By Charles Onunaiju
Having been heavily canvassed for over two decades as the balm for Nigeria’s fractured politics, the National Conference is here with us. Many would argue that what the federal government offered as a national conference is far from what advocates have urged, in terms of agenda, structure and even expected results. The government-backed conference is even more curious, coming against the backdrop of the current intense and bitter partisanship in the air. Would a national conference, which ordinarily should function in an atmosphere of reasonable national consensus, avoid been drawn into the partisan recriminations of the current divisive electoral politics. Would a federal government led by a regime, desperate for electoral victory, insulate the conference, it convoked and is bankrolling from its partisan project of electoral victory in a poll set for less than a year from now.
If the conference degenerates in to partisan brinkmanship, and wounds up with no clear resolution of the key issues as the national political conference of the former president Obasanjo regime, would the idea of national conference suffered irreparable damage to be reconsidered viable process to regenerate Nigeria. And in case the conference manages to stave off political manipulation of the regime that convoke it, would it sufficiently reach the depth of Nigeria’s fundamental dis-connect and create the enabling political and socio-economic infrastructure on which a convention of rules and regulations can be erected? Would the conference reach beyond the conventional and existing political rhetoric and avail itself to the uncommon insight, that only a resolution of core and fundamental political questions can relieve the routine issues governance. As there is nothing as good or bad governance, would the conference rise to the occasion of unresolved core political issues posed variously as national question, ethnic-nationality question. The institutional and structural lethargy arising from the hosts of these several un-resolved questions makes governance a nightmare, notwithstanding the goodwill of the regime in charge. However, no resolution of any of these questions at any particular time, answers the questions all times.
As the conference has already been inaugurated, there will be no point to bicker over whether the structure and composition of the conference fits the bill of the type of conference that many have advocated. With the leading opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC), refusing to take its slot in the conference and accusing the PDP-led federal government of ulterior partisan motives, would the conference push itself into irrelevance to prove it is not a partisan platform congregated to do the bidding of the regime that convoked it? While it is obvious that the conference cannot reasonably absolve itself of regime influence, it can focus on wider and fundamental issues of national regeneration.
So many issues have been made of a balanced federal structure, with the existing six-geo-political zones touted as ideal federating units. The existing thirty-six states are generally considered as unviable federating units and viewed mostly as administrative outposts of the central government. There is merit in the argument for a functional federal structure. Another issue that is likely to focus the view of the conference is the debate about a presidential and parliamentary system of government. For the evident overdrive of the Nigerian imperial presidency since the return of civil rule in 1999, many observers are canvassing for a return to a parliamentary system, which the country practiced soon after its independence from Britain in 1960.
However, these two issues of political structure and government institution would likely receive a considerable attention from the national conference.
However, as important as these two issues are, they do not approximate to the core political issues that would open the process for effective governance. The critical infrastructure on which a system of government and the structure of state can be erected is the social value which defines the political orientation of the State.
In its more conventional form, social values could be referred as ideologies. Social values or ideologies are not just simplistically available for picks as it is largely made out. It connotes essentially, in a rigorous scientific interrogation of history but more importantly find political expression in the dominant form of economic process. In this stance, no Nigeria class, including its most visible economic and political elite approximate to dominant form of economic process. In other words, Nigeria economic form is not driven by any domestic contradiction of the means or mode of production in which a national bourgeoisie emerges and expresses itself in a political form, original to it. Delving into the historical missing link in our national contradiction and outlook may point to a roadmap of a new political and economic organization other than existing one. A neo-capitalist system driven by a blinkered political liberalism has proved a costly rigmarole in the past half a century and there is no possibility that persistence in it, would relieve a deepening socio-economic malaise. A common argument, evidently without the benefit of a rigorous scientific investigation holds that any system works, if the operators simply play by the rules.
The making of social values is not the stuff of political grandstanding. A national conference of heavy weight political gladiators, regime operators, sprinkled with political jobbers and angry activists could wind up in an uproar. However, if the national conferees decide to take their job serious, they may achieve a modest mileage at least in creating the enabling political will and popular consciousness on the challenge of resolving the nation’s fundamental political questions. The most critical challenge is to integrate the structures and institutions to political viability and social relevance. The problems of the existing institutions is less, technical competence than their lack of aggregation of the political will and responsibility of the nation.
A most competent institution would be way off from discharging its duties if it is bereft of the political orientation of the enabling social value. The trend of a minimal State in proportion to a rise of maximalist non-state actors feeds the de-construction of critical public institutions. The neo-liberal assumptions of this trend are not historically valid or scientifically interrogated. The assumption is compatible to the ideological logic of international imperialism and lay us bare to neo colonialist entrapment.
The national conference due to be officially inaugurated shortly may turn out, what its most vehement detractors feared, a regime orchestrated jamboree designed to keep political loudmouths and busy-bodies, busy: while the regime plots its way to election victory, its evidently do or die pet- project.
Charles Onunaiju is a journalist based in Abuja.