After much uncertainty as to whether the much touted national dialogue would hold or not, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan on March 8, 2014 finally inaugurated the 492-member National Conference to discuss and proffer solutions to the myriad problems bedevilling the Nigerian nation.
In the build-up to the conference, many Nigerians voiced their opinions for or against the conference, which for me is the hallmark of democracy. But regardless of the dissenting opinions, the conference ship has set sail, and it doesn’t seem to me that anybody or group can stop its smooth sail nor re-channel it from berthing at a safe harbour. But I have my worries in respect of this conference.
This isn’t the first time Nigerians have been called upon to discuss and proffer solutions to the many problems plaguing the nation – problems that have always been there and well-known to a majority of Nigerians whether at home or in the Diaspora. For each of these conferences, volumes of reports and recommendations had been churned out and dropped on the laps of its conveners for onward implementation, yet such reports and recommendations had always ended up in the archives or shelves of some government agency gathering dust. So I worry about what will become of the fallout of this conference. I am not a pessimist, albeit in my cautious optimism, it will be a pleasant and welcome surprise if President Jonathan chooses not to take us through the same dark alley like his predecessors without being able to find our way out.
From their utterances and body language, there is no doubt that for most of the delegates, it is a case of giving the President a benefit of the doubt as to his avowed commitment not to take Nigerians on a wild goose chase. It would be a grave mistake if they shunned the conference and it turned out to be for real. I watched the octogenarian politician, Tunji Braithwaite, who stepped into the conference chambers for the first time last week, voicing his concerns. According to the jolly old man, he would simply take a walk out of the confab if it would be subjected to the ratification of the National Assembly, NASS, rather than a referendum. To him, it would amount to sheer waste of time if the outcome would be subjected to the whims and caprices of the federal lawmakers.
I share Braithwaite’s concern. I am worried too that the present NASS, as constituted, may stifle all efforts by President Jonathan to implement the recommendations of this conference because the President, in his inaugural speech, did not give a clear-cut strategy on what he would do with the conference reports except asking the NASS to consider including provisions for a referendum in its ongoing constitution review efforts. Whether this present NASS will accede to Mr. President’s wish is another matter.
Again, looking at the membership of this conference, I see almost the same faces that had either participated in earlier conferences or had been key actors in the politics and economy of the country which makes one wonder what new things they want to say or what new ideas they will be bringing to the table considering that they have been part and parcel of how Nigeria found itself in this cul-de-sac. Are these same persons going to come up with fresh ideas or solutions on how to deal with these problems? If you ask me, I would candidly say it’s like expecting new tricks from an old dog. So, what are they doing in President Jonathan’s conference? Where for Christ’s sake are the youths and the new blood that have not been contaminated by political patronage and filthy lucre?
Only recently, social media platforms got awash with pictures of these senile men sleeping while debate on Nigeria’s future was going on. Again, I ask what are these retired, tired and spent forces doing at this conference? When are we going to stop this unfortunate and annoying recycling of spent forces at the detriment of the progress of this nation with a huge potential to be a key player in global economy?
President Jonathan has given a three-month timetable to the conference delegates to round off all proceedings. That’s okay. But that’s where another worry stems from because it’s rather close to the 2015 general elections. What becomes of the report and recommendations of President Jonathan’s conference if the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, is kicked out of Aso Rock in 2015? That is if he eventually decides to seek a second term?
A greater worry borders on how much this conference will cost Nigeria in terms of naira and kobo. Will the outcome of the conference justify the huge investment? Save for a few, many of them may not be bothered about whether it succeeds or not. What is important is that they have been able to get their slice of the national cake. And so, participation at such an important national conference means just another opportunity to make extra money.
For some others, it is an opportunity to grandstand or impress Nigerians by making us feel the N12 million allowances meant nothing to them. Such delegates had made a show of rejecting their allowances, announcing that they were donating same to charity. Lo, how will Nigerians know that they actually did at the end of the conference?
Just recently, there was some bickering amongst the delegates over feeding arrangements, the quality and timing. Some even asked for monetisation! Thank goodness it was overwhelmingly rejected. The implication of this if it had been allowed is that delegates could abandon business on the excuse of going to eat. An occurrence as this only reinforces the general opinion that most of the delegates are there, not for the general good, but for the narrow interest of banishing poverty from their immediate families.
President Jonathan, according to embattled suspended Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi, is a nice guy but the issue is that he may have good intentions for convening this National Conference, but how much can the seeming patronising ex-CBN boss vouch for these persons, some of them with doubtful integrity, patriotism and loyalty whom he has brought together to proffer solutions to Nigeria’s problems? One of them, tragically a first-class traditional ruler, has even told us that he had no qualms if Nigeria breaks up because he already has a safe haven somewhere in a neighbouring country! This, unfortunately, is one of the characters in whose hands the destiny of the country has been entrusted. My fear is that the President’s handlers may also constitute a clog in the wheel of progress by not encouraging him to implement the outcome of this money-guzzling conference especially if some of the recommendations don’t seem to favour the sustenance of the status quo. So, there is the likelihood that the whole process would be sabotaged such that Nigeria may remain stuck in the mire of corruption, backwardness and stagnancy. These are my worries. I am sure you have yours too.
Ero writes in from Lagos
‘There is the likelihood that the whole process (National Conference) would be sabotaged such that Nigeria may remain stuck in the mire of corruption, backwardness and stagnancy’