AS we return to our lives after the intensely lived months of the National Conference, 2014, many thoughts have crossed my mind about those truly crowded days and months of our lives.
With hindsight, the fact that the National Conference was called in the first place represented a significant development for the country and the heated debates; angst and threats hurled at each other by Delegates were as therapeutic and cathartic as they came! I think it slowly dawned on several individuals who came with more myopic agendas that they needed to negotiate consent of others; while the contestation of the terrain of nation building was often a major remover of blinkers from the eyes of the deluded.
Central to the general history of the agitation for a National Conference was that it became a platform purposed to reduce the perceived dominance and privileges of Northern Nigeria in the Nigerian political process.
There was an almost metaphysical element to this perception, because changes in Nigeria since 1999, with power residing almost exclusively in the South, minus the two years of Umaru Yar’adua, do not seem to register with many of the individuals from the South, who saw the National Conference as an opportunity to cut the North to size. And the fact that the National Conference had been DELIBERATELY skewed to disadvantage Northern Nigeria, just emboldened those with these agendas.
So while Southern groups had met severally all over the south; adopted platforms and perfected strategies; the truth was that the North was badly disadvantaged because for most of the years of the agitation for a National Conference, Northern elite groups had either ignored, rejected or opposed the agitation. Two reasons were fundamental to the Northern attitude: the perception that there was a secessionist content to the agitation and the belief that there was always a design to disadvantage the region.
So when President Goodluck Jonathan eventually called the National Conference, it became inevitable that Northern elite groups were now obliged to respond to the adversarial attitudes of many of the groups and individuals nominated from the South to participate in the National Conference.
Almost to till end of the Conference, every morning as we arrived for plenary, we received publications of all hues, each agitating for one idea or other; these were often very provocative ideas; threats and insults. And the fact that various groups held nocturnal meetings to perfect strategy about the main issues central to the National Conference, I often wondered just how suspicious our elite groups are of each other!
One other clear point that could not have been lost to anyone privileged to be part of the horse-trading was the opportunism of Nigeria’s elite groups. While practically everybody agreed that Nigeria’s 36 states, as presently constituted, are unsustainable, the same people ended up voting for the creation of 18 new states. It was clear that these elite groups want their own fiefdoms to cream off and generally, do as they please with!
As I said last week, many individuals interested me, in terms of their influence at the National Conference. Let me talk about two of them today; these are Chief EK Clarke, the leader of the South-South Delegation and Jerry Gana, Nigeria’s most ubiquitous AGIP (Any Government in Power!). EK Clarke had built a myth around himself as being like a kind of political ‘god father’ to President Jonathan. He was not loath to exploiting the myth and many times during the Conference, he held court with men and women, who probably needed his vaunted influence to secure positions.
He was regularly distributing his call card to men and women; and whenever called to speak on an issue (he was a perpetual favourite of Bolaji Akinyemi’s), he would speak as if he was the one Nigerians had elected to power as their president!
In a Conference where there was excessive respect for gerontocracy and ethno-regional groups, individuals like Chief EK Clarke got more than a fair share of the opportunity to put their views across, much to the disadvantage of the social forces and individuals who represent the future of Nigeria. The fixation with the ethnic, the regional and other levels of false consciousness, often made it difficult to raise the layers of false perceptions of each other for many of these reactionary forces.
Professor Jerry Gana must fascinate any serious researcher into longevity of political life, within the political settings of a neocolonial society. Jerry Gana is the ultimate survivor.
His well-known turfs are the exploitation of religious identity and the Middle Belt, to stay relevant within the smoke filled, cloak-and-dagger world of Nigerian politics. He works that combination adroitly to remain the perpetual go to, by all kinds of Nigerian regimes, from the most dictatorial military to the most despotic civilian.
In my wonderment, I had asked in one of my columns in the past, just what Jerry Gana tells his grand children! Does he ever speak about noble ideas or fidelity to ennobling principles? Well, Jerry Gana was made Co-Chairman of the Northern Delegates Forum, as part of an effort by the North (disadvantaged in numbers, deliberately weakened by the mobilization of a Middle Belt constituency) to speak with one voice. Jerry Gana attended a few of our meetings, he chaired the sessions, took part in efforts to build a Northern platform and after a while, he disappeared! He was far more committed to the alliance that his Middle Belt group had forged with Southern Delegates.
He promised Middle Belt elements new states as trade off for support of increased Derivation to the oil producing states as well as their much-vaunted New Constitution. Unfortunately for Jerry Gana, there was a clash of ambitions that almost scuttled one of his favourite projects: the creation of Edu State which was to include the Nupe Speaking parts of Kwara State.
John Dara, his collaborator in the Middle Belt group, has an ambition to become Kwara State governor and was therefore opposed to ceding the Nupe speaking parts of Kwara to Jerry Gana’s Edu state.
When he, John Dara, was assigned to submit the list of areas to include in Edu state, Jerry Gana to his chagrin found that John Dara, ensured that Kwara State was not dismembered! It was true to character that Jerry Gana accepted to be Co-Chairman of the Northern Delegates Forum and yet turned round to walk away, without bothering to wonder just what impression he had left on the younger people who looked up to him and others as leaders.
Just as sure as night follows day, if a new regime comes to power tomorrow, Jerry Gana will be ready and available to serve. His permanent residence is the corridor of Nigerian power! On a final note, we can conclude that many good things came out of the National Conference, 2014. Hopefully, we shall see them implemented!