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Wednesday, 30 October 2013

NATIONAL CONFAB, WILL IT PUT MORE BREAD ON THE TABLES OF ORDINARY NIGERIANS?


NATIONAL CONFAB, WILL IT PUT MORE BREAD ON THE TABLES  OF ORDINARY  
                                                                    NIGERIANS?

 On the 1st of October, the President gave Nigerians a gift( one notable aristocratic Politician called it a Greek gift). Whether Greek or Roman, it is nevertheless a gift. There is nothing Nigerians love more than opportunity to talk about their Country. Where ever two Nigerians meet, from the Streets of NewYork to the streets of Abuja, from the high profile restaurants in Paris to the buka joints in Isale Eko, they would be talking about Nigeria, though their focus could be different. Oh! we love to lament about our Nation. And not without cause though.
  When the Senate President, a few weeks earlier on, at the the resumption of the Senate from a long recess, surprised Nigerians with his endorsement of the National Confab, I suspected that some agreement had been struck .Therefore when the President followed the cue a few weeks later, my suspicions were confirmed. I was personally glad that what I had preached for sometime now had begun to happen. No, I have not preached about the National Conference or Dialogue. Each time the Executive and the Legislative arms of Government,got into their usual conflicts on the budget or other issues that tended to heat up the polity, I had always preached that, such matters could be readily resolved if Mr President would only invite the Senate President over for a private meeting. I had opined that Senator David Mark did not look to me like some one who would deny Mr President any request he truly made to him. Given that both leaders of these arms of Government are from the Same party that enjoys comfortable majority in both chambers of the legislature, some of the open disagreements were unnecessary and only symptomatic of poor communication between the two leaders. But when this decision was made to allow another phase of National dialogue, without any dissenting voice from the National Assembly, I felt pleased that the communication gap
 between  these two amiable leaders must have been closed or at least narrowed. And the Nation must be better for it. Can anybody imagine the amount of energy and perhaps naira that would have been spent arguing on this between the two arms or on the floor of the National Assembly if this rapport had not been (re)established. I had always felt that Senator David Mark had a good control over the National Assembly and that the President needed to exploit this more for much smoother relationship and swifter approval of his critical bills. He is certainly not like Speaker John  Boehner  of the US Congress who can not even win his Caucasus on any issue. Too bad for President Obama!
  Now back to the issue of National Dialogue as this piece is not necessarily about the seeming rapprochement between the Executive and the Legislature though Iam elated at the prospect.It is about the fact that Nigerians have received official endorsement by the government to undertake another round of recriminations about their Country. It is not as if Nigerians needed any permission to undertake this past time, it is just that, this time, the tax payer's money will be used to fund the exercise. Because of the understanding alluded to earlier on, the funding for Jonathan's Confab will be provided from the front door unlike Obasanjo's Confab which was funded from the back door, since the then National Assembly opposed the confab and declined to approve his request for One billion naira to fund the exercise. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that there was no way that assembly led by Senator Ken Nnamani would have approved the recommendations of a confab they had opposed from the beginning. But as they say , there was no harm in trying. And the project failed as the matter could not be resolved even after so much water had gone under the bridges.
 Which is why I think that this confab may succeed, because of this 'unusual' understanding between the  two arms of Government. And perhaps this may account for some of the harsh opposition from the political gladiators. Since 1999, PDP had been the ruling party controlling both arms of the government. But, they also seemed to provide formidable opposition to themselves . I therefore think that the opposition parties were shocked that such a decision was reached without a major fight between the Executive and the 'opposition PDP' in the National assembly especially at the House of Representatives. And to think that this kind of  consensus could be reached when PDP was indeed in deep crisis caught many of the opposition parties off guard. Indeed many were shocked beyond measure that they did not know how to respond. And what was worse, the unofficial opposition, the New PDP that had become the mouth piece of the opposition, could not find its voice on this matter of National dialogue. I guess they had other more pressing battles to fight. So the Coast was clear and it looked like the President was going to score a major political goal with his sudden approval of the new round of National Confab. Perhaps that necessitated the quick return of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu from his medical mission to spearhead the opposition to the National Confab since the opposition- both official and unofficial had been sucked in by the President's clever move.
