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Issues and personalities of the National Conference

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By Is’haq Modibbo Kawu

AS we return to our lives after the intensely lived months of the National Conference, 2014, many thoughts have crossed my mind about those truly crowded days and months of our lives.

With hindsight, the fact that the National Conference was called in the first place represented a significant development for the country and the heated debates; angst and threats hurled at each other by Delegates were as therapeutic and cathartic as they came! I think it slowly dawned on several individuals who came with more myopic agendas that they needed to negotiate consent of others; while the contestation of the terrain of nation building was often a major remover of blinkers from the eyes of the deluded.

Central to the general history of the agitation for a National Conference was that it became a platform purposed to reduce the perceived dominance and privileges of Northern Nigeria in the Nigerian political process.

There was an almost metaphysical element to this perception, because  changes in Nigeria since 1999, with power residing almost exclusively in the South, minus the two years of Umaru Yar’adua, do not seem to register with many of the individuals from the South, who saw the National Conference as an opportunity to cut the North to size. And the fact that the National Conference had been DELIBERATELY skewed to disadvantage Northern Nigeria, just emboldened those with these agendas.

So while Southern groups had met severally all over the south; adopted platforms and perfected strategies; the truth was that the North was badly disadvantaged because for most of the years of the agitation for a National Conference, Northern elite groups had either ignored, rejected or opposed the agitation. Two reasons were fundamental to the Northern attitude: the perception that there was a secessionist content to the agitation and the belief that there was always a design to disadvantage the region.

So when President Goodluck Jonathan eventually called the National Conference, it became inevitable that Northern elite groups were now obliged to respond to the adversarial attitudes of many of the groups and individuals nominated from the South to participate in the National Conference.

Almost to till end of the Conference, every morning as we arrived for plenary, we received publications of all hues, each agitating for one idea or other; these were often very provocative ideas; threats and insults. And the fact that various groups held nocturnal meetings to perfect strategy about the main issues central to the National Conference, I often wondered just how suspicious our elite groups are of each other!

One other clear point that could not have been lost to anyone privileged to be part of the horse-trading was the opportunism of Nigeria’s elite groups. While practically everybody agreed that Nigeria’s 36 states, as presently constituted, are unsustainable, the same people ended up voting for the creation of 18 new states. It was clear that these elite groups want their own fiefdoms to cream off and generally, do as they please with!

As I said last week, many individuals interested me, in terms of their influence at the National Conference. Let me talk about two of them today; these are Chief EK Clarke, the leader of the South-South Delegation and Jerry Gana, Nigeria’s most ubiquitous AGIP (Any Government in Power!). EK Clarke had built a myth around himself as being like a kind of political ‘god father’ to President Jonathan. He was not loath to exploiting the myth and many times during the Conference, he held court with men and women, who probably needed his vaunted influence to secure positions.

He was regularly distributing his call card to men and women; and whenever called to speak on an issue (he was a perpetual favourite of Bolaji Akinyemi’s), he would speak as if he was the one Nigerians had elected to power as their president!

In a Conference where there was excessive respect for gerontocracy and ethno-regional groups, individuals like Chief EK Clarke got more than a fair share of the opportunity to put their views across, much to the disadvantage of the social forces and individuals who represent the future of Nigeria. The fixation with the ethnic, the regional and other levels of false consciousness, often made it difficult to raise the layers of false perceptions of each other for many of these reactionary forces.

Professor Jerry Gana must fascinate any serious researcher into longevity of political life, within the political settings of a neocolonial society. Jerry Gana is the ultimate survivor.

His well-known turfs are the exploitation of religious identity and the Middle Belt, to stay relevant within the smoke filled, cloak-and-dagger world of Nigerian politics. He works that combination adroitly to remain the perpetual go to, by all kinds of Nigerian regimes, from the most dictatorial military to the most despotic civilian.

In my wonderment, I had asked in one of my columns in the past, just what Jerry Gana tells his grand children! Does he ever speak about noble ideas or fidelity to ennobling principles? Well, Jerry Gana was made Co-Chairman of the Northern Delegates Forum, as part of an effort by the North (disadvantaged in numbers, deliberately weakened by the mobilization of a Middle Belt constituency) to speak with one voice. Jerry Gana attended a few of our meetings, he chaired the sessions, took part in efforts to build a Northern platform and after a while, he disappeared! He was far more committed to the alliance that his Middle Belt group had forged with Southern Delegates.

