National Conference, 2014: The politics of national security

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In the best case scenario,countries rally together in moments of national crisis. They put aside superficial divisions; suspend deep-seated hostilities to create the necessary national accord to defeat a nation-threatening crisis. Many examples abound in history.

The British  allied faced with the danger of the Third Reich; the Soviet Union made the greatest sacrifice in the Second World War, losing about 25million people, rallying in the face of Nazi aggression even Nigeria found common purpose to end the secessionist project of the 1960s. When nations rally in the face of crisis, they collectively work to ward off danger. Nigeria is in crisis today; big time! But politics can hinder the ability to come together. Nigerian politics is characterised  by unhealthy suspicions between its  elite groups; the entrenched rivalries across region and religion; between North and South. Even the mutually destructive anti-state insurgency; kidnappings and killings in our country today, can’t reduce these suspicions; they threaten our ability to rally.

On Monday morning, I sponsored a motion at the National Conference. But it was not straight forward; because as the day’s session opened, and against the backdrop of the early morning bombing in Abuja, Dan Nwanyanwu of the Nigeria Labour Party moved a motion that was seconded by Mike Ozekhome (SAN).

The motion threatened what we had submitted to the Conference Leadership to concentrate minds about the killings in several parts of Northern Nigeria. I had argued prior to sponsoring the motion, that we should use the crisis situation to build bridges to other Nigerians and use it to deepen unity within the National Conference and Nigeria in general.  My position was canvassed because rumour was rife that Northern Delegates planned to boycott sittings for two days, to protest the security situation in the North. Frankly, I thought it was wrong strategy. I reminded the Northern Delegates’ Forum, that when students of the FGC in Yobe state were murdered in cold blood, parents in Southern Nigeria demonstrated against the killings. They were not obliged to do so, but they made  a powerful statement for our collective humanity and helped to bring  us together as Nigerians.


Joint statement against insurgency

I argued further that we should rally other delegates to jointly make a statement of unity against the insurgency in the North; the killings of  innocent, poor  people and the wanton destruction of infrastructure in the most underdeveloped regions of Nigeria.

By winning the buy-in of our colleagues into our concern, we would emphasise the pan-Nigerian nature of the problem; bring ourselves together and help to reduce the mutual suspicions that the Boko Haram insurgency engendered in the country. The narrative for many in Southern Nigeria, was that the insurgency was sponsored by the Northern political elite, against the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. In recent months, there is a shift of grounds; the indiscriminate ferocity of recent killings have made many people to reconsider their perception. And by winning the empathy of all delegates, I strongly argued, that we would have done more for national unity.

But old prejudices and suspicions resemble Pavlov’s dog in the old scientific experiment; they have become conditioned reflexes amongst the Nigerian political elite. By Monday morning, BLUEPRINT newspaper, which is well circulated at the National Conference, led with the story that Northern Delegates had a plan to boycott the conference. That must have conditioned attitudes on the “other” side of the Nigerian political divide. The Nyaya bombing seemed to then lend some incendiary residuals to the charged atmosphere against which plenary held on Monday. The rival motions which ought to have brought us together, just opened a bit more the chasm of suspicion located in the Nigerian political arena. So from trying to use the crises situation to rally ourselves, we ended up becoming even more suspicious of each other and the bitterness that people were barely suppressing like an active volcano released some hot political lava by Tuesday’s meeting, when a choreographed response was let out again, by those who felt the Conference Leadership had shown bias towards my motion, in refusing to record Dan Nwayanwu’s first motion from Monday morning. Even when an emendation was cobbled together by the leadership, a retired military administrator from AkwaIbom, objected to the third item of my motion, which had asked for reconstruction and rehabilitation of crises affected areas of Northern Nigeria! Whatever was applicable to those areas in the North must equally be done in the South.

I have never underrated the depth of the divides in Nigeria. There is incredible suspicion bordering on near-hatred in some circles. Much of these negative feelings built up over the decades as rivalry within the political elite deepened in the desperacy to control power and the accruing  riches. The National Conference accentuates these hostilities; suspicions and mutually reinforcing prejudices. But what is clear to me too, is that there is no way a nation can be successfully constructed where the elites deeply distrust themselves as those in Nigeria. The fact that we could not rally ourselves with the crises situation that threaten all of us, just underscores the danger which Nigeria faces into the future.

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