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Triumph of politics?

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National Assembly

National Assembly

It is truly painful that the report and the recommendations of the national political conference convened by President Goodluck Jonathan, 2013-2014 are gathering dust in the senate chambers. No one seems to remember them, let alone bother about them any more. They sleep in the trash can; a wasted effort in a nation, ironically forever in search of solutions to its many political and social problems.

The conference cost the nation a pretty penny too. Each of the conference members was paid an allowance of N12 million. Not at all bad for four months of sweat to right the wrongs in our country that accumulated from our time as a colonised people parcelled out to the British at the Berlin conference of 1884-86. A nice touch of history there, right?

I knew the conference report and recommendations would come to their present sorry pass. I take no particular pride in saying that I was proved right. No, I am not thinking of setting up shop as a secular prophet. I had predicted that the report, no matter how brilliant it might be, and no matter how much grounds it covered, would be ill-fated and eventually head for the dust bin. It did not take rocket science to make that prediction. The man who convened the conference did not believe in it. I was willing to bet a few cowries that Jonathan did not even intend to read its report. I am willing to bet he did not.

He followed his illustrious leader. President Obasanjo convened a similar conference, national political reform conference, he called it in 2006. Although the conference foundered on the rock of resource control and the increasing suspicion that it was all about amending the constitution to give the president a third term in office, its secretariat produced a report on its recommendations in line with its mandate to suggest how best to reform our national politics. I am sure there were good and sensible recommendations which, if implemented through appropriate constitutional amendments and honest administrative steps, could have made some difference in the way we do our political business. And perhaps Jonathan’s conference would not even have been necessary.

But Obasanjo, having lost the third term agenda on the floor of the senate, treated the report with contempt. He sent it to the senate. The senate ignored it. The upper legislative house was not a party to the conference and what the president intended to achieve with it. It did not feel it had any obligations to study it. So, the report that also cost the nation a pretty penny, gathers dust and its recommendations blow in the wind. Haba.

Jonathan convened the conference because he was advised it would take the sting from the mounting agitation for sovereign national conference, save his presidency and clear the way for his unhindered soar into his second term in Aso Rock in 2015. If he intended the conference to be purely diversionary, then he failed to reckon with the seriousness that the conferees chose to treat it. While the members jaw-jawed, the president and his acolytes had ample time and chance to perfect the mago-mago and the wuru-wuru that would give him incontestable victory in the 2015 polls. And, of course, to put a fine point on it against my better judgment, Col Sambo Dasuki, his national security adviser, would be free to continue to disburse slush funds to those born lucky or had acquired luck or had luck thrust upon them.

I believe the Jonathan conference was the more serious of the two. Since the report itself is not in the public domain, I confess I have not read it. I base my view on it on the calibre of people who willingly sacrificed their time to participate in a conference they must have believed was possibly the last chance to correct the ills of the country without breaking a head or two. No, it had nothing to do with the N12 million, silly.

From what I have picked up so far from some of the conference attendees, it discussed everything under the sun, in the expressive view of one of them. It was not limited by no go areas. The government itself did a sensible thing: it put all past conference reports before the conference. The members thus had the chance to see what was done in the past. They distilled those reports as an important background to their work. Thus its discussions, decisions and recommended were comprehensively enriched in addressing all our pressing political, social and economic problems in a way that similar conference before it did not or could not.

It is painful that its recommended solutions to most of our national problems are gathering dust in the senate. Yet, here we are, searching for more solutions. Not every problem has a solution, surely, but every solution must look for a problem.

The fate of the two reports raises fundamental questions about the way we do business. Obasanjo and Jonathan dumped the reports of the conferences they convened on the senate because they did not have to account for their actions to the people. And because they were at different times, the fathers of the nation, we forfeited the right to interrogate them.

President Buhari has so far, not said a word about the conference report. It worries me. He is not ignorant of its existence. To be fair, the president would not be entirely wrong to distance himself from it. He can argue that he was not a party to what Jonathan intended to achieve with it. No one can fault him there.

But Buhari is in power to effect, I believe, fundamental changes in the way we do our political and social business. Part of the changes he has to bring into governance in the country is something called continuity. Lack of continuity in government is the bane of our progress as a country. When one administration ends its statutory life, its successor does not feel bound by whatever it did or was doing to better the lot of the people. Every president and every governor pursues his own agenda in isolation. We are paying a stiff price for this attitude. Just look around you and you see uncompleted development projects at federal and state levels throughout the country dating back to when General Gowon was calling the shots.

Successive administrations would not complete them because to do so is to give credit to their predecessors. Administrations come and administrations but government remains. Continuity makes government an institution you can depend on. It enables government to link the past with the present as a continuous institutional process. Government does not cease to be with the change of administrative batons. A succeeding administration has an obligation to complete projects initiated by its predecessor to ensure that government is not a disarticulated institution. Discontinuity is a sad comment on our development efforts. Ask government contractors.

The report of the political conference is not about Jonathan. It is about addressing our pressing national problems. Implementing it or parts thereof, is not necessarily an endorsement of the former president’s wisdom or political acumen. Treating this report as trash is the triumph of politics at the expense of our national interests.

Buhari should rise above the politics of the conference and its convener and either subject its most important recommendations to public discourse or look into the executive summary and pick out those recommendations he honestly believes would change the architecture of our national politics and our development paradigm. That would be the triumph of national interests.


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