By Donu Kogbara
VIEWPOINT NUMBER ONE
I was very pleased when I heard that Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, had been appointed Vice-Chair of the upcoming National Conference. I know Akinyemi personally and respect him enormously and have long regarded him as one of Nigeria’s best human resources.
But I have grave doubts about the Conference per se for the following reasons:
*Nigerians already know what their problems are – tribalism, corruption, lousy leadership, etc, etc, etc! – and have already discussed these problems at great length on thousands of occasions and in multiple venues in the 50-plus years that have elapsed since Independence; and I strongly suspect that we won’t gain any concrete benefits from yet another talking shop in which these problems are picked over for the umpteenth time.
*Any conclusions or demands that National Conference delegates arrive at or present to the authorities will have no legal weight, so why bother?!
*Some of the National Conference participants are credible people whom I hold in high esteem. But far too many are the same-old undesirables who have totally messed this country up with their ethnic chauvinism, greed, incompetence and selfishness, so why on earth would anyone sane and well-informed regard them as worthy representatives?
*The National Conference will cost N7 billion – a fortune by any standards.
VIEWPOINT NUMBER TWO
Atedo Peterside is one of the credible participants I hold in high esteem. Peterside, a National Conference delegate, has a stainless reputation, bags of integrity and a dizzyingly impressive CV. He once risked his life, his career and his business by protesting against the annulment of the June l993 presidential election and is the Founder/President of the ANAP Foundation, Founder/Chairman of Stanbic IBTC Bank PLC, Chairman of Cadbury Nigeria PLC and a Member of the National Economic Management Team.
After I’d outlined my reservations about the National Conference above, I took a break to catch up on some reading and chanced upon an article that Peterside had written for another newspaper. And it gave me a lot of food for thought.
Nigerians already know what their problems are – tribalism, corruption, lousy leadership, etc; I strongly suspect that we won’t gain any concrete benefits from yet another talking shop in which these problems are picked over for the umpteenth time
I still have grave doubts about the National Conference but Peterside made several valid points that have inspired me to be less opposed to it than I was before. And I think that some of his views deserve to be repeated here.
In response to those who insist that the National Conference is usurping the role of the National Assembly, he accused Federal lawmakers from all parties of greed, of paying themselves more than President Obama, of conspiring to conceal the massive benefits they gain from the Treasury “under various guises” and of being incapable of objectively recommending crucial reforms.
“…Turkeys,” he scathingly pointed out, “will never vote for Christmas and nobody trusts the National Assembly to properly address issues like the huge cost of governance which threatens to strangulate the Nigerian economy over time…
He added that: “If the national polity is dysfunctional, it is because the National Assembly is an integral part of the problem…[and] the nation no longer expects progress on any serious piece of draft legislation, much less an altruistic constitutional amendment from them…”.
Peterside also lashed out at the “kleptomaniacs within the Executive arm” and at “corrupt judges” and assured them that: “Some of us aim to use this National Conference to build a grand coalition against all of you and what you stand for.”
Then he invited citizens who feel unrepresented or under-represented to reach out to him and other like-minded delegates who are genuinely concerned about all Nigerians, regardless of their social standing, religious affiliations or geographical origins.
Stirring words indeed! More grease to his elbow. If his type of mindset dominates the National Conference and strengthens the reformists hands, the N7 billion will have been well-spent.
VIEWPOINT NUMBER THREE
A PDP Senator friend who wishes to remain nameless totally disagrees with me. He thinks that the National Conference will be extremely effective, but not in the way the government expects it to be. Let me paraphrase his argument:
President Goodluck Jonathan thinks that the National Conference is a mega-smart move that will placate several disgruntled interest groups and have a cathartic effect on a general public that is sick and tired of the status quo.
Mr President should be applauded for his democratic instincts. But he is taking a huge and unnecessary risk because things are not likely to go as planned…in the sense that the whole exercise is likely to acquire a dangerous, divisive and uncontrollable life of its own and become more revolutionary than conciliatory.
According to my friend, the Jonathan Administration is not in good shape, thanks to factors such as five governors recently walking out on the ruling party and widespread complaints about NNPC’s poor stewardship of oil revenues.
According to my friend, Mr President should therefore have avoided a high-profile grievance-articulating scenario in which his personal shortcomings and government’s failures are likely to be humiliatingly highlighted to the point where most onlookers will conclude that he should be booted out in 2015.
*I would love to know which of these three viewpoints Vanguard readers agree with.