Real Reasons for Jonathan’s “Conversation”,By Garba Shehu



Garba-Shehu1-580x340In an age of “transformation” the quick change from the proclamation of “National Conference” – now a dead issue into a “national conversation” should not cause shock to anybody.
It is doubtful if such a conference, whatever is its nomenclature will positively impact national politics. The President reminds you of the parable of the person screaming from a roof top threatening to jump. A huge crowd gathers, not such to prevent the man from doing something stupid. The swelling crowd was waiting excitedly to actually experience the fun of seeing the man jump. Of course, nobody in the crowd would admit it. It’s all theatre. That’s why serious people had no difficulties dismissing the conference out of hand.
As many have stated in the last couple of days, the President’s reason for calling for a national conference is far from being altruistic. It was a natural reaction by a leader buffeted by criticism from every conceivable direction, including the party that put him in office.
Before him, others have reacted in more or less the same manner. The one that is recalled with immediacy is the conference called by President Obasanjo in 2005. That one had a dual purpose as this one: to divert attention from the administration’s ineptitude, massive corruption and opportunistic design to extend tenure, in this case, towards the election in 2015.
Obasanjo’s hidden agenda was of course for a third term in office and once it became clear he wasn’t going to get it, he lost interest in the conference that he himself had convened. He refused to honour the delegates with a farewell dinner at the end of their sittings and the report submitted ended up being trashed by the National Assembly.
In addition to his need to distract the increasingly critical population and an expressed desire to serve for ten years as President as opposed to the constitutional maximum of eight year, Dr. Jonathan a real reason for a mandate to restructure the country may be his own way of staving off the dramatic shifts in the political environment that are bringing the Northern states and those of the South-West into a political alliance. Some say it is a strategic move at a time when the feeling of anti-incumbency is mounting and change is in the air.
It is not a hidden fact that the power calculus of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP towards 2015 has greatly been unsettled by the discernible shift bringing the South-West and the North into an alliance. Everyone knows it is a tough task, if not an impossible one to coral the 19 Northern states, with a voting population of over 36million registered voters to vote in a particular direction because by tradition, they had never done so. The South-west on the other hand, with their strategic pattern of voting have used the political power to vote with near-unanimity. But the thing that makes the prospect of having a significant percentage of this huge vote bank residing in the North, coming together of 51 million voters, that is, including the South-West’s 14 or so million voters, even in theory, is significant as to make the President’s strategists shudder, considering that the South-East and the South-South where the President exerts the most influence can only command less than 25 per cent of (16 million) of the nation’s registered voters.
Pundits are already pointing the way, saying for this total change in Nigeria’s political system to materialize, all you need is for the New Peoples Democratic Party, nPDP, the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM and the All Progressives Congress, APC to form an alliance or merge and create a win-win situation for both themselves and the nation. It may look like a strange idea, given that this is a departure from the known political alliances but that could be what is needed to free this country from corruption and the unabating theft of its natural resources.
Gauge the mood of the North. The people are (save for a few beneficiaries of the existing order) are resentful of the government’s official policy of rampant discrimination and strategic marginalization of the Northerners. I have heard at least Kebbi and Kano governments say that there are no on-going federal government projects in their states at present. The condition of the average Northerner today is pathetic. Northerners are living on the margins economically, socially and educationally, such that even foreign governments are calling for the creation of a Ministry for Northern Affairs to close the ever-increasing gap in the development of the North. Northerners would not have objected to a conference called with the interest of the federation at heart. They, like all the others are yearning for new leaders who must be consensus builders and skillful managers fully cognizant of the fact of Nigeria being a unique federation. There are indeed few countries that have this extra-ordinary mix of diversity in religion, ethnicity, language, geography and cultures.
I am conversant with a lot of young educated men and women in the region who are clamoring for a conference, sovereign or otherwise, in their search for genuine equality, just their rightful share and not any special favour from anyone. Everyone is tired of the religious and ethnic violence in the North – both inspired and engineered for the purpose of polarizing the region.
The problem of the Jonathan conference or conversation as he now calls it is that it is devoid of credibility and lacks acceptance because signs are that he is basically interested in an extended term but more importantly, to forestall the change sweeping across the political landscape which began with the installation of Aminu Tambuwal as Speaker. It is a serious change process which status-quo writers may not digest well.

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