What Does Joda Want? By Garba Shehu

Mallam Garba Shehu

The attacks on Joda are from a ruling group with a primitive hold on power

A week ago, an elderstatesman, technocrat and a serious-minded old man, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, took the national platform to launch a very radical initiative for the reform of Nigeria.

A national press seized by a trigger-happy mentality focused and dwelled on the least important of the subjects he discussed, which is that President Goodluck Jonathan should, in view of the crises in which the country is enmeshed, play the statesman role and stay away from the 2015 presidential race. As to be expected, the Presidency, which has just inaugurated an insult festival with the appointment into government of the man said to be an “attack dog” or “attack lion” as he likes to be called followed Joda with a hammering. Hired guns in politics and the law profession have been booming, still on his trail.

Joda knew that he was taking a risk by putting his seminal thoughts out there in an atmosphere fouled by intolerance and sycophancy but he dared it.

These attacks are to be expected from a ruling group with a primitive hold on political power, conducting themselves as if Nigerians have been committed to slavery having been conquered in a war. For the first time in Nigeria, you need to read the mind of an octogenarian tribal leader, the leader of the President’s tribal group to understand the direction of the state. I can’t think of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe speaking to Nigeria throughOhanaeze, if it had then existed or Gowon, IBB or even Shehu Shagari using Arewa or any tribal sounding boards to communicate with Nigeria. But that’s what you have at the moment.

For a man as old as he is – 82 in February, and 30 years since he left active government service, Dr. Joda has nothing to gain by putting himself in the firing line of the privileged men and women in positions of authority. It therefore, must have come from the love of the nation.

What did he say, for a recap? The former super permanent secretary holds the view that this country has survived several crises of serious magnitudes, including of course the 30-months civil war, all of which we have survived. He thinks it is risky for Nigeria to continue to rely on luck to survive. He then suggests that there is a need for a hybrid–type of a national conference incorporating the elements from the two sides advocating sovereignty and the absence of it for such a conference.

“In my opinion”, he said to those who are fearful of a national conference, “we cannot keep the pandora’s box shut forever.” He says “not addressing these issues openly and frankly now, and in a free and fair debate between our true representatives, will not permit the orderly continued existence of Nigeria and /or engender the potential in us to resume the rapid economic and social development that we all desire.”

Two things are discernible from this early shot. One is that Joda may have had on his mind, his brothers and sisters in Northern Nigeria who had in the past showed fear and vehemence against any idea of a national conference which, to many enlightened minds, is a very strange thing indeed.

Northerners don’t have to conduct themselves in a way suggesting that they are the beneficiaries of the unwanted, decadent order in the country when clearly they are not. The North has held the short end of the stick from the very first day Nigeria was incorporated.

Second, Joda in this paper went ahead of your unusual critic to speak against a thing and then offering a process or mechanism by which the unwanted thing can be changed. Most of our everyday critics will just attack and attack and don’t give a clue about how the change can be brought about.

As I said from the beginning, it is revolutionary for a man at eighty two and believed by many to be a manifestation of the quasi-military political establishment to speak openly of his distrust of the government of the day and its institutions in managing the process to bring about the change that he thinks the country desires.

Joda says outright that existing institutions – the parliament and the executive – cannot answer the call of duty in dealing with the prevailing demand for reform. They may be authorized by law and constitution he says, but that they, as products of the unwanted order have problems of credibility to contend with. “In this situation, it is clearly not safe to have matters as important as the review of the constitution in the hands of those now in power,” he asserts.

Joda then suggested the election of a Constituent Assembly directly from the people on zero-party basis and that special interests should be barred. Public servants who wish to serve must permanently resign their offices. He cited a role however for the National Assembly which, he says should pass an Act bringing about the Constituent Assembly. The Executive arm would fashion out the agenda and duration of conference in consultation with “constitutionally recognized” past leaders who are members of the Council of State.

The appeal of the Joda proposition to proponents of the Sovereign National Conference is that decisions of the constitutional conference will not be subject to review by either the Courts, the Executive arm or the Legislature but that the parliament will, after a nation-wide referendum promulgate the new constitution into law.

All said and done, the Joda proposition would seem to be a courageous and a radical departure from what has so far been put on the table. It also gives a little of something to each of the parties for or against the idea of a Sovereign National Conference. It is well thought-out, pragmatic and do-able.

My disagreement with Joda, however is his seeming dislike for civil society organizations which he said should be excluded from his conference. But the civil society is the bedrock of all modern societies. To think you can do without them is to fail to understand the changing dynamics of governance, power and society.

He also showed a sublime derision for political partisanship. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect a constitution to be drawn up in an ideological or political vacuum. People will come with their ideological predispositions, positive and negative and the healthy clash of these views will be the only way leading to defeat falsehood by the truth. These observations must not however detract from the ingenuity and practicality of his proposition which the government and the stakeholders must seriously pay attention to.

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