Human experience indicates that whenever you see an old dog discover a new trick, one should ask good questions. Hence, the national skepticism that has greeted the discovery of national conference religion by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), who had virtually towed the party line of the ultra-conservative PDP that this was not necessary, is understandable.
Indeed since founding, the PDP has devote itself to the mission of legitimizing the illegitimate 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Unitary in Practice) bequeathed to her by a military decree, and virtually no input from Nigerians. PDP’s mantra has been the hollowed concept that a corrupt political class only made possible by such anachronism was representative of the Nigerian people and should embark on the amendment of such fundamentally flawed document. Well, reality is catching up with them – as deaths and strife take hold of the country, and the people are demanding a wholesale replacement of that moribund document with something genuine and negotiated. But the President’s act coming from an old dog, also reeks of political opportunism!
It will appear to keen observers that a President with virtually no out – under attack from the outside as the progressive forces of the All Progressive Congress (APC) get better organized and reenergized and from the inside as his own party tears apart due to his ambition have found a joker. What better time to both distract, and co-opt the enemies?
For one, the New PDP proponents are the staunchest opposition within the PDP to any kind of National Dialogue or Conference, with a perpetual parasitic state of mind when it comes to governance. This faction is likely to be cut to size if the President can obtain abeyance from the left, as four of six regions in Nigeria are unanimously open to the idea of dialogue and redesigning the federation: these regions also happen to be the one that elected the President.
In other words- the President can pull the political wonder trick of pleasing his supporters and destroying his enemies by convening a conference that redesigns Nigeria and fundamentally devolves power from the center for which his ambition is being crucified. Imagine how different 2015 calculations will be, if Nigeria ends up with a mildly strong popularly elected Presidency that oversees external affairs, and is counter balanced by a strong majority party Prime Minister that runs internal affairs. It can be conceivable under such alliance that the current APC and New PDP elements will produce the Prime Minister, and the President will remain just in place to have the last laugh. Go figure.
While some have since dismissed the President’s ploy as one out of President Obasanjo’s play book of distraction and extraction of term elongation, I reserve judgment. While the tactics might be the same, GEJ is no OBJ. The present is also very different from the past, as it will simply be impossible for GEJ to put together enough loyalists to even muscle a term guarantee in a wider forum like a national conference; something he’s not been able to even gain support for within his own party! Rather, I will rather suggest that the President’s proposal was an act of desperation; a man that is not feared, loved nor respected is seeking to outwit the multiple forces emerging against him, and he should not be underestimated.
The opposition, especially the APC has already made its sensible move of opposing. But my sense is that the Tinubu camp knows better, that strategically- it will be impossible to defend non-representation at the conference (albeit grudging or even by proxy) if a fair representation formula is worked out by the working group now developing the framework for the dialogue. Indeed, even if the formula is not fair- it will be political suicide to allow the gerontocrats at Afenifere or Arewa resurrect their political fortune by reasserting themselves during the selection of the representatives of the South West or Northern regions for the conference. Real germane issues may be decided at the conference, and APC will ensure its voice is heard even if it complains and denies it the political legitimacy it requires – officially.
Every hope of the president for political victory will however turn on the work of the current committee. Any attempt to short circuit their work, or to leverage it to pack such conference will be disaster for any victory he can hope to eke out. The conference will also have to be clarified as for its purpose. For what will be the purpose of national dialogue if not to recommend a new peoples’ constitution to replace wholesale the current contraption by way of referendum?
We often hear our Senators and Representatives speak of the current constitution as sacrosanct, and immoveable- but reality starring us in the face and experience in other climes suggest new constitutions can be enacted by popular will and that is what Nigerians want. It just happened in Kenya, it can happen in Nigeria also. We should not wait for a massive genocide to learn the Kenyan lesson.
Fact is, a true national dialogue should be representative and dominated by independently selected delegates from various stakeholders focused on answering the core national questions with no red lines. In the end, its recommendations and proposed constitution should be subject to three levels of vetting for popular will: the National Assembly; where there is a disagreement on specific germane clauses, such should be taken to a referendum that requires a simple majority to revert to the position of the Conference and finally a clean harmonized constitution that is passed by two-thirds of the existing State House of Assemblies. Those worried about red lines will find a common purpose around this structure, as crazy recommendations would have been rinsed by the time these layers are processed.
Nigeria seats at the crossroads of opportunity. Minorities in the country who have long complained about oppression now control the machinery of state (the President is Ijaw, and the Senate President is Tiv) and cannot turn around to complain if the state is not reformed in this period. However, if the results are being gerrymandered by the President’s men for narrow political interests, GEJ may then find a golden opportunity turned to coal: a hot burning one. The cynic in me says the agents of the parasitic PDP that exists only by virtue of eating the national cake, are incapable of implementing a conference we needs to reemphasizes the baking over the eating.
Time will tell; but history shows us that they don’t believe in Nigeria and can’t give Nigeria what they don’t have. What they believe in is deceit, subterfuge and perpetuating themselves in power. They will throw us crumbs, but I hope we resist them. But if they want to talk, let us go to the table: we just don’t have to do what they want. Ultimately, our nation has a path to true greatness founded on a new desire to peacefully coexist as one nation, a strong believe in ourselves and love for country, and a strong leadership to justify the faith of our people in a New Nigeria. Let’s start down that path now!