Everything appears tentative about the ongoing National Conference. Yet, the country is at a crossroads
A side from the fact that its delegates number 492 and that it was inaugurated on March 17, nearly everything about the ongoing National Conference is tentative.
For starters, it has no enabling legislation, for which a lobby is already in court. For another, nobody knows for sure if it would ever take any decision, since it is proposing a consensus option. Besides, even if it is able to take decisions, no one appears to know how those decisions would be implemented — by referendum? The president is not definitive on this: he said the decisions may be implemented by referendum. Why ‘may’? This leaves the matter hanging and susceptible to manipulations by the executive, depending on the confab’s outcome. Now, if done by referendum, what would be its effect on the next general elections? Is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) ready for such a task?
Or, would it be by submission to the National Assembly to cherry-pick according to its whims? And should the National Assembly decide to play the turf war, knowing the conference has no legal fundament, what happens?
Add the notorious fact that the N7 billion bill, from which each delegate would take home no less than N12 million each. This suggests some form of subversive generosity that further enriches a few, further beggars the majority and sets up the beneficiaries to have little choice but to dance to the tune of their benefactor.
Put more starkly, different people would appear to be taking different agenda to the conference. Though President Goodluck Jonathan claimed at the inauguration that he had no personal agenda by the conference, he could just tell that to the marines! No one needs any especial acuity to know that the president sorely needs the conference to shore up legitimacy for himself, to polish his chances in 2015, even after a parlous first term that should fairly earn him a democratic ouster.
But aside from the president, many of the delegates were old hands who had actively contributed to Nigeria’s ruin. So, while some greenhorns would shout themselves hoarse on the imperative to remake Nigeria, these old hands would seriously work to maintain the status quo. The president would probably go with that, so long as it boosts his second term chances.
More fundamentally, the imperative for a national conference is the notorious fact that Nigeria is orbited on virtual injustice, which delivers lollies to a few, but impoverishes the majority. Besides, there are the notorious geo-ethnic fault lines, which confer privilege without responsibility to whichever band in power. That band in turn delivers criminal cronyism to its acolyte and cells nationwide. This again, reinforces the ruinous socio-economic paradigm that enriches a few but beggars the majority.
These are serious issues that have stalled Nigeria’s journey to nationhood; and may yet stall it for years if these serious anomalies stay uncorrected. Yet, delegates appeared to underscore their lack of appreciation of the dire situation by everyone appearing to tout his “Nigerianness”, as if a tiger, to use the famous Wole Soyinka quip, needs to proclaim its “tigeritude”! In the face of serious danger, one even appeared to crave for a state, where he could perhaps dominate and live happily ever after, even if such clannish thinking results in permanent damage to the polity!
These perpetual “ifs” and “hows”, on the confab, ought to trouble any right-thinking Nigerian, since the country is at a terrible pass, with an urgent need to remake it for future survival. But it would appear where some see real danger ahead, others, particularly in the political establishment, see yet another opportunity to ingrain old ruinous way.
Yet, it needs to be drummed into the hearing of every delegate that Nigeria faces clear and present danger, if it the country is not remade along productive federal lines, with a new national ethos of hard work, productivity, justice, equity and fair play.
The delegates must know that though Nigeria is a geographical territory, its peoples — yes, peoples — have, at times often, radically different points of view and cultural outlooks. The challenge before this generation, therefore, is to work on an economic formula and socio-economic template that would morph these different peoples into a physically and spiritually united people, leveraging their supposedly different tongues and culture as potent economic tools. That is the whole gamut of arguments for regional federalism, from which platform every segment of the country would develop its own resources, and contribute its rich quota to a prosperous Nigeria.
There is, so far, no consensus as to the way to go. The reason for this is simple: old habits die hard and old privileges, particularly when not earned, are very difficult to abandon. But it is on this hard and narrow road that lies the country’s salvation. Besides, the whole idea of a palaver is to knock together a consensus that would at least give the country a fresh start. The farcical beginning of the confab itself, with arguments about sitting arrangements and all that gives cause for concern.
However, inasmuch as the president may have his agenda for the National Conference, it is the bounden duty of the conferees to be patriotic in their thinking; and to do the right but painful things that would save Nigeria from chaos and possible disintegration. But that would not be done by empty crowing about some non-existent Nigerian national ethos. If those ethos were there, ab initio, there would be no need for any National Conference.