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When President Goodluck Jonathan announced his intention to stage a talk show, named the National Conference, some patriots felt it was a diversionary exercise and a waste of time and resources.
The President went ahead regardless to set up the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on the National Conference in October last year and charged it with the responsibility of designing the framework and modalities for a productive National Conference.
At that point, the President switched me off. With that exercise, he brought back memories of April 22, 1990. My family and I were set for church service that Sunday morning in Yola when a friend called to tell me there had been a coup in the country. I tip toed to my bedroom to hear the coup speech on my tiny radio. What I heard was not a coup speech but a declaration of war on Nigeria. Worse, it was made by somebody with whom I grew up, attended the same primary school and had close family ties that actually qualified us as “brothers”.
Major Gideon Orkaa, the young boy we called ‘Gwaza’ in those days at Apir did not possess the background to make that infamous speech. His father, Mr. Orkar Chi, was our God fearing school teacher, and so were his brothers, Kpamor, John and the others. John was a PhD student in the US when he came to teach us African history at our secondary school in the 70s. A man of his background did not, in my reckoning, qualify to declare war on Nigeria – just like that.
In those days in the early sixties when we attended primary school with Gwaza, soldiers were rarely seen. But one of the stories we were told about them was that the government used to give them an injection that made them stronger than normal men. We were also told that sometimes the injection could have negative effects and turn their heads, making them raving lunatics. As I listened to my brother that morning, I concluded that the government injection must have had negative effects on him.
My little understanding of African history (John Orkar taught me this) is that at the Berlin conference of 1884/5, some greedy white men sat down and shared out Africa to themselves – peacefully. After that exercise, any other partitioning of the African continent must come through the barrel of a gun – Biafra, Eritrea, Sudan etc.
What Orkar was saying that morning with his excision of Sokoto, Borno, Katsina, Kano and Bauchi states from the Federal Republic of Nigeria with “immediate effect” was that war had come to Nigeria. God must have heard our prayers because before we left church service that morning, the effect of the “government injection” had waned and the madness had been put to an end. For some strange reason, Major Orkar allowed himself to be the spokesperson of the evil scheme. He has often been wrongly branded by the media as leading the putsch to dismember Nigeria. But the self acclaimed godfather of the plot to levy war on Nigeria was Lt-Col.Nyam. Ironically while his foot soldiers were out there on the street, gunning to implement his scheme, he had his ears to the ground. Immediately he got the news that not all was well with his foot soldiers on the streets, he took to his heels and fled Nigeria for the safety of Europe, leaving Orkar, Mokuro and others to face the bullets.
Whatever purpose my President, Goodluck Jonathan, wanted to achieve with putting this man – who has never apologized for putting Nigeria through the wrenching ordeal of April 22, 1990, – on the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference remains a mystery to me. Whatever may have been the President’s good intentions, the man himself proved him wrong. The white man says old habits die hard. At a public meeting of the committee in Benin, the man did not only disrupt the proceedings, he threatened to give Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the Edo state governor, a public beating. Security men stepped in to save the diminutive comrade from what may have been the public thrashing of his life. Other more responsible members of the committee were so embarrassed that they wrote a petition to the president advising him to relieve this man of this responsibility that was clearly an inconvenience, even to him. The President prudently did just that.
Amazingly, the President while constituting the conference proper still put the man’s name to be among the ‘492 wise men’ to chart the road ahead of us. In his opening address, the President advised members of the National Conference to prove his critics wrong. I nominate myself as one of those the President wanted to be proved wrong. In his words; “As we start a new century of nationhood, we have an obligation to reshape and redirect our country for the benefit of our children. There should be no room for divisive cleavages and ethnic jingoism. There should be no room for selfish considerations that defeat the purpose of national progress. There should be room only for the national interest.”
Events of the past one week have shown that the conference members did not take the president’s homily to heart. The ‘divisive cleavages and ethnic jingoism’ that the President warned about in his opening address have all taken front space while our national interest is enjoying the back bench. This conference has taken us back to the beginning of the last one hundred years without showing us the way forward to ‘start a new century of nationhood’. The on goings at the conference have reduced it to an allawada group. The characters involved in this street comedy have no skills, no style and no destination. As they humour themselves and irritate the rest of us, they remind some of us of the ringing words of Sir Ahmadu Bello uttered in 1953; “The mistake of 1914 has come to light.”
The President, my president, should have avoided this public relations blunder. First, there was no need giving a man who had declared war on a section of the country a leading role in this serious national assignment. There are a million other ways for a president to bail out his distressed citizens. Secondly, he robbed salt into injury by constituting the conference with unbalanced statistics. The North has 192 while the South has 300. This president, as I said elsewhere, is very poorly served.