A Speech Presented By Annkio Briggs At The South-East/South-South Network Conference Titled “Towards Greater Economic Union” On 18th Day Of April 2017 At Owerri, Imo State
The Role Of Civil Society And Community Organizations In Actualizing Shared Visions And Prosperity Amongst The Peoples Of South-East And South South.
I congratulate the conveners of this august gathering for deeming it necessary to work towards the harmony and interrelationship of two sister regions.
South-East and South-South have faced serious challenges in the past and are still faced with challenges now but we have to resolve them and learn to live with the ones we have to live with.
I am honored by the invitation from SESSNet to speak at this maiden conference because it has been my well-bound considered duty to canvass for synergy in the bid to overcome the hydra-headed environment, security, development and economic problems that have evaded solution thus far.
It is my observation that the problems we are faced with are the result of the failure of our regions to work in unison. I hope today’s gathering will be one of the many concerted and successful efforts by our peoples at bringing us together in spite of the numerous glaring political walls that have kept us divided, separated, and suspicious of each other for many years, there by holding us back and down.
I accept the many positive names l have been called by many such as a loud and strong voice from the Niger Delta (politically South-South) Rivers State and of the Ijaw ethnic nationality.
l have not spared the handlers and administrators of my region, state and the Federal Government, definitely l refuse to be afraid of speaking truth to power in the matters of injustice, degradation of our environment, economy, security and of corruption.
In my opinion corruption is not only the crux of our sufferings corruption is the foundation at the creation and amalgamation of the south and north of Nigeria created by Lord Lugard.
I shall spend some time allotted to me on the role of micro-institutions like the civil society and community organizations have to play in the actualization of greater economic union of the South East and South South.
The Civil Society is a phrase used to describe the people in Aristotle’s Polis in Western philosophy. The polis is a community made up of a controllable number of people; however the societies we have today have progressed from a mechanic, simple to an organic, complex state, warranting a new perspective to what Civil society is.
Civil Society, it has been argued, contributes social capital and plays huge role in constitutional economics that relates between constitutional issues and functioning of the economy.
Perceptions differ regarding the actual meaning and functions of the Civil Society, but we can see it as having the good life, common goods, good society, and civic virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. The differential viewpoints depict the different epochs in the history of philosophy, namely Western antiquity, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern epochs.
The Modern period had the likes of G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx giving a historical analysis of the human society. Marx and Hegel see the human society as one made up of civil codes and that manifests inequality and conflicts. For Marx, the human society is made up of three (3) estates:
(1) Informal estate – agriculture
(2) Formal estate – trade and industry
(3) Universal estate – Civil Society.
The Post-Modern period, the 1980s Soviet bloc (East European countries), see it as the political society and third sector. The rise of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and new social movements (NSMs) in the 90’s came with its own perception and conception of the Civil Society.
The term may not have a universally agreed acceptation, but one thing is certain: the Civil Society is the part of the human society where you find perception of government policies, taxable humans, social clubs etc. all of which give meaning to government and governance.
In sum, we cannot talk about democracy without the Civil Society, bearing in mind that democracy is a system of government that is primarily about the people, for the people and by the people.
How then can the Civil Society enhance and facilitate SESSNet?
It is my contention that since the goal of this august body is to unite both regions in the pursuit of economic development, the Civil Societies in both regions – South-East and South-South – should begin to question government programmes and policies that affect their sister states and regions.
Some are afraid to question government and policies, we have rights, constitutional and democratic rights to not only question our government but get answers to the questions.
Yes, since governance and government are about the people, it is the bounden duty of the Civil Society in the contiguous regions to begin to monitor the kind of economic policies of the government in their regions with a view to ensuring that their interests are protected.
But how can this monitoring be achieved? First, our sister regions must externalize our economic, developmental and security goals; they must state in unambiguous terms what the proposed economic union pursues.
The objectives of SESSNet should, as a matter of exigency, be adequately propagated such that social clubs, pressure groups, NGOS, associations, workers and markets unions, schools, universities and churches etc in the regions will be able to identify with and consequently promote and develop such collective and beneficiary ideals.
