The president has betrayed the trust of a sizeable number of his supporters and electors; who gave him their support on the assumption that his second term will witness a muscular and decisive leadership, without the distraction of another election. The convocation of a National Dialogue is a betrayal of gargantuan proportion that betrays either a cynical perspective of the Nigerian Project or an admission of failure in the quest to reform the Nigerian State or both. To clarify my position and forewarn my readers, I make the following disclaimers. I am an Obasanjo sympathizer.
I believe in the zeal, energy and fearlessness that the President has exhibited in the discharge of his duties. I also believe in his personal integrity and desire to be the purveyor of the modern Nigerian State that is anchored on transparency and rule of law. I also believe that the President has made some necessary concessions to interest groups and power blocks in deference to the first principle of life, self preservation. Until he needlessly brought the issue of morality into the national lexicon, the President has basically been a good politician, fighting different battles with the entire arsenal at his disposal and empowering the Presidency in the face of rudderless, unprincipled and corrupt opposition, both in the PDP and other Parties.
In the United States the Bush Presidency has gone to the extent of leaking the spy status of an opponent’s wife in the bid to blunt his edge. That is power for you; it is not Sunday school and has very little moral contents rounds the world. Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathiar, the preferred model of leaders of the Nigerian intellectual class, are better known for their Machiavellian tactics and disdain for opposition in the West than the transformation they brought to their countries.
However, power ought to be used to increase the economic, social and spiritual life of a people despite its unholy origins. Unfortunately the “People” especially in Nigeria have not been mobilized or raised to the level of consciousness where they can defend the sanctity of a government in power. This leaves a government with no option but to continually make concessions to interest groups and the power elites to remain in power. This I believe was the conundrum of the President in the First term; how to remove the government subsidy on the elites and still win a second term. After a few populist acts that gave him high ratings in the first quarter of his first term he ran into turbulent waters which manifested in the attempted impeachment, accusation of reneging on an agreement and ethnic wars on different fronts, he soft-pedaled for second term sake.
During the last independence anniversary, Chief Ojo Maduekwe in his independence Lecture called for regional government and more or less lent his support to the call for a variant of the National conference that does not possess sovereignty. In the lecture he graphically painted a depressing picture of the challenges plaguing the Nigerian State and the drift to anarchy. He posited that unless urgent steps are taken to rebuild the capacity of the Nigerian State our regression to a failed state status will be a foregone conclusion. After a very brilliant analysis of the problem, Chief Maduekwe, as I pointed out to him in a private discussion, went on to offer some crucial reforms that are imperative for state building, however he veered off the road when he speculated on the need for regional governments. That kite flying recommendation obviously fuelled the comatose appetite of the conference advocates and maybe provided the intellectual trigger for the President’s current adventure.
The President in an obvious search for a new national consensus has fallen prey to a band of idealists whose faith in electoral processes is non existent; their quest for constitutional reforms ejaculatory and their connection to the Nigerian people specious. These tribes of conference advocates are patriotic citizens, mostly above 60 years of age and still living in nostalgia of the 1960s post independence Nigeria. They view elections with disdain and stand with utter contempt of the process that elected President Obasanjo. They want to have access to the Nigerian State governance structure by appointment. They have no capacity for the coalition building that is necessary for State building and national consensus. They have been at it since 1953, where the caused an upheaval at a constitutional conference in Kano; in 1962 they plotted to overthrow a legitimate government when they couldn’t win the federal elections and in 1966 joined a Military government with the understanding that Power will be handed over to them in 1976. These are the progressives that have metamorphosed from independence nationalists to ethnic champions.
There is also a category of latter-day conference converts who subverted the legitimate governments in Nigeria either through Military coups or rigging. In both situations we hold them equally liable of treason. Now they want a dialogue to solve Nigeria’s problems. All the constitutions in Nigeria has been clear on the way and manner of changing governments yet it has been kept in the breach by the tribe of those who now want to fashion a fool proof constitution for Nigeria. They have in their various sojourns in power consistently proved that the Nigerian problem is not constitutional. The looting of Nigeria by this category of conference converts was obviously not allowed by the constitutions under which they served.
