(By Odunayo Talabi)
“A clear understanding of the Nigerian situation will show any honest citizen, (with a big emphasis on honest) that holding a conference of sorts has become a Hobson choice. It is the next thing in the Nigerian case. Its citizens must sit together and chart a way forward, all other efforts, 2015 elections inclusive is all motion without movement, what we can refer to as ‘’rotatory retrogression’’. 2015 elections will not solve Nigeria’s problems. Recent events have shown that it may just be the one thing that would accelerate the demise of the country and bring to pass the prediction of the United States of America that the nation wouldn’t live beyond 2015.So the time is now!“
HOLDING a national dialogue is more important than 2015 elections. For the avoidance of doubt, the national dialogue is what some people choose to call the national conference, and others, the national confab. Therefore, for the purpose of this piece and in an attempt to please everyone I will refer to it as the national ‘diaference’ (dialogue+conference).
Let me repeat this for emphasis, the national ‘diaference’ is more important than 2015 elections. The earlier Nigerians realise this, the better, because you cannot build something on nothing. Come to think of it, to whom does 2015 election really matter? Is it the average Nigerian who had witnessed several disappointing elections and ‘substandard’ elected officials or the politician whose stock in trade is to buy legitimacy via the ballot box in order to have a free reign in looting the treasury? I am sure most Nigerians by now would have discovered that elections don’t make a democracy, people do. People, however, are able to do it when the necessary enduring structures have been put in place. That is, by the same people who are going to run the system and not by an ‘unconcerned’ British knight or a nice military officer.
Most democracies that have worked from Europe to Asia were products of peoples who took their destiny into their hands, people who took ownership of their kind of governments, and worked round the clock to ensure that no leader or follower derailed from the collectively agreed path. Until that is done in Nigeria, whatever we do (elections inclusive) are mere palliatives. Now, palliatives are a sad bunch; wherever they are in use, the cookies as they say, always crumble.
When President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) made a volte face on October 1, 2013 and asked against a previously held opinion of his, that a national ‘diaference’ should hold, and consequently set up the Senator Okunroumu-led committee, majority of Nigerians understandably were skeptical. Some, especially the politicians, stridently opposed the timing. They claimed holding the ‘diaference’ before the 2015 elections shows there is an agenda best known only to the president and his henchmen, especially as recent events have shown a president facing a formidable opposition in his own party Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So a proposition of a national conference may be ‘’ kaka ki eku ma je sese, a fi sa wa danu’’ if I couldn’t have it, then you wouldn’t have it either. Some even believed it is a red herring, a wild goose chase the president is sending Nigerians, to allow him some peace, ‘’give them something to talk about so they would forget those presidential pardons and the BMWs.’’ Furthermore, people claimed that many such ‘diaferences’ in the past never amounted to much and they do not see how ‘a Jonathan’ would be the messiah that would break the jinx.
There is this other group who do not see the need at all for a national ‘diaference’; they see no reason why people should congregate to deliberate on national issues when we have in place elected representatives in the National Assembly being paid hugely for a similar purpose. The elders among this group feared that that sort of ‘diaference’ may end up breaking Nigeria.
In truth, there are some honest Nigerians who sincerely have the aforementioned concerns with no strings attached, save for their concerns about the consequences and cost of another failed ‘diaference’. However, a thorough look across the terrain will show a keen observer that the people at the roof top, leading the pack of those against its timing for instance, are the people who are benefiting from the current arrangement; people who already have their list of candidates and have by now perfected their rigging machinery in readiness for the so called 2015 election.
A clear understanding of the Nigerian situation will show any honest citizen, (with a big emphasis on honest) that holding a conference of sorts has become a Hobson choice. It is the next thing in the Nigerian case. Its citizens must sit together and chart a way forward, all other efforts, 2015 elections inclusive is all motion without movement, what we can refer to as ‘’rotatory retrogression’’. 2015 elections will not solve Nigeria’s problems. Recent events have shown that it may just be the one thing that would accelerate the demise of the country and bring to pass the prediction of the United States of America that the nation wouldn’t live beyond 2015.So the time is now! We can only wait if all the human elements involved in the Nigerian leadership suddenly start to rise above all their limitations, becoming superhumanly impartial, devoted only to country and not to self or families. A situation that would never happen, not in a million year, not with the level of greed being displayed by our politicians, and not when corruption has become an institution.
Now to the question of if the national dialogue is necessary and if it would lift Nigeria out of its quagmire. Historical evidence has shown that multi lingual societies must be run as a true federalism or fail. Many countries in the past who had attempted to run theirs as a unitary state with too much power at the centre either splintered into component states as in the case of USSR or got bedeviled with senseless wars that lasted decades and ‘decimated’ their population as witnessed in Cyprus. This is against what happened in a country like Switzerland where the different nations that make the country are governed under a true federalism which allows each unit an acceptable place, in a home grown arrangement that ended up creating a stable political and economic environment.
Not surprisingly, it is to this stable federal state that those leaders who messed up our own federalism run, to deposit the ill gotten wealth they stole from our treasury. It is significant to note that this model of federalism we are pretending so hard to operate, was a product of a serious mental and patriotic exercise embarked upon by a constellation of American men. Men like Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, after seeing the union of their states heading for the rocks following their independence from Britain, gathered in Philadelphia, and locked up in a room painstakingly determined one section at a time what they wanted included in their constitution, soliciting and winning the agreement of all the representatives of all the federating units, spending days on end to get a single representative to understand a view point or to extract a suitable compromise. It was then these good citizens of their country carried the finished document all round the country to get the populace’s approval. Little wonder the democracy floundered but never failed, it was a collective responsibility and collective liabilities, no one could say I wasn’t told and any one crying marginalisation could easily be silenced. But what do we have in Nigeria? A faulty foundation hastily put in place in 1914 by the British probably for administrative convenience and without the input of the people involved.
People who came from very different background in terms of culture, religion, and language, the same people who are expected to live together and work the arrangement beyond 1960.This ‘weak’ foundation was further built upon with quick sand by the successive regimes of military dictators and democratic demagogues leaving us with this swaying giant of a building called Nigeria, susceptible to any force of ill-wind, precariously holding out on the weak pedestal held in place by a lying leadership and a complacent citizenry. Such foundation need be revisited. We must decide all over what we wanted to put in our constitution, what type of government we desire to run and how we want to choose our leaders or remove them as the case may be. It is nothing new, majority of federalism in multilingual states, that are working round the world have had it done. Australia did it in 1901, Switzerland in 1848. Even France, a unitary state as recently as 1969 was given an opportunity by Charles de Gaulle in a referendum to determine if they wanted a change in the way they were being governed, and what new way they desired to be led. By the way, France today boasts of one of the best healthcare systems in the world, with life expectancy almost double that of Nigeria.
To be continued.
Dr. Talabi lives at 2, Jimoh Balogun Street Ikosi, Ketu, Lagos.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”