National Conference 2014: Headed for the home stretch

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I got caught in the eye of a storm this week at the National Conference. Pure serendipity really! SUNDAY TRUST’s cover was an exclusive report titled: “NATIONAL CONFAB HIDDEN AGENDA EXPOSED”. The report had gleaned from a 102-page document entitled: “The National Conference 2014 Terms of Agreement of the six Geo-Political Zones”.

This innocuous document listed terms of agreement that included items like 50% Derivation for Oil Producing States; the creation of an additional 13 states in the country; Rotational Presidency and Governorship; cessation of Federal Allocation to Local Government Councils. The exclusive report said the authors of the report were enticing delegates with bribe money and new states. I was worried because I didn’t know some “Terms of Agreement of the Six Geo-Political Zones” were in the works.

Of course I am not naïve about developments. Delegates had been meeting since the commencement of the National Conference. Southern delegates, who mainly agitated since the 1990s for a National Conference, had prepared very elaborate platforms to canvass.

They also built a Southern alliance and also made spirited efforts to drive a wedge into Northern solidarity by reaching out to Jerry Gana’s Middle Belt group. A National Conference, in that sequence of agendas, seemed always targeted against Northern Nigeria.

The Conference, too, was overwhelmingly skewed in the South’s favour. The North has therefore been wary of agendas against it with an intrinsic vulnerability, but nevertheless determined to secure its position. I know the depth of feelings on all sides, as I consciously try to reach out to all Nigerian compatriots. My attitude was always that, yes I am Northern, but I represent a Pan-Nigerian organisation, the Nigerian Guild of Editors.

 

I left home early on Monday because we were to discuss the report of my Committee on Political Parties and Electoral Matters. But I was confronted by DAILY TRUST’s lead story: “Confab Secretariat Lobbies Northern Delegates”. The nut and bolt was that Deputy Chairman, Bolaji Akinyemi was “at the forefront of consultation with Northern delegates to convince them to accept a new constitution”.

The story added that: “Akinyemi is acting at the instance of the Presidency whose political operators inside the conference are already working purportedly to actualise its agenda under the platform of Unity Forum convened by Senator Ibrahim Mantu”. The report similarly alleged plan “to empower President Jonathan to come up with a new national constitution”.

I saw a trend from the report in SUNDAY TRUST and the cover in Monday’s DAILY TRUST. I therefore made up my mind to raise a motion of urgent national importance, which I eventually did! I sought for the Deputy Chairman, Professor Akinyemi to defend allegations against him. That opened up a Pandora’s box!

In matters like that emotions overflow and a Masada Complex overtook the hall, with delegates becoming boxed into ethno-regional laagers. As individuals were forced by the circumstance to explain their roles in the document I referredto, it became clearer that meetings had been holding to secure consensus on divisive issues.

That was the reason Bolaji Akinyemi posited for holding meetings with various delegations, including the Northern. It was nevertheless clearer also that subterranean efforts are being made by sections of delegates, to nudge the conference into accepting a constitution, as an outcome of the National Conference with the important adjunct of a referendum to legitimise such a constitution.

But as in any such issue, the devil is in the details. And this is made particularly poignant by the fact that some of the Southern delegates had become giddy with the assumption that they secured a strategic victory, when Conference agreed to the establishment of state police.

These individuals boasted to their friends in the media that their next victory will be a new constitution and therefore needed the support of their media allies! When I moved my motion, I honestly didn’t quite realise the depth of pain it would inflict on those who had sworn that their constitution would be an outcome of the conference.

As we enter the home stretch, to borrow a description from athletics, it is clear that we are locked in the most difficult phase of contestation of the National Conference. From issues of local government excision from the constitution, generous ‘donation’ of an extra state to the South East while others must meet set criteria; the unending demand for resource control and the not-too-hidden agenda for a new constitution, we have arrived at the phase of bitter intrigues when the earlier emotional overflows will seem like child play.

The various delegations will stretch every sinew to be seen to have won victory against adversaries on the other side. This is because inter-elite rivalries in Nigeria are almost the continuation of old tribal warfare by other means. On all sides, the consensus building techniques which elite groups must learn, as the essential ingredient of nation building, has become increasingly the most difficult technique to learn here.

Yet an incremental record of agreed successes that benefits all sections of the country should be the best way to moderate the vicious rivalries amongst our elite groups. A mutually assured destruction can never be the logic to pursue when there are so many contending issues that militate against nation building. But the home stretch is the scene to burn maximum energy, because all athletes, in our case the delegates, can see the tape they want to breast!

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