Just when the Jonathan government was celebrating the dummy they sold to Nigerians about a National Dialogue or when they thought they had hit a home run with their idea of a National Dialogue, Tinubu returned to puncture the balloon of their ego.
He literarily threw a bombshell at the Jonathan National conference idea rejecting it and describing it in very apt terms as a Greek gift. Tinubu’s insight and analysis on the matter was profound. No wonder it resonated across the country and on the pages of newspapers and airwaves. Tinubu was not going to be sold a dummy. He had seen similar political somersaults and gyrations in the past and he could smell deception from a distance.
Here is some of what Tinubu, the All Progressive Congress (APC) leader said on arrival from London “the planned national dialogue is a ‘Greek gift and public deception… I say beware of Greek gift; let us first of all, ask series of questions. I am yet to consult with my party but I see some contradiction. I see deception here, but I will discuss with my party. I see lack of transparency”.
Suddenly, Tinubu’s paw-paw of the National conference idea sent the Jonathan government particularly it’s paid agents scampering and before long they unleashed a full attack on Tinubu accusing him of rejecting what he had asked for in the first place. In the rabid condemnation of Tinubu, what is clear, yet sickening is the evidence that those that have rushed to embrace the Jonathan conference will not want any opposition to their idea. For them, to attempt to ask a few fundamental questions about the timing and other issues surrounding the conference is unpatriotic and an affront on the President. This people do not speak for Nigerians as they claim. They speak for themselves and their pockets.
There is no double speak here on the part of Tinubu. The attempt by his detractors to attack his position by saying first he was for National Conference and now he is against it is both dishonest and disingenuous. We have seen this sort of rabid attack before. We know where it’s coming from and soon, the wind will blow and Nigerians will wake up to realize they have been hoodwinked. The flip flopping President is Jonathan and his mascot, David Mark.
Through nearly two decades, Tinubu has been and remains an ardent believer in the idea of a Sovereign National Conference and also remains a consistent supporter and promoter of the idea. His principle position on this matter is well documented. He has called for the convocation of a sovereign nation conference that is authored by the people and conducted by a genuine, sincere and competent leadership, not the type we have now. His present rejection of Jonathan’s conference is anchored on several grounds of suspicion which the Jonathan team is yet to provide answers to.
Sometime in November 2011, while speaking at the Anthony Enahoro Memorial Lecture at the Benin Club in Benin City Tinubu said, “I submit to you today that because of the multiple issues surrounding our skewed federalism and constitutional flaws, the Nigerian nation is weak. Unless we move to strengthen it through dialogue and equity, we will remain a nation in mere words.
“And how do we transit from mere words to genuine nationhood? “The 21-member Presidential Committee on the Review of Outstanding Constitutional Issues (PCROCI) recently set up by President Good luck Jonathan falls short. It is a backdoor approach to the issue of national conference. In memory of Chief Enahoro we must convoke a national conference. It would provide a platform to address our pressing concerns.”
But in this present instance, he sees a President who suddenly wakes up and realizes that his administration is sinking and needs a safety valve. He becomes a later day convert to an idea he was vehemently against before now and hits on the strategy of organizing such a conference will silence his critics and keep his detractors busy. After all, it’s about the money and the opportunity to be part of the Abuja crowd. Its about buying time and spreading a false sense of patriotsm. It is a trick we have seen too many times by successive governments. And what came out of all the papers produced? Nothing. We are still at the point we were some two decades ago. For some people to be suddenly blinded to these facts and the unanswered question of why now, rankles the brain but no doubt understandable.
Another poser for the Jonathan choristers is why is the Senate President, David Mark, who until now had been vociferous in dismissing a Sovereign National Conference, SNC, as “not workable under the 1999 Constitution,” now the campaigner in chief for the Jonathan national conference? Again, why did it take Jonathan almost three years to agree to the fact that Nigerians deserve a national conference or perhaps they have been living in another country or is it because it has become expedient poltically?
The timing of this conference is suspect. It is coming up when the present government is embroiled in corruption, the ruling party is in crisis, the security problem posed by Boko Haram never lets up and when a large swathe of the people are despondent and frustrated by a government that promises much but delivers little. With just about one year to conducting national elections, the government wakes up to commence what should be a serious and painstaking process of constitutional review or better still a national talk shop that will only distract and waste hard earned national resources. These are the issues and not that the nonsensical attacks and condemnation of Tinubu for taking a principle stance on this matter. He should be commended and not condemned for having the presence of mind to pose and ask critical questions.