The Civil Society, having been abreast of the goals of the body can begin to make it more effective through advertisements, discussions and demands channeled to the appropriate governments, and seminars.
This can be more forceful and result-oriented when the constituents of the Civil Society in both regions annex the objectives of SESSNet to their own objectives – this is called co-opting. An instance will buttress the point better.
Where it is agreed by the sister states and regions that projects in their regions need the attention of their indigenous and federal governments, the bodies, associations, clubs, and sundry pressure groups that make up the Civil Society in both regions should work together to promote that cause until the appropriate authorities cannot show imperviousness to such complaints and demands anymore.
A concerted effort on the part of these bodies, clubs, CBOs and NGOs with respect to the identified problem will go a long way in attracting the attention of both the state and central governments. Every programme of the relevant bodies in both regions should be geared towards promoting the identified problem until it gets solved.
This is more theoretical than practical; however, it has to be the way out if we are to have a successful synergy. Seeing that government is nothing outside the people, it is my submission that the union of both regions, which were originally together, use relentless, concerted efforts to question the actions of the government(s) until the desired results are achieved.
May I remind this august revolutionary cum progressive union, SESSNet, that the Civil Society is a voluntary sector of the human society and, as such, can only act when its constituents are convinced that SESSNet is serious and committed?
I say this because in my nearly twenty years of agitating for equity and justice l have seen a lot of well-meaning bodies come and go, therefore SESSNet, having been born, should become a very functional part of the new struggle in South-South and South-East.
The expected compliance or response of the Civil Society to the ideals and objectives of this body is directly proportional to the workability of the body itself. In other words, whether the Civil Society will be supportive or not depends on the zest with which the goals of this body are pursued.
Seriousness on the part of this body entails sponsoring or supporting training workshops, information dissemination, monitoring and policing activities, and sundry activities the Civil Society can engage in that have the potentiality of promoting our collective course. This body should work toward becoming a very functional component of the Civil Society in both regions.
The role of civil society will be to liaise with SESSNet galvanizing the states, zone and people to create a formidable economic union that will ensure development, investment, job creation, self-reliance, environmental and regional food security.
Community organization is different than/from Civil Society in that it is deliberately constituted. Community organization covers a series of activities at the community level aimed at bringing about desired improvement in the social and economic wellbeing of individuals, groups, and neighbor-hood.
It is synonymous to community work, community development, and community mobilization.
It can represent both community-based organizations, operating as civil society non-profits organization and also function at organizing within communities defined by geographical location, shared work space, and/or shared experiences or concerns.
Community organizing is a democratic instrument to create sustained social change. Community organization is the process by which a community identifies needs and takes action, and in doing so, develops co-operative attitudes and practices.
The communities that make up South-East and South-South should be able to organize themselves along lines of shared consciousness. The shared consciousness, which starts here, will enable them identify their shared needs and goals in all areas of living and developing and foster the needed concerted effort towards achieving the shared goals.
You can see why I started by saying that community organization is deliberate. It is democratic because its establishment is the aftermath of the appeals and persuasions.
SESSNet, as a very functional part of the Civil Society, must see to it that the components of this proposed union develop, encourage and work community organizations that will drive the objectives of the body.
Ladies and gentlemen, our communities are full of organizations that exist as associations. These associations have their own objectives – objectives that are at par with the goals of this body. It is my humble appeal to SESSNet to penetrate these community organizations with its goals.
This body can also form new community organizations saddled with the goal of achieving the defined objectives. Cases of environment neglect, decaying social and basic infrastructure should be reported by the formed and extant community organizations.
Each sister region must be prepared to make the needed sacrifice to make these bodies function optimally.
Esteemed conveners, ladies and gentlemen, I know this goal will not be as easy as it seems, but seeing that you already know what I know, I entertain no doubt that we are ready to birth the most functional drive that will change our sister/collective landscapes and mindsets for good of our states, regions and peoples.
Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to share a little of what l know about the journey of our regions so far.
I am not attempting to teach anyone history only to speak authoritatively on what l know and have verified or read in history books. What binds these two political zones is more than the fact that we were once one region called Eastern Nigeria, history binds us and we can work better if we give the future a chance.
The South East and South South were once in my own recall one region, Eastern Nigeria. I am a grand-daughter of a great woman, the mother of my Ijaw father, an Arochukwu daughter of the Okereke family; they are of the Arochukwu people who settle in Ikwerre land, a woman who influenced me from the age of 4 years in a creek riverine community, of the Ijaw ethnic nationality, Abonnema, under the then Degema division.
Today my community is mapped into one of the twenty three LGAs that constitute my beloved Rivers state. I am from Akuku Toru LGA.
The different people of the old eastern region have evolved into different states, the creations into different states have balkanized people of same ethnic nationalities into different states, separating kit and kin for the primary interest of the Federal Government, our resources, and manipulated by people who have different political, economic, developmental, religious, cultural and security interests, without referring to the people on whose behalf these decisions have been made over the years.
The creations of states may have been a good thing on paper but it has worked against the development, economy and security of the people of the old Eastern Region of Nigeria.
The economy, development, and security etc powers that ought to belong to the states are taken from the people and government of the states by the Federal Government.
After the civil war more states have been created, with the creations of more states and more Local Government Areas (LGA) we in the old Eastern Region have become more divided and less tolerant of ourselves.
Allow me to draw to our attention the fact that the South East/South South share common proximity and long term interaction and relationship that should be further enhanced for our development and security. We have past and perhaps long time issues that we must resolve to enable us move on, supporting one another.
We have the components we need to function democratically without fears of the past if only we will sit down and discuss. The South East/South South have a lot in common, trade, money, resources, ideas, culture, religion, and people in common, these are the foundations on which democracy is developed, empowered and strengthened.
We gain more when we trade, l want something, you have the commodity e.g. natural resource that l need to make what l want, or l need something and you have the natural resources that will make what l want, we either bargain for the resource or we trade the resource.
Nigeria evolved from colonial Southern and Northern protectorates, to Nigeria by the decisions of the British Empire to a country created and named by a British man called Lugard, the reason was economic and selfishness, with total disregard to if it was in our interest as different people or not.
Hundred and three years latter there can be no doubt in our minds that we can no longer continue to bear the burden of one Nigeria while others enjoy the benefits of one Nigeria.
It is not unpatriotic to Nigeria to want to develop, feed and secure our states, zones and people. It is not unpatriotic to Nigeria to love ourselves to the extent of wanting to work together and resolve our issues.
It is unpatriotic to our children today and to their children tomorrow and their children the day after tomorrow if we are unpatriotic to our states and regions so we can be patriotic to Nigeria. Is Nigeria patriotic to us? Self-development is a responsibility we owe ourselves.
From the days of long the people of Igbo nation have shown their capacity to develop, create, and bounce back, to manufacture and invest. No nationality have invested across Nigeria like the Igbos, the value of investment of Igbo people after the Biafra war in the North and Lagos, is huge and shows clearly the future is bright.
In the past years it has become clearer that the need to work together and trust ourselves is in the interest of our very survival, not just economic survival but our identity is at stake. Nigeria is a nation of over 350 ethnic nationalities, with different language, culture, religion, and aspirations, where some are giving all they have and some are consciously giving nothing.
The South South and South East, the old eastern region if they choose to work together will achieve a lot, but we have to sit down and work out the terms and conditions collectively.
The creation of platforms like this gives hope for today and tomorrow, no matter what we agree upon for our future it is very likely that we don’t have to be our own worst enemy as the enemy is identified.
The South South or the South East can survive, we should survive on our own terms not on the terms of others who call the shots for their own survival, after all this is not 1914, and we know better today.
Thank you for inviting me and listening to me, l hope l have made some contributions for the good of our people and regions.
God Bless SESSnet!
God Bless South East And God Bless South South!