And then the national conference’s finale

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By Is’haq Moddibo Kawu

WE resumed National Conference last Monday, to be confronted with huge tomes of publications that were reports of the conference. We then got the unrealistic time line of two days to read these reports and by Wednesday, to adopt these as the finale of the work that we did over the previous four months. The standout volume was the third, which was titled “DRAFT CONSTITUTION”. Now, that volume was to threaten the outcome of the National Conference, because it proved to be the most controversial documentary outcome of the Conference. The roots of that controversy, on the one hand  had been sown even before the Conference and it actually reflected the conflicting views of the different sides in the contestation for Nigeria. There was a tendency, which was basically Southern, which believed that there was the need for a new constitution as a replacement for the 1999 Constitution, often derisorily described as a military-imposed document that was not reflective of the aspirations of the Nigerian people.

Those who had argued for and literally built a public profile on the basis of a long agitation for a Sovereign National Conference of Nigerian ethnic groups (some even say ‘tribes’!) largely took the 2014 National Conference as a triumph for their exertions. And since ethno-regional bodies were given a prominent place in the make up of the National Conference, they saw a new constitution as the logical outcome that will crown their efforts. So from the onset, many members of ethno-regional bodies like AFENIFERE often spoke as if there was a kind of consensus for a new constitution. They would often add that such a constitution would need validation through a referendum. The fact that there was no provision for a referendum in extant laws in the country did not seem to cut ice with the protagonists.

On the other, there was an equally determined opposition to any movement to have a ‘new constitution’ as the outcome of the National Conference. Most strident of the opposition had been presented by the Northern Delegates’ Forum, whose members had also argued from the beginning of the Conference that we did not have the mandate or legitimacy to write a new constitution. So when we received the ‘DRAFT CONSTITUTION’, the worst-case scenario looked like coming to pass. Over the next two days, unprecedented levels of consultations and meetings were held by the various tendencies within the National Conference. What rankled most as far as the Northern Delegation was concerned, was that despite the fact that conference consistently defeated every motion which named a new constitution, and the open disputation which occurred in June, when I raised a motion of urgent national importance concerning a surreptitious effort to push what was described as an agreement of geopolitical zones, it seemed we were being taken for a ride. Bolaji Akinyemi, the Deputy Chairman of the Conference had been fingered as mobilizing certain delegates to back a ‘new constitution’; he vehemently denied such a move, arguing that he had always endeavoured to bring various delegations together to break logjams that could threaten the success of the conference. We had accepted his explanation, but people became extra vigilant!

So when the “Draft Constitution” surfaced, the old suspicions just erupted like molten lava. By Tuesday evening, the Northern Delegates Forum addressed a press conference to denounce the ‘draft constitution’ as President Goodluck Jonathan’s “Third Term Agenda”, while arguing that the conference only proposed amendments to the extant, 1999 Constitution.

The angry delegates had also held a very heated meeting with the leadership of the Conference, where an equally flustered Justice Legbo Kutigi was said to have told the delegates that his team was mandated by President Goodluck Jonathan to produce a draft constitution. This was forthrightly rejected by his Northern interlocutors; and in annoyance, Kutigi was said to have told the Northern group to walk out the following day, because in any case, we were a minority at the Conference! While I was worried that we might reach an unwelcome denouement the following day on the floor of the conference, by Tuesday night the progressive civil society coalition had also rejected a ‘Draft Constitution’ too, meaning that a much bigger segment of the Conference might not easily be railroaded into accepting to pass such a constitution.

On resumption the following day, Wednesday, it seemed that the various pressures had paid off as the Conference leadership backtracked and a well-managed process accepted that what we did was to pass emendations to the 1999 Constitution. All delegates rallied and in a show of the Nigerian ability to pull back from the precipice, backslappings and hugs replaced what we had feared might degenerate into a most divisive, free-for-all! The Conference had somehow survived its most difficult problems, starting from the earliest issues about the skewed composition and modalities for voting, other issues in between and this final disagreement about a ‘Draft Constitution’. Everyone could go back home believing that somehow, no one lost everything, while each person could very well claim to have won something. A feel good factor might seem hopelessly immeasurable, but in a very fractious country, with groups of elite that spend all their lives wondering about conspiracies being cooked up on the other side, it should not be underrated. Despite the huffing and puffing, I believe that people have learnt themselves better, thanks to the opportunity which came with the National Conference. Some of the most angry, irredentist positions were canvassed from the commencement of the Conference, but it was no longer a surprise to see the most embittered representatives of these positions heartily conversing, embracing and discussing, on the margins of plenary or during lunch.

