President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurates the 13-man National Dialogue Advisory Committee today. Members of Senator Femi Okurounmu-led panel are undoubtedly respectable Nigerians. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation named Dr. Akilu Indabawa as its Secretary. Other members are Prof. George Obiozo; Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), Senator Khairat Gwadabe; Senator Timothy Adudu, Col. Tony Nyiam (Rtd) ,Prof. Funke Adebayo, Dr. (Mrs.) Mairo Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Mallam Buhari Bello and Mr. Tony Uranta. Though worthy panelists they are, many of them are known partisans of either the political parties or emergency regional associations. How these partisans will set the agenda for a pan-Nigerian conversation without their eyes and hearts on their respective enclaves beat imagination. Take the chairman of the Advisory Committee
, Femi Okurounmu for instance. He was once a Senator for the Ogun Central constituency of Ogun State, at the start of the Nigerian Fourth Republic, on the Alliance for Democracy (AD) platform. His last bus stop was at the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. As a deeply interested participant of the recent times, it will be remarkable see him as a new disinterested referee. While raising the panel, President Jonathan handed the members a four-point terms of reference that included consulting expeditiously with all relevant stakeholders with a view to drawing up a feasible agenda and making to government on representation of various interest groups will be determined. Given that the drivers of the agenda setting are themselves “stakeholders” and the fact that they are coming from the very “interest groups” they are to moderate, the danger is that we might very well be having some insiders’ monologue in place of genuine national dialogue. Significantly too, in view of the heated debates that have trailed the agitation for a National Conference it will not be a surprise, if we have a crisis of leadership of the advisory committee reminiscent of the chairmanship of the similar deceptive OBJ’s political reform committee of 2009.
It will be recalled that the moribund National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) of OBJ witnessed so much heat (certainly with little light) because of the religious labels (not necessarily the religious deeds) of the Confab leadership! Indeed there were two co-secretaries for that Confab, namely my comrade Bishop (then Father) Matthew Kukah and my brother Professor Ishaq Olorode.
Notwithstanding, the acrimony that characterised that failed conference, what has been the outcome of the multibillion Naira conference? Indeed it was after the conference and it’s five volume reports that Nigeria witnessed the worst electoral behaviours, the worst expression of which was 2007 elections. The hope is that this new round of opportunistic diversion, will not be another waste.
As President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurates Advisory Committee on the controversial National Dialogue today, the challenge among others, lies in the sincerity of purpose and the capacity of the administration to hold a meaningful dialogue on a national scale. The persistent twin crisis in the country’s university system which has led to a 3 month- long lecturers’ strike and PDP’s internal war of attrition sadly under the watch of President Goodluck puts serious doubt on the capacity of the administration to facilitate a national conference.
If the President, his men and women cannot resolve the university crisis given the existing country’s robust labour laws and rich collective bargaining and dialogue traditions, what trust can the nation put on the administration to handle a national conversation on more naughty issues of national development?
President Jonathan must come with clean hands on simple conflict resolutions before he can be further entrusted with national conversation of such importance. So far, the President’s record with conflict resolutions through dialogue either with ASUU his ruling party or Nigeria Governors’ Forum is not inspiring. As long as the micro-crises persist and even getting messy (as non- Academic workers also join ASUU on strikes) this administration suffers feet of clay to deliver a bigger macro- national dialogue of any kind unless we are unwittingly going to fund national diatribes of unimaginable consequences for 165 million people.
One possible best way the President can demonstrate he is a sincere advocate of a national dialogue is through a sincere and open dialogue with ASUU; immediate implementation of the agreement reached with ASUU, reopening of the Nigerian universities and getting students back to school. A national conference against a background of unresolved avoidable sector crisis like university, is nothing but a conference of diversion, a cheap flight from good governance and above all a waste of scarce resources needed among others to resolve the education sector crisis. Nigeria must not be a debating society about sharing resources. On the contrary it must be a performing economy generating the desperately needed goods
and services for the millions of unemployed and under-employed Nigerians begging to add value to national development. The President, governors and legislators were elected to deliver good governance they promised. They should not take cheap refuge in a so-called National Dialogue they never promised the electorate in the first instance. Indeed, they should not elevate those who never have our mandate, (however well meaning they are) to speak for us or set unsolicited agenda for us.
Issa Aremu mni