Confab And Fallacy Of Exaggerated Expectation
“Comrade Onwubiko, I didn't see your name on the list of delegates to the national conference”, was the exact statement presented in a most melodious tones by a middle-age lady and a staunch member of the Peoples Democratic Party who accosted me while making some purchases of essential commodities at the Exclusive Superstores in Abuja also owned by a politician.
I looked back to behold this beautiful lady from Imo State who has to her credit two beautiful teenage female twins and all I could do was to smile and thank her for believing in my ability to comfortably qualify to be at the National Conference in a representative capacity for the highly skilled and visionary and/or organized civil society community in Nigeria.
Same day while quaffing a hot cup of Coffee, I was also confronted by a top flight political office holder in Kogi State with the same question of why President Goodluck Jonathan and/or stakeholders did not nominate yours faithfully to be at the National Conference. My simple reply was that all of us cannot and should not be at the Abuja national conference.
This gentleman who phenomenally rose to the peak of his professional media career before his appointment by the Kogi State governor expressed doubt in the capacity of a lot of the delegates to the National Conference to qualitatively contribute meaningful panacea to resolve the monumental crisis of underdevelopment confronting our nation state.
“See, my brother, I just got a call from one of the so-called national conference delegates who is a well known tout in Kogi State informing me that he has just dropped his bank account details with the secretariat of the National Conference” headed by Dr. (Mrs.) Velerie Azinge, wife of the ebullient director General of the Nigeria's institute of Advance legal studies Professor Epiphany Azinge (SAN).
This enormously gifted journalist then added in conclusion that “I wonder what these delegates will deliver to Nigeria to salvage us from the imminent threat of collapse”.
There is a considerable amount of anxiety/apprehension among a majority of Nigerians that Nigeria has never had it so bad to an extent that most of them have begun procuring foreign passports should the unexpected happened and Nigeria implodes. God forbid!
On that same Monday that these conversations took place, little did we know that another dimension of drama of epic proportion was unfolding at the venue of the national conference at the Nigerian judicial institute.
Members of the National Conference on the first day of the plenary were concerned about mundane and unserious issues of whether government will engage special assistants for each of them even as others argued like children on sitting arrangement. One of the delegates representing the traditional institution was caught on tape using the F – word to cast aspersion on a security detail who asked him to produce any form of identification before gaining access to the reportedly fortified conference venue.
The traditional ruler in question was said to have retorted in bottled up anger that if he was a traditional ruler from the North the security operative will rather than stop him to demand his particulars, will genuflect in obeisance/trepidation.
Predictably, media report of that session was so very unfavorable even as majority of those who spoke were said to have concentrated on selfish issues rather than national matters.
The national conference then rose from the first plenary session without achieving anything tangible but adjourned for four days to enable the secretariat attend to emerging logistical issues for the comfort of members.
Respected fathers of philosophy were known to have stated that 'first impression in any engagement matters so much' and that 'the morning shows what the day will look like' and in line with that line of thought most Nigerians are now asking probing question regarding the extent of achievements expected from this national talk shop.
There is therefore a general climate of expectation that the national conferees will in no small measure achieve landmark revolutionary steps in moving Nigeria away from the current state of constitutional dysfunctionality, developmental inertia and general state of uncertainty and/or insecurity.
Honestly, from what I have gleaned from the groundswell of expectations expressed in words by most people, I think most Nigerians are unknowingly committing the fallacy of hasty conclusion or what I have chosen to call fallacy of exaggerated expectations from the ongoing national conference.
Reason: For over fifteen years that democracy staged a come back in Nigeria after many 'donkey years' of unprogressive military regimes, the National Assembly charged with the supreme task of formulating good laws has yet to roll out several good legislations that would have addressed the many Constitutional imperfections and lapses embedded in the legal frame work of Nigeria by the grudgingly departing military rulers in 1999. It took the national assembly of Nigeria seven years to pass the Freedom of Information Bill into an Act of the National Assembly.
Besides, the extant Constitution has come under considerable criticisms for inhabiting several provisions that promote inequities of divergent types just as there are many “time bombs” and lacunae in-built in that document which is Nigeria's grund norm.
