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Published On: Tue, Aug 26th, 2014

South-South’s dream, a nation’s nightmare

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South-south NigeriaWednesday Column by Garba Shehu

he story of the National Conference is like the parable of the sick fish which tried to swallow a by far healthier one. The outcome is foreknown. But lessons, by both sides, must be learnt.There are a dozen plus reasons why the national will triumphed over sectional, narrow selfish interest and the North saved the Presidential hammer but I am doubtful if the editor will give me enough space to say them all. It suffices to say, for an opening shot that this country has lived true to its living history, which is that no ruler, from independence to date who sets out to change the national will has succeeded, so long as the motive is malicious. The most successful of these conferences, the one by General Murtala Mohammed went so far because the late Military ruler didn’t set out saying “I can change the national will.” He had national interest in mind. It was equally helped by the fact that the timing of his conference was right.

In the case of the present government, they embarked upon the so-called national conference with an open bias, starting with deliberate imbalances in representation in religion, ethnicity and region. There was a manifest ill-motive against the North and more so the Muslim section of the region. As rightly pointed out by many, the North was targeted notably through the outright subversion of its real-time majority.This notwithstanding, the North resolved an important question early on, which is to attend the conference, and to not walkout under all circumstances in order not to confirm pre-conceived notions of fear on the part of its people against dialogue and negotiation.

Without a prepared position and set agenda, the North entered the Conference with a broken leg. Without malice aforethought, its delegates presented themselves wielding neither creed nor script. Unlike the others, they were merely absorptive and defensive as they carried on in the roll-back mode throughout. There was no creative paradigm from Arewa. But this was later to prove to be an advantage because, it meant that delegates were free to reason, use commonsense, logic and fair-dealing as their instruments of engagement.

The South-South, strongly backed by the South-East, the South-West and breakaway factions from the North Central, had, on the other hand, come with strong assumptions about themselves, grievances and a sense of entitlement. They came with demands so exaggerated that they astounded even their more reasonable supporters in the other regions. If this was a ploy for negotiation, it was one that backfired and achieved nothing. They forgot decorum and isolated the North for insults, in their belief that the region stood in their way of getting what they wanted. They carried about with a sense that their own was in power and they could afford anything and anybody and not a few from the North caved in to this. The obstacle they had, doing whatever they wanted was that this Conference was different from political party horse-trading and so money exchange could not work, and did not work.

In line with the ill-motive of the convener, procedures were themselves titled against the object of attack and listening to conference delegates speak on this, it is amazing that the Conference Chair displayed a relentless contempt throughout, against people who thought they had everything in common with him. At one meeting called to resolve the knotty issue of rigged procedure and of hidden agenda, the former Chief Justice of the Federation reportedly told Northern delegates to feel free to walkout; “you are a minority”, he reportedly said. His countenance however changed when he met the other half of the country. Without Professor Akinyemi’s diplomacy and intellect, even though he too had a huge blemish of his own for projecting himself as the Jonathanian constitution horse-trader, the Conference will have crashed on Kutigi’s persona, which many delegates believe is much overrated.

But of all the things that worked against the design to rubbish the national will and smash up the North, was the Delta delegates’ lack of diplomacy; their exaggerated sense of entitlement; the discourtesy and sometimes rude remarks, which unexpectedly, garnered sympathy for the North even among many of South’s delegates, many of whom became apprehensive of the South-South’s tackles. Event the government’s hand-picked delegates were reluctant to go as far with the President’s men for the fear of being tagged as lackeys and fifth columnists. In addition, most delegates appeared unprepared to give credence to the assumption that Nigeria was on the brink, and no one, certainly will like to be on record as the precursor of the country’s break up.

I did mention the fact of the wrong timing of the conference earlier. Coming against the backdrop of the imminent election, in 2015, all were conscious of the fear of causing its disruption, much as this was evidently the wish of some of the delegates fronting for the President. The negative effect of this was that every issue raised and discussed was viewed against two things – the interest of the President and the election in which he will stand as a candidate. This underlying reason was why the subterranean effort to turn the National Conference into a Constitutional Conference also failed.

In the end, it was clear that the nation triumphed because of one, the over-riding commitment to national interest by the majority of delegates, as well as for the realization albeit belatedly, on the part of some of the regions that their over-arching business, commercial and other economic interests stood to be derogated upon if the Conference succumbed to the aggregate of issues tendered by oil-bearing (not oil-producing) states, that wanted derivation, not as a cut but the whole beef.

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