Tuesday, 27 May 2014

National Confab, the Journey so far

By Jaye Gaskia 

The National Conference 2014 has just returned to plenary, and it is immediately clear that several battles lay ahead. Taking a deep look at the composition of the conference as well as at the constellation of social forces and the dynamics of their interaction, it can be seen and said that the conference is broadly divided into two heterogeneous camps: the forces of change, and the forces of order; those who seek transformation in the progressive manner of the current societal context, and those who seek preservation of the current order.
And just as it was during the initial plenary session before the commencement of committee work, and as it was during the committee phase of its work, the return to plenary already shows clear indication of fierce, sometimes covert, sometimes overt confrontation between progress and stagnation, between advancement and retreat, between safeguarding the status quo and transcending it.
Let us not forget that the conference itself is an amalgam of interest groups, classes and intra class fractions. There are in conference representatives of the interest groups and classes who have presided over the affairs of this country at all levels, in government, and in opposition since independence. Forces and ruling class interests that have been collectively responsible for the stagnation and decline in the quality of life of our people, forces implicated in the coordination of the systematic pillage of our resources, the rapacious and sustained looting of our treasury.
There are also representatives of the victims of their collective ineptitude and pillage, and among them, those who have opposed their greed, and been repressed for their persistence in seeking radical transformation of our collective fortunes.
So yes, the conference is not only an interesting amalgam of social forces, it is also an interesting arena of intense inter and intra class struggle.
Already we have clashed over citizenship and the rights of all Nigerians regardless of their place of origin to enjoy equal access to opportunities and citizenship rights anywhere in the country. Inherent in this clash between the past and the future of our country, is the contestation ingrained in the dichotomy between so-called settlers and so-called indigenes, and ultimately therefore between indigeneship and citizenship.
And it does seem like forward looking and transformative forces were able to force through the needed resolutions on citizenship and residency rights. If implemented, and yes this is the battle that is sure to come, and that we must engage, there will be one single Nigerian citizenship for all Nigerians.
There have also been a clash over the increasingly antagonistic nature of the relationship between the livelihoods of nomadic herders and sedentary farmers. Again there were those who sought to present the clash in ethno-religious terms, just as there were those who sought to close the door to progressive transformation and modernization of the livelihoods systems and economic modes of particular groups in the name of defending culture and tradition. How can we continue to defend the exclusion from access to undeniably life improving basic opportunities, basic social services, and basic social infrastructures in the name of maintaining culture and tradition? How can we continue to expose a signification fragment of our people to the life threatening risks and dangers inherent in a life style and economic mode that saps and restrains development in the name of tradition? The truth is that this is in reality a clever attempt by ruling elites to keep the subordinate classes poor and disadvantaged, exploited and marginalized, as a means of shutting them out of participation in governance, and being able to hold the elites accountable.
Again, this contestation was resolved several frayed nerves later in the interest of modernization, transformative change and ensuring equal opportunity to all Nigerians to access the benefits of citizenship of Nigeria.
With respect to land tenure and access to land, as well as to resource governance, again, the battle line was drawn, at the end of which concessions were won; Land rights as justiciable and constitutional, as well as the endorsement of the progressive sections of the Minerals Act and their extension to govern petroleum and gas mining too.
Basically the Minerals Act confers rights on communities with respect to extraction and utilization of mineral resources found in their communities. The right to be consulted, the right to be part of the decision to exploit resources, the right to have their environment protected the right to benefit from the extractive activity, and the right to refuse access to exploitation of those resources. These rights are already protected by legislation with respect to solid minerals. After intense contestation, conference agreed to endorse these rights, and to demand their extension to cover the petroleum sector.
A battle was waged over resource governance and management, in particular over the recommendation for Resource Democracy to be institutionalized. Eventually the resolution passed was in favour of Resource Democracy. But what does this mean? In very simple terms, this means the right of communities to be consulted, to have a say, to participate fully, and to benefit significantly from the exploitation of resources in their domain.
A detailed codification of the essential components of resource democracy will be an expansive interpretation of the rights already granted in the Minerals Act referred to earlier.
Also in an overarching manner, a majority of committees have recommended the justiceability of Chapter 2 of the present constitution in the same manner as chapter 4 is justiciable. The Religion committee for instance, not only also put forward this recommendation, but in fact also went on to discuss poverty eradication and unemployment and to recommend a Social Welfare Scheme echoing one of the recommendations of the Social Sector committee.
What this trend indicates is a preponderance of opinion around the idea and urgent necessity for a SAocial Charter, a comprehensive bill of justiciable and enforceable rights, including not only civil and political rights, but also ECOSOC [Economic, Social and Cultural] Rights, underpinning the indivisibility of Human Rights. The community that has gone the furthest in actually enunciating and itemizing this bill of rights is the committee on Law, Judiciary and Human Rights.
Have we lost some battles? Ofcourse we have? For instance the battles over mainstreaming gender, over the urgent necessity to reform the land use act and take the prerequisite step of delinking it from the constitution and making it a legislation like any other one; as well as the battle to actually get the recommendation for a Social Charter passed; all of these are still fiercely contested terrains over which decisions have yet to be finalized.
As Civil Society, we decided to engage with this conference on the basis of a clear program, which we released in the document Seize The Time. These were a set of minimum demands. We have remained consistent in pushing for these, and we have in alliance with Labour and other like-minded delegates already pushed through some of these.
However it is a long way from being definitively victorious yet. The plenary is still ongoing, only three committee reports have been considered and voted on, out of 20, the final report of conference is yet to be concluded and adopted, and of course there is no automatic guarantee that conference report will be implemented.
So the battle continues, and as this third phase of the class struggle unfolds, we must begin to prepare for the fourth phase, the period post-conference to get conference recommendations implemented. And in this the dynamics of the upcoming general elections becomes a platform to intensify the struggle, make demands on the ruling class, and pressure the ruling class into a commitment to implement progressive recommendations of the conference. Whatever concessions we win from the conference can become our programmatic platform for a robust engagement with the 2015 general election processes.
Events and processes so far convince us that our analysis has been essentially right; the analysis that a combination of factors shaping class contestation in the country at the moment opens up possibilities for forcing some concessions on the ruling class and the status quos, transformative changes with potentially significant impacts not only on our quality of life, but also in the quality of our capacity to engage in the class struggle.



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