National conference 2014: Caucuses, posturing and friendships

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I returned home a few minutes to midnight on Tuesday. I normally write my column between midnight and five am, Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. I had a pretty crowded day today, attending different meetings: the Kwara State Group; the Northern Delegation and a host of other engagements in between.

The re-commencement of plenary after three weeks of committee work should re-kindle the posturing by different groups around the fault lines that define the Nigerian psyche and space.

From the commencement of the National Conference, I have tried to be as engaged as possible in the process, while enjoying the imperative of an accompanying doppelganger that assists me to look in, like a detached observer, on the process that I am very much a part of! It is that doppelganger that I employ as scribbler of the reflections that I have been doing since the commencement of the National Conference.

The resumption of plenary, after the close quarters battles in the different committees, has given a fresh impetus to re-engagement with shop-worn posturing that seem made for the Nigerian public space. Nigerian elites are so suspicious of themselves, that the nation-building agenda is held ransom to the paralysing fears of what might be happening on the other side of our various fault lines.

There are many issues that we posture about, that ordinarily then get sorted out when we allow dialogue and reason to arbitrate our fears.

The three weeks of committee work enabled me participate at close quarters in a collective endeavour that was not without the drama, the hot air, the angst, the suspicion and assumption and also the brilliant insight, the grudging acceptance of a superior logic, developing respect for each other, commencement of friendly rapport and finally a tremendous team spirit and consensus building.

By the end of the three weeks of work in the Committee on Political Parties and Electoral Matters, we had literally become a genuine Nigerian family! There was not a single committee member who wanted the work to end. The mutual respect we had built was also enveloped in the ability of members to share a joke and when the need arose, to also check excessive overflow of emotions.

Iyorchia Ayu co-chaired the committee with Ken Nnamani; both were former presidents of Nigeria’s Senate and they brought to their role the experience of having presided over the often fractious body that reflects very much the Nigerian condition.

In close quarters, we could engage the humanity of ex-governors like Segun Osoba and Achike Udenwa; there was the effusive radicalism of Nasir Kura, who came from a civil society background; measured against the mature calmness of a Professor Nur Alkali or the seriousness of General Alani Akinrinade (he supplied kolanuts and bitter kola everyday!); and the all-round ability to give of themselves of Prof.

Femi Mimiko, Festus Okoye, Ezinne Okoroafor, Sola Ebiseni and Remi Olatubora. A moment of hearty laughter was generously enjoyed at Sani Zorro’s expense, yet he never failed to excellently defend the media. It was, therefore, a fitting finale that committee members, on Tuesday night, had dinner together as a measure of the mutual respect which flowed out of the serious work that we did together for three weeks.

I have come out of the experience of  committee work reinforced in my belief that Nigerians really want to share the space of citizenship together; but they want a country built on justice and mutual respect for the aspirations of all its components. The elite groups must learn the tolerance to accept that it in the nature of diversity that we cannot always agree with each other.

But even deeply felt disagreements cannot necessarily vitiate the content of the other person’s patriotism. It is a lesson that I believe will underline the posturing that we will have to deal with as we resume plenary again this week.

People will ventilate their angst with venom but in the long run, I do hope we will pull back from entrenched positions to the middle ground of realism that can help to provide the platform for us to begin to build an inclusive society.

Let us see how the next few weeks pan out. Be assured that my beloved doppelganger continues to accompany this reporter.

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