(By Odunayo Talabi)
“In actual fact, the average Nigerian wants the Nigerian nation remaining as one, conference or no conference. He or she has no issues with his neighbours from other tribes. All he desires is good governance. The type that would put food on his table, the type that would ensure the security of his life and properties, which would prevent him from dying unnecessary death in dilapidated hospitals and guarantee a decent future for his children in their own country.“
SO a national dialogue is desirable, how about the worry in some quarters that previous governments had carried out very vain such ‘diaference’ in the past, especially as former President Obasanjo’s recent ‘diaference’ in 2005 had shown how easily Nigerian leaders can turn a serious endeavour into a comedy and change a national programme into a personal agenda. In order not to disappoint also, President Jonathan has revealed a taste of what is to come by suggesting that whatever the Nigerian people decided at the dialogue will be subjected to the mutilating hands of the national assembly.
In my opinion, even that is not sufficient enough a reason to dissuade us from holding yet another dialogue if we are convinced it is the panacea to the nation’s myriads of problems. Rather than run from it because we have failed at it before, we should instead find out why we failed and guard against a reoccurrence of such failures, so that this time around we could get it right. More so, the parameters have changed, the scenery is changing by the day, a lot more Nigerians are now aware of the hopelessness of the subsisting order, the incredible race of the nation towards doom, if nothing drastic is done. This has succeeded in swelling the ranks of those people from North to South who wanted the conference held, President Goodluck Jonathan—I really hope for his own sake—inclusive.
In fact, the risk we run at this juncture may be similar to what happened in1999 at the time of transition to civilian rule when most sane Nigerians kept their distance, doubting whether democracy was real or going the way of previous such transitions, thereby pushing forward or stepping aside for charlatans to go and test the waters, so that we go join if na true. Alas! Democracy so far is real or at least existing, and the charlatans’ grip on the nation’s jugular is leech like and it is becoming easier for camels to sail through a pin hole than for these leeches to be unleashed.
The claim that the legislature in Nigeria as currently constituted is imbued with the necessary prerequisite, being representatives of the people to decide what is best for the citizens of the country is not evidence based. At best it is a flawed assumption —bearing in mind the way elections go in Nigeria— to conclude that the persons occupying political offices in Nigerian are people’s choices. That apart, how can a legislature seeking to give itself immunity from prosecution and to pay its former members pensions after a few years of living in splendor at the expense of the state, agree to the propositions in some quarters that the amount being paid legislature should be reduced or that a partial legislature should be considered? It is more sensible to hold that a legislature mired in corruption cannot rid Nigeria of corruption. They are part of the problem and cannot solve the problem; nemo judex in causa sua. It is only the generality of the people who can directly achieve the triple goal of ensuring a good constitution, a good government and good leadership. These are the three factors Obafemi Awolowo recognised in his book ‘’Thoughts on the Nigerian constitution’’ as being a sine qua non for political stability in any country, Nigeria inclusive.
While the fear of some eminent well intentioned Nigerians that holding a conference of any sort may reveal a chasm so deep that the differences may split Nigeria, should not be waved aside, especially as Nigeria is one country with a great potential in diversity. The question to ask is, if a set of people are plagued with differences as huge as to be classified as irreconcilable, what sense does it make for such people to cohabit? Question two: Were such differences to exist, what guarantee do we have that avoiding them, patching them, or waiting for them to go away would actually make them go away? Without waiting for an answer I would paint a scenario of a woman with a painful swelling or lump in her breast that could possibly be a cancer given two options. One is surgical removal to determine if the lump is cancerous or not and the other, application of an ointment to palliate the pain hoping it wouldn’t be a cancer. Now if the surgery is performed and the lump was found to be non-cancerous, the woman is cured not only of the lump but also of the possibility of the lump becoming cancerous in the future. If it was found to be a cancer, however, a careful surgical procedure done to remove the lump may also cure the cancer depending on the stage. If that didn’t happen, at least the woman is now aware that she has breast cancer and would squarely face the treatment, knowing as we do that an early diagnosis makes the cure of most cancers possible. Whichever way one looks at it, opting for palliation is not only stupid – to be considerate with words- but also suicidal.
In actual fact, the average Nigerian wants the Nigerian nation remaining as one, conference or no conference. He or she has no issues with his neighbours from other tribes. All he desires is good governance. The type that would put food on his table, the type that would ensure the security of his life and properties, which would prevent him from dying unnecessary death in dilapidated hospitals and guarantee a decent future for his children in their own country. This average Nigerian we are talking about would appreciate it greatly if this can happen in Nigeria as currently constituted. If, however, the only thing that would guarantee him this is to require a visa to visit Sokoto from Cross River, then he probably wouldn’t mind, after all he has transferred most of his businesses to Ghana for lack of a conducive business environment in his own country, and has sent most of his children to school in the Republic of Benin. Those are his next door neighbours with different nationality, so big deal!
Perhaps the strongest argument in favour of holding a meeting of nationalities in Nigeria is the fact that at every defining moment of our lives we always fail the test of nationhood. We are wont to reduce every salient issue necessary for nation building to tribalism. ‘‘I am being prosecuted for corruption, not because I stole one billion naira, but because I am a Yoruba man,’’ ‘‘the north must have eight years of presidency or the country remains ungovernable’’, ’’the Ibos must have more states, else heaven would fall’’ ‘‘he shouldn’t go to prison after conviction because he is our son,’’ ‘’federal appointments has marginalised the Niger Deltans’’ etcetera etcetera. To the extent that we failed at the simple task of making a vice president succeed his late boss as enshrined in our own constitution!, and towards 2015, 53 years after our independence, the cry is still about the region the next president comes from.
The moral of the story? It is ‘’criminal complacency’’ at this time to sit on the fence, and too costly to feign ignorance, or helplessness. It was Alexis Tocqueville who said, ‘‘in a democracy, the people get the government they deserve’’. If all we deserve is the continuation of this complete mess we are in, then folding our hands would be just appropriate. If, however, we hold the view that something must change, then we must at once hijack the processes of the national ‘diaference’ and push aside those cannibals bent on destroying our collective destiny. We the Nigerian people as the custodian of the sovereignty should decide who represent us at the conference, when it should hold, what should be discussed, and how the outcome should be handled. Let’s do this and then wait to see the honourable ‘member’ of the House with the audacity, to swallow the popular Will of 160 million Nigerians, who are searching for a difference in a ‘diaference.’
• Dr. Talabi lives at 2, Jimoh Balogun Street Ikosi, Ketu, Lagos. 08074137878
“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.”