THE much-vaunted National Conference was finally inaugurated by President
Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, Monday. I returned home on Saturday from my week’s trip to Dubai, for the registration process commenced on Sunday afternoon.
It was clear to me, that we will go through some very interesting debates and duels in the next ninety days of the Conference.
I have had the privilege in these two days to see some of the old, almost fossilized fighters for various ethno-regional agendas that have overtaken the Nigerian public space in the past couple of decades. This seems their last chance to push passionately canvassed ideas that will most certainly take the dead-on-arrival trip to the mortuary of Nigerian politics.
But old men must not be denied chances in the sun of the National Conference, even when their “tribal warfare” mindsets from the 1940s/1950s, are so far from the realities of 21Century Nigeria and the contemporary world.
I wonder if these old people understand the demographic realities of the country/African continent today. 75% of African population is under the age of 25 but the average age of Africa’s leadership is 65. So there is a very strong disconnect!
The prominent old men at the National Conference often idealise the past; hack back to an idyllic past when “everything worked”, from their standpoint, and as part of their confrontation with mortality, hanker to take us all back to that idyllic past of ethnic and regional bliss, most of which in truth, existed only in their minds.
When I see Chiefs Olu Adebanjo and Olanihun Ajayi, minding their businesses and alone in a corner of the auditorium; or the expansively attired Sarakuna (traditional rulers) from the North and South, heirs to grand old state building processes which colonialism arrested and distorted for new roles and whose positions have become increasingly tenuous, in the post-colonial order of things, I wonder, just what their place will look like, in the new nation Nigerians yearn for.
Today, majority of Nigerians are under the age of 35. They are here alright, but will advocates of “restructuring” along ethnic lines, be open minded enough to accept that their ideas are passé and are not what the young worry about? We will see in the next ninety days how these things will pan out or blow over!
What I feel certain about though, is that there are very entrenched positions that will be canvassed here, because people have lived with crippling prejudices about themselves and the “other” (whether the other religion or the other ethnic group), to dispassionately keep in check some of their anger. The debate about procedural issues dominated our second day of proceedings; it already gave indications of the rumbling approaches of monsters over the next couple of weeks.
People can often be inevitable prisoners of their prejudices; or in a different way of putting it, humans can often be imprisoned in their readings of their historical conditions. And the more intractable problems of the present seem to be, the more the tendency to retreat into ethno-religious laagers. A lot of time, they don’t know better.
When I saw the OPC leader Gani Adam inside the hall, as a member of the Southwest delegation; and I remember how members of the political elite in the South-south actively funded the Niger Delta militants; plus the sweetheart romance between MASSOB lumpens and leading lights of the Southeast elite; it became clearer to me why leading members of the Southern Nigeria elite strongly believe their Northern counterparts had also deliberately created Boko Haram as a weapon of politics. People judge you by what they do, as the saying goes. This National Conference will see the beautiful and the ugly! Stay tuned.