He promised Middle Belt elements new states as trade off for support of increased Derivation to the oil producing states as well as their much-vaunted New Constitution. Unfortunately for Jerry Gana, there was a clash of ambitions that almost scuttled one of his favourite projects: the creation of Edu State which was to include the Nupe Speaking parts of Kwara State.

John Dara, his collaborator in the Middle Belt group, has an ambition to become Kwara State governor and was therefore opposed to ceding the Nupe speaking parts of Kwara to Jerry Gana’s Edu state.

When he, John Dara, was assigned to submit the list of areas to include in Edu state, Jerry Gana to his chagrin found that John Dara, ensured that Kwara State was not dismembered! It was true to character that Jerry Gana accepted to be Co-Chairman of the Northern Delegates Forum and yet turned round to walk away, without bothering to wonder just what impression he had left on the younger people who looked up to him and others as leaders.

Just as sure as night follows day, if a new regime comes to power tomorrow, Jerry Gana will be ready and available to serve. His permanent residence is the corridor of Nigerian power! On a final note, we can conclude that many good things came out of the National Conference, 2014. Hopefully, we shall see them implemented!

President Jonathan’s digital broadcasting pass mark

TWO weeks ago in Abuja, a meeting of a working group on Nigeria’s transition to Digital Broadcasting was held in Abuja. Unless you have a specialist interest in the subject, you probably won’t have noticed the coverage in the media. But that meeting brought together some of the leading international broadcast operators together, at the behest of the Nigerian company, Pinnacles Communications Limited.

That was the company that won the open, fair and competitive bidding for Nigeria’s license to drive the national digitization process from 2015. The Abuja meeting was one in a series of technical meetings to prepare the grounds for what will eventually become one of the most exciting phases in the development of Nigerian broadcasting into the future.

The main issue in this new development is that President Goodluck Jonathan did not intervene in a process which was allowed to run its course in a most transparent and equally patriotic manner.

Significantly, when the process was completed and a winning bid was announced and accepted, some of those who had hoped to be awarded the project began to work the system hoping to overturn the process; President Jonathan refused to intervene and upheld the fairness of the process, thus strengthening the digital regime into the future. We have often criticised the president on several issues of public  policy and it is only fair to also praise what he did well for our country.

With the Digital Broadcasting process, he has done very well. And in the same vein, as a resident of both Abuja and Kaduna, I must express profound happiness for the effort being made to deliver the Abuja Mass Transit railways system as well as the Express Train system between the FCT and the old Northern regional capital, Kaduna.

When delivered, the distance between the two cities will be significantly bridged thus turning Kaduna into a major suburb of the FCT. The possibilities will emerge that one could reside in Kaduna and leave in the morning to work or transact business in the FCT. Economic corridors will develop along the railways system, since these are mass transit systems, usually employing hundreds, even thousands of working people. We will have the possibilities of Nigerians from all parts of the country working and living together and learning themselves and their country even better!

The colonial railways system had been constructed as a mass system of exploitation of the colonial countries. But like all great projects of history, they also carried unforeseen outcomes, because the same system had carried Nigerians around their country, and they helped to circulate anti-colonial ideas that gradually helped to forge the pan-Nigerian consciousness which led to the achievement of Independence.

Massive investment

What the Jonathan administration is doing with the massive investment in railways infrastructure will also impact on our national life in ways we probably haven’t even begun to conceptualize.

I have always argued for the construction and modernization of the nation’s railways system, therefore I feel happy that Goodluck Jonathan has taken a bold step in this direction. The vision must be pursued with vigour and it must be holistic, taking the system to Minna, and Benin City and the South and linking Maiduguri and Kano in the North.

There is the Warri-Aladja-Ajaokuta line at an advanced stage of construction. The idea is to make these lines national, crisscrossing our country so that the railways can become one of the markers of our modernization ambitions of the Twenty-First Century.

Those who doubt the possibilities of our greatness as a country will find their skepticism exploded by the integration that the railways can wrought in this country. That is one remarkable achievement that Goodluck Jonathan can be pleased with. I’m excited too about the possibilities for our future!


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