By Jaye Gaskia
Perhaps it is appropriate and quite significant that as we set about embarking on the next 100 years [century] of Nationhood, we want to start with a National Dialogue. If the intention and actual practice is to enable us discuss and reach a consensus on the trajectory we want to travel over the next century, then this National Dialogue, in this year of the centenary of the amalgamation of Nigeria, would have made or would have had the potential to make a significant and epochal difference to our lives as a people and as a nation.
On the other hand, if the intention, purpose and actual practice is to orchestrate a mere deception of the people, with a view to distract our attention from the serious issues that are fundamentally impacting our well being and existence; then it would have been an unfortunate and quite expensive waste of time.
Back to the National dialogue, and the important and urgent necessity for national discussion and national discourse. Let us first of all start by exposing the myth that is being bandied about with respect to national discourse, to the extent that it being consciously pushed that Nigeria has never been discussed.
This is a historical fallacy, a consciously fabricated untruth, calculated to pull the wool over our unsuspecting eyes.
At every significant stage in the evolution of our country, in the evolution of the entities that now constitute Nigeria, long before contact with and conquest by Europe; at every decisive stage, Nigeria has been discussed. The decision to proclaim the Northern and Southern Protectorates was discussed by the colonial authorities before the proclamations; likewise the decision to amalgamate the two protectorates into a single colony of Nigeria on January 1st 1914.
And ever since the amalgamation, all through the various constitutional conferences leading up to independence, including the consensus on the date for independence; Nigeria was discussed and debated. And this time it was not only the colonial authorities that were engaged in the discussions; it was the colonial authorities and some Nigerians, representatives of the emergent ruling elite class who were actively engaged in these series of National Dialogues which went by the appellation of constitutional conferences. The outcome of each of these constitutional conferences were new constitutions, leading up to the independence constitution.
Likewise since flag dependence, at every decisive turning point in our history, Nigeria has been discussed; when we were going to make the transition to a republic Nigeria was discussed and the 1963 constitution was the outcome; on the eve of the civil war, Nigeria was discussed at Aburi, and in several conferences called to prevent the slide to war; and almost all military regimes have convened constituent assemblies to write new constitutions for successive republics.
What is more under the IBB dictatorship there was the National Political Debate process, just as a National Political Dialogue was convened under the civilian presidency of OBJ.
So the problem really has not been the absence of national dialogues, or national platforms to debate Nigeria; the problem has instead largely been that of the class of people producing the delegates to the conferences and dialogue processes, as well as the agenda of discussion at those conferences.
The Nigerian ruling political elite have always discussed Nigeria and convened platforms to discuss the country; if the outcomes have been negative and have not significantly improved the lives and well being of ordinary citizens and our country as a nation; if the outcomes have been injurious rather than enhancing to the moulding of a common Nigerian Nationhood and citizenship; then it is not because national dialogues have not been held, it is because these dialogues have been convened and constituted by delegates from the gluttonous, light fingered, self centred, thieving , inept and treasury looting ruling class.
The series of national conferences and dialogues have failed to transform our lives, facilitate the building of a modern nation state with common patriotic citizenship, simply because they have been organised by and for a pillaging ruling class whose only agenda at every such opportunity has been exclusively around discussing how to better share the national cake amongst themselves; and yes all in our names; Our grief for these treasury looters has always been a call to Loot!
The point being made here is very simple, yet it is the point that this inept ruling class wants concealed. The point is that Nigeria has been discussed, and even over-discussed by its incompetent and greedy ruling elite class, since the amalgamation of 1914; and the outcome has always been the same.
They have each time prioritised their selfish material interests over our collective national interests; prioritised their individual greed over our collective basic needs; and prioritised their kleptomania over provisioning our basic welfare needs. The historical truth, because it is a fact, is that we cannot continue to apply the same remedies that have historically failed to our pressing problems and somehow hope to have fundamentally different outcomes.
So going forward how should we proceed? What might we do differently? If the promised National Dialogue in the year of the centenary of amalgamation, and on the eve of decisive general election is going to be any different from the talk-shops of the corrupt ruling elite of the past; if this dialogue process is going to enable us lay the foundation for the next 100 years; then it is up to us take over the National Dialogue process space, to invade that space, and actively contest to dominate it.
For this dialogue to be able to turn out to be ennobling for our people, enabling for our nation; then we must seek to do things differently. And in seeking to do things differently we must be ready to battle the various constellation of powers of the ruling class to a standstill. We must be ready to wage a long battle, we must be ready to confront our fears, and challenge the authority of the treasury looting ruling class and all its factions and fractions.
We must insist that mode of representation will be different; that this mode will be in our own interest; we must insist on changing the historic composition of the national dialogue, by ensuring that the representatives of the subordinate and exploited classes; the representatives of the impoverished and marginalised segments of our society are not only delegates to the conference, but that since their constituency is the majority of the population, they should also form the majority of delegates.
We must insist that the issues to be discussed are about our wellbeing and not about sharing the national cake; we must insist that the priority for us is eradicating poverty, creating gainful employment and productive jobs; combating homelessness and meeting the housing and infrastructural deficits in the shortest possible time.
We must insist that delegates must be mandated representatives of clearly identified social constituencies; that the National dialogue must be a real national dialogue in the sense that delegates come to the conference with mandates, and must always go back to their constituents to give feedback, and in particular to change or modify their mandates.
In this way the whole of the nation would be participants in the national dialogue process. We do not want delegates who will claim to be representing us, but who can change their minds and enter into binding agreements on our behalf without consulting with us and renewing their mandates.
Finally we must insist that the outcome of the national dialogue can only be ratified by a referendum of all eligible voters.
If we do not ensure that the national dialogue is fundamentally differentiated from the previous ones by organising it in the ways proposed above; then all we would have will be a repeat of the pervious dialogue processes, partially fulfilling the aspirations of segments of the ruling class, and totally failing to meet the aspirations of impoverished ordinary citizens and the subordinate classes.
The way and manner we conduct and organise the national dialogue in 2014, the outcomes of these dialogue and the decisions we make in 2014 will go a very long way in historically shaping the life of our nation and the well being of our citizens over the next 100 years; in much the same way that the decisions made in the dialogues which led to the amalgamation of 1914, and the flag independence of 1960 have helped to shape our historical evolution over the last 100 years.
This year will be decisive for us in historical terms, not because of the symbolism of the centenary, but because of the decisions that we will make in the unfolding processes in the course of this year – through the national dialogue and through the general elections.
The only way we can ensure our mass intrusion unto the historical stage, the only way we can ensure that we Occupy the public political space and thus become the dominant force in the national conference process, and the decisive force in the general elections, is to organise and mobilise ourselves, build alliances and networks, take concrete street and work place action, and prepare for the long drawn process. We must be prepared to once again Occupy Nigeria, in the spirit of the January Uprising, in order to force our agenda unto the political stage; and ensure our grand and mass entrance into and dominance of the national dialogue platform and process.
If the next 100 years is to be fundamentally different from the last 100 years, if it is to be in our interest and not in the interest of our thieving ruling class, then we must be prepared to take collective, overt class action. This is our historic opportunity to Organise and Mobilise to Take Back Nigeria.
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