  Opposition or no opposition, Nigerians have already begun the dialogue especially on the social media. And it looks to me that this dialogue is inevitable. Since the cry for National Confabs started in 1980s all the past Nigerian leaders had tried one way or the other to respond, often using a constituent assembly as the minimum opportunity to give Nigerians the opportunity to devise how they wanted the Country to be organised. Of course the cry took a strident note after the 1993 Presidential election, when NADECO began to push for A Sovereign National Conference.  This was resisted as usual for a long time, but latter, Obasanjo succumbed and empaneled the Political Reform conference in 2005. It was that conference that truly opened my eyes to the complexities and intricate politics of Nigeria. The kind of issues and subjects that were discussed at that conference, despite the no-go areas baffled me to no end. People agreed that things needed to be changed, but that the change would have to wait until they had had their turn at ruling the Country.
   Personally, I support the National dialogue or conference, not because I believe it will resolve     all of Nigeria's problems, but because that is what Nigerians want and I believe the time for the evolution of  a new Nation is overdue. Each time, the Nation is faced with some kind of difficult challenge, the sentiment builds up that a National dialogue will provide opportunity to sort it. Have we been successful? Your answer is as good as mine. When Nigeria faced the Political challenge of the June 12 elections aftermath, we asked for National Conference. Was the Problem solved by a conference? When the Niger Delta people began their militant agitation for resource control, we demanded National Conference. Did a conference resolve the Niger Delta question?,that is if the question has indeed been resolved. Now We have been facing unprecedented security challenges especially in the North East and Nigerians are clamouring for National conference. Iam praying hard that the forth coming conference will restore peace and tranquility to the North East and indeed to all parts of our Country.
  Some say that the conference must be sovereign. And  I say how? Shall the President abdicate his seat and the National Assembly relinquish their seats and return home,to allow the new sovereign to rule. Even when the President suggested that the resolutions of the Confab will be sent to the National Assembly for legislative action, some voices were raised in opposition. So how will the resolutions become effective? They will just become law like that and who will implement them?, and what instruments and structures will be used? Please excuse my ignorance.
  Actually, I have two major worries concerning the forthcoming confab. The first is, who will be the participants at this National dialogue and how will they be selected? Will they be made up of Politicians or non politicians or a mix of them? In this, my concern is who are we designing the New Nigeria for? If my experience in the 2005 conference is any thing to go by, we are going to fill the hall with very old Nigerians, some who attended the Lancaster Conference, before Nigeria's independence. We are going to fill the conference with retired and tired men, some recycled ten times. We are going to fill the conference with ethnic jingoists who think the whole conference is about discussing how to share National resources. We are going to fill the hall with retired Military Men and failed politicians who see the conference as an opportunity to seek relevance and rehearse fables and brag about what they did and did not,forgetting that it those things that they did or did not do that have brought us where we are today. Today's problems were created by Yesterday's decisions, actions and inactions.
 My candid advice is that we need very young People to dominate the conference, so that they can decide what they want to do with Nigeria of the future. Few men of yesterday can be added just to remind them of some of the failed policies and practices of the past, but the future of Nigeria has to be determined by those who will live there. Men and Women at the departure lounges should stay at home and pray for the young Nigerians who do no harbour the mutual hatred we have for each other and the miserable limitations we have placed on Nigeria by our greed and corruption.Let us follow the example of Professor Nwabueze. To start with,I recommend that Mr President Should appoint more young people into the advisory committee he has set up to help format the conference.
 My second worry is: will this National Dialogue that will consume at least 1billion naira  create more jobs, stop the cyclical ASUU strike and the degradation of our Educational system? Will it help build more roads and rail lines?  Will it help make our air lines safer to fly?Will it help revitalise our healthcare system and increase our life expectancy at birth? In short, will it put more food on the tables of ordinary Nigerians? May be or may be not. But I think good governance will and I propose we focus more attention on this, while we pursue the 2013/2014 diet of the National Dialogue series.
   Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR