imagine, in the light of the chosen and the end product, that a mere social drinker would get to this particularly robust party and get drunk in the heat of the moment!  And then, again, a messenger could actually decide to go the way of a Yoruba saying to do what is right: bi a ba ran ni n’ise eru, a a fi je t’omo.


There already is an agenda for you but I hope you will also call for memoranda from the public although I understand that students, labor, etc. are getting delegates.  I am also sure that the agenda must contain all we know as contentious issues facing Nigeria; it is what you do with/to these items that would spell success or failure for your committee.


I have written a number of times in this column on the police (that it needs to be decentralized) and states’ rights in a true federation.  I am excerpting below some of the arguments and suggestions from a couple of essays as my own submission; I am sure they speak for millions of Nigeria.


While an essay written soon after the Ngige saga, Police, an affront to true federalism, did not beat about the bush, another on The honest policeman (no, I did not come across an honest policeman as such are rare in my part of the country but I chose the oxymoron merely to generate interest) about two years ago, also dealt with decentralizing the force. 

… The rising cry for state police is not for naught.  The Nigeria Police is too big, too unwieldy and too corrupt.  Worse, it is inefficient and ineffective.  The ONLY solution is decentralization that does away with a central force…

[Update:  The whole of the essay, “The Honest Policeman” was recently recycled on this Blog.]


In another essay I had titled “States rights, National Conference, Constitutional roles for traditional rulers, etc.” but which the ‘printer’s devil’ produced as “A fresh look at the polity” on August 31, 2003, I had the essay in form of an imaginary discussion between an imaginary professor friend and myself.  ‘Prof’ is a widely-acclaimed political economist. Excepts:

Me:         I’m confused … and don’t know where to start!

Prof.:      Politics is not a difficult science … I know you are high on National Conference, for example.

Me:         (Jumping at the lifeline). Okay.  Allow me to first hint that my questions are going to be the winding variety; pointer to the fact that I am really way in over my head … I’ll start from state level.  My reading of events may be wrong but I have a feeling that PDP is against any conference, sovereign or otherwise.  … I have been taken aback, therefore, lately when I read of the governor of Oyo disagreeing with the FRSC on driver’s license issuance.

Prof:       What grouse has the Alhaji with FRSC?

Me:         I am impressed that the governor … suggesting that the “issuance of driving license in the country has not been efficient …why are you asking us to continue to renew the licenses … when you are not going to take the owners … through another driving test …”

Prof:       Yeah?

Me:         Can you enlighten me on why the governor would want to query this ‘federal schedule’ when he is afraid of a state police on the premise that his state “cannot afford it”?

Prof:       I really have no comment. …

Me:         Well, over at Osun, the retired Brigadier governor is justifiably miffed at the census figure ascribed to Osun which his predecessor had also cried out against. Osun is assigned a figure of 2.1 m and supposedly has enrollment of 2.2 m. in primary and secondary schools!  The retired brigadier has reportedly described this evil genius calculation as “unrealistic and unacceptable” and that come 2005 when new population figures will be ASSIGNED (my description), he would ensure that “assessors have unhindered access to all parts of the state.”  Please explain to me how our dear governor can see that in spite of big cities like Osogbo, Ilesa, Ile-Ife, Iwo, Ikire, Gbogan, etc., Osun will never line up ahead of those states which are, by right, destined to have larger populations in the federal set-up that Nigeria operates right now.

Prof:       I reserve my comments. …

Me:         Still on National Conference, Prof.  There is a lot of opposition to the President’s review of Local Government setup judging from newspapers … We … all know this third tier of government failed woefully … Is the local government reform not an important item on an agenda of a National Conference?  You must comment on these points …

Prof:        Sorry, T., …

Me:         Now, the issue of traditional rulers having constitutional roles troubles me. When I first read of the comments of … governor at Osun …, I knew it was a kite and that we would soon learn more … When I read of the call by the president for a renaissance of obas, obis and emirs in politics, I knew my guess had been right. How this would be set up still baffles me: will the TRs be “under” the chairman of local governments or “above” them? …

Prof:       I refuse to be drawn ….

Me:         Well, I guess you won’t have any comments on the claim of Ondo governor that “the recent policy by the Federal Government which devolved the payment of pension of retired primary school teachers … led to an additional financial burden of eighty-eight million … naira per annum” on Ondo and, I guess, other states.  … I understand it recently tried to deduct ten per cent of allocation to oil-producing states through a National Assembly bill.  No comments?

Prof:       You guessed right!

