The Nigerian Politics: Do We Need A National Conference? No, We Do!

22 December 2013

By Raheem Oluwafunminiyi

…it is imperative that we arm ourselves and our people with a genuine revolutionary culture and a discipline and invincible revolutionary organisation, unshakeably committed to the principles of social justice and equity, to the liberations of our people from material and cultural deprivation and implacably opposed to all forms of exploitation of man by man.
- Dr. Segun Osoba

At the first sight of the title above, one would assume the writer was hallucinating or between sleep and wakefulness to have coined such an unapt title for a piece of this nature. However, such titles and their inherent meanings are some of the contradistinctions we have had to contend with as a people in the jumbled collection called Nigeria, if the hype that has surrounded the convocation of a national conference in the last couple of weeks is anything to go by.

As a keen observer of political events in the country, and especially one who has written extensively on happenings both within and without our polity, I have asked myself, like every other Nigerian would, if certainly we as a people need a sovereign or national conference (whichever appellation best suits the political class). At a time like this where apprehension, tension, commotion, tribulation and all kinds of challenges confronts us as a nation and people, should we not be gearing towards a time when we ought to talk to ourselves to know where the rain began to beat us? At a time when the corporate existence of the country is being threatened on all sides of the divide, is it not right to come to the table to discuss the way forward? At a time "when there was a declaration by the current president that he was going to contest" pitched him against those believed they were "born to rule", which eventually fired up further the insecurity in the north of the country with innocent lives wasting away through senseless killings and murder, is it not time we gathered ourselves to clean the Aegean stable? At a time when all the fault lines in the country seem not to have a probable solution, is it not high time we spoke truth to power? The question therefore: do we need a national conference?

However, if one is to juxtapose the president's Independence Day speech where he finally decided to allow a conference of nationalities emerge after initially dilly dallying for close to two and half years and his insistence that the outcome of such conference was going to receive the scrutiny of the country's National Assembly, one cannot but argue that it is a conference already been dead on arrival. It is no secret that the vast majority of Nigerians do not trust the assembly to ever do anything right, especially when it is filled with men and women who gulp 25% of the country's budget annually (apologies to the CBN governor). The country's assembly, according to an observer, is just an assemblage of men and women, who feed fat on the gullibility of the people, occupy themselves with triviality and frivolity and pass unnecessary bills that do not impact beyond the four walls of the hallowed chamber. An assembly that continues to dawdle in passing the Petroleum Industrial Bill which would have transformed the way our oil industry works cannot be taken very seriously at a time a concrete step is needed in ensuring all recommendations of the national conference are swiftly promulgated.

Unless we want to deceive ourselves, the decision by the president to send whatever outcome of the proposed national conference to the assembly is already a failed project because when we look at the inherent meaning of a national conference, it speaks much about the desire of different ethnic nationalities, whether major or minor, to agree on how best or well to live in a multifarious amalgam without fear of being seen as a trouble maker or outcast. A national conference opens the path to how diverse people living in a particular geographical space can live peacefully as one, ensuring everyone lives and co-exist together without molestation. A national conference brings together you and I who, albeit having lived together for 53 years yet under an atmosphere of ethnic parochialism, tribal sentiments, religious intolerance and political suppression and apprehension, to look for modalities on how best these historical malfeasance would not debar us from being seen as one Nigeria anywhere in Nigeria. A national conference is an agreement by all living in Nigeria to respect one another irrespective of tribe and tongue and just like the People of the United States "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." These among others are what a national conference brings to the table. Bringing these to the scrutiny of a national assembly with parochial interests makes whatever we hope to achieve as a country in the conference null and void. It makes it a wasted effort and further deepens the distrust the vast majority of Nigerians have for the political and ruling class. The question therefore: do we need a national conference?

I am one of those very few Nigerians who believe a national conference is now, unlike some segment of the society who see it as a distraction. There is no such thing as distraction or what an opposition leader call a "Greek gift" in the convocation of a national conference. In fact, it is far from it! Nigerians have seen it all and since the current administration came on board, the vast majority of people have been able to assess the level of performance or incompetence to decide where the pendulum would swing in 2015. The convocation of a national conference would certainly not blind our consciousness as Nigerians to know how to vote and who to vote for come 2015. It is a year every Nigerian anticipates and one that will decide the future aspiration of the country. Even at that, hundreds of thousands of youths who make up an appreciable percentage of students at the tertiary institutions are still at home as a result of a protracted university strike which they believe the government of the day is responsible for, hence at a time of a national election, wouldn't they be the ones to first remember how they were forced to sit at home unnecessarily by the same government who had called for a national conference? Anyone who thinks Nigerians will continue to be gullible at a time when the future direction of the country heads to nowhere; such person(s) need to have a rethink.

