Permit me to begin this contribution with the words of Senator Femi Okurounmu who is the Chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on the National Conference. In the February 12 edition of the National Mirror Newspaper, he said the following about President Goodluck Jonathan-
“Jonathan has betrayed the goodwill of the Yoruba. The man doesn’t seem to have a clue about anything. First, he has no clue about governance- it appears as if he does not even have any slightest idea of what he wants to do. He never thought of becoming President and what he would do as President. He was just talking of transformation and I don’t even think he knows the meaning of transformation. The man is just being pushed around everywhere and to anywhere. The only thing he understands is that he wants to make money and he is making a lot of it. And because he wants to make money, he cannot tell people not to make money when they are making their own. So a lot of people around him are making money and he cannot do anything.”
This is quite an indictment and more so since these words were spoken only seven months ago. Okurounmu is a man of honour. Anyone that knows anything about the struggle for the emancipation of the nationalities, restructuring and self-determination in Nigeria can testify to the fact that he is not only a much-loved and deeply courageous man but he is also one of those that has dedicated his entire life and distinguished political career to the noble cause of creating a new Nigeria where regional autonomy is established and where power is devolved from the centre. One wonders what made this distinguished elderstatesman change his mind, put his reputation on the line and accept to chair a committee that was set up by the very same man that he dismissed with such contempt only a few months ago. Yet the truth is that people do change their minds about others from time to time and I am prepared to give Okurounmu the benefit of the doubt for doing so.
Yet in this matter we must be candid. The truth must be told and that truth is as follows. If any serious-minded person thinks that a ”national conference” that is not ”sovereign” and whose recommendations are subject to the will and caprices of the President and the National Assembly can make any difference in our country or bring any meaningful change then they are living in cuckoo land. Besides which nothing good can come from Jonathan and his PDP. The whole thing is an attempt to divert attention from their own shortcomings and dwindling fortunes and to divide the ranks of the opposition.
For the last 20 years some of us have been calling for a national conference but we have always insisted that the resolutions of that conference must be ”sovereign” and binding on all, that it must comprise of representatives from every nationality in the country (no matter how big or small) and that it must have, as it’s first item on the agenda, whether Nigeria should remain as one and, if so, under what terms.
Anything short of this is fake. It is nothing more than a palliative. It is a ”made in China” copy of the original. If you take the ”sovereign” out of the ”national conference” it is like taking the ham out of a ham sandwich. All you will have left is a talk shop whose recommendations will eventually be tossed into the dustbin by both the Federal Government and the National Assembly.
The almighty Federal Government of Nigeria is not about to give up its awesome authority and ability to control literally everything and everyone in our country by allowing devolution of power from the centre, resource control, autonomy for the regions, derivation as a principle for revenue allocation, the right of every nationality to self-determination and to secede from the federation, the confirmation of the secularity of the state, the confirmation of the rights of all religious, gender and ethnic minorities and all the other wholesome, progressive ideals that the true believers hold so dear.
The PDP is simply incapable of delivering all these things and no PDP President, least of all one like Jonathan, would ever make such concessions. The PDP is a party of wily old dinosaurs and conservatives. When the time for a real conference comes it will not be by government fiat but as a consequence of a series of unpleasant, unforeseeable and violent events that will compel us all to come to our senses, to come to the table and to once and for all sort out our differences or just go our separate ways. That is the bitter truth. It will never be given to us on a plater.
Today there are many within the corridors of power that have made their positions clear and that have left no-one in any doubt about where they stand on this issue. One of them is Senator David Mark our amiable Senate President who recently said ””I’ll crush the bid to add ‘sovereign’ to the National Conference”. Many of us may disagree with Mark on this but at least he has the courage of his convictions and he is not one of those that relishes in double-speak and subterfuge. He has told us that he wants a conference but that he doesn’t want it to be ‘sovereign’. Good for him. My only prayer is that the Senate President himself doesn’t get ”crushed” in the process of trying to resist the ”sovereign” in the conference because when it’s time comes no force on earth can successfully resist the people’s will, the forceful struggle for freedom and the right to self-determination.
