NEXT Monday, the National Conference will be inaugurated in Abuja. From that date, at least 490 Nigerians (looks like the opposition APC is determined to push a boycott of the process) will begin what will certainly be one of the most controversial gatherings in recent Nigerian history.
Not many ideas have divided Nigeria, stoking conflicting passions as much as the call for such a conference since the days of military dictatorship. I have written about the idea severally in the past, vehemently opposing the effort by sections of the community to impose on us, an ethnic based conference (some even demanded a conclave of “tribes” in a Twenty-First Century world, with its demands, challenges and opportunities.
I have always argued that Nigeria is not a sum total of ethnicities or “tribes”; and that we have a multiplicity of identities, which have kept shifting.
Nevertheless, there are influential elite circles who have remained fixated in the swampy time warp of “ethnicities”, as preferred category of appreciation of Nigeria’s challenges in the contemporary world. That is a platform which we have vigorously challenged and mercilessly interrogated over the past couple of years in the public space.
But many of these influential circles have successfully boxed the country into the corner of acceptance of the need to have a conference. It is indicative of the Nigerian condition today, that some of the most gung-ho advocates of a National Conference are Nigerians in their late 70s and 80s, who took a lot from Nigeria in its hey days of service to the Nigerian people.
They are close to the end of their lives, but have remained locked into a ‘tribal warfare’ mode in the types of demands they make on Nigeria, at a time when the overwhelming majority of the Nigerian people today, about seventy-five percent really, are under the age of thirty.
They do not share the excessive obsession with “tribal or ethnic” frames of understanding the fast-paced world they are living through today. On the one hand, their main demands are education, skills and jobs, in a national economy that is touted as rapidly growing and is soon expected to outstrip South Africa, as Africa’s largest economy, but which has stubbornly been unable to create the jobs that its teeming millions of young people need.
On the other hand, there are some of those old people of yesterday, whose obsession is to win the right to secession or even an outright dismemberment of our country, just as they are perched at the edges of their graves and are confronting mortality!
It is these eclectic collection of reactionary and backwards ideas, that have conspired along with several other choices in the political economy; in the inability to create a pan-Nigerian elite consensus for development; and the monumental processes of corrupt, neo-colonial capitalist processes of primitive accumulation, that have stunted Nigeria’s development.
Yet, it is the generation of elite who somehow made good for themselves, within the processes we are discussing, that remained the arrowheads of demand for conference, which they had insisted for a long time, must be a Sovereign National Conference. It has been the platform they had hoped to use to achieve a “restructuring” of Nigeria in tune with concantenations of their minds; but in the long run, a stepping stone to that ultimate ambition of secessionist circles of national dismemberment.
Rejection of ethnicist platform
My personal rejection of the ‘ethnicist’ platform and the category of appreciation of the contradictions of our national life, did not mean that I did not see the usefulness of a platform for Nigerians to have a grand gathering of discourse. No. But I have felt that there are many more social platforms which are more representative of what makes us Nigerians today: class; gender; demography; professional; along with those of ethnicities and religion, which have also been the most manipulated for reactionary purposes! It is the fact that these categories have now been brought into reckoning, which has made me more receptive of the National Conference idea.
Let me illustrate. I am a Muslim and Fullo, but these are only two of my identities. Over the past four decades, I have grown within a professional ambience of learning, training, performance and development, as a journalist and broadcaster, which allowed me to build relationships with colleagues from all over Nigeria, and from around the world. Similarly, I made conscious choices, to be part of a national political project as a cadre of the Nigerian Marxist-Leninist Movement, during some of the most productive years of my growth as a young Nigerian, organising with comrades of various backgrounds, from every corner of Nigeria, and because we had internationalist understanding of the nature of the struggles of the working people, we were also part of an internationalist consciousness.
So it is unacceptable that what will be prioritised for me, is my “ethnicity”, in the Nigerian scheme of things and within the world of the Twenty-First Century. Those are issues that we must still find ways to challenge and the National Conference offers the opportunity to face off with the forces of “ethnic” and “tribal” perspective to the problems of nation building.
The Nigerian Guild of Editors named me one of its two delegates to the conference. It is that type of pan-Nigerian professional platform, which I feel very obliged to. It is a platform of labour and it organises my professional peers, who come from various ethnicities and religious backgrounds. We have been united by our professional dedication as media practitioners, who carry a unique obligation to the Nigerian society.
Section 22 of Nigeria’s Constitution stated clearly, that: “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free…and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people”. That is a very unique obligation and as a delegate to the National Conference, I will be dedicated to the best interest of the Nigerian people, collaborating with patriots of all backgrounds, to make a serious endeavour for change. Our country has always possessed the capacity for change and development; but the class forces of its parasitic elite groups have conspired to hold it down.
We have to create the ambience for freedom to spread its wings like a bird in the struggle for national liberation. Indeed, the locomotive of the National Conference has arrived at the station! The next three months will be super charged in our country. Let’s get it on!