Is the National Conference doomed before it starts? – 2

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By Dele Sobowale

“In politics as on a sick bed, men toss from side to side in the hope of lying more comfortably.” Johann Goethe.

Forgive me for breaking up the article IF I DON’T MAKE IT. The National Conference is far more important than anyone’s private life – including mine. Two weeks ago, I had written the first part of this piece with a definite bias which must again be declared up front. I want the 2014 CONFAB to succeed. As the publisher of THISDAY Newspapers, Mr Nduka Obiagbena, had pointed out, this CONFAB cannot solve all of our problems. No CONFAB can do that because previous  military governments had endorsed constitutions which had led us into the dead end in which we find ourselves.

Nigeria had become a sick country because we have been led by sick people who created a country in their own image. Every constitution, except the first, had been imposed by people who had no idea about the booby traps they contained. Let me provide an example.

We copied our constitution from the United States but we bastardized the idea by introducing an immunity clause which allows the President and Governors to commit horrible crimes, while in office, without any sanctions. Then we added to our woes by establishing weak institutions called EFCC, ICPC and Code of Conduct – all of which are powerless to prosecute and punish any executive kleptomaniac unless the President wants him punished.

Alamesieegha and former IGP Balogun would not have been jailed if Obasanjo was not interested in the case. Clearly, there is nothing wrong with the laws – only the people administering them. That also means that, even if CONFAB 2014 gives us a perfect constitution, it would not lead to perfect results because the Alamieyesieghas of this world have been pardoned, Abacha reinstated and criminals now seat with honest people to write the new constitution.

Yet, despite those misgivings, the success of the CONFAB is vital to us as a nation. So far, the last two weeks have not provided much room for optimism. The delegates have fought about virtually everything when one of the guidelines calls for three quarters of the votes on issues. Yet, it is obvious that it is almost impossible to get sixty per cent on the most divisive issues. How on earth will they obtain seventy-five per cent?

However, my greatest concern is about what happens if the CONFAB fails – either before the end or at the end? The truth is, we will lose more than N7 billion. Delegates who left their homes, with high hopes, will return empty handed. Instead of the unity we started out to foster, we will end up bringing to the fore the things which divide us rather those elements which promote unity. We would also have lost the chance to improve on the defective constitution bequeathed to us by General Abubakar.

One point needs to be faced head on. Many of those opposed to the CONFAB had hinged their opposition on the grounds that President Jonathan has a hidden agenda. With all due respects to those people, I strongly believe that is hypocrisy of the worst kind. Nobody who finds himself as President of Nigeria and who organizes a CONFAB can avoid having an agenda.

Every right thinking Nigerian has an idea of what he considers the ideal constitution and he would try his best to see it emerge. I don’t know what Jonathan’s agenda is; and I even think it is unnecessary for him to disclaim his preferences. He is a Nigerian, whether president or not, and so is entitled to fight for his views – just as long as he doesn’t force them on the rest of us….


“How often when men are at the point of death had they been merry?” William Shakespeare, 1564-1616. (BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 34).

The only person, to the best of my knowledge, who was on record for welcoming death, with open arms, was Charles Frohman, 1860-1915, an American theatrical producer who went down with the luxury ocean liner Titanic, with a glass of champagne in hand and a bottle in an ice bucket by his side. He refused to enter the life boat when called, while saying, “Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life.” (BOOK OF QUOTES p 32). I don’t have Frohman’s courage, but I know there is no armour against death. So, let me continue appreciating those who have made unforgettable contributions to my life.

The real surprise, and I tremble to even mention his name, is Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State. We have met twice and only twice. Despite the fact that Akpabio knows that I am solidly in Attah’s camp, and no shaking, he had treated me with courtesies unusual for somebody from the “enemy camp.” On each occasion he had said “I know you are totally loyal to Attah”; yet he had talked to me as if I am his friend. It breaks my heart that the two have become implacable enemies.

Lawyer Olufemi Daramola, the Alage I of Omuo-Ekiti, saved my life from the beast called Abacha. On my fourth trip to detention, under his murderous regime, during which I saw dozens of people disappear at detention centres, I was marked out for Special treatment – meaning elimination. The first thing they did, in those days, was to deny they were holding the victim. Later, when they disposed of him, there would be no link to the murderers. All efforts to secure my release by Vanguard prove abortive because they denied holding me.

Fortunately, one of the staff grew up in the Campos area of Lagos with me. To cut the story short, he agreed to smuggle a note out for me. The question was: who would it go to in Lagos Island? My house was out of the question. I picked on lawyer Daramola; who had worked with me, briefly, in producing the first Lawyers’ Directory.

The note, saying I was in SSS detention, reached him and from there it went somewhere else and finally landed at the USIS – which immediately placed it on the international wire services worldwide. With their lie exposed, Abacha’s executioners sent me home. Chief Daramola took a risk, with his own life, on behalf of somebody he hardly knew. Each time I look at his face, all I see is my SAVIOUR. But for his singular act of courage, I would not have been around today.

Next, I owe a debt of gratitude to one special reader of this column – Professor Michael Aken’Ova, of the Department of Agronomy, University of Ibadan. Whatever it is I have done to deserve Prof’s generosities cannot possibly be by my might, but the grace of God. One instance will be sufficient. When I developed arthritis about three years ago and could hardly make use of my right arm, I wrote about it on these pages.

It was Attah and Prof who went beyond saying sorry and combined to “heal me.” I don’t pray for anybody to be faced with permanent disability but if it happens, God will send the victim an Attah and a Prof. Twice I had gone to UI to pay a surprise visit to Prof – without success. I will try again. Till now, I have never met one of my greatest benefactors in life!! That’s real charity.

Finally, at least for now, I must express my gratitude to the readers of this column – which will be 20 years old in August this year. I hope by year end to compile selected columns out of the over one thousand three hundred that have appeared in our papers. Yet, the first might have been the last if not for the forbearance of our readers since 1994.

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