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The National Political Reform Conference:

Matters Arising

 

GUARDIAN EDITORIAL

 

 

 

culled from Guardian, July 22, 2005

Last week, the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) formally closed deliberations begun five months ago on a wide range of national questions and issues. The managers of the conference practically rushed to a closure to avert a complete break in communication looming and writ large on that latest attempt at national dialogue. Committees of the conference had reached tentative conclusions on several non-controversial issues but matters arising from the quantum of resource accruable to locations where it is derived and the tenure for Presidents and Governors and the Legislative branch became quite befuddling and easily, creating a logjam and a tinder box in that order.

The paradox of the ending bearing so much resemblance with the very nature of instituting the conference is not to be lost. A lot of speed and steam, which no one would own up as the propellant, were part of the factor. The conference dissolved on a note of ostrich-style naivety and peacock arrogance. Both colourful but, regrettably, diminishing attributes. In this review of the exercise, we look at the very initial spirit and ponder if absolute good faith was employed by the convening authority and if the authority was not compromised by its own interests and sleight of hand in the anticipated outcomes.

It is crucial to recall that the inauguration of the NPRC was in itself full of rhetoric and undefined set goals. First, many close observers are yet to be convinced that the overriding concern for the sudden volte-face by the President to promote the NPRC was exclusively supreme national interest. President Obasanjo's conversion to, and agreement for a national dialogue project nearly in the penultimate year of his second term, was shot through with so much unpredictability. It was not for nothing that it even became the norm for the President of Nigeria to be questioned publicly by visiting dignitaries and ambassadors if he would quit at the end of his second term!

Second, the spectacle of the Presidency sourcing public funds in a secretive manner to fund the conference continues to rankle, and also suggests an agenda too sneaky and desperate that appropriation laws fundamental in a democracy, were flouted to meet a certain, undisclosed end.

Third, this conference had no laws convening it nor did it acquire constituent powers. It was neither a constitution writing committee nor a town hall meeting. It was at best, a gathering of persons handpicked by the President and State Governors with a sprinkling of the great, the good and yesterday's men who would make recommendations for the President to pick and choose which he may contemplate turning into an executive bill to the National Assembly. Most plausibly, those unspoken goals of the promoters haunted the conference beyond what is readily admitted and the multilateral suspicions negated the mood of the constituent groups at the conference. For example, the emergence of an unaccounted-for draft copy of a constitution spoke volumes that were uncomplimentary to the President's men.

Fourth, when it mattered most to salvage the conference, the leaders of thought from the various states and zones were already too far gone in the cocktail of suspicion, myopia, grand-standing and arrogance to mellow towards compromises. Presidential or gubernatorial suasion and fire-fighting did not sound concerned, genuine and persistent to be convincing on the issues that mattered. Whereas it may not have been deployed as a tool to torpedo the NPRC, there is abundant vindication that the doublespeak and double take of the President took its toll on the conference.

Still, the animated reports during the past week speculating that this country is in the throes of imploding as a result of the fixations that stalemated a proper closure of the NPRC are widely exaggerated and unsupported by the facts on the ground. The NPRC is only the latest elite- inspired effort at building national consensus and as in most communities prone to elite suicide, that conference was ill-prepared for the assignment.

The most contentious national question is the approach to adopt, the timetable and limits of fiscal federalism. The South-South demand for an immediate 25 per cent derivation increasing to 50 per cent in five years is more of an opportunity for the fundamental restructuring of the devastating practice of unitary government in a multi-ethnic and economically diverse country. By whatever nomenclature, resource control is imperative for Nigeria. Every other issue is either tangential to its resolution or indeed, is osmotic in relationship. It should be recognised by all and sundry that the situation in the Niger Delta is dire and may not wait for a mischievous response. There is disquiet in the Niger Delta and it has very little to do with politics and posturing but more with the sheer pains of living and survival.

There were hints that delegates to the NPRC would undertake an excursion to the Niger Delta in the course of their deliberations. On reflection, it amounts to a monumental mistake that this educational trip was put off because the stark realities of that environment would have guided both the opponents of increase in derivation and the many delegates who sat on the fence. We predict that delegates to the NPRC eventually would be characterised by their stand on this single issue, their reluctance to fend off ignorance and ethnic instincts to confront the reality of fiscal federalism. Orthodox fiscal federalism holds a challenge, which is applicable to every resource in every nook of this country, and we need not wait until the fullness of time to rue the missing of an excellent opportunity to start Nigeria afresh by rewarding work and value-addition at its source.

So, where do we go from here? This conference has tested the resolve of the communities in Nigeria. It could have been worse than just the name-callings we hear. A conference so fraudulently conceived and mischievously arranged could have not yielded too much good. It merely leads to the preparation for the next consensus-seeking forum. The endorsement of increased armed radicalism in the Delta occasioned by the boycott by South-South delegates is a harbinger of bad times. The threat on national census count would also amount to no good. The Guardian calls on men and women of goodwill especially of the younger generation whose future is, in fact, the debate, whose lives is the substantial agenda, to move away from assuming extreme positions that may be counter-productive in the long run.

Nation building has not ceased to be a relay race. The consultations must continue - to transform the terrain of arrogance in negotiations towards the acceptance of realities of mutual, cooperative co-existence. Nigeria must begin again. Nigerians must continue to engage themselves in debates and alliances that improve understanding of our several issues. Nigeria must come to terms with her destiny as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation. But time is running out.

 

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