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Published On: Fri, Mar 28th, 2014

National Conference: If symptoms persist after 3 months…

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By Olugu Olugu Orji

It is always interesting watching the clash between unbridled optimism and unbending realism; between boisterous faith and bare facts. While the parson traffics faith, the physician is armed with hard facts, and there is constant tension between this two critical vocations in the resolution of every debility. Sometimes this tension rages within one individual like in a case when a parson is also a physician. I have many friends who operate in this mould and only the irredeemably ignorant envy them. Let us assume a scenario where a physician who doubles as a pastor is confronted with a particularly bad case. The faith of a pastor loudly declares, “This condition is not unto death because with God, all things are possible,” but the scientific exactitude of a physician whispers without equivocation, “Kai, this is hopeless!” No matter what the pastor divines or the physician prescribes, the matter will wind up either in the confectionery or the mortuary; in mirth or death.

Nigeria is sick: on this one point, most Nigerians are agreed. Arguments will continue to rage as to the causes and nature of the illness and there may never be absolute concurrence on the preferred prescription for a cure. For quite a while, many well-meaning Nigerians have been shouting themselves hoarse trying to sell the idea of a Sovereign National Conference as a panacea for the nations worsening ills. There are also others – no less vocal – who are convinced a determined onslaught on corruption will restore the nation’s health. Until recently, by declaration and default, President Jonathan had roundly rejected both solutions.

It was no little surprise therefore when Jonathan and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party suddenly embraced the idea of a national dialogue. Predictably, many, especially in the ranks of the opposition All Progressives Congress, smelled a rat. With general elections looming and the political equilibrium shifting on account of the many high-profile defections from the PDP, it is not hard to imagine that warming up to the dialogue could amount to a desperate bid to appeal to popular, populist sentiments thereby improving electoral fortunes.

Personally, I have no problem with politicians making capital out of situations as long as the greater public good is served. So if Jonathan’s real intention for convening the conference is because he believes doing so will help him win the 2015 presidential polls, good for him and excellent for Nigerians. I can live with that. At this point in time, being commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of a nation being overwhelmed by all manner of socio-political and economic microbes cannot be fun. If Nigeria were a patient, the most upbeat prognosis of her condition would be ‘grave.’

I see Jonathan as the senior pastor cum physician of Nigeria. As a physician, he is quite aware his patient is nearly comatose but he elected to remain in cognitive dissonance/pastor mode where for a long time he kept chanting, “It is well!” Obviously, his incantations began sounding hollow to him, and hemmed in further by the debilitating symptoms of systemic failure evidenced by insecurity, insurgency and unemployment among others, he had to cave in; finally openly admitting that the nation was in dire straits.

Like a drowning man, he had just grabbed the right straw and it would amount to wickedness denying him basic support, for that would equate to cutting the straw. Unlike so many who fantasize the SNC as a cure-all for Nigeria’s ills, I harbour no such sentiments. At best, I believe the conference will allow us arrive at a definitive diagnosis of Nigeria’s problems and also the most effective treatment options. Achieving those will represent a huge step out of the quagmire.

So I was very hopeful, well, until the conference was formally inaugurated. Firstly, there were far too many older persons among the delegates. And as if that wasn’t already bad enough, one of them sought to know how the conference could help him fund his retinue of aides. At this point, 75% of my hope vanished. Though he spoke as an individual, from the manner of selection of the delegates, I believe he spoke the minds of a sizeable number of his colleagues. And that cannot be good.

Doctor Ebele Jonathan has confidently prescribed a national conference for health-challenged Nigeria; and it might end up as the greatest watershed of his administration. Strangely though, there is an embedded assumption that his prescription cannot fail because in another breathe, Pastor Goodluck Azikiwe pontificates: “Don’t discuss Nigeria’s indivisibility. That is strictly off-limits!” And that has got me worried, not because I desire to see Nigeria disintegrate; on the contrary, and more than at any other time, I want Nigeria to remain as one entity. Yet I harbour no illusions about the efficacy of the on-going treatment option. So I am compelled to ask a pertinent question that should have been answered by the prescription: What happens if the symptoms persist after 3 months? I am hoping – and desperately so – that the undertaker never has to be alerted.

Olugu Olugu Orji via nnanta2012@gmail.com

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