The initial enthusiasm that greeted President Goodluck Jonathan’s convocation of a National Conference or dialogue by a section of the political class has given way to widespread skepticism as several prominent Nigerians continue to express doubts as to its feasibility, especially in the light of our experience with such talk shops in the past, when the conclusion or recommendations of such gathering were never implemented.
Contrary to the thinking that the conference enjoys overwhelming support of opinion leaders, the facts emerging from different media reports show clearly that the project is dead on arrival. There are genuine fears that the PDP Administration is hoping to use this Dialogue as diversionary tactics to buy time so as to reorganize the crisis-ridden party for its 2015 objectives of returning to power.
My concern is that previous attempts to address the National Question never succeeded in solving the underlying issues of development in a way that directly benefits the ordinary Nigerian and I dare say, without prejudice that this new Dialogue may end up like most of our white elephant projects: an exercise in futility. This government knows how to advertise its intentions but it habitually develops cold feet when it comes to actualizing its set objectives. That is why the reports of scores of committees and probe panels now gather dust in government archives. The huge costs of running those committees not only go down the drains, our high hopes also evaporate as the government continues with business as usual.
With most Nigerian governments, this kind of bureaucratic inertia is common; but the Jonathan Administration, which appears to run a government by committees, considering its penchant for setting up such panels; instituting commissions of enquiry have become second nature. Obviously, this is a clear indication of its reputation as a clueless government which has little or no well defined plan on how to move the nation forward.
President Jonathan’s sudden decision to convene a National Dialogue as against a Sovereign National Conference, SNC suffers from many defects. A president whose party is in a serious crisis of cohesion, and who is presiding over a corrupt, dysfunctional state where lecturers have been on strike for almost four months without an acceptable plan to get them back to work, lack the moral authority to convoke a conference to solve the deeper and more complex structural problems that are as old as the country itself.
Just fifteen months to the crucial 2015 general elections, the President’s Transformation Agenda remains a mere sweet nothing. We are yet to see its impact in any single area of development. Now, there are fears that the nation is broke. Top government officials have denied this, but they have failed to offer satisfactory explanations on why budget implementation is falling short of expectations. We are still at a loss on why the government is unable to meet its obligations to striking ASUU despite a signed agreement to that effect.
Our foreign reserves are depleting even as our foreign and domestic debts are soaring to new levels. The naira is getting weaker, prompting the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN to ban importation of hard currencies. Against these tell tale signs of a troubled economy, some funny guys in the Finance Ministry are soaking our financial profile in semantics by saying Nigeria is not broke, but is only cash-strapped. Whatever that means! A rose by any name will smell as a rose.
The President also has his job on the line as he faces a formidable opposition, first within his own party, and then from emerging rival parties, which could pose a potent threat to his 2015 ambitions if all these prove as dangerous at the polls as they appear on paper. With no record of service delivery and Boko Haram still very much the monster it has always been; Mr. Jonathan certainly has his hands full. His advisers may have reasoned that a plan to convene a Conference by whatever name maybe a perfect diversion from the array of problems that have virtually overwhelmed the President.
Chances are, with PDP leadership already saying there are some no-go areas on the Conference agenda, the conclusion, no matter how noble, may be extremely difficult for President Jonathan to push through the National Assembly, even if he has the political will to implement them, which is even doubtful. He has no record of taking bold decisions; always careful not to rock the boat or hurt certain sensibilities.
If we are to come down to it, a Sovereign National Conference could only be convoked by a caretaker government. No sitting president that is duly elected would yield his authority to a Conference whose members are appointed by him. It is foolhardy, therefore, to expect any decision reached by the Jonathan Dialogue to be binding on him. He could choose to tinker with the conclusions if they threaten his own interest or the interest of the nation; an aphorism for political compromise.
Already, the nation is divided over the relevance of the proposed conference when the next general elections is not so far away, pointing to the fact that there is no national consensus on the project. Without a national consensus at this stage, it requires no seer to foretell the doom awaiting this conference. A Sovereign National Conference could have been ideal in the days of the short-lived Interim National government, ING of Chief Ernest Shonekan when the National question was unquestionably on the front burner before Gen. Sanni Abacha sacked that government. While I agree that we have a functional democracy in place, it is clear that our elected politicians do not represent the interests and yearnings of the masses.
Simply put, majority of our current elected politicians are there to represent their individual interests. Even this new initiative about a National Dialogue does not matter much to the ordinary Nigerian because all the structural changes of the past like the creation of states, local governments, ministries, departments and agencies only served to empower the governing elites with no real direct benefit to the people. The creation of these institutions opened new avenues to set up political offices which politicians jostle to occupy in order to continue looting the treasury.
What Nigerians need now is a shift in the governance paradigm and the injection of fresh blood into the nation’s leadership at all levels. We need leaders with a new mindset that connects with the people. This is the change we need before we begin to talk about changes in the nation’s governance structures. This being so because if you put the wrong people in power even under the best of structures, they would still not be able to engender the transformation we all desire.
Rev. Chris Okotie, a Pastor-politician wrote from Lagos.
Contact: Okotie@revchrisokotie.com, follow on twitter @Revchrisokotie, 08078421451 (sms only)