National Confab: Of Old And New School


Anthony Ochela

President Olusegun Obasanjo has finally harkened to the words of majority of Nigerians that the restructuring of the Nigerian nation require a more critical approach than his reform programme offers and convened a somewhat conservative National Political Reform Conference to assuage the feelings of the people and in the process achieve some objectives close to his chest. Pro-democracy activists are however not fazed and have pointed out the hypocrisy in the Federal Government’s arrangement that in a democracy selected about 400 people to confer for ninety days and in the process share about a billion Naira among themselves. They point at the irony, occasioned by the selection of the ‘president’s men’ in a democracy and the hasty inauguration of a conference by Mr. President who has never hidden his aversion for a conference of any sort as revealing th e President’s plan of taking the sail out of the Pro-democracy activists’ sail.

As expected, however, the conference started out with allegations of conspiracy theorists and controversies of all sorts, most of them avoidable. The number of Christians at the gathering was three times that of the Muslims and then the President compounded the situation by selecting an all-Christian leadership. The argument advanced for this baloney has not succeeded in calming frayed nerves as the Muslims have threatened to dump the conference if ever a vote on any subject that borders on religion is considered. Religion should be a personal issue and not that of state but then the president asked for it.

The conference on inauguration day had a lot staked against it in terms of reputation. Delegates were 90 per cent above 60 years of age, there were only 33 ladies in a gathering of almost 400, it was an all PDP affair when the nation has 30 recognized parties and the vital issue of funding had not been settled with the National Assembly. All these minor (depending on how you see it) issues including that of religion could have been attended to if a little more time and care was given to preparation. It has been noted that the President called yesterday’s men to fix our today’s problems because, together with popular opinion, even he was aware of the fact that our problem was their creation. But just as the conference was about to kick off, a member of that school had wanted to use the popular defense mechanism of buck passing to lay the genesis of our collective woes on the doorstep of the famous scapegoat-the media.

At the very first sitting of the conference, Chief Banabas Gemade had requested the Chairman of the conference, Justice Niki Tobi, to shut the doors of the International Conference Center permanently against the media. He had advanced t he lame argument that the men and women of the fourth estate of the realm are not equipped to understand the rigors of the intellectual assignment they were about to commence and could blow issues out of proportion. The Chief must think the media is peopled with chicken heads. His argument was permanently shut down and Justice Tobi has refused to lift his hands against the media despite several attempts by several Gemade’s to get him to strike.

So the youths and, believe me, some of the adults watched with consternation as the President enabled by the governors inaugurate a deliberation on the future of the country and craftily shut out the major stakeholders (the ultimate beneficiaries) of that future. This they did without credible excuse because no matter what the Gemades think, among youths, whose names would have been appropriate here but for space, are intellectuals and achievers adequately endowed for the conference.    Well, bewildered youths have continued to cry out to the conveners of the talk shop to consider redressing this unfortunate scenario without response even as the conference’s enters its second month.  Expectedly, two genuine youths at the conference, Mu’azu Haruna and Tony Nwoye have already stressed that the world has since gone digital, so any analogue or archaic socio-political and economic theory dusted off the shelve and prescribed for the Nigerian sickness would fail utterly. The Nigerian sickness is becoming drug resistant. Why? As Nwoye pointed out, most of the delegates have been permanent members of the Nigerian economic drug laboratory and these drugs never work, instead the nation’s health continues to degenerate. Funny enough the conference in question was set up because those men dozing in that hall failed the nation in the past 40 years, but like a cat with nine live s they suddenly reappeared at a conference convened to clear their mess and the fear in town is that that mess might be re-entrenched by these political and economic gadflies that have been benefiting from the skewed system.

So whom do we blame for this turn of events? Is it the young governors that consciously and deliberately nominated gerontocrats to the conference when they had all the opportunities to assemble a younger generation? Do we blame the members of the old league that have skimmed a system that ensures they remain relevant in the nation’s scheme of things ignoring pleas to vacate the stage for new hands and brains? Or do we blame the youths who prefer playing second fiddles to money-miss-roads instead of actively pursuing courses that would give their parents a good fight? Or should we fold our arms and hope that this time they will get it right? But of course much of the blame for this discouraging state of affairs lay squarely on the table of the governors. Since amongst themselves they nominated more than half of the delegates (about 216) it would have been expected that they would consider people among their generation for the onerous task of charting a new course for the country.  For a generational shift in governance the Nigerian public has of late being nominating young governors like Ahmed Makarfi (Kaduna), Orji Uzor Kalu (Abia), Adamu Mu’azu (Bauchi) and Donald Duke (Cross River) to take over from Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President of the country come 2007 but sadly these governors do not even believe in the ability of their generation to stir the ship of state to successful waters. But the greatest culprits in this national show of shame are the conveners of the conference. As has already been pointed out, if the authorities had considered the use of elections to produce the delegates for this conferen ce a lot of these contending issues would have been resolved at the polls. There are no way people like Amb. Greg Mbadiwe and Barr. Tunde Babalakin would have been nominated by a youth forum to contest for elections in their zones as representatives of youths to the conference.

But how do we make the best of this deplorable situation? That question is best left to the conference to answer, but isn’t it surprising that the Mbadiwes and Babalakins did not protest their inclusion (grey hairs and all) in the list of youths to the conference? This speaks of hypocrisy on their part and hypocrites have this notorious ability to betray trusts. Lets hope that these ones don’t betray the enormous trust the people (youths especially) have reposed on the conference.        Anthony Ochela No 6 Gbazango Road, Kubwa, Abuja