Many takeaways (with apologies to Lagos state Governor Fashola) came out of the Conference that I hope to explore in subsequent weeks from today. I am particularly interested in some of the standout individuals and how they came to help define the National Conference, 2014. In my view, Bolaji Akinyemi, for example reflected the main controversies of that Conference. I keenly observed his attitude, especially his manipulative propensities; and it became clear that he was deliberately calling particular individuals to make contributions, often pointing out such individuals to the chairman, or calling same whenever he presided, especially after lunch, when the most vital decisions were often taken. His attitude became much clearer, when Prof. Akin Oyebode, my old university lecturer, told me that Bolaji Akinyemi midwifed the National Conference for government! It was obvious that Akinyemi had a vested interest in  an outcome which justified his intellectual labour.

I have nothing personal against the man; I have always felt that Bolaji Akinyemi is a rightwing intellectual, working at the behest of the Nigerian ruling class. His intellectual labours have always been to help shore up the ruling class project in Nigeria. Even when he found himself in NADECO during the years of the Abacha  militarydictatorship, it did not vitiate his place as a defender of a particular configuration of Nigerian ruling class interests. That much was also central to the work which he did at the National Conference, 2014. That we finally reached a ‘managed’ and peaceful end must be seen as tribute to the tremendous work which he did along with other leaders of the Conference. His diplomatic experience came to play, especially in helping to douse the tensions that threatened the Conference, all through. If there is any negative for me, it was in the way that he and the Conference leadership, overplayed the importance of the ethno-regional groups. They were given far more importance than pan-Nigerian professional and social organizations who often came with far more patriotic agendas and viewpoints. But given his background, it shouldn’t surprise us that Bolaji Akinyemi and the Conference leadership pressed in that direction. In the long run, it is those who speak for Nigeria that will eventually be able to build the platforms and coalitions to actualize the minimally patriotic resolutions that came out of the National Conference, 2014.

Sack 16, 000 doctors, bat no eyelid

LAST Wednesday, President Goodluck Jonathan announced the sacking of 16, 000 resident doctors who have been on strike since July 1, 2014. Especially against the backdrop of the Ebola crisis in the country, it appeared as if the doctors did not sympathize with Nigerians caught up in that and other serious health conditions. At the beginning of July, four of my children were involved in a terrible accident, while returning from school for the holiday. One had a spinal injury; another suffered pelvic problem; a third’s ear literally cut off while the fourth suffered chest injuries. The first port of call after being rescued from the wrecked vehicle, was a public hospital, where they did not have doctors to attend to them. We tried a second public hospital in Abuja, and the same situation was confronted. The children ended up in a very expensive private hospital. But I knew far more about the situation in the healthcare sector to put all the blame on the doctors on strike.

Our country’s healthcare delivery system has been in crisis for decades, and that very much is at the heart of the demands of doctors and healthcare personnel. I have always felt that a serious country can be known largely by the way its healthcare and educational systems function.

Last Friday, Prof. Ishaq Akinola, Director of the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), issued a press release which had some troubling statistics that I feel we should all know about. Quoting the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), it was pointed out that there were 65, 000 registered doctors in Nigeria in 2013; only 25, 000 practice in the country, to take care of nearly 170million Nigerians, while 40, 000 Nigerian doctors practice abroad. Similarly, the Abuja Declaration stipulates that African countries should devote 15% of annual budgets to the health sector, the Federal Government allocated 4% in 2011; 5% in 2012; 6.04% in 2013 and that reduced by 2014.

This was N262. 74Billion in 2014 compared to N273Billion in 2013. So while life expectancy was 82.6 years in Japan, it is 48years in Nigeria! 30million Nigerians are hypertensive; 4 million suffer from diabetes; pneumonia kills 130, 000 Nigerians yearly; malaria kills 4, 500 pregnant women annually; 400, 000 Nigerians suffer from tuberculosis while 32 million are victims of river blindness. In the same vein, 52, 000 Nigerian women die annually from maternal mortality just as malaria kills 300, 000 Nigerian children annually! Surely, these are very depressing statistics which help put in context the agitations and strike of our doctors. To then sack 16, 000 resident doctors in one fell swoop smacks of a very poor appreciation of the crisis in the sector. It is not sustainable!

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