By Alaba Yusuf
“Do not fear to negotiate, but do not negotiate out of fear.”
-John. F. Kennedy, former US President
Recently, those who specialized in gauging the known wealth of men and women around the world, Forbes Wealthy List Magazine, unveiled 492 dollar billionaires in the United States of America alone; all thanks to the boom in high tech and strong stock performance in that God’s Own Land where the American Dream lives. And never to be beaten to such a good story, paradoxically or coincidentally, Nigeria also revealed a list of 492! Wait for it, they are 492 Confabists, talk-people, to debate and chart a new way forward for a country that has just celebrated 100 years of existence; yet lagging so behind in socio-political focus, security and unity, or better still in the woods of nationhood!
Talking about the rich list, Bill Gates, an American famous for Microsoft Incorporation, leads the world’s pack with $76 billion; while cement mogul, Aliko Dangote, Nigeria’s ultimate multi-product merchant, heads Africa with $25 billion by placing 23rd in the world. Ironically, none of the listed Nigerian 492 Confabists made this enviable league of global moneymen and women. Never mind, but they are the trouble-shooters to prescribe new relationship avenues and the surest ways to unity, security, wealth and wisdom for a country hosting 170 million citizens. What an uphill task? Some have quickly labeled it a Tower of Babel, where cacophony will reign supreme over symphony and harmony. Don’t judge in haste.
Away from the rich digression, anyone could ask the question ‘what is wrong in Nigerians coming together to jaw-jaw over the state of their own union?’ After all, it is better to debate than to engage in debacle, as conflict controllers would love us to hear. But there is an exception. Cynics, those eagle-eyed adversaries and necessary change catalysts, now view the 2014 President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Conference as more of a ‘Greek gift’, ‘a diversionary tactics’, ‘job-for-the-boys’ and ‘a total waste of scarce national resources.’ Are they really wrong, especially when the exercise precedes general elections in 2015? Time will surely tell.
Meanwhile, the evil in cynicism is that it is a locomotive often fueled by pessimism. This is not to say that cynics are haters of reason and enthusiasm. Most cynics are really deep thinkers, adept readers of history and hardly men of gluttonous appetite. In fact, cynics being readers should qualify as leaders – at least of opinion, if not state!
In time past, “a cynic is a member of a group of ancient Greek philosophers who believed that virtue is the only good and that the only means of achieving it is self-control. The sect was founded by Antisthenes in the 4th century BC (Before Christ).” This school of thought has a few Nigerians in its fold. Some even take the more reformative epaulettes of social activists or game-changers! Every community has one at least, the good men in our midst. So it is not strange to find cynics as sad men; especially in situations where vice hijacks the seat of leadership from virtue and giving the mantle of governance to those who do not merit it at all!
Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, the leader of Catholics in Sokoto State, is one such cynic. And a sad man for that matter! He chose to be sad in view of his non-belief in the Honourable Justice Idris Lebo Kutigi-led National Conference commencing 06 March 2014.
“The Bishop’s sadness is not related to the enormity of his episcopal responsibilities or being weighed down by the challenges that come with being an intellectually robust cleric and socio-political activist. Kukah is angry that every new Nigerian leader disregards past agreements on how to build a nation. This is why he is embarrassed that President Goodluck Jonathan is embarking on another talk on the future of Nigeria,” thus wrote Vanguard Newspaper, 03 March 2014.
Kukah was a former Secretary to the 2005 ex president Olusegun-Obasanjo-propelled-National Political Reform Conference, whose recommendations and state resources expended on it have been kept in the Siberia of history, unused and forgotten. No wonder the Man of God, unequivocally, lamented belonging to a country where nation-building has been narrowed down to a solo act rather than a collective responsibility of cumulative achievements – each government lives for itself with a new agenda!
“I am quite sad because it is an evidence of a country that lacks the discipline to appreciate that building a nation is not a single man’s job or a job of a generation. To design something requires energy and time. When I participated in 2005, I was quite enthusiastic even though I protested to General Obasanjo that I was not a lawyer and didn’t see the capacity in which I could contribute to the conference. It was for me a wonderful learning opportunity. The fact is that this country lacks a collective sense of memory and it is part of the tragedy we are facing as a country,” the no-nonsense cleric stated, adding that there’s nothing new to talk about that has not been touched in 2005.