The fact that Tinubu is not willing to accept fake for original does not in any way mean that he is now against the idea, as many Jonathan choristers and people in desperate need of jobs and relevance would have us believe. To the contrary. Tinubu has taken a principled stance on this matter for which no one can challenge him. History bears him out about his consistency and clarity on this issue. It is very well documented. Even the chairman of the advisory committee, Senator Okorounmu himself admitted that Tinubu, the former Lagos Governor had been in the forefront of the demand for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).
In his reaction on Monday, Okorounmu said: “Tinubu must have been misquoted. Tinubu has been one of the financiers of the agitations for national conference. He funded the PRONACO conference which was held in Lagos.
“So Tinubu has been at the forefront for the agitation for national conference so the press must have been misquoting him. That must be another Tinubu, not the Tinubu I know.” But lest we forget, it was this same Senator Okunrounmu who in an interview granted a national daily described Jonathan as a President who cannot be trusted and went at great length to trash the Jonathan presidency. Now, he has accepted his new appointment with glee. What more can be double speak.
Tinubu’s right to hold a contrary opinion to what is happening now is supreme in a democratic setting. He holds up a mirror and he is asking Nigerians like the leader he is to take a look at what is being offered. He is not alone in this position and the attempt to shout him and others down is part of the problem Nigeria faces and will be the greatest undoing of the jamboree conference by Jonathan. For the records, the Odumakins and their likes do not and cannot speak for me, ditto for many others. They can enjoy their conference. We will wait for them.
Tinubu is not a lone ranger in his suspicion and rejection of the Jonathan Conference. A co-secretary of the 2005 national political reform conference, Professor Ishaq Oloyede is also strongly suspicious of the national dialogue being proposed by Jonathan. He said, “I have my very strong suspicion about the motive of the conference. I am very suspicious of the whole thing but the council will discuss it and we will come out with our own position. But for me as a person, I have my suspicion based on activities leading to the turn-around of the government because the government, including the Senate President, have been opposed to it but suddenly overnight, they changed their opinion. I am very suspicious; very, very suspicious of the change of mind”.
Now that’s a homer. It is provocative and dead center. Can Jonathan and his co-travelers be trusted. Why are Nigerians been handed cocoyam when they have asked for bread? Again, Senator Babfemi Ojudu, a former editor and veteran journalist, someone who has been part of the agitation for a national conference and who should know better has come out swinging against the Jonathan conference.
Senator Ojudu describes Jonathan’s National Conference as poison. He went further to describe the decision to hold such a conference now as dishonest and deceitful. As far as he was concerned, the Jonathan government, beset by a myriad of economic and political woes, is employing the National Conference to divert the attention of Nigerians.Senator Ojudu couldn’t have couched it better when he said, “His consultants or advisers must have informed him of the workability of making Nigerians talk while trying to put his house in order.
The man is just looking for time and space to buy, persuade, blackmail or pummel to submission those in his party who are opposed to his continuous rulership of Nigeria… It is also a strategy to put a stop to the APC progress of mobilising Nigerians for the 2015 elections.
I will not be surprised if the outcome of the conference says 2015 is no longer feasible for elections and that Jonathan should be allowed to continue in office.’’ I hope someone is listening. Not done, Senator Ojudu went down the memory lane for the sake of those with short memories and exposed the Jonathan administration of borrowing from recent history when government after government gathered people in the name of National Conference or political summit so as to divert the attention of the people from the political challenges faced by government and thereafter jettisoned or watered down the recommendations of those conferences.
Ojudu declared that his current opposition to the Jonathan National Conference is in no way at variance with is advocacy for a Sovereign National Conference reminded Nigerians that he has always been a strong advocate of Sovereign National Conference, as opposed to National Conference, as far as 1990 when Alao Aka-Bashorun attempted to organise a Sovereign National Conference in Lagos.
A number of other prominent groups, individuals and organizations across the country have spoken up against the proposed National conference and questioned the sincerity of the Jonathan administration.
Indeed, the voices of reason and caution like that of Tinubu and others are been drowned out by the paid vocalists and choristers of the Jonathan administration. History bears Tinubu and others out that Jonathan does not have the sincerity and commitment to give Nigerians a sovereign national conference. What Nigerians will get again is another “jebu” conference and we will be back to square one.
For his boldness, presence of mind and consistency, Tinubu should be commended not condemned. On this issue, Tinubu stands on a higher ground.
Akinlabi Olusegun Samson, Ph.D, writes from Lagos.