Can Sovereign National Conference Save Nigeria? By Adagbo Onoja



Adagbo-OnojaNigeria, like the spider itself, appears finally, finally caught up in its own web. That is the web of a national character built on acceptance of low standards and compromise solutions. The best example of that national character is Goodluck Jonathan becoming the presidential candidate of the PDP in 2011. It is difficult to stress this point without being seen as someone who hates the president but the point is that Nigerian politics had been dominated by a vociferous campaign against Northern Hegemony since the 1983 elections. The late Bisi Onabanjo went as far as calling it internal colonialism in 1983. Thereafter, power shift became the dominant issue in Nigerian politics. June 12 became such a golden gift to its protagonists and by the time Abacha was out of power, the operationalisation of power shift was the definitive dragging force of politics. People like Olu Onagoruwa, Abacha’s initial Minister of Justice came to regard the national conference under that regime as an unqualified success because it enabled the protagonists of power shift to formalize rotation of power in the constitution.
Although the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime edited that provision out of the constitution that eventually emerged, rotation of power became an accepted article of faith in Nigerian politics. The seriousness with which the power elite took it was demonstrated in the PDP’s adoption of it. Unfortunately, by 2011, the PDP was not in a position to abide by its own consensus. How it happened that no group or interests in the party could mobilize a consensus to block the abandonment of rotation in 2011 remains the most important indicator that this country is bound to be at the cross road permanently.
This is for the simple reason that not only had GEJ not been prepared for power but more importantly because no society which engages in such willful breaking of its own consensus will go without paying for such self-deception. But in 2011, the other geo-political units joined in excited subversion of zoning in the mistaken belief that it was punishing the North whereas what should have happened should have been a firm decision of the PDP that the North should complete its 8 years and that in 2015, Goodluck Jonathan from the South-South would be the presidential candidate. If that had happened, Nigeria would have firmly and finally put behind it this appointment with nation threatening power struggle every four years. The South-South which has never enjoyed power since 1914 would also have had a longer and necessarily more beneficial time ruling Nigeria with a more astute Jonathan than now.
Instead of that happening, Jonathan was railroaded to power. I refuse to buy the argument that it was Obasanjo’s handiwork. I do so on the ground that there is no way Obasanjo would have succeeded in accomplishing that if other conspirators were not too willing to have it. If Obasanjo were that powerful, how come he couldn’t get himself elected for the Third Term? It was simply because the elite didn’t want it?
Now, the society is suffocating under the weight of Jonathanism. I have my own Christian, minoritist sympathy for him but the truth is that things have gone haywire under him, courtesy of a combination of factors, prominent among them his own political education or lack of it. What is already clear is that there is no way this country will continue this way much longer. Something would have to give sooner than later. One cannot rule out the country itself giving way because all that is needed for that to happen is the current level of poverty and alienation and, of course, the perceived level of corruption in this government. It cannot be for nothing that one hears of Nigeria’s descent into oblivion now more frequently in very well informed circles, both within and outside the country. Some people go as far as saying that such is the agenda of the president or that of his own people. Why would anyone privileged to rule a country of 170 million people ever allow such to be associated with him?
This matter is compounded by the escapist politics of the power elite, some members of which are proposing a Sovereign National Conference where they hope to work out how Nigerians could live together, thus giving the impression that Nigerians have problems of living together when, in fact, the trouble with Nigeria is a historically hopeless power elite. Of course, Goodluck Jonathan would do what any other person in the African political environment except Mandela would do to this conference – which is to play one region against another or generally manipulate secondary contradictions such as ethnic, religious and regional fault lines. That is the logic of the history of power struggles in Africa. The difference in his own case so far is he doesn’t appear to be able to do it without risking, by association, an invitation to The Hague at the end of the day because of the language of some of his so-called promoters. As we probably all know, violence is most often times a product of language.
The matter is further compounded by two recent developments in particular in the polity. One is the split in the PDP while the other is the APC, as incoherent as the APC is in terms of a clear alternative to the PDP. What makes the split in the PDP frightening is the little chance of genuine reconciliation because of the fear in many quarters that fielding Goodluck Jonathan is a guarantee of loss of the election and power with imponderable consequences for its stakeholders who risk collectively being probed. The second consideration is the real as well as imagined fear of an ascendant Jonathan by those who have taken him head on now. The argument is that he interprets such as attack on his person and his authority and that he neither forgets nor forgives. Unfortunately, those who push this have examples to cite in Timipriye Sylva and Rotimi Amaechi who is being tried for the thought crime of presidential ambition. Haba!
Two additional factors complete the list of danger signs. One is the re-election strategy of the incumbent. It is drawing heavily from expired formulae, relying a lot on uninspiring tactics that can take the incumbent nowhere. The second is the depth of intra-elite squabbles that make consensus building and enforcement impossible. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum which once acted as a national force for conflict management is in disarray. The geo-political chasm in the North remains a viable entry point for exploiters of differences in the struggle for power. A large part of Nigeria thinks that keeping the North divided enhances their perceived advantages even if a divided North is a disabled Nigeria, being the only region with the counter balancing pluralism that can moderate Nigeria. Surprisingly, the North itself does not appear to be in a hurry to counter this challenge via a deliberate internal reconciliation move that will restore it.
Meanwhile, key elite members are virtually at war. Obasanjo attacks Atiku Abubakar endlessly. Obasanjo and T. Y Danjuma are not the best of friends. And so on and so forth. Nobody knows when the members of that echelon of the power elite would stop quarrelling in pursuit of larger interest. Or at what point Nigeria’s bleeding would attract their collective, open denunciation and a clear programme around which to move Nigeria forward. Perhaps when Nigeria is totally and finally on fire as not even the attempt of the 7 break away governors of the PDP appear to have forced even an emergency unity at this level in their own right as statesmen.
And so, nobody knows when the country will be saved from possibly bleeding gradually to death in a very dangerous world even though Nigeria is one of the few countries that can shield itself from any bleeding at all, economically and politically. This elite failure Nigeria is incomprehensible given the near equal exposure of virtually every segment of the Nigerian power elite to the political orientation of their British counterpart. Whether one is talking of the Northern aristocracy or the Yoruba financial oligarchy or the intellectual cum military elite from the minority areas, they were all influenced by the British, the British who have organized a viable state that has been responsible and responsive to the citizens. It is only the Igbos whose leaders were influenced more by the Americans than by the British in the sense that Zik was American educated. So, what happened?
Sovereign National Conference will not solve any fundamental problems of Nigeria beyond enriching its bureaucracy and political actors through bribes. How can an elite that cannot translate Chapter Two of the existing constitution to action make a better constitution in a more charged atmosphere defined almost solely by 2015 calculations? In all cases, it will be more and more bastardisation of democracy as no one at that conference will be talking about a social security wage for unemployed graduates in the country, for example. Or about rapid industrialization of the country. That conference will certainly not be about eradicating malaria throughout Nigeria in Two years. It won’t be about dealing with statistics of maternal mortality in the country or even about food production. It will not be about doing something to fill the 17 million housing units needed urgently in the country. It won’t be about anything that has to do with the real masses of the Nigerian people. It is going to be about the fantasies of a bankrupt ruling elite.
But Nigeria does not deserve to be where it is in the league table of nations. The country’s position today is damned too paradoxical – a nation of nearly 200 million citizens that cannot boast of a single area of excellence! What a country!

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