National Conference 2014: Of sparks, hot air and entrenched positions

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One of my resolves as a delegate to the 2014 National Conference is to keep a running diary of events of each day. I have not been able to do so just yet. But I have observed as keenly as possible as the heat of the battle of the entrenched positions of the various delegations has risen like the thermometer in the two days of meeting this week.

Because of the alphabetical arrangement of seats, I have sitting almost directly behind me, Col. Anthony Nyiam, whose name connotes controversy at various levels of our national life. It is very safe to describe Nyiam as a very emotional man. He responds to arguments with a passionate abandon and I have tried to engage him in discussion about his views of the Nigerian situation.

Of course, his position has been severally canvassed in the media and they reflect the general argument that many elite circles in Southern Nigeria canvass: restructuring the country into regions so that they can not only control their resources, but also “healthily” compete with each other, as they decide how they govern themselves.

It is clear to me that the fundamental contradictions located in the nation’s political economy choices completely escapes Nyiam as it does a lot of those who share that broad perspective. I say that not as critique of the individual, but merely to point out that the posturing that heat the Nigerian polity are located squarely within the inter-elite rivalry that has been fought from ethno-religious and regional trenches since the beginning of Nigeria. It was also clear to me that the demographic reality of Nigeria does not play into the focus of disputation, either within the National Conference or out of it, with the various groups of the nation’s elite.

Passionate debate

That is why the underlining current of the passionate debate which commenced this week has been about the positions of the so-called regions and so fiercely insistent are they going to be canvassed, that one of the elite groups, the Yoruba elite, actually said that any Yoruba person that refuses to support that agenda must not return to Yorubaland! Phew! And before you could spell conference, the outlines of the battles of the next three months are already out in bold relief.

The debate about consensus or whether 75% of delegates voting as the Procedure Rules book said, or the 2/3 of delegates voting as a section of the delegates canvassed on Tuesday this week. Those who did the numbers crunching noticed that there were deliberate imbalances worked into the composition of the delegates to the National Conference from the beginning. Of the 492 delegates, only 191 come from Northern Nigeria; that could not have been an accident!

Those who want the voting pattern changed are mainly the delegates from the South who sensed that the numbers momentum is with them and the Northern delegates will not allow any deviation from what Procedure Rules book said, especially again because President Jonathan canvassed the option of consensus building during the National Conference.

I don’t have any delusions about the depth of distrust between elite groups in Nigeria. That has been one of the greatest problems militating against building a genuinely great country. It has never stopped amazing me that the default position for elite groups in Nigeria, whenever they are locked in rivalry, has always been to question the right of their country to continue to exist: secession and disintegration seem to be some of the most beloved concepts amongst Nigerian elite groups and as we move ever closer to 2015, they seem determined to make that end of Nigeria become a self-fulfilling prophesy. This week at the National Conference, the sparks, heat and entrenched positions are becoming the frighteningly dominant currents of the discourse.

They are portents for the monster on the horizon. Nigeria is dangerously divided; elite groups have built emotions close to hate for the “other” and these emotions becloud judgement and condition the thrust of argument and debate. If we cannot build the consensus to break these emotive logjams, then things will get even worse as we move forward. That is very clear in my mind.

But I am very interested in how these elite forces will play their hands and meet the admonition from President Jonathan that “we must seize the opportunity to cement the cleavages and fault lines that separate us”. From what has happened this week, it appears that those cleavages and fault lines have become dangerously wider between us!.

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