Genetically Modified Confab: `My agenda is bigger than yours’

on   /   in Confab Debate 6:28 pm   /   Comments

BYJIDE AJANI

For psychotherapeutic relief, this national talk shop, the rally of sorts, presently going on in Nigeria’s federal capital, is not only timely, it is needed for celebratory purposes.
Timely, because the hoopla and the hullaballoo that were becoming deafening because of the agitation for it have cooled off.

Celebratory, because some politicians are already feeling hip, that this administration has pulled off a masterstroke.  They may indeed be right because the announcement alone procured some goodwill.
Whereas it would be politically intelligent to read meanings that are far from the altruistic to the sudden change of heart by President Goodluck Jonathan on the issue of a National Conference, the need for a talk shop cannot be said to be unintelligent.

National-ConfabFor, in the words of the late American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, JFK, we should be conscious “not to negotiate out of fear and never fear to negotiate”.  Therefore, those in Abuja should not fear to negotiate but should not negotiate out of fear.

Interestingly, getting nominations into the body created a despicable life of its own because some politicians suddenly saw it as the Noah’s Ark.  Not just politicians, even civil society groups trampled on each other’s person and integrity over who should be nominated.

However, with its composition which has a preponderance of Nigerians most of whom have participated in and have been part of the systematic underdevelopment of the country, there are suggestions in some quarters that the conference may have been inadvertently genetically modified to fail and make a mockery of a well-intentioned idea.

Are the delegates not Nigerians?  Are they not imbued with what is called the ‘Nigerian mentality’?  Would they not get to the conference and pollute it with their old ways and old thinking?
Poor President Jonathan!  Poor Nigeria! Poor Nigerians!

But the delegates have since started their debates and religion, expectedly, created the first flash point.
There would, however, be other flash points.
Revenue sharing! Indeed, that was one of the issues that almost brought the Sani Abacha conference to a halt.

In what is bound to be very interesting, this conference would pitch the North against the South and vice versa depending on the issue for debate.  Just as it was 20 years ago, Obong Victor Attah, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, who read a speech seeking to enhance the resource control expectation of Nigerians generally, and for which there was vehement opposition, there is today Professor Jubril Aminu, a former multiple minister, who would be making his feelings known and strongly too.

Don’t be deceived, almost everybody participating in the conference would be speaking from positions of interests that may not necessarily be pan-Nigerian, especially  judging from the rehearsals and shadow-boxing that had gone on before its inauguration – because they are Nigerians.

Overleaf, you will read the speech Attah delivered in 1994; you will read the interview of the Anglican Prelate, Bishop Okoh; factional leader of the Yoruba inspired Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Dr. Frederik Fasehun, also has something to say; and then, there is Dr. Usman Bugaje, a former vice presidential adviser, whose perspectives on the notion of ‘oil-producing-state’ is bound to irritate an Attah.

For a people with a knack for rendering otherwise simple ideas discombobulate, the National Conference may be yet another clear example of why Nigerians are the way they are.
The usual narrative about the Nigerian and his unique attributes as a living being seeks to almost always interrogate whether the Nigerian is the problem (in terms of his political existence) or the laws governing the country and the structure of the country are inhibiting factors.

Firstly, when Jonathan disclosed that he was ready to convoke a National Conference, some people engaged in a debate over the propriety of such an epochal event less than a year to the general elections.  Some even pontificated that it was part of a grand agenda to keep Nigerians distracted and busy while tardiness per governance continues.

Yet, there were many who welcomed it with both hands.No matter.  With the benefit of hindsight, we had  the Mathieu Kerekou conference of February 1990 in Benin Republic, a conference which transmuted itself into a de jure government – it just announced itself as the new government and ordered Kerekou to step aside. That was possible because a peoples revolution necessitated the empanelling of the conference in the first place, therefore the conferees enjoyed the benefit of people power.

In the instance of Nigeria, one of the challenges President Jonathan would have to contend with is how the conference would not be hijacked by some political forces and turn it into a trip-wire for him and his administration.

Mercifully, the structures of democracy in Nigeria (and though unimpressive) as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, would make it very difficult if not impossible for a “civilian coup” to occur because a stringent decision making system anchored on consensus or 75% agreement in a polity of clashing socio-political and economic interests may prove difficult, very difficult to achieve – but not impossible when interests coalesce.

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