Permit me to end this contribution with the words of another man who was painfully honest about his intentions right from the start and who also had the courage of his convictions. In 2001, when pressed on the issue of the virtues of convening a sovereign national conference, President Olusegun Obasanjo said ”I cannot surrender the sovereignty that was given to me by the Nigerian people”. Many of us found Obasanjo’s position on this issue unacceptable and downright repugnant. Yet one thing that we could not take from him was that he did not offer what he was not prepared to give. He went on to convene a national conference in 2005 but, like Jonathan’s one today, it was not sovereign and consequently it had little relevance or meaning. Many of us lampooned Obasanjo for outrightly rejecting the idea of a sovereign national conference at the time and on March 18th 2001, I wrote the following words in a scathing essay for the Comet Newspaper (which later transmuted into The Nation) titled ”President Olusegun Obasanjo, The National Question And The Imperatives Of A Sovereign National Conference”. I wrote-
”As a direct consequence of the gradual degeneration of the Nigerian state, the passionate campaign and vigorous agitation for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) is once again steadily gathering momentum. For even though we have a “democratically” elected government in power today, the fact remains that the “National Question” is yet to be answered. And until we have searched our souls and settled some outstanding fundamental issues that still exist among our various nationalities, until the brutal role of internal colonialism has been completely and irrevocably shattered, Nigeria cannot possibly prosper and neither can she achieve her full potentials. This is because there can be little doubt that the many problems that this country faces cannot be solved simply by the establishment of democracy, the provision of good government and the equitable distribution of ministerial portfolios.
“There is far more to it than that and anyone that seriously believes otherwise must have been living on another planet for the last 41 (forty-one) years. And with all due respect to President Obasanjo’s efforts, it is painfully obvious that a sovereign national conference remains the only permanent solution to the myriad of complex problems in this country. For example, when did we as a people ever agree to stay together as one? And even if we ever did what were the terms of our union? Did the people of the south ever agree to become perpetual slaves to the Fulani ruling class and their military collaborators? And even though we have a southerner in power today, what happens in 2007 after Obasanjo goes? Or can he remain there forever? Will the hegemonic forces, at that point, not insist on taking the Presidency back to the core conservative north? And in the event of this happening will we not have come back to square one? And in any case when did the south ever agree to assume the role of a wealthy yet submissive and timid wife that has been systematically and consistently cheated, raped and sodomised by a domineering and arrogant northern husband?”
Harsh words indeed but those days called for harsh words and extreme measures. Needless to say I wrote the essay one year before I met Obasanjo and after 8 years of being radicalised by the annulment of the June 12th 1993 election of Chief MKO Abiola, five years of self-imposed exile in Ghana and 6 years of watching my people, the Yoruba people of south-western Nigeria, being persecuted, tormented, butchered, jailed, tortured, driven into exile and humiliated by General Sani Abacha and his military junta. All that had a profound effect on me. These were the words of a man at war and to all intents and purposes we are still at war in this country because nothing has really changed. The cry for a sovereign national conference is as legitimate today as it has ever been and until we have one Nigeria can never know peace.
Those that have been seduced by Jonathan’s promise and charm offensive in this matter will soon learn that he is simply deceiving them. It is a poisoned chalice. At the end of the day their greatest expectations, hopes and aspirations will be dashed and frustrated and they will be made to look like utter fools. A man that does not have the passion, strength and conviction to crush Boko Haram cannot possibly muster the necessary wherewithal or cultivate the strength of character to liberate the numerous ethnic nationalities that make up our country from the bondage, tyranny and oppression of an all-powerful centre. Some have said that the national conference is ”Jonathan’s gift to Nigeria”. I strongly urge those that honestly believe that to remember the words of the Trojans- ”beware of the Greeks, especially when they bring gifts”.
*** Femi Fani-Kayode, former minister of aviation, writes a weekly column for PREMIUM TIMES, every Thursday.
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