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Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Dialogue and ‘Idiotic’ Issues

Edifying Elucidations By Okey Ikechukwu. Email,

Four points are central to any fair comment on the proposed national dialogue, for which a modalities committee is now in place. The first is that the clamour for some form of national discussion has persisted in spite of the many assurances Nigerians have received regarding the stability of the Nigerian state. The second, which draws from the above, is that the strident calls would have not abated, despite the presumed satisfaction of Nigerians with previous conferences.
The third is that those who have maintained the most implacable demands in this regard over the years have never denied the fact of their having participated in the other dialogues and conferences; but they have always argued that the critical issues were still unresolved. The fourth point is that the calls would never have ended, nor the delusions of those who see it as the ultimate solution to all problems abated, if President Goodluck Jonathan did not accede to the demands. Now that the ball is in the pitch and lots are drawn, what else do we have on the table?
Controversy immediately arose regarding the motive for initiating the dialogue at all. Short of an outright vote of no confidence, some declared a futile outcome. Others insinuated political motives, all with interesting permutations. The pessimists were joined by others with limited confidence, but intense faith, in the capacity of the Nigerian people to come closer to mutual understanding via this dialogue. It is within the mix of all of the foregoing that debates have arisen, regarding how it will all work. Questions have also been asked about who will participate, how it will all be conducted and what will happen to the results and resolutions after the citizens have spoken.
One clear point is that, despite pretensions to the contrary, we are not likely to end up with ‘ethnic nationalities’ as the major conferees. It is also arguable whether, going by the position of the North and some other critical stakeholders, it will be a Sovereign National Conference. And, lest we forget, the belief that it may well be a conference of allegedly ‘sovereign nations’ making up the Nigerian state of today is laughable at best.  What are these nations and wherein lies their sovereignty? Perhaps it is all about the fact that there were kingdoms that signed agreements with the British and which can now say that those agreements are no longer binding, since the British have left.
To take this discussion forward, we simply must all admit that each stakeholder group, including those clamouring for the most extreme forms of self expression in the event of another national conference, participated in practically all the previous talk shops.  Of course, that does not automatically validate, or revalidate, their interventions in those past national discussions.
What the current platform offers is an opportunity for all of them to make things easy for themselves, for Nigerians and for the dialogue committee by extracting their positions in the previous talk shops, conferences, or whatever and update them. This will give everyone their most current position on how they think Nigerian can be made to move forward. It is for them all to now consolidate all they still wish to say and forward same as their current position. It is time for one and all to understand that grumbling in a beer parlour and around street corners is not the same as an intervention with any prospect of meaningful impact. Even our activists should see the need to stand down the distracting excesses that are often mistaken for viable positions on serious national issues.
The implication of some of these suggestions is that all previous government white papers, red papers and whatever colour of papers have been written and dumped on the Nigerian question must be deemed (and seen) to be exhaustively integrated into the expected outcome of the current endeavour. The job is as much that of the committee as it is that of everyone else. Since the committee has chosen the commendable perambulatory step of even meeting with Nigerians across the six geopolitical zones to fine tune all measures and processes leading up to the actual dialogue, in order to ensure effective participation, it behoves whoever has any issue to canvass to take advantage of the opportunity. But there are still several matters of general concern, all them pretending to be capable of upturning the cart.
One of them is the idea of a sovereign conference. The perspective of some of those arguing for this is that the National Dialogue should be sovereign. But this idea easily seems to fall flat on its face for several reasons. The first is that the Nigerian state is a sovereign state. It has been for a long time now. The president is recognised as symbolising the sovereignty of the Nigerian state by the rest of the world. The logistical and administrative expression of that sovereignty, including its de facto endorsement by the people, is seen in the National Assembly. The judiciary and its unbroken history and tradition presume an entity with a sovereignty existing in a physical space and territory - as well as jurisdiction – that is sanctified by un-invalidated laws, precedents and accepted practices.
How it would be possible to subsume that within another notion of sovereignty designed and determined by ‘the Nigerian people’ presents very interesting scenarios even from just the angel of analysis and argument. A meeting of Nigerians that takes off on the premise that the defining motifs of the modern state are not there, or that they are desperately in need of affirmation is on a precariously uphill trajectory. For good measure, it must contemplate the basis and platform of its own self-affirmation as an endeavour.
On the matter of ethnic nationalities, there is the question of who will identify them and who will determine representation? Is it traditional rulers? If yes, who will give the traditional rulers that mandate? Will traditional rulers then take precedence over the governors who give them their staff of office? What do we do with the state assemblies and the National Assembly? Are the people there representing themselves? Have their constituents disowned them? What superior sovereignty are we about to muster, except to collide with the very institutions and structures that define the Nigerian reality today?
Oh, by the way, what defines an ethnic nationality? Is the Egba man likely to come under the umbrella of the Lagosian? Is the Ijebu man part of the Egba ethnic nationality that is presumed to be one homogenous Yoruba nationality? Is there a difference between numerical and qualitative equality? Who will resolve all that?
It was Chief Ojo Maduekwe who sired and stirred the “idiotic” controversy some 10 years ago, when he ventured into the public domain with the view that we should all insist on a Nigerian president, rather than a president who is our brother, or sister. I doubt that he has recovered from that misadventure. Yet what was his point? The man’s simple thesis is that Nigeria is a modern state made up of citizens with different ethnic roots. The president could come from any of these ethnic groups, but he should please be seen as a Nigerian president of a specific ethnic exaction; rather than a Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo president. Then his bombshell: “The idea of an Igbo president is idiotic, because we have no Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw or Yoruba republic”. That did it! The only thing public consciousness picked, and still remembers, about an otherwise patriotic statement is the first part of Ojo’s statement.
Other variants of what happened, what he said and where he said it soon emerged. The most totally outlandish of them all was the claim that President Olusegun Obasanjo invited all Igbo public office holders to his office in Abuja and told them that he wanted to hand over power to the South-east. Then, as the fabulous account said, Maduekwe stood up and told him that he should not do so; that Igbos were idiots! Propagators of the story did not, of course, ask themselves what other people in the meeting said. They also did not name anyone else, dead or alive, who attended this wonderful tea party handover of power.
But the heat and venom that ‘idiotic’ matter generated only accentuated the fury and passion still attaching to the matter of power and office in our clime. The same heat and passion trailed all controversies leading up to the last presidential election, as well as the political posturing regarding 2015. Everyone is perfectly serious about the matter of zoning and the rest of it. References are made to party manifestoes, political pacts, agreements, secret oaths and party resolutions. In sum, there is a political elite that configures its understanding of how to manage the Nigerian state and move it forward by violating the provisions of its constitution forbidding citizens being discriminated against “on the basis of their place and circumstance of birth”. Is that not what some of these things directly violate? There are important political considerations in these matters, of course. Which means that all is not well, hence the need to talk? Right!
The loss of a mother or father is a painful experience, especially if they have been both friend, guide and source of strength. My condolences to Mrs. Uche Ekwunife of the House of Representatives and Chief Mike Nkwocha. While Mrs Lucy Okoli-Ogudebe (nee Dike), mother of Hon. Ekwunife, will be interred at Emmanuel Ogudebe’s compound at Ngo Village, Igbo Ukwu, Aguata LGA of Anambra State on Friday, October 25, 2013, Chief M.O. Nkwocham, the Idejiogwugwu of Enugwu-Ukwu, will be interred on November 8 at Urubaleke, Enugwu-Ukwu, in Njikoka LGA of Anambra State. May the Lord welcome their souls into His kingdom.

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