National Conference List: Putting the wrong foot forward – Hallmarkx

By The Citizen
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The list of the 492 delegates for the National Conference released on Thursday, March 6th, 2014 by the Secretary, Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, has disappointed many Nigerians who had high hopes that this indaba was going to be the elixir that would fix the nation's fundamental and complex problems.

Many well-meaning Nigerians including this newspaper, had fully supported the President when he announced the proposal to convoke a national conference during his last independent anniversary broadcast on October 1st, 2013. In two previous editorials on the issue we had backed the proposal and sued in favour of giving government the benefit of the doubt as against the naysayers, led by the All Progressives Congress (APC). Our ringing endorsement of the national dialogue stemmed from our belief that it is always 'better to jaw-jaw than to war-war' in a democracy, as we stated in no uncertain terms inter alia that 'it is better to talk than to live in mutual suspicion and recriminations' for instance.

Unfortunately, Mr President's body language, utterances and actions from the time of the constitution of the Sen. Femi Okorunmu-led Presidential Advisory Committee on 'The Conference', on the fate of the decisions of the conference, ouster proviso (the so-called 'no-go area'), the composition of the delegates and helming of the conference do not give much cause for optimism to discerning observers, including this newspaper.

Indeed, from the composition of the delegates, it is obvious that the arrangement is being deliberately programmed to achieve a Pre-determined outcome, if not for outright failure. The government has put the wrong foot forward going by its packing of the conference full of retirees, many of whom should actually be at their various homes, full retirement. As a matter of fact, any nation that requires the same set of people to carry out the same assignment twenty years removed is a society in deep trouble because it simply means that the personnel production line is not functioning well. Many of those named as delegates have been involved in similar conferences since Babangida's in 1988, Abacha's in 1995, Obasanjo's in 2005 (old wine in new wine skin). Indeed, 70% of the Abacha conferees 19 years ago are back in contention and sizeable percentage of the delegates are over 75 years in a nation where people 50 years or under constitute more than 80% of the population.

This administration and indeed the entire political leadership of the country cannot continue to buck the global trend of recruiting increasingly younger persons into leadership positions. For instance, President Barrack Obama entered the US Senate at 43 and became President at 48. In Britain, David Cameron was a Member of Parliament at 35 and the Prime Minister at 43. In other parts of the world, those who served at the same period and in similar capacities as Maitama Sule, Edwin Clark, Justice Kutigi, Bolaji Akinyemi el al, have since ceded the centre stage of national affairs to their younger and more vibrant compatriots.

Hallmark is not convinced that such an unrepresentative bunch can arrive at recommendations or solutions that truly capture the aspirations of and the issues that are of consequence to the majority of Nigerians; because their age, experience, and perspectives are, ipso facto, out of sync with those of the people who they were ostensibly selected to represent. They cannot therefore sketch a road map to the future Nigeria of our dreams.

We would not lend ourselves to the support of what has obviously become a charade. Indeed, we cannot be complicit nor remain silent in the face of the manipulation of a process that could, if handled with seriousness and sincerity of purpose, give this country a much needed new lease of life.

We note that previous regimes, have tended to use such conferences as diversionary tactics to engage the citizens' attention, much as some despotic leaders have been known to launch foreign adventures in times of mounting domestic crises. It is increasingly obvious that the Jonathan Administration has succumbed to this malaise, as the evidence indicates that conference is being nudged in the direction of not producing any significant change from the status quo but merely keeping Nigerians busy.

In the light of the foregoing, we strongly urge that rather than engaging in motion without movement in a conference that cannot yield much, the government should urgently brace itself to tackling the major problems facing this country. To most Nigerians, the burning issues are crystal clear and certainly cannot require a conference of wet woods to identify. They include corruption, poor or even inept leadership, fiscal federalism, and comprehensive re-structuring of the Nigerian state. These issues require urgent and genuine attention if the Nigerian state is to be saved from the impending cataclysm.

This newspaper is deeply convinced that the present attempt is not sincere at best and hypocritical at worst. It is symptomatic of the characteristic duplicity of the Nigerian oligarchy, a venal and self-serving ruling class that is totally amoral and bereft of patriotism, altruism and commitment to the common good. It is a matter of deep regret, and unmitigated tragedy that over five decades of independence, this country is still groping for meaning.

This periodic convocation of national conferences testifies to this pervasive sense of loss and dysfunction. Hallmark does not know of any other country in the world of Nigeria's historical experience that engages in similar nonsense. It is mind boggling that any government beset by such enormity of problems would choose to play Nero, instead of honestly confronting its challenges. Indeed, our basic inclination is to dismiss the entire conference as a grand charade, and, for obvious reasons.  Nevertheless, we are constrained to pause and watch.

If government is serious about finding answers to the myriad of issues confronting the nation, then we posit that the reports of previous exercises have sufficient materials to illuminate our pathway to the future. The truth of the matter is that Nigeria is really an endangered country. Religious and ethnic divisions, rampaging unemployment, inept and kleptocratic leadership at all levels of governance, have combined with worsening educational standards and ballooning population, to blight Nigeria's prospects. A fragile mono based economy, ravaged by a bulging unskilled and unproductive population, has made Nigeria a basket case, irrespective of Okonjo-Iweala's GDP numbers.

The choices for Nigeria are quite clear. Either get serious with the business of governance and save your country, or continue playing Ostrich, with your head in the sand. And ultimately die! That is not only Mr Jonathan's choice, it is the choice of the men and women he has selected. They should either rise to the historical challenge of this age, or remain mere puppets in a pantomime. In other words, they should either discard the fetters of officialdom and be recorded on the right side of history as the saviours of their country, or they become undertakers who buried their country. Either way, it is their choice. Ours is to hold a watching brief for history.