by Olusegun Adeniyi
That our nation is not working is all too clear to everyone but do we need a conference to stop the massive oil theft in the Niger Delta? Will another dialogue put an end to the security challenge that is fast turning the North-eastern part of the country into a war zone?
Last Sunday, President Goodluck Jonathan had his third media chat and for two hours, he fielded questions on sundry national issues. He started by speaking of the pain he felt, the night before, upon being informed of the brutal killings of innocent school children in Yobe State. He spoke candidly about the on-going ASUU strike, while raising critical questions about those who demand university autonomy without accountability. At the end of this interesting engagement, I was impressed by what I consider his best media performance to date. But two days later on October 1, in his independence broadcast, the president chose to travel a familiar road by establishing another of his numerous committees, this time to demonstrate his “avowed belief in the positive power of dialogue in charting the way forward”.
On Tuesday, the 13-member advisory committee was announced, headed by Dr Femi Okurounmu, a chieftain of Afenifere (the Yoruba socio-political organization that has for years been clamouring for a “Sovereign National Conference”). However, before some people get carried away, it is noteworthy that President Jonathan, like all former Nigerian leaders, had always been opposed to this idea. In fact, in the course of his second media chat on 19 November last year, he said the National Assembly remains the best vehicle for any such proposition. Aside arguing that “when a constitution has already been promulgated into law, the constitution itself sets guidelines on how it could be amended”, he said what the lawmakers were doing, “going round the country, both the House of Representatives and the Senate, is the ideal thing to do, no matter the name called.”
While the president reserves the right to change his mind on any issue, there are two pertinent questions begging for answers. One, is the president not worried that this “national dialogue” which will most likely hold in the first or second quarter of next year could dovetail into the 2015 general election process with all its dire implications at a time our fault-lines are already exposed? Two, what has happened to the reports of all the committees the president has established in the last three years? At the last count, there have been no fewer than 70. From the T.Y. Danjuma committee on the size of government to the Ibrahim Bunu Presidential Projects Assessment Committee to the Nuhu Ribadu Petroleum Revenue Special Task Force to the Steve Oronsaye Committee for the restructuring of MDAs to the Kalu Idika Kalu National Refineries Special Task Force and many others, none of the reports has been implemented. There are also legitimate questions about the real motive of this conference as well as the cost, especially at a time the states and local governments are being denied their statutory allocations from the federation account because the books can no longer balance.
I have for almost two decades listened to the arguments of the proponents of the “Sovereign National Conference” which means different things to different people. But one thing is constant: they all believe Nigeria was a better country during the First Republic when there were competing regions that operated more like federating units and for that reason, they argue, we should restructure our country along that line. What they forget, however, is that even if we have those structures now, the political buccaneers that have replaced the Awolowos, Sardaunas and the Azikiwes neither share the same values nor are they as purposeful.
Interestingly, it is clear from the terms of reference that whatever the Okurounmu committee arrives at would still have to be forwarded to the National Assembly as it should. So in effect, this is a throwback to the 2005 National Political Reform Conference established by President Olusegun Obasanjo for motives that turned out to be less than altruistic even though his cold calculations failed.
That our nation is not working is all too clear to everyone but do we need a conference to stop the massive oil theft in the Niger Delta? Will another dialogue put an end to the security challenge that is fast turning the North-eastern part of the country into a war zone? Will talk resolve the crisis of our education in which our universities are perpetually on strike? Will it address the problems of poor governance and impunity at virtually all levels and in all sectors? Is it dialogue that is going to address the challenge of poverty and the fact that we are fast growing a largely unproductive population? Will a conference put an end to the manipulation of census figures, elections etc?
While we will come back to this issue someday, there is a story on the BBC website which I find rather instructive. It is about the rising number of Americans who are renouncing their citizenship because of a new tax law that will take effect from July next year. What I take from the story is that citizenship comes with enormous cost and responsibility; except in Nigeria.
Here, we have many members of the political and business elite whose families are domiciled abroad while they make all the cheap (and tax free) money from the patronage system that we run in our country. Yet we believe the solution to the multifarious problems confronting our nation is another gathering where participants would come to grandstand at the end of which they present a report that would never be implemented. We delude ourselves so much in Nigeria!
The Loyola Jesuit Example
One of my favourite passages in the Bible is James 2: 19 which, according to New King James Version (NKJV) says, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works”. The import of that passage is that people should see the faith we profess not in what we claim but rather in our deeds and that is why, even when I am a Pentecostal Christian, I see more of the demonstration of Agape love from what the Catholics do.
Last Sunday, I was at the Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja for the “Mass of the Holy Spirit” ceremony for the first year students. In the course of the ceremony, the Principal, Father Emmanuel Ugweje, announced that they were building a primary school in Port Harcourt in addition to the secondary school that commences this academic session in memory of the 60 students who lost their lives in the Sololiso plane crash of 10 December 2005.
Now, the new Loyola Jesuit College in Port Harcourt is located in Aluu, the exact village the plane crashed on that ill-fated day in 2005. The proposed primary school is therefore exclusively for pupils from the village; it is going to be tuition-free and those who attend would be given free lunch. The idea is to provide the kind of quality education that would ultimately enable pupils from the community to benefit from the excellence that has become the hallmark of the Loyola Jesuit education at that foundation level; with opportunities for the exceptional ones among them to gain admission into the secondary school and possibly secure scholarship in future.
This is no doubt a very costly venture that is targeted at a poor Niger Delta community where the proprietors are not going to reap any material benefit. Yet you hardly find such generousity of spirit among the Pentecostal churches that are building schools not as social services but rather as prestige projects. We sure have a lot to learn from the Catholics.
Read this article in the ThisDay Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.