By Wumi Akintide
I applaud President Goodluck Jonathan for finally agreeing to call a national conference at one of the most difficult times in his presidency when you could argue his back was up against the wall because of his initial vacillation as President. He had waited till he forfeited the reservoir of good will he enjoyed when he first came to that office on the promise to be a catalyst for change in Nigeria. He wasted time doing what he should have focused upon like a laser beam on his getting elected after serving the remainder of Yar’adua’s term in office.
I question the timing of this conference. It has come too close to 2015 when the President is seeking reelection. I question the very short time he has allocated to the conference and his saying up front that he wasn’t going to allow the conference to discuss or debate the most important reason for calling the conference to begin with. He is wrong to state a “no go area” for the delegates. The statement made no sense to me when the President first made it but now that he has put out the list of the delegates, the statement is more of a “no brainer” to me as I factor in the high calibre of delegates and the size of the delegation.
The President would appear to fully understand the notion of “no participation without representation.” He has made sure that every segment of the Nigerian society is represented in that conference including market women, students, Human Right leaders and even Nigerians in Diaspora and what have you. That is a good move at one level but a bad one if you see what I see. I cannot help but wonder about the very unwieldy number of those delegates. Given the very short duration of the conference, I have a feeling that most of those delegates are only going there to warm their benches.
I know the conference is going to break into syndicates before it holds its plenary, but the number of delegates involved is too big are and the time they are given to do their deliberations is too short for them to come to any meaningful dissection of all the issues at stake. That is just my opinion as a retired administrator who has served in similar delegations and conferences in my days in the public service. The calibre of most of the delegates is very high – which is good for Nigeria. It will be nice if the President would allow all of the conference hearings to be covered by the press and television cameras so we all know where we are going, and if the delegates are being micro-managed by a Government with an ulterior motive or agenda. The Destiny of Nigeria must not be the exclusive preserve of the Government in power alone and most of their hand-picked delegates because we all have as much stake as they do in the future of Nigeria.
I happen to know many of the individuals in the delegations from many parts of Nigeria. Many of them are those whose conscience cannot be bought. Chairman Kutigi and his Vice, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, have their jobs cut out for them as they try to steer that conference to do its work. The delegations must be aware, going forward, that a “no go area” is not in the best interest of Nigeria. Everything must be thrown open for discussion so as not to repeat the mistake the British made when Lord Lugard masterminded the 1914 amalgamation without consultation with the rank and file of Nigerians. Nigeria breaking will not be a new thing. Once upon a time the United Kingdom used to be one entity. Today you have England, Scotland and Wales. Scotland is actively seeking autonomy from England.
Myself as a Yoruba man, I am proud of the delegation from the South-west led by Lt. General Alani Akinrinade I like the substance of the Memorandum they are taking to the National Conference. I have read it cover to cover and I whole-heatedly support it, and wish our delegates very productive deliberations at the Conference.
The last point I want is to suggest that the conference has to be a sovereign one. The President cannot gather such a distinguished calibre of Nigerians from all walks of life and just dismiss any of their major recommendations with the wave of the hand or just put it on the shelf to gather dust like has happened to many previous reports before now. I recall Obasanjo once setting up the Falae Task Force on the Re-appraisal of the Federal Public Service in the 80s. I was the Secretary to the Task Force and we wrote a report that was very critical of Obasanjo’s Government because it was the right thing to do and we did it. Obasanjo got so upset that he wanted to detain Oluyemi Falae, our Chairman. Because of that report Obasanjo was never going to let Chief Oluyemi Falae become a Permanent Secretary talk less of becoming a Secretary to Government and a Minister of Finance in Nigeria.
The same Falae became both under Ibrahim Babangida and he went on to run against Obasanjo for President in 1999. Chief Falae nearly beat Obasanjo in that election. Other members of the Falae Task Force, as I recall, included one Mr. Ralph Okpara of Radio Nigeria, one Alhaji Gambo Gubio, a former Deputy Permanent Secretary of Establishments, the late Rex Akpofure, first Nigerian Principal of Kings College and one Geologist, Mr. Adeniyi, the senior brother of Federal Perm Sec, Adeniyi from Mopa in Kwara State. We wrote our final report at Luwera Hotel in Ijebu-Ode, and we told Obasanjo not what he wanted to hear, but what he needed to hear loud and clear. The national conference must do the same to President Jonathan
President Jonathan may also consider extending the time the conference has to complete its deliberations. The conference is a good start. I predict that their deliberations will lead to many unintended consequences for the President and his government. He cannot afford to make this conference another toothless bulldog of a summit as it was initially envisaged or designed to be, judging by the caliber of people the President has nominated, I believe Nigeria has a chance to benefit from the national conference.
Dr. Wumi Akintide is reachable on linkedIn