Unfortunately, Kukah played key roles in both Justices Oputa’s Truce Commission and the Niki Tobi’s NPRC. Now he expressed regret at Nigeria’s penchant for wasting time and money. Hear him:
“But if you ask anybody now, nobody can tell you where the report is. This is a country where huge resources are budgeted for things of this nature but you cannot find a decent piece of paper where things are documented. It is amazing. It is staggering and frustrating for someone, especially for me that is particularly interested in how we can correct the mistakes of the past.
“The greatest tragedy is that the Secretary to the Government of Nigeria cannot tell you where the report is. The President of Nigeria cannot tell you where the report is. The Head of Service cannot tell you where the report is. The Cabinet Office cannot tell you where the report is. This is why I keep saying that Nigeria is like a pilot flying without a black box.
“You cannot run a nation without a sense of memory. When we did Oputa Panel, one of the things I realised in my own little way as a student of history because I cannot claim to be a historian was that I realised that it is impossible to build a nation by just assembling good people. You cannot build a nation without a sense of history. Even if it is about how other people have done their own correctly.
“The greatest tragedy is that we don’t really know where the dustbins are. It is a measure of small mindedness that passes for leadership in Nigeria. It is sad that each new leader comes with a new set of builders. It is not the way to build a nation. For me, it says a lot about our inclination to define principles of democracy and nation building and our inability to learn from mistakes of the past.
“It shows very clearly that even after 50 years of independence, we have not been able to distinguish between individuals and how institutions are built. The notion in Nigeria is that every President and governor has to come and do something different. Everybody has to come with his own pet project. Given the high mortality rate of leaders, I will say that it is troubling because I have looked at how other nations tried to build their own processes, and I don’t think that there is anywhere in the world where people are doing the kind of things that Nigeria is doing…”
What a bad and sad picture on our canvass of contemporary history. Come to think of it. Both Justices Chukwudifu ‘Socrates’ Oputa of the Babangida’s Truth Commission and amiable Niki Tobi, who chaired the 2005 National Political Reform Conference, are today in the twilight of their lives; holding lazily to the last breathe of existence, physically, and not in a state of mind to counsel us anymore. How many of us still remember them in our prayers? These are good stewards already used and abused by us; now dying without their dreams of an equitable, unified and secured Nigeria becoming a reality in their lifetimes. Very sad indeed! To see cynics die unsung.
To complete this circle of pessimism, an erudite professor of human relationship and political artistry and a three-time Federal Minister, whom I met recently, concluded that the GEJ Confab is ‘a mere contraption:
“It’s nothing but a merry-go-round that may lead to nowhere. I doubt if it won’t become a parallel parliament competing with the National Assembly in power and expenditure. Most times, Confabs have beginnings and no end. The 3 months deadline being given by the government may not materialize. And it could become a new platform for political wannabes and jobbers. In fact, it is a Tower of Babel where people would form circles around circles to defend or uphold circles of causes.”
My good friend Chief Mike Ezekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, a social crusader of repute and a member of the 2005 Tobi’s Conference submitted that: “There should be no-go areas for the Confab to succeed. Nigerians should discuss whether or not they want to stay in Nigeria as presently constituted. And why should the President want consensus or 75% affirmation on all decisions taken.”
Finally, and taken in perspective, the 492 Confabists consisting of wise men and women, bench men, henchmen, contenders and pretenders should at least seek the wisdom of history before naming their parley and churning out recommendations to the Presidency and Nigerians for approval. Lest GEJ’s political rendezvous gets submerged into the abyss of history like the previous ones before it.
The issues at stake are so complex and hydra-headed. How will the Confab handle matters relating to autonomy and resource control demands of the geo-ethnic cum political zones as well as allay the fears of the minorities within the Nigerian entity? Who will tackle corruption without causing conflagration, and will three months ever be enough to trash out the dirty stable of accumulated grievances dating back to over five decades? Time, that ultimate umpire, shall surely tell.
However, one cannot but wish the best of luck to President Goodluck’s 492 Confabists. I do not envy their lots. Where is the legal back-bone for all of this; and to what litmus test would their recommendations be subjected – a Referendum, National Assembly confirmation or Presidential fiat?
Please, let the Confabists not give joy to the doubting cynics? To seal this deal, methinks, we should not shy off negotiation because of fear; neither should we enter into negotiation out of fear. Lest this parley itself becomes a mere contraption from which the nation may never find the desired solutions to her multifarious complications.
So welcome to another page in our chequered history. The chroniclers are not sleeping. Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
*The writer, Alaba Yusuf, is an International Publicist, Strategist and Commentator based in Abuja.