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Published On: Thu, May 29th, 2014

A national confab needing imagination

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By Michael Oluwagbemi

It is said “desperate times call for desperate solutions”. But going by the manner in which attendees of the ongoing National Conference in Abuja have been deliberating, one may conclude that Nigeria is not in a desperate logjam as the headlines suggest. Their submissions, their suggestions and indeed their lackadaisical attitude to suggestions of substantive reforms have been a mirror image of the attitude of the convener-in-chief in dealing with the Boko Haram debacle dodging Nigeria.

Resisting or outright rejecting change when it came to urgent matters of national security, which obviously is in shambles (like suggestions of state police and consolidation or realignment of federal functions) were the order of the day at Jonathan’s conference. Lame excuses (like, “we are not mature for it” etc.) best fit for beer parlor banters were given by these tired heads, to dismiss suggestions to federalize security functions- whereas it has been proven that the current centralized system is simply a failure. A country that cannot protect its citizens and especially her children does not deserve the police force or army that it expends billions on yearly.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result, then members of this National Conference are thoroughly insane in every sense of the word. These men already widely derided as relics of yesterday, trying to decide Nigeria’s future are like Nero fiddling while Rome burned. While given an open blank cheque to contribute to the national treatise, they abdicate their duties to cement the status quo in which they’ve been participants for over half a century. We should not be surprised; why will the primary beneficiaries of a warped system reform such system when their gains are at stake?

If the submissions of these National Conferees are laughable in security, or germane issues like federal allocation, devolution of powers or residency requirements, then their suggestions in matters of unemployment and youth development revealed their utter lack of imagination and exposure. Their solution to unemployment is a continued payment of NYSC allowances to graduates- an allowance that is well known to go unpaid for a vast majority of the program participants for long periods, and in a program already riff with corruption.

It goes without saying that if they had any exposure, better suggestions like job training programmes (widely leveraged in many countries with dramatic results) that prepares our graduates for the real work environment will serve the purpose of pairing human resources with the private sector, or encourage youths to become employer of labor other than job seekers. At least this is the same country where the President has derided graduates as not being employable; a rather comical submission by a man charged to fix the problem and not to diagnose it.

Microfinance programs that target enablers in the private sectors, small business programs that guarantee credit from the private sector will unlock the employment potential of the under-resourced small business sector.

Our remaining hope is that the National Conference can still redeem itself by dealing with more immediate questions that bother Nigerians, since they clearly have no handle on the structural issues that dodge our country. Questions about making election fairer, by allowing for equal representation of majority parties in the electoral commission can for example be dealt with in a reformist approach that departs form their ostrich tactics.

Also, it might be interesting to see how the conference deals with the excessive cost of governance. One will have to doubt the bunch of geriatrics that seem to be more afraid of change than dying itself, can have the courage to tinker with the current corruption riddled and expensive presidential system

Simply removing immunity for serving executives, and tying gross wages (allowances inclusive) to the national minimum wage however may begin to stem the tide. Restricting the use of funds from resource sales like crude oil to capital projects, and tying recurrent expenditure to taxes will also force politicians to get their acts right. I have no hopes for suggestions to return to the less expensive but probably more divisive parliamentary system, or curtailing aides to come from a conference where members were asking for personal assistants from day one.

It is impossible to have high degree of confidence in the current jamboree ongoing in Abuja, given its track record. Perhaps what we can hope for then will be conversation changing suggestions, which may very well end up in the dustpans of its convener at Otueke if he is sent packing.

Michael Oluwagbemi is on linkedIn

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