In his address to the nation on the 53rd anniversary of the country’s independence October 1st, 2013, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan shocked Nigerians when he named a 13-member committee made up of eminent personalities to set up the modalities for a National Conference or Dialogue. Even though many saw that bold decision as red herring meant to divert attention from the security problem in the country and the President’s second term agenda, we must still commend Mr President for that courageous initiative.
It has been a long time since Nigerians began to clamour for a national conference that will alter the present trajectory we are headed. Right from the call of Anthony Enahoro for a supreme national conference whose decisions will be inviolable, to the recent one organized by eminent Nigerians at Uyo led by Professor Nwabueze, Nigerians are wholly in agreement on the need to restructure this country and give it some semblance of identity every Nigerian will be proud to belong.
But what bothers me so much is if Jonathan, enfeebled as he is, will have the liver to implement the outcome of the conference. My pessimism is anchored on the fact that several national conferences have been held from the period of Babangida, Abacha and Obasanjo with far-reaching decisions that could have placed us on a pedestal for accelerated development but all of them ended up in the archives. With his antecedents of not keeping to promises, can we trust Mr President to implement the decisions of the conference? Can we believe him? Is the purpose of the conference not to keep us busy as we jaw-jaw and war-war while he plots his way back to Aso Rock in 2015?
Already Jonathan has called his own a dialogue, and a dialogue, if I am right, cannot carry the force of law; it is not something that is enforceable unlike if it were a supreme conference whose decisions are deemed to be sacrosanct.
However, our clamour for a national conference is not as a result of the fact that we want to divide the country like Yugoslavia or USSR but due to the fact that we have not been lucky to have a leader who truly loves this country.
Our problem in the country is leadership. From the ordinary Councillor in my village to the man at Aso Rock, we all see Nigeria as an elephant meat for which we can help ourselves. We have a country so blessed and so endowed in human and material resources but also so raped and so bastardized by leaders without vision or commitment.
The environment makes a man. Warren Buffet, one time second richest man in the world, said he is what he is because of the benevolence of the American environment which enabled him to achieve. We have geniuses everywhere including Nigeria but our environment is limiting us because those who call themselves our leaders have screwed things up.
I read the chilling story of Professor Olu Oguibe in Eddie Iro’s “Interventions”. Prof Oguibe, a highly talented Nigerian academic, checked out of the country like ‘Andrew‘ 24 years ago. He took residence in Britain and from there migrated to USA where he now lives. He visited home some time ago when the military handed over power to civilians hoping to be ushered into the loving embrace of a country swimming in the sunshine of a new dawn. But alas, he was disappointed. He could not justify the affluence he saw in Abuja with the level of poverty he met in his village. He was speechless at the magnitude of corruption in the country and the level of infrastructural decay everywhere. What he did was that instead of staying back to salvage the country together as our military boys some time ago enjoined us; he went back to America and renounced his Nigerian citizenship.
There is no gainsaying that Prof Oguibe over-reacted, but the truth remains that we have missed the way. Anyone that has travelled outside and seen how countries are organised will come back disappointed at the way things are in Nigeria. There is no order here, there is no vision; everyone does what he or she wants to enrich his pocket with official approval. Just recently the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) came up with the idea to change our vehicle number plates even when nothing was wrong with the previous one. But before they could conclude the exercise the Nigeria Police came up with their own version which equally required vehicle owners to register their vehicles with them. Haba! What type of country is this?
You see the problem in PDP and New PDP? They are all struggles to loot the national treasury, not borne out of a genuine desire to lift us up from our bootstraps. Our leaders have failed woefully to give us direction. They fail to do the right thing because none believes in the country; they see Nigeria as their patrimony where they can do as they wish. They betray us and steal our votes and purloin our vaults and behave as if there is only one god in their universe: themselves.
But for how long must we continue to be led by the blind? Is it until we all fall into the ditch and be smothered by the Philistines? Let me say this. I am a detribalised Nigerian. I don’t care where our next president comes from. What I am praying for is for God to give us a committed leader who can genuinely and positively affect the lives of the masses so that no Nigerian will ever check out again like Prof. Oguibe. Our fortunes are intertwined. A poor man in Sokoto or Kano has the same characteristics as a poor man in my remote village Ozizza or a poor man in Otuoke, Bayelsa State.
We don’t have patriots in Nigeria in the mould of Nelson Mandela who ruled for only one term even when he had the right to go for another. I was expecting President Jonathan to be in that mould but his actions give me the picture of a man ill-prepared for that.
Our problem in leadership is ethnicity. Since the day Obafemi Awolowo described Nigeria as a mere geographical expression, we see Nigeria as a house built on sand which can collapse any day. That is why we give our allegiance to our tribe instead of to our country like America where the Oguibes of this world have decided to settle. All the rumblings in the country from Niger Delta to Maiduguri, from the kidnappers in the East and Edo to the Ombatse Cult in Nasarawa are symptoms of a failing state aggravated by the failure of leadership.
There is serious discontent and disconnect in the country, no one is happy apart from those that benefit from the convoluted system. That is why I support the national conference which I hope will proffer the way forward. When our leaders steal the money meant to develop our infrastructure to make life bearable for the poor, the poor will in retaliation make it difficult for the rich to enjoy their loot. That is the genesis of the insecurity in our country today.
To say the truth, our leaders have failed us. Nigerians have the incredible capacity to do the unthinkable like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Elon Musk and other million achieves that dot the streets and pavements of America, but the leadership is ill-prepared to give us that push. We all have talents to develop this nation, no one was born without a talent but bad leadership has made us to bury them.
Of course, not all of us will be like Dangote, but a nation where ten per cent of the population control the wealth of the nation cannot long endure; it dotes ill for our survival and cohesion. That is why we need this jaw-jaw at the national conference. We need it to straighten up some jagged edges in our Union.
My colleagues Carl Meir visited Nigeria some time ago and wrote upon return back home that ‘This House Has Fallen’. Actually it has not fallen. But even if it has, we must from its ashes build upon its rubble a great nation from where, according to our anthem, we can attain ‘great lofty heights’.
That is what the National Conference seeks to achieve.