William Isaacs in 1999 did a seminal work entittled “Dialogue And The Art Of Thinking Together”.Yours comradely shares his perspective of dialogue as “a conversation with the centre, not sides”. Many thanks to the respected columnist Segun Gbadegesin for mainstreaming my side talk or “off-the-cuff remarks” (in his words) on the controversial national conference following my media interaction with some correspondents recently in Ilorin. However a conversation with my main thoughts on the issue, not with the side talk would have been more fruitful. Whatever it is worth, Segun Gbadegesin came out as a chieftain of monologue instead of a promoter of conversation. Witness his post “NLC v. The people” of 4th of October in Daily Nation. In prefering an engagement with “the side”, he generated more heat than light in his unhelpful hysterical commentary and a “reload” of a predictable old position. It is unacceptable for him to mischievously pitch my constituency, NLC against “the people” on account of what he already terms my “off-the-cuff remarks”. With millions of organized members NLC and “the people” are certainly not mutually exclusive.
The received wisdom has it that those who demand for equity must at least come with some clean hands. Those who expouse dialogue (or is it conversation?) from the roof tops should kindly lift those of us bellow out of polarization and channel our energy towards some better understanding. The bane of the modern proponents of SNC with its ever altered and distorted versions is their aversion to the very principles of dialogue. The late Aka Bashorun started it all at a time it was not fashionable and even riskier. He envisaged genuine conversation
not the present day fashionable mantra called dialogue. Present day proponents talk and reason but with themselves not together with others. And that may very well be the downside of the new conference. Often, we polarize and fight, instead of winning new hearts. My legitimate concern is that President Jonathan’s later day embrace of a national conference is an opportunistic and indeed belated diversion from the surmountable governance challenges he elected to solve. I stand to be convinced to the contrary through greater persuasion rather than a feverish dialogue-phobia, unhelpful polemics and a smear as promoted by Segun Gbadegesin and his co-online mob text supporters.
Happily President Goodluck Jonathan was more measured in his response to the concerns of the skeptics like me than the pen warriors of dialogue. In his address inaugurating the 13-man National Dialogue Advisory Committee like Gbadegesin. President Goodluck assured that ” no voice is too small and no opinion is irrelevant”. Indeed , the President observed that “the views of the sceptics and those of the enthusiasts must be accommodated”. Gbadegesin cannot be more holier than the new Pope of national conference who also modestly accepted to be “one of those who exhibited scepticism on the need for another Conference or Dialogue” in recent past. “If indeed this “Conversation is a People’s Conversation”, as President Jonathan assured, nobody dares shut some out through cheap blackmail .
It is certainly part of conversation too to express doubt about the so-called national Dialogue as the likes of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Bishop Mathew Kukah and Professor Ishaq Oloyede audaciously did. It would amount to literary terrorism to say APC is against the people, just because Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu said the proposed Dialogue is a diversionary “Greek Gift”. To say the Church and Supreme Islamic Council are against “the people” just because Bishop Kukah and Professor Ishak Oloyede (one-time co-chairmen of similar failed project) respectively expressed doubt about national dialogue, would amount to dictatorship of monologue (or is it dialogue?).
The critical question begging for answer: is national dialogue a genuine governance imperative or another unbudgeted diversion? As measured and conversational the President was in his address, he was still not convincing. We must first hold our president accountable for his electoral promises made without pressures before we can consider new issues under duress mid term in office. I searched in vain for a (either National Dialogue, National
Conversation or National Discourse) at his inauguration in 2010. On the contrary, we read about “our total commitment to Good Governance, Electoral Reform and the fight against Corruption”. Indeed the President promised “ensuring the sustenance of peace and development in the Niger Delta as well as the security of life and property around the entire country would be of top most priority” of the administration. Also, in equal measure we had presidential “pledges ….. to improve the socio-economic situation …..through improved
access to electricity, water, education, health facilities and other social amenities”. High sounding “National Dialogue” adds to already high costs of governance. It also diverts our attention from critically examining the President’s mid-term reports on his earlier pledges on sectors like education, electricity supply, job creation, aviation, manufacturing. For as long as this new debate continues the President’s full time report on all these issues that affect the working class and Nigerian people in general may also suffer with all the implications for the development of the country. It is even a matter of perspective too. Are we a debating society or a functional productive Republic?
We promised to be part of the 20 leading economies in 7 years. Are the other 19 economies agonizing about a wasteful divisive conference of ethnic nationalities or working tirelessly to combine growth rates with job creation and poverty eradication? President Goodluck Jonathan was very upbeat about the gains of the previous conferences. Hmmm! I think the President needs genuine SWOT analysis of these past conferences. The weaknesses might very well outweigh the strengths. Even now the threats are higher for Nigeria with a conference of the likes of Segun Gbadegesins who talk at (rather than with) others. We may very well be convoking a dangerous diatribe in place of a useful dialogue.
Issa Aremu mni