The Aim of The National Conference, By Mobolaji E. Aluko


Nigeria’s 2014 National Conference began in earnest in Abuja on Monday, March 17, and the jostlings, posturings and hectorings of and between delegates are already with us.

According to the website of the National Conference


The National Conference is a national project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, long-standing impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly United Nation.

This rather simple statement of purpose is pregnant with implications, which we now intend to explore back to front.


Is Nigeria a nation or a country of nations. If i is nation what are its shared values of language, culture, religion, dress, history etc.? If is a country of nations, do the ethnic nationalities constitute those nations, or must we look for some other constellations? Should we then strive to build one “United Nation” from this country of nations INTENTIONALLY, or will that just HAPPEN willy-nilly under constitutional tinkering and over time? Is Nigeria so unique that we have no lessons to learn from similar nations or countries once in our shoes?

One trusts that these knotty questions will be asked and addressed early on in the National Conference.


Proceeding from cradle to grave, the intelligent human being expects secure and steady progress in life – materially, spiritually -with societal protection at youth and in old age, and the assurance of education, jobs and personal dignity in the middle ages. The USA Declaration of Independence encapsulates it well in a universal mantra: ” We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. ——”

So despite all of the usual indices of development- GDP, GNP, External Reserves, inflation rates, total budget figures, even HDI – one should be able to ask whether inequality is being reduced in the country, Nigerians are living fuller (and longer) lives, are free to move about in the country to practice their religion, culture, vocation and avocation, and in general are happier this year than last. The Reagan age-old test first propounded in November 1980 is simple enough for evaluating leaders: “(under this leader) Are you better off this year than (when he took office)?” Is there justice in the land – both in the courts and on the streets – without which there can be no peace, harmony or cohesion?

One trusts that these knotty questions will be asked and addressed early on in the National Conference.


Nigeria, with a checkered pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial history, with 160 million people and 400 ethnic groups, with an intersecting venn diagram of religious (Christian, Muslim, Traditionalist) worshippers, spread over almost 1 million square kilometers of arable and resource-rich land in 36 states and a federal territory that sweeps from the coastal swamps of the Niger-Delta to the Sahelian desert of Jigawa, has inherent impediments to linear development. Yet these long-standing obstacles are the very seeds of opportunity that a visionary leader – or better yet, a committee or comity of leaders – can take advantage of. Seizing this advantage will be the ultimate genius of Nigerian leadership, and one hopes that the National Conference will address it.


Posing these knotty questions and outlining the challenges are not simply for academic purpose, but rather in order to consider ways to make our Nigeria “a more perfect union”, echoing the US Constitution preamble of 1787, and Obama’s speech of 1980. It may sound trite, but the evaluation of strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats – a SWOT analysis – of the Nigerian state followed by realistic and genuine steps to move the state forward into the next century should really be what this Conference is about.

National Project

This is indeed – or should be – a currently-pregnant national project, not a presidential project, not a National Assembly project. Will the baby be aborted (as in Obasanjo’s Constitutional Conference), still-born (as in Babangida’s Constitutional Conference), short-lived (as in Abacha’s Constitutional Conference), or hidden before deployment (as in Abdusalami’s Constitution) – or nurtured post-partum until the next Centenary? None of those elite “military” Constitutions were put to democratic popular test via a Referendum, and one hopes that in these heady days of civilian democracy (or rule), it is that device that will, among other things, make the difference.

We shall see.

Why I am a virtual delegate

Contrary to all expectations (!), my name was not mentioned among the 492 delegates. After all, I am not an Elder Statesman yet, or a woman, or a retired government official, or a youth (although there are 50+ persons in my neighborhood who call themselves “youths.” ) I no longer qualify for any of the Diaspora slots – and so on. I could have used the N12 million (?) for the three months sitting – on top of my VC-ship salary, I guess – and lobbied for an Ekiti, Southwest socio-political or even a free-lance government slot. However, the clincher for me was this: how would I have combined the work of that national service on-site in Abuja with my VC-ship in remote Otuoke, what with all kinds of threats of sanctions for not attending sessions – or for cussing people out in a jankara fashion?

Inquiring minds want to know. Nevertheless, I have chosen myself to be a remote (virtual) delegate, harvesting the phone numbers and emails of as many of the delegates as I can (I know at least 60 of them fairly personally) and letting my voice br heard a la Baba Adam.

And there you have it.

Bolaji Aluko

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