Having said this, as a realist, I do not think we need a national conference at the level with which the government of the day which called it anticipates. Before anyone calls me a confused element, it is imperative I explain why I have decided to kill two birds with one stone. For those who understand our historical and evolutionary process as a country, one would not deny the fact that we all know where the headache comes from. We know the problem we face as a people while solutions are right there before us, yet few elements within the polity would rather not allow things change. What I mean here is that since independence, we have been faced with one crisis or the other and at the end; several white, blue or green papers emerge to ensure such crisis did not occur again but unfortunately, we jettison the reports and go on as if nothing happened. It is the reason Jos remains a volatile state today. It is another reason Boko Haram suddenly appeared on the scene tearing the entire north apart. It is the reason the Niger-Delta struggle would sooner erupt because we have only caged the problem without locking it once and for all. It is the reason plane crashes continue to occur and the reason power remains comatose since the 70s. A thousand and one government white papers, reports, recommendations and what have you lie dusty in government coffers without anyone giving a damn. The Oputa Panel is one example of a conference we jettisoned and felt the outcome was not important to national re-engineering. There was the Willinks Commission of 1958/59 which looked into the fear of the minority before independence but never saw the light of the day. Even more recently, the Muhammed Uwais report on electoral reforms and the Steve Orosanye report all remain dead on arrival because we do not give a damn. Several other ones too numerous to mention hang somewhere, with nobody to dust them out of oblivion. Let us imagine for once that the current crop of leaders had accepted all the recommendations of the Muhammad Uwais report, wouldn't our electoral system have been have the envy of the world?

What we need at this stage is to bring out all those reports or recommendations from the time we became an amalgamated entity (because it seemed to appear as the period our problems began as a nation) till the current time, appoint a committee of notable, trustworthy and detribalised Nigerians who would assess all these reports and come out with a template which would see the large input of the country's judiciary. The final report should then serve as a guiding principle for something more intelligible.

Furthermore, for those who were conversant with the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) of the late 70s whose duty was to look into how a new constitution would be written for the emerging Second Republic, there is no denying the fact that that period marked a missed opportunity for us a country to have gotten it right once and for all. Simply because the leading members of the political class in the CDC did not consider in their report how the vast majority of Nigerians could live side by side each other in a just and equitable society, the Second Republic came, saw but did not conquer, having been bequeathed with a constitution that was more elitist than sociably just. However, if those with the interest of the country had taken note of the "Minority Report" written by two intellectual minds in the CDC at the time in persons of the late Yusufu Bala Usman and Segun Osoba and patched it with the Majority Report submitted by the late F.R.A Williams led CDC, we would have had a constitution which pursues the yearnings and aspirations of the vast majority of the people and a workable country devoid of tribalism, ethnocentrism, hate and prejudice. I wish to state categorically in this article that until the political class revisits that report written by the late Usman and Osoba, we would only be deceiving ourselves into believing all will be well. The report is about the only sincere template which if fine-tuned to meet current realities will not only give a voice to the masses but take this country towards redemption. I want to believe that whoever will be nominated into the national conference should as a matter of urgency see to it that the Minority Report and all other dusty reports are dusted out of the shelves for strict scrutiny else, we shall just be going once again on a merry-go-round which certainly will take us nowhere.

Be that as it may, I am of the view that even if a national conference should be convened, it should exclude a particular age-grade. A conference where a 60, 70 or 80 year old man or woman is nominated to represent does not augur well for a country whose youth form more than half of its population. The question which we all should be asking is why the youth and not the elders? First, the youth are the future generation of this country who will one day hold forth its reign. Second, the youth, especially those between the age of 20 and 45 were born at a time when the country was faced with cracks within its walls and therefore, understands how the country got to the unenviable stage it finds itself today. Third, the youth today are more politically conscious and want a better life for themselves. They want a country that will give them the basic needs of life and the chance to aspire to whatever position they so desire irrespective of class, tribe or beginnings. A 60, 70 or 80 year old man has nothing to aspire for. At such an age, he needs rest and time to pass away peacefully at the ripe age. Bundling the old guards to represent their ethnic affiliations in a national conference will only deepen the crisis of leadership in the country. In a conference of this nature, the youths should take centre stage while the old guards should serve on advisory capacity. Such linkage will give the platform a better direction and possibilty for effective results. All these outlined above among others I believe would be less rigorous and less time consuming to repair the cleavages we face in the country rather than convoking a conference whose outcome has witnessed criticisms from a large segment of the society who distrust the government.

The Goodluck Jonathan administration which initiated the national conference at this moment of our political history must be highly commended for coming up with in the first place irrespective of what we think of the government's intention. It couldn't have come at a better time like this. What the vast majority of Nigerians must however do is to look out for insincerity. If truly the president believes a national conference is imperative to help find solutions to the challenges we face in the country, he must personally see to it that this one does not fail like previous ones. He must ensure that whatever recommendations given in the aftermath of the conference is pushed rigorously through whichever means so that the voice of the masses is finally heard. Anything short of these among others will only make people lose further confidence and trust in him and the project called Nigeria. If we have to defend Nigeria's unity and uphold her honour and glory, we must begin to do the right things now. Now over to the question: do we need a national conference? Time will certainly tell!


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