President Goodluck Jonathan
‘I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.’ – Romans 9:25
Mr. President gave a conciliatory Independence Day speech. Gone for the most part were last year’s fictitious claims of his administration’s laudable achievements in this or that sector, although a few porkies did nevertheless creep in, for instance that ‘we have built an economy that is robust and erected enduring infrastructure and institutions of democracy’, that ‘our social system is now more inclusive, open and compassionate’, and that ‘we are waging a steady battle against poverty, unemployment, and corruption’.
This must have been news to the vast majority struggling to put food on the table even as we continue to be inundated with yet more stories of venality in high places but otherwise the mood of the speech this year was sober, even statesmanlike if one didn’t know any better. We were no longer ‘fellow’ Nigerians but ‘beloved’ ones on account, apparently, of our impending centenary; as Jonathan put it: ‘today of all days, we should not be scoring political points.
On the contrary, in this last year of the first century of our Union, we should be addressing our future as a Nation and a people!’ The sentiment certainly deserves an exclamation mark, along with the capitalisations, only a pity that the ‘people’ weren’t so honoured (beloved or not) along with the Union and the Nation, an oversight which might or might not have betrayed the underlying cynicism on the part of a president anxious not to ‘make political capital out of a state occasion’, which is as maybe.
More to the point was his announcement of an impending ‘National Dialogue or Conference’ whose mandate will be debated by an ‘Advisory Committee’ (those capitals again) in order to ‘design a framework and come up with recommendations as to the form, structure and mechanism of the process’.
The committee, which has one month to deliver its verdict, is headed by Dr Femi Okurounmu, an engineer and former senator who has long agitated for some sort of conference, and has even outlined how it should be constituted: one delegate from each of the state house of assembly constituencies voted for on the basis of ‘their communities, not their political parties’, making 1,000 in all, which he considers ‘not too large a number for a country the size of Nigeria’ but in which all the minorities will be properly represented.
Already, some opposition politicians from Dr Okurounmu’s own constituency – Tinubu most notably – have raised fears that this latest talking shop (let us call it by its proper name) is merely a ‘deception’ designed to truncate the 2015 elections, but if so this would seem to be a rather Byzantine way of going about it, the product perhaps of an overheated political imagination desperate to reclaim centre-stage.
Besides, we have been here before. After much prevarication, Obasanjo, himself desperate to remain centre-stage as his tenure was coming to an end, convened such a conference (or dialogue) with the proviso that the unity of Nigeria was a ‘no-go area’, which immediately rendered the exercise pointless, as indeed it proved for all but the lucky few who were fed and watered from the public purse.
As for the impending centenary of our amalgamation, there seems to be some confusion concerning whether or not the original document signed by Lord Lugard will expire on 1 January 2014. According to a ‘public secret government document’, which only those in the deepest recesses of government have ever seen, Nigeria will cease to exist as a legal entity on that date, a fact which has apparently ‘been causing panic particularly among the Northern elites’ fearful of losing the beautiful bride who has kept them in luxury these 50-odd years of our ‘independence’ within an amalgamation that was a fraud to begin with. It is a measure of our continuing subservience to ‘duly constituted authority’ (as our former military usurpers liked to proclaim before proceeding to loot the treasury) that we imagine the debate worthwhile in the first place.
Who cares about the spurious legality of a possibly phantom document concocted by a foreign conquering power intent only on its own administrative and economic interests? Better to write our own document, which is what we have been avoiding all these years, and which is not answered by conferences (or dialogues) in which the sanctity of this artificial creation is taken as a given.
The pity of it is that Tinubu’s mega-opposition party, which is apparently set to rid Nigeria of the ‘termites and rodents [who] promote corruption, unemployment, destitution, lies and, unfortunately, ineptitude in government’, was bought at the price of the country’s viability. Multi-everything Nigeria may or may not be able to cohere as a nation but we can hardly know this beforehand, as it were.
One would have thought by now – as Tinubu supposedly once did – that the case for a Sovereign National Conference (duly capitalised) was past discussion, meaning that everything is up for grabs, beginning with the very name Nigeria and ending with everything in it, lock, stock and (as it were) barrels of oil.
And so, as we wait to be ‘briefed’ on the ‘nomenclature, structure and modalities of the Dialogue’, and as we ‘stand as one, with absolute commitment and resolve to resist any force that threatens us and the sanctity of our union’, we recall that all this is at the behest of an indigene of the very area which once – and rightly – called for an end to ‘this fraudulent contraption’ and backed words with action, in the process showing up the sham for what it was.
Evidently, things look very different from the perspective of the driving seat, only a pity that the vehicle itself is rushing headlong into oblivion as it fails to negotiate all the booby traps that are consequent on what Awolowo – Dr Okurounmu’s mentor – rightly dubbed ‘a mere geographic expression’.
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties and Other Stories, In My Father’s Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A Mask Dancing, Who’s Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada, Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo: Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories, and Dream Chasers.
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