By LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
Praising President Goodluck Jonathan by delegates to the National Conference in their opening statements has triggered the question on their sincerity.
In their numbers, they poured encomiums on President Goodluck Jonathan and ignored the issues that brought them to the occasion.
Though their seeming sycophantic indulgence may stem from the courage displayed by Mr. President in putting the National Conference together, one felt so flabbergasted to see everyone become the President’s Man Friday such that, in quick succession, they devoted the three or more minutes allocated to them to comment on the President’s speech, eulogizing him to high heavens.
The conference, inaugurated on March 17 in Abuja, was three weeks old last week. And for the purpose of assimilation and accentuation, even though the idea was not populist amongst delegates, the conference, at its preliminary sessions, decided to deliberate on the inaugural speech of Jonathan before going into sensitive issues. Well thought out.
Understandably, everyone in the list of the 492 delegates was willy-nilly drafted into the dialogue. And so, from last Monday, the talks began.
From the left side of the hall to the right, down to the centre, they tried to outsmart each other in what may, to critical analysts, pass for mere grandstanding.
Yet again, they created impressions. Both positive and negative.
It’s either they are patriots or stooges. Again, it’s either they are sincere or selfish.
Many who had followed events in Nigeria knew that before the announcement, in his October 1, 2013 independence speech, to convoke a National Conference, the President had pooh-pood the idea of a conference. But suddenly, Nigerians saw a President who changed his mind and was now disposed to a national dialogue.
He was later to nominate several delegates representing various platforms and interest groups at the conference.
Thus, a good number of men and women were nominated as Federal Government delegates. Others are elder statesmen also nominated by the President. Many others came from his loyalist-governors. Some independent-minded persons made the list and so, the conference, to many people, is a gathering of stooges and patriots.
Comment of some of the delegates read: “This is the best speech of Mr. President ever”; “I commend Mr. President for this singular move to save the nation from breaking apart”; “ I salute Mr. President’s courage in convening this conference;” “Mr. President means well for this country;” “Mr. President will continue to rule this country,” etcetera.
At the last count on Thursday before it adjourned plenary till tomorrow, Monday, only two hundred and something delegates had spoken – that’s about half of the conferees. It therefore means that the whole of next week or beyond may still be another period of praise-singing.
Apparently dissatisfied with the encomiums continuously poured on the President, Alhaji Mohammed Gambo Jimeta, an Adamawa state delegate, took a detour.
He advised his fellow delegates to show moral courage in pointing out the mistakes of Jonathan rather than praising him. He said that praising him would amount to a great disservice to the President.
According to Jimeta, a former Inspector General of Police (IGP) and National Security Adviser (NSA), Jonathan’s speech, like any other President’s speech, was a conversation between the President of a country and the citizens.
Submitting that most Presidents do have their speeches written by exceptional speech writers to make it sound interesting, the Adamawa elder statesman said that speeches don’t usually reflect the leaders minds, charging the delegates to show courage in telling leaders the home truth especially when they do wrong.
“One of the greatest disservice you can do to your head of state is to praise him when you should tell him what he has done. The President’s speech, particularly in this case, is just ordinary interaction with the citizens. We could bring out very fundamental issues and ask him to do something about it, legally though,” he stated.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please, let’s us display moral courage and ensure that we are not drum beaters and singers. We should be able to tell our head of state the truth and point out to him where he’s wrong. That’s the only way we can help the nation.” Earlier in the day, Engr. Abubakar Buba Galadima, a delegate from Yobe State, had also criticized the conference, saying Jonathan’s speech was one of the speeches of a leader, adding that the problems of Nigeria were known to everyone and as such there was no need gathering to discuss it.
“The address of Mr. President, as laudable as many people have said, to me, it is one of the speeches of leaders. I have been one of the critics of this conference, may be that was why when my state submitted my name, the Federal Government found it expedient to remove it,” he said.
“Well, we are here. We all know the problems of Nigeria. We don’t need to assemble here spend so much for such a gathering. Where is the power of the people? I could have continued for hours and hours. This is why I have no paper.”
Conference uneventful —Junaid Mohammed
Meanwhile, another critic of the conference, who is a delegate from Kano State, Alhaji Junaid Mohammed, has found an expression for the three weeks old conference. To him, the conference has been uneventful.
Mohammed took a swipe at some delegates whom he said have become lackeys of the President.
”So far, the conference has been uneventful. It has been interesting, occasionally stormy but in terms of dealing with substantial issues, in terms of discussing the destiny of Nigeria, it has been monumentally anti-climax,” he told Sunday Vanguard.
”Delegates have been falling over themselves to praise the President for convening the conference and to praise for a speech which I regard, at best, average. If you know how these speeches by heads of government are drafted,they are normally the work of small to medium level officers and the only thing the senior officers care to do is to make sure that the facts are right. Otherwise, most of the styles of writing, most of the language are the language you pick on the pages of newspapers.
”I personally did not find anything interesting in the President’s speech. In fact, what was omitted in the speech was, in my view, much more important; the speech was not remarkable from what was avoided. For example, the issue of national security is missing. The President did not care to mention it for delegates to address squarely whereas the issue is number one bedeviling Nigeria today. Second is the issue of national economy.
”In a nation where unemployment is so high that, for the sake of having a job, over 20 people died two weeks ago, it means that the President has not found a space to discuss the management of national economy, especially youth and graduate unemployment. And I find it disturbing that most of the delegates are here praising the President to high heavens in the expectation that, after the conference, as has been the usual practice in the past, some of them may be picked for ministerial appointments. And that was what the former IGP and National Security Adviser, Alhaji Mohammed Gambo Jimeta, meant. Everybody who stands to speak will praise the President for what he has not done. I that hypocritical.”
Presidential speech is a precursor—Bode George
Chief Bode George, a delegate at the conference, however, disagreed with his critical colleagues. He said comments on the speech were meant to water the ground ahead of the committees stage of the conference.
”Normally, when you have this kind of conference, it is like an x-ray of your country. The President has itemized the road map. He listed all those perennial problems that we have been going through as a precursor to the various committees that will be set up. It makes a lot of sense for us to be on the same page. What I mean by that is that he has told us that, first of all, the divisibility of this country is a no-go area.
Secondly, he mentioned fiscal federalism, ethnicity, religion, those things that have plagued us. You know every body will not be in the same committee. So, people are now ventilating their bottled up issues. Because when you get back to you committees, those talks, people who are not members of your committees, having heard, will take them up. So, those issues you will never know about had been said,” George told Sunday Vanguard.
”People are not eulogizing the President per se. But they are saying the fact that he had the mind and the gut to say yes, ‘let’s talk about our country, this is centenary, we are 100 years, we don’t have time… let’s discuss it’.
“There is no President anywhere in the world that will have the time to sit down and write his own speech, physical writing. What he does, he sits down with his people and tells them these are the things I wanna talk about.”
What to expect this week
Since comments on the President’s speech have not been exhausted, it is obvious they will continue this week. Until all the delegates have spoken, it is most unlikely that the conference would go into the main business. But then, you can trust that with the advice from the trio of Jimeta, Galadima and Mohammed, a little bit of sycophantic comments might drop off. Only time will tell, anyway.