One of the most searing regrets of many of the leaders of civil society in Nigeria today is that they did not take part in the political process and elections in 1999. If good people refuse to take part in the national conference and toil to influence the outcome for the collective good, then more hearts will join the growing group of those throbbing with regret. After the struggle to end military rule, the majority of those in the forefront smugly returned to their professions– teaching, managing law practices and advocating – thinking their job was done. Nature allegedly abhors a vacuum and by leaving the scene, they left the political field wide open for the old politicians and their disciples.
The narrative in Nigeria around participating in politics or working in government is that it is only ‘bad’ people or people who do not mean well who get involved – sadly this has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, as Nigeria continues its economic, social, political, moral and developmental decline many have since began to realize that this accepted belief must change; because the professional and moral caliber of those in government is directly linked to the state of affairs in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the stakes are high because the personal benefits of being in government have risen in inverse proportion to our collective development.
The reasons to be suspicious of the national conference have been well catalogued and discussed in the last week since President Jonathan made the announcement. Everything from how the participants will be selected, to how legally binding the outcomes will be are suspect. And if we’ve not learnt anything at all from our history, we have at least learnt from past national conferences – however disguised – that the process and outcome is prone to hijack, hidden agendas, and wasted opportunities. The question is: how do we make lemonade out of lemons? How do people who genuinely believe in Nigeria and want to see a better-governed country influence the outcome of the conference? When we get the outcome we want from the national conference, then we can worry about how to ensure the 469 members of the National Assembly act on the recommendations.
This is the time for the best minds to sit together and strategize on the challenges and opportunities which might exist with this national conference and move the discussions and opinions held over BBM groups and dinner tables into the public arena. The faces and antecedents of those who are on the Committee inaugurated by the President yesterday are not inspiring. Apart from the fact that they are geriatrics with an average age of 50 years in a country where 70% of the population is below 25, we know their politics: ethnic supremacy, party apologists and champions of any government in power. However, we must call President Jonathan’s bluff. In his remarks during the inauguration of the National Advisory Committee, he said, “the urgency of a national conversation…need not be overemphasized”. He is right. Those who hold the reigns of power need to hear that we are extremely worried about the plight of fellow citizens in Borno, Yobe, Nassarawa and
sporadically, Plateau. Hundreds are being terrorized and killed and if nothing changes it is unlikely that any meaningful election will take place in these areas unless. We want to talk about the waste of a federal bi-cameral legislature. We want to take the whispered discussions about crude oil theft and lack of accountability and transparency around our resources into the village square and air out all the grievances about the type of federalism we practice. We want an end to the debilitating scourge of ‘federal character’ and a warped federalism which has crippled the local governments, created monstrously schizophrenic states and made the federal government a reckless spendthrift.
What if well meaning Nigerians come together to fund a mirror committee where the average age is no more than 35? With expanded terms of reference and a more participatory process, would this not be something new or a step in a different direction? What if we come up with a criteria of those who should be at the national conference and ensure that the usual suspects as we know them do not get a chance at the table regardless of how much they are ready to part with?
Otherwise, what are the alternatives?
To do nothing? To pray and fast and hope in vain? To continue to pick at the gaps in the process and the ceiling high pile of reports and recommendations which have not been implemented? How far will this get us? Instead, we must think of the global history of struggles to over throw oppression and understand that consistent knocking, asking, demanding, weakens the barricades and there is no knowing then that last tap of the finger will send the door crashing to the floor or at least provide a gap in the frame for good to slip in.
Yes, we do talk a lot, some would say way too much. But we must consider two things: most of the time we are not talking about the right things and when we do, our talking does yield results. We have gotten mixed reactions from the fuel subsidy protests, the constant ribbing of the PDP for a 60-year-old youth leader, the Taraba crisis and who knows what else. We must remain encouraged and engaged – think how much worse things would be in Nigeria if no one was saying anything at all? And who knows, maybe when we continue to engage constructively, our talk will eventually translate into action – a real movement of the people, free of the rent-a-crowed types which currently dominate the scene.
If two heads are better than one, then 2 people who mean well sitting at a table with 8 ‘extractors of value’ should be considered positive. This is because if every time a selfish or bad decision is about to be made these two people object or cajole for a change in direction, then it makes it that much harder for the 8 to get their way – even if only to slow down the rampage of ill will. We cannot give up and we must not leave a vacuum that will be exploited during this national conference, this is our country too.