The ongoing National Conference is a lesson in ironies and incongruities. We have on our hands a situation in which many old men are at the confab to fashion out for the country a future that they will likely not be a part of. Please, don’t get me wrong.
I am not saying that some of these our dozing oldies at the confab will die soon. By God’s grace, they will still live very long, but I do not see any great role they will play in the nation’s future, unless of course, they belong to that special
category of Nigerians who have been holding one juicy public office or the other in the last two to three decades, and who we know will continue to do so until they drop.
At this all-important conference, we have a group of conferees who are supposed to be meeting to fashion out modalities for the “unity and continuing existence of the country as one indivisible country”, but who came to the confab with baggage loads of ethnic prejudices and a strong determination to champion these from their narrow tribal prisms. One hundred years after the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of the country in 1914, ethnic fellow feeling and jingoisms are still waxing strong and dominating discussions, as the country seeks to chart a new course for the future.
At the conference, we have participants who want us to believe that they have “left all behind” to discuss our thorny issues as a nation, in what we should consider to be a sacrificial and most patriotic duty, yet they require from Nigeria an arm and a leg, milllions of naira that the country can ill afford, to do this. A participant has even told us that the conference allowance that will amount to about ten million in three months is nothing, considering that he has engaged some professors who will help in the onerous task.
Many have argued that the country should pay allowances to their aides, while others have complained that the food being served to them at the meeting is of low quality. The remedy? They want the food they are being served ‘monetised’ so that they can eat wherever they want. In short, feeding allowance should be paid in cash.
The 12-week conference is in its third week, with almost a third of the time allocated to it gone, but we are yet to get over the modalities and ground rules. The latest argument is on the move to prevent the media from covering the confab executive sessions, so that sensitive issues such as the feeding allowance being demanded will not be published, and those sleeping at the meetings will not have their pictures splashed in newspapers all over the country, thereby annoying those who nominated them to the conference. Such secretive executive sessions will also probably stop Nigerians from knowing how the confab will arrive at some its recommendations.
However, but for the fact that this N7 billion conference has a time limit, and the reality that the 2015 elections are just round the corner and it will be good to get this conference done and out of the way, Nigerians would probably not be worried about these teething problems at the meeting. Then, the sleeping conferees could have all the time in the world to do so, while those who are inclined could go into fisticuffs. But, we just do not have this luxury.
However, of all the troubling issues emanating from the conference, none is as worrisome as the dangerous posturings on religion and the division of the country. We have had the conferees talking about such issues as the number of times Christians will be allowed to go out for prayers, in reaction to the number of times that muslims will go out for some of their five-time daily prayers. We have also heard arguments on the Muslim/Christian composition of the conference, and the warning from a traditional ruler from one of the Northern states that he could easily move over to Cameroon, where he has part of his traditional kingdom, if Nigeria becomes inhospitable to him and his people.
That same argument on religion was carried all the way to Aso Rock sometime ago. These developments at the confab do not give any cause for cheer at all. They have also heightened fears that the conference may end up as mere verbal kick-boxing by the participants, without anything of real value coming out of it
As a matter of fact, it would seem that Nigerians will have the serious challenge of keeping the meeting on course, and focused on the important issues before them. These issues include our skewed federalism and whether we will be taking a more centrifugal or centripetal approach to governance in the country. Should we have stronger states, or continue with our weak states as federating units with a strong Federal Government? What should we do on the contentious issue of resource control, in which there appears to be a strong division of opinions in the different parts of the country? Should there be power rotation between the Northern and Southern parts of the country, between the geo-political zones, or the tribal groups? What do we do about the problem of insecurity and the insurgency in the North-East geo-political zone of the country? How do we go about ensuring that we provide a better future for Nigerian youths, to whom the future of the country really belong? How do we take care of the interests of tribal groupings, and protect the ethnic minorities, without threatening the unity of the country? How do we weld the nation’s disparate groups, which always seem to be at loggerheads, into one indivisible unit? How do we reduce the cost of governance? There is no doubt at all that we have a nation that is called Nigeria, but does this nation have true citizens? Do we have citizens who are ready to ask and do whatever they can for the country, or those who mouth the unity of the country because it is in this that their bread is better buttered? How do we build a strong and prosperous country? Should we continue to use the 1999 Constitution, as amended, with all its contradictions, or do we fashion out a new one? When this conference is over, how do we bring its resolutions into effect? These are some of the serious issues that the conference participants should be providing answers to.
This conference, which Nigerians have been demanding for a long time even if not sovereign as initially demanded, is a good opportunity to rethink Nigeria and design a way to move the country into the league of developed countries. Let us for once forget selfish interests and put aside the things that have continued to divide us for over a hundred years. Let the conferees concentrate on designing ways to take Nigeria out of the present political quicksand to a state that we can all be proud of.Our dear conferees, the time to get to work is now. For you, and for all of us, this is a historic moment. What Nigerians expect from you is to make history by making worthy resolutions that can change the future of the country for the better. We want resolutions that will rewrite Nigeria’s history and help us put overcome the winds blowing against the soul of the country.
To do this is not rocket science. It only requires a heart of service to the country and a desire to go beyond championing of sectional interests. As for the desire to limit media coverage of the confab, the conferees will do well to perish the thought. Do they need reminding that what they have been asked to discuss is not the number of wives they have or the colour of their underwear? What they are deliberating on are issues concerning about 160 million Nigerians, who have a right to know what is being said about them at the confab.