Me: … an interview a COMET reporter had with the President of the Supreme Court for Sharia, Dr. Ahmad on his opposition to the National Assembly’s plan to ban capital punishment.  Here are some of the words of the learned man from the interview:  “If the Federal Government and the National Assembly ignore our feelings and pass the law, then we will continue it and pass the capital punishment judgment in our states …”  This is really your turf, Prof.  Give me some insight into this and its implications.  …

Another essay on August 1 last year, Extortion of uneducated young men by the police, was meant to look into another unseemly side of the Nigerian Police but detoured itself into other areas.  Naturally, it touched on the idea of having a verydecentralized police force that will reduce policing even beyond a so-called ‘state police’ level.  Here are excerpts:


This column has written on the much-discussed issue of decentralizing the police force in the true spirit of Nigeria’s supposed federal structure.  It is a topic that comes very much to mind again while dealing with the subject of this essay.  While I do not subscribe to the idea of an abused, corrupt and inept federal police, I am not for a state police that many think should replace Officer Tafa’s men, either.  And while it may be more effective in law enforcement, it would become a force of repression in the hands of the type of men who get elected these days as governors.  A federal police, as we’ve all seen, has been a close ally of governments in power to rig elections in Nigeria.


To get a truly independent, effective and fair police force in Nigeria, I believe we have to look to the United States, a system that General Obasanjo copied for Nigeria’s hybridized ‘federal’ system but Nigeria’s would have to be a modified form of America’s.  There will be a state police whose duties, like those of state police in America, would be restricted to the highways within each state.  Please note that I did not say ‘federal highways’ so that we do not have the Ogunlewes of Nigerian politics and their successors ask for ‘federal highway police’!  If the federal government of Nigeria has constructed roads, states must be allowed to operate in ways that make life easy for the citizens of those states and in ways that help the states to be economically viable.  I will give an example, from  — where else!


There is a weighbridge just outside Las Vegas on the (federal) road from California just as must exist in other states of the Union.  Hundreds of huge trucks, eighteen-wheelers and even bigger ones, stream into Vegas daily en route to Vegas but most are just passing through.  Ordinarily, these trucks are supposed to veer off Interstate 15 (I-15) as the federal road in that part is known and drive over the weighbridge to ensure they are not overloaded because overloading means faster damage to roads.  I remember that when Nevada cried out to federal authorities in the late 80’s or early 90’s that the weighbridge was driving gambling business from Vegas, the weighbridge stopped receiving traffic.  Bush I was the Republican president while Miller, a Democrat, was Nevada’s governor.  I did not know what actually happened but being a road we traveled often, I noticed the weighing stopped, and became overgrown with weeds.  I traveled that road as recently as Christmas 2001 but that weighbridge remained unused. True federalism must allow states the room to operate and prosper.


Here’s a set up that I am sure will not only ensure effective policing at minimum costbut would definitely put an end to the disgraceful role of the police force in election malpractices among other benefits.


Oyo State, for example, will have policemen employed and trained by the different local government areas unlike in the United States where each city, town or village has its own police force.  To start these various forces, the bloated, corrupt but ineffective Nigerian Police Force and the corrupt Federal Road Safety Corps would be disbanded and each officer would return to his/her local government origin. Uh-oh, I can already hear “disunity” from those who profit from the so-called Nigerian Police.  I cannot see how having a policeman serve in his local government can cause disunity.  From my observation, more than half of the policemen who police the Southwest do not understand or speak Yoruba but there are other important reasons why it is better to reduce policing to this base unit of the federation.


I am sure a hundred policemen will be more than adequate for each of most local government areas in the country while big urban areas may each need more than that figure for their local government areas.  If a hundred men are in charge of Ibadan North within the city where I reside in Nigeria, I am sure we will be adequately policed.  Ditto Lagelu Local Government that is partly within the city and partly in the rural area.  Fifty policemen would be more than adequate for my native LG in Ondo State.  Each LG should employ as many policeman as its status and needs warrant.


Police Forces controlled at local government level would be too unwieldy to control from the center for election manipulation from the center. This, of course, presupposes that the policemen would be paid by their local government, money for which will be removed from the federal schedule.  Money to maintain state police force to enforce road safety would also come from the center straight to state governments.  Methods like those that I’ve read in the papers through which state governors claim they are “cooperating with local government areas to execute projects” by keeping allocations to LG areas and doling out what they like is not only unconstitutional but fraudulent.


The slums known as police barracks which breed a lot of miscreants in society would be sold, and policemen would live decently among the communities they serve.  This would make it possible for people being policed to know their law-enforcement agents.  When I lived in a town that had less than twenty thousand in a part of the United States, I knew by face just about all the officers even though they always patrolled in their vehicles.  Having a policeman as a neighbor would preclude that the officer is a faceless actor behind an “accidental discharge.”


Where does all the above take us?  To a Sovereign National Conference, of course, a conference that has been supported by this column more than once. …


Above deals with many points on the how and what of a very decentralized police force and should allay the fears, for example, of how to pay for it that worried Alhaji Ladoja of Oyo State, i.e. if such “fears” were genuine, anyway.

Ladies and gentlemen on the National Dialogue Committee, these are the feelings not just of this columnist but of millions of Nigerians on a couple of areas that are crying out for ‘dialogue’.  You will succeed in your mission if you want to; what is more, most Nigerians want you to.

TOLA ADENLE, The Nation on Sunday, February 2005



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