Why is the President succumbing to these high decibel voices of national discontent? Why is he allowing himself to be stampeded into finding a forum for retired and tired Nigerians to congregate in Abuja as a new team of contract seekers and rented voices of nebulous national interest? The nation is already groaning under the weight of a tribe of legislators who we have now confirmed are extorting money from Ministers and Chief Executives of Parastatals and scavenging for contracts all over the City. Why add another group of national officers, as they will pretend to be, with name cards boldly affixed with the coat of arms, Personal Assistants and tinted vehicles. MTN is already spending so much in their State capture project by bribing national assembly members with recharge vouchers at consumer’s expense, why add another 400 people to the list? With the modal age of conference delegates around 60 years I know this will be a good opportunity for many to seek medical attention on government expense at National Hospital and foreign clinics.
President Obasanjo and the elected legislators as the current inheritors of our sovereignty have done a great disservice to the State building project by this embarrassing assemblage of geriatric elders to a debating platform that has the potentials of wasting the remaining time of this administration. The issues they want to debate have been articulated by the Mantu committee and will not be different from the Vision 2010 document. How will anybody imagine that this assembly in Abuja is representative of the current power and popular configuration in Nigerian politics? They represent no one but themselves. The vast majority of Nigerians has expressed their will through the elected officers of this dispensation and as such expects them to provide them with the benefits of good governance.
Some will speedily say that the elections were a sham and rigged. I agree, but it is not a constitutional problem. Others will say that the administration is not delivering public goods to the people. Again I agree but it could be due to incompetence, poor civic participation but not a constitutional problem. Others will yet say that the ethnic tension in Nigeria is capable of derailing the republic. That may be true but rather than a constitutional conference it requires greater devolution of Power which, the President and the national assembly can effect, with or without a constitutional amendment. What then is to be done in the midst of the deafening advocacy of constitutional conference proponents?
The problem with Nigeria today is very basic and clearly discernible; lack of integrity of systems and impatience with institution building. President Obasanjo today only equals the former military dictator, General Babangida in the strength and powers of his Presidency. His party has 28 Governors and controls the 28 State House of Assemblies. He is the bona fide leader of the People’s Democratic Party having successfully caused the election of three Party chairmen and forced the last Chairman to resign; a proper dynamic of Presidential system of government, the president is the leader of the party. The National Assembly is dominated by the President’s Party and bears his imprimatur. Like General Babangida, who at one time dissolved his Armed Forces Ruling Council and traveled abroad, President Obasanjo is the most powerful man in Nigeria today. From his early tentative days in the first term we have seen an increased and increasing amassing of powers formal and informal that it will be a waste if this Power is not used to effectively increase the social capital stock of the federal government. How is this to be done?
I had thought that instead of spending about a Billion naira for a nebulous debate the government should have used the money to fund a national program of street naming, numbering and digital mapping to be able to locate Nigerians and make the national identity card a true form of identification. Why is this essential? It is a critical component of state capacity that a state must be able to identify its citizens and provide a basis for transactions to take place between people across the length and breadth of Nigeria while relying on the integrity of the State to locate and identify the citizen. This singular act will increase the state scope and capacity of the Nigerian State and make it a true administrator of our national identity and consciousness.
The President should administratively devolve Powers to the State and local governments. Why do we need federal Ministry of works building and maintaining roads nationwide? I believe we need a federal Highway Administration charged with Building new interstate highways and detailing the maintenance process and schedule for State Ministry of Works to implement. State governments will collect tolls on the roads remit some to federal government to fund new highways and use the remaining to maintain their own portions of the federal highways. The Federal highways should determine the technical staffing level, technology type, contract awarding guidelines and monitoring of the state Ministry’s adherence to rules. This will free the federal government from this incredulous role of maintaining roads in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, an impossible task that reduce the social capital of the federal government in the eyes of its citizens. This does not need a constitutional conference or amendment and if it does the President can make it happen with the awesome powers at his disposal.