(By Johnson Momodu)
“While some people contended that Nigeria’s integrity would be compromised by such a conference, others said it would lead to the nation’s disintegration. For some unscrupulous politicians, it was an opportunity like no other to denigrate President Jonathan and play the usual political subterfuge. All sorts of weird motives were imputed into that singular effort to bridge the gap of mistrust among our peoples, their nationalities and address issues in our nationhood. Yet, for a third group, it was simply a design by Jonathan to shore up popularity and increase his support base against the 2015 election in which he is expected to stand“.
THE submission of the National Conference report to President Goodluck Jonathan on August 21, 2014 was as relieving as it was historic. Going by the gale of criticisms that accompanied the idea from certain quarters, and the fears –genuine and imagined – expressed over its deliberations, many Nigerians were right to be apprehensive. Fears were rife that a national conference at this point in our history would further divide, rather than unite Nigerians. However, five months after its inauguration, the conference wound up on a very successful and heart-warming note.
From its optimistic outcome, it is right to say that it is the most successful post-independent conference of its kind, and one whose report has the potential to recreate the nation and put it on the path of real greatness. However, for the 494 Nigerians assembled to address the nation’s fears, disappointments, aspirations and hopes which have accumulated over 100 years, it was not a tea party. The favourable outcome of their deliberations becomes even more remarkable when viewed against the arguments that preceded it.
While some people contended that Nigeria’s integrity would be compromised by such a conference, others said it would lead to the nation’s disintegration. For some unscrupulous politicians, it was an opportunity like no other to denigrate President Jonathan and play the usual political subterfuge. All sorts of weird motives were imputed into that singular effort to bridge the gap of mistrust among our peoples, their nationalities and address issues in our nationhood. Yet, for a third group, it was simply a design by Jonathan to shore up popularity and increase his support base against the 2015 election in which he is expected to stand. To this third group, the explanation that the conference will further strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of our inclusiveness and deepen our bond as one people, was simply a smokescreen.
These all made the delegates’ mandate of charting a new course for Nigeria more arduous. In the end, however, patriotism prevailed: Their work did not end up another exercise in futility as the skeptics had predicted. The outcome was resounding in its overall success. Leading the tirade against the National Conference was former governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. For a man who had severally made a case for the convocation of a national conference, his volte-face was as intriguing as it was hypocritical. As usual with any political project that does not feed his warped ego and clannish interests, Tinubu questioned government’s sincerity and dismissed the exercise as deceptive.
It was most absurd coming from the leader of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC). But then, opposition to the conference was not limited to the APC as support for the conference was not unanimous even within the President’s Peoples Democratic Party. For the like of Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, who is becoming notorious for consistently playing the ethnic card, the dialogue lacks constitutional backing and is a flagrant abuse of democratic institutions. Even from Jonathan’s backyard in the South-south, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) believed the national conference was only for “the therapeutic benefits of letting off steam…” with nothing else to offer.
How wrong they have all turned out to be! Why would President Jonathan shore up his popularity by promoting a project that is as controversial as the National Conference? Truth be told, the President must be commended for showing courage and for responding in the best possible way to the reality of emerging challenges in our national life. Not only did his decision to set up the confab pander to the yearnings of the people, it also provided an impartial platform to realistically examine and genuinely resolve long-standing impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a united nation. That it received the backing of a broad spectrum of the nation’s political leadership across party and ideological lines, not least the leadership and members of the National Assembly, speaks volumes.
Its success has also vindicated him and put a lie to the imputations of personal interest by those who rejected the idea for their selfish or partisan reasons. His sincerity in embarking on that project is further underscored by the fact that no so-called “no go” areas were established and the deliberations took place without the government interfering in any way. The task has been the more arduous than any of the four earlier post-independence Conferences in Nigeria: It did not only have the highest membership, it also sat for the shortest period: Four and a half months. In addressing and subsequently approving over 600 resolutions, mostly on fundamental issues of law, public policy and the constitution, it showed uncommon courage in dealing with all the divergent tendencies that came into play.
As the conference Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, surmised at the report presentation, the fact that all the conference resolutions were adopted by consensus, and without having to vote or come to a division on any matter, however, important, was remarkable. So too is the fact that the official report of the Conference, including annexure of 22 volumes of approximately 10,335 (ten thousand, three hundred and thirty-five) pages, was also adopted unanimously. All these send a clear message that Nigerians are capable of discussing and resolving their differences with minimal rancour.
Ever since the conference wound up, a preponderance of public opinion has endorsed the recommendations. Only the government’s worst critics would not be persuaded that after-all, the merit in the conference as a platform for a genuine and sincere dialogue among Nigerians, is overwhelming. It has further made evident, the fact that Nigerians are not deeply antagonist against one another, no matter their religious, regional and ethnic backgrounds. Previous conferences may have produced a basis for Nigeria’s independence or a system of government that best suits our diversity. The last one has a clear direction: it has created a roadmap to the national rebirth that Nigeria at present craves, if the report is sincerely implemented.
• Momodu contributed this piece from Benin City, Edo State.
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