Below the cloud cover of concerns to promote unity and create a new order in Nigeria, what is clear to us from everything about this Confab and Jonathan’s body language is that this costly distraction that will cost us billions is based on a sectionalist agenda. It is clear that, at bottom, what Jonathan and his advisers want is to strengthen and get the South on one side to “fight the North and defeat it.” This Confab is, in many ways, a sectionally-driven project.
Nothing gives the game waylay-driven project. Nothing gives the game away better than the volte-face of the hitherto loud proponents of Sovereign National Conference, who, as we saw, were jumping over each other to be in this Confab. Their main objection, before now, was that the 1999 Constitution was not only faulty but fake, based on a lie, and that only a new one genuinely done by “We the People” would do. But Jonathan’s Confab is itself based on an even bigger lie. Why then are they now supporting it, if not for the fact that they have bought into Jonathan’s hidden sectionalist agenda – an agenda on the altar of which genuine concerns about democracy and its ideals have now become sacrificed?
Posing the country’s problems as being essentially one of North versus South is what makes the Jonathan Confab an unhealthy and dangerous exercise. Unhealthy and dangerous because, as even the untutored in our affairs can rightly guess, time and energy will be wasted, passions will be excited and hair will be unnecessarily split in rancorous debates over issues of region, religion and the religious character of the state, at the expense of the real and fundamental problems that stem or slow our development and progress as a nation.
The fundamental issues, of corruption in the polity and how to address it, of the high level of official impunity and how to check it, of the growing inequalities in income distribution and opportunities between the haves and have-nots, of the basically unjust nature of the system and how it is being run in a way that impoverishes the masses of our people, of the violent nature of the Nigerian State and how it continuously pursues policies that create poverty and then finds excuses to kill or punish the poor, and of how the growing economic and political powerlessness of the masses has made it impossible for them to participate meaningfully in politics and the democratic process, will almost certainly not be up for serious discussion at this Confab. These are not even on the Confab’s agenda. And, given the composition of the Confab, it is most unlikely that these issues, even if they were to be on the agenda, would be what would engage the attention of the majority of the delegates.
Against this backdrop, and from the standpoint of the Nigerian people whose billions will be used to stage this jamboree, it is difficult to see what will be achieved by this conference. All the country’s democratic structures are in place. The National Assembly is there, and currently engaged in putting finishing touches to the on-going constitution amendment exercise. The conference is not mandated to, nor can it on its own, write a new constitution. Its decisions and conclusions cannot lead to any formal and binding settlements for the country, and must, rather, be forwarded to the National Assembly.
What then is the rationale for this costly and clearly undemocratic Confab convened by Jonathan-except as his way to distract the nation’s attention?
But the far more serious objection to this Confab, and which we hope the more serious minded delegates who are not in it just for the fat allowances they get, must take note of, is that the Confab is basically illegal. Its illegality arises from the fact that it was never budgeted for in the first place. There was never an appropriation for it. Yes, Section 82 of the 1999 Constitution provides that if the Appropriation Bill is not passed, the President may authorize withdrawal from the Consolidated Revenue for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the services of the government of the federation for a period not exceeding six months. But, note that the two operative words in this section are: necessary and services.
Two questions arise from this. The first is, is the convening of such a Confab necessary in our current circumstances? The second is, can this Confab be said to be, in any way, a service of the government of the federation? In our view, the answer to both questions is a big NO. So, in effect, what we have is an illegally convened conference, packed with the President’s nominees and yes men, armed with a divisive agenda, all set, unless reason and common sense prevail in the end, to further deepen the schisms in the country, and all for no visible and real benefit to Nigeria and Nigerians.