For instance, why should Kano state have more legislators at the Federal House of Representatives than four of five states of the South East? This fundamental constitutional time bomb planted by the late General Sani Abacha is yet to be corrected.
Twice the National Assembly at different sessions spent billions of tax payers money to amend sections of the constitution to bring the law to comply substantially with global democratic best practices, but the National Assembly is currently not finished with this arduous task which has become a money spinning venture for the national legislators.
How will the National Conference that will last only three months be expected to deliver these revolutionary changes when the National Assembly has yet to deliver one quarter of the yearly aspirations of Nigerians even with billions of United States dollars spent taking care of their needs?
Have we forgotten so soon the revelation by the former Education minister and former vice president of World Bank Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili that N1trn was spent maintaining the National Assembly for eight years but yet not many more good laws have emerged from these two chambers (emphasis is mine).
Only last August, Mrs. Ezekwesili said Nigeria had spent over N1tn on the National Assembly members in the last eight years.
Ezekwesili, in a keynote address she delivered during one-day dialogue session on the 'Cost of governance in Nigeria', added that banks earned N699bn as interests last year on loans secured by the government.
“Since 2005, the National Assembly members alone have been allocated N1tr,''she said while also lamenting that “82 per cent of Nigeria's budgetary cost goes for recurrent expenditure.”
To buttress her claim that much was being spent servicing those in government, she said that “ a research conducted in the United Kingdom identified Nigerian legislators as being the highest paid in the world.”
Now that the outcomes from the National conference will in some ways find legitimacy from the law making mechanism of the National Assembly how do we expect that these same legislators will be courageous and patriotic enough to change the status quo that will take away their juicy allowances and allow democracy to work optimally in Nigeria? Tall order, you may say!
How are we expecting political miracles to happen at the National Conference when the National Assembly that is grounded solidly in law has failed to reform Nigeria from the many ills afflicting the body politics?
How do we expect the national conference that has shaky legal ground/foundation to deliver these lofty goals that will fundamentally change Nigeria to become a functional democracy whereby adherence to the rule of law, equality before the law, equal representation at the National Assembly, equitable resource control and respect for human rights would become sacrosanct?
The National Assembly is recognized under section 4(1) of the constitution whereupon it was assigned the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But where is the provision of the constitution that legally preclude and/or insulate the national conference from imminent legal earth quake if the subsisting court matter is decided in favour of the plaintiffs who are seeking the dissolution of the national dialogue?
Mr. Femi Falana, a senior Advocate of Nigeria and a delegate to the national conference was well aware of the legal challenge confronting the national conference so much so that he made spirited intellectual effort to anchor the national conference under a constitutional provision that did not clearly make pronouncement concerning the national conference but at best can be located by way of a seemingly tenuous inference.
Falana said the concern raised in some quarters that the National Assembly did not approve the hosting of the conference is unfounded.
He said “By virtue of Section 5 of the constitution, the executive powers of the President include convening meetings of this nature to solve problems confronting the country.
“The President has already taken the idea of the conference to the Council State and they appropriately advised him to go ahead and conduct the confab.
“The constitution also empowers citizens to assemble peacefully and discuss issues that affect their interest. So, why the talk that the conference is not supported by the constitution.”
He, however, said the National Assembly had a duty to consider legitimate resolutions from the conference in the interest of the country.
Falana said, “The National Assembly has a duty to take all the interest of Nigerians into consideration.
“If the resolutions from this conference are serious, profound and they address the problems of the country, there is no way why the National Assembly will not take cognizance of them.”
Sir, to be candid, I think these aspirations you have expressed herein may after all amount to a cocktail of wishful thinking if the undemocratic antecedents of the legislators are anything to go by.
Herein lies the worry that we may after all be expecting so much from this talk shop that is billed to cost the tax payers the princely sum of N7 Billion which will be blown away within three months.
Let us moderate our expectations so we avoid cardiac arrest if at the end of the ongoing national conference the recommendations are thrown into the dust bin of history like all previous national/constitutional conferences.
Emmanuel Onwubiko; Head; HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA; [email protected]; www.huriwa.org.