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Published On: Tue, Aug 26th, 2014

Northern unity: Incrementalism is the way (I)

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ACF Chair, Ibrahim CoomassieFor The Masses by By Rufa’i Ibrahim

President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ)’s National Conference is now over. Officially, that is. Having officially presented their report to the president last Thursday, the conference officials and delegates have now become what lawyers call functus officio.

The Confab’s three-volume report of its proceedings and recommendations will now be forwarded to the National Assembly (NASS), where the nation’s focus and attention will now be shifted.

The confab’s report has in it about 600 recommendations. Given this, and the fact that NASS already has its hands full with the on-going constitution amendment process, there are many who think, and it’s very tempting to agree with them, that the Confab’s report will be dead on arrival.

But this is Nigeria. And this is the NASS we know only too well. There have long been rumours of manoeuvres by the GEJ’s men in and outside the NASS to wangle something that will give the man some legal backing to stay in power beyond 2015.

Now, there are strong hints and some real evidence, judging from the public comments of some of GEJ’s closest aides and allies like Oranto Douglas, of moves by the man’s foot soldiers in the NASS to build –or more rightly, purchase – a consensus by which the lawmakers, using the excuse of the insurgency situation, will keep passing resolutions on a six-monthly basis, to keep their man in office for as long as possible.

Let’s face it. The confab didn’t go exactly the way GEJ had planned and wanted it. And he and his men aren’t happy about it at all. And, as everybody knows by now, GEJ is not one to let something like this be. He is a man not given to  walking  away from a fight, no matter how unseemly it may be. And this fight concerns his ambition and survival.

So, who knows what NASS may attempt to do, or do? Who knows what legal contrivances or doctrines are now being planned to be sprung on us?

For now, though, the nation has been saved what would most likely have been a major catastrophe. And for this, the nation owes a huge debt of gratitude to the Northern Delegates Forum (NDF), and some of the progressive elements in the Confab.

Somehow, it is now almost the norm in this country that every confab of this nature is marked by fraud or something untoward –a subterranean influence, or a surreptitious move, or outright forgery, or some kind of decoy by one group or the other to have some issues or the outcome of the confab itself resolved in its favour. GEJ’s just concluded confab was no different.

Suddenly, as we saw, a new draft constitution, appropriately titled, “FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, NEW DRAFT CONSTITUTION 2014”, purporting to be the product of the consensus on issues reached by all the regional blocs, was surreptitiously and fraudulently foisted on the conference, accompanied by a draft bill for its no less surreptitious and fraudulent enactment as our new constitution by the NASS.

This new draft constitution did not, as claimed by its authors, originate from any wide consensus. It was, rather, a collection of the wishes, put into clauses, of a group led by AIT’s Raymond Dokpesi. It was the group’s dream of a new Nigeria.

At its formation at the beginning of the confab, the Dokpesi-led group was a good idea, a good initiative. The idea was to get the leaders of the various zones and groups to sit together outside the normal sessions, and in an atmosphere of friendly informality, brainstorm on and reach understanding and consensus on those issues that had the potential to divide the delegates along the usual fault lines.

But before long, all sorts of decoys were employed to keep the Northern delegates from the group’s main meetings, and important decisions were taken behind their backs. So they stopped attending the meetings.

In the draft were many things that never came up for discussion and decision either at the plenary or in any of the committees, many more things that were discussed but rejected at the plenary or committee level, and still many, many things that were simply outrageous, given our present circumstances and the opaque definition of the political situation in the country today.

The draft is a product of poor intellect, poor judgement and an even poorer knowledge and understanding of our history and the sociology of the different groups and forces in Nigeria.

The timing of the draft, its being presented as a new draft constitution to take effect from this year, the fact that those behind it are all well known GEJ’s men and its core provision of six-year tenure for elected executives – an idea that GEJ has all along been slaving to get Nigerians buy into – all combined to raise old fears and suspicions that made it impossible for many not to see the draft as GEJ’s third term agenda.

And Nigerians don’t like the idea of third terms, or any sort of tenure elongation. The fundamental temper of most Nigerians is against it. Our history is against it. In fact, the one thing that shouts back to us loudest from across the decades of our history as a country is that Nigerians will fight any move that even remotely resembles attempt by leaders to overstay in office. Gowon, IBB and Obasanjo are living witnesses to this.

This was why the draft had little or no purchase order outside the circle of the South-South and the South-East. And this was why it was shot down by largely the Northern delegates under their NDF.

The Northern delegates came to the confab with some negatives. First, they were outnumbered more than two to one by their Southern counterparts. Second, they came without an agreed agenda or blueprint, unlike the delegates from other sections. Third, quite a number of them were known GEJ’s supporters. Fourth, the schism between the core North and Middle Belt could be exploited to make it difficult or impossible for the delegates to present a common front on issues.

As my friend, Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed pointed out at the time, the situation was as if the Northern delegates were crossing a minefield blindfolded and with their arms tied at their backs.

The lopsidedness in the composition of the confab was no accident. Guided by the agenda that informed the convening of the confab in the first place, and themselves being people whose political cosmology revolved only around the concepts of region, religion and ethnicity, presidency officials and organisers of the confab did things in such away, and created many bogus categories that enabled GEJ to pack the confab with his allies, cronies, foot soldiers and yes men.

It was from the North that the strongest opposition to the agenda was expected. So, load the dice against the region, and, by so doing, defeat and humiliate it. That was the idea and the goal.

To be sure, quite a number of the Northern delegates were in a dilemma whether to attend or boycott the confab. Many rushed to Abuja for the millions to be made. The more politically minded saw the confab as an opportunity to establish contacts and build political capital for future endeavours.    And a few, perhaps, saw it as adventure calling, with the means to answer adequately provided.

Whatever the reason or motive, the Northern delegates trooped to Abuja for the confab. They came, they saw and, if we can’t say that they conquered because no region got all it wanted, it must be said that they were not conquered, as it was planned they should be.

The presidency and the confab organisers obviously forgot that the effectiveness of a group is not measured by its numerical strength alone, and that what really matters in a duel is not so much the size of the dog in the fight as the size of the fight in the dog.

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