On Monday this week, an innocuous issue threatened the National Conference again threatening to divide us along the notorious fault lines of our country. We were examining the report of the Committee on Energy, chaired by former governor, Rashid Ladoja.
Professor KimseOkoko had introduced an amendment seeking the establishment of a corridor of industries in the Niger Delta, tapping into the petroleum resources in the region. When vote was called the first time, the division between nay and yea was too close to call. So a second vote saw the majority voting against the proposal. Those who lost, mainly from the Niger Delta and the South, became embittered and began to shout in anger.
At that point, BolajiAkinyemi, the deputy chairman of the Conference who presided, called for a debate before seeking a final division on the point. The first speaker was Senator AnieteOkon, who tried to douse suspicions that the industrial corridor was to be located in the Niger Delta; they would serve the whole of Nigeria, he pleaded.
For the first time in a long time, BolajiAkinyemicalled me to make a contribution. I had voted in support of the industrial corridor in the Niger Delta in the first place. And my contribution was that we should endeavor to build consensus for the development of our country; pulling away from the suspicions that underline the way we have often related with ourselves: North-South; Muslim-Christian, etc.
I told the Conference that if we industrialized the Niger Delta, we would be contributing to the industrialization of Nigeria. My sense was that the emergence of such a corridor of industrialization, as proposed by Kimse Okoko, who has a radical socialist background, does not preclude the emergence of similar corridors of industrialization in other parts of our country.
In any case, if we succeeded with that plan, we will take many young people off the streets and away from brigandage, because those who have a steady livelihood and can improve their lives will not likely want to destroy the sources of their livelihood. They will also be learning living and personal lessons in Nigerian patriotism.
And what might stop other Nigerians from becoming part of that development process in the long run? As I thought about the issue deeply, I remembered that it was within the Kaduna textiles industry, which used to be the largest in West Africa, that an individual like Adams Oshiomhole emerged to learn the leadership skills which made him one of the greatest leaders of the Nigerian working class and trade union movement.
He became a national icon of leadership and patriotic resistance against the injustice of the Nigerian political and economic/class systems. He galvanized hundreds of thousands of Nigeria’s working people to resist exploitation and injustice, with working people never bothering about the fact that he was not a Northerner or a Muslim.
It was the leadership skills he developed from a humble beginning in Kaduna, through to the presidency of the Nigeria Labour Congress, that would open up the route for him to become governor of Edo State. After my modest intervention, people rallied and we voted by consensus to adopt the motion.
I felt an inner satisfaction that I took the right, patriotic and progressive decision to speak out and rally my colleagues to vote for the amendment. And it reinforced my position that we must always endeavor to speak for the best interest of our most beautiful country, at the National Conference and beyond.
As I have tried to show in practically every single piece that I have written about the National Conference on this page, Nigerian elite groups have for too long lived in a most unhealthy suspicion of each other and this suspicion has paralyzed the basic ability to rally for the national weal. Yet, there is no other way, other than finding the patriotic fervor to go beyond our suspicions of ourselves to be able to build a country with the tremendous potentials that Nigerian possesses.
The emotions of suspicions about what is being schemed on the other side of the Nigerian divide: religious, ethnic, regional, etc. have often been so unhealthy that issues that can profit everybody in the long run, are often killed on the altars of these emotions. Nigeria matters a lot. We just have to speak out for Nigeria!.