By Frisky Larr
There was hardly any reasonable political analyst one year ago, who did not see through the President?s game plan when he suddenly declared his intention to convene a National Conference to have Nigerians dialog on the numerous political and constitutional issues confronting the nation. The announcement came when the heat of the President?s second term ambition drew close to a boiling point. It had long been the nation?s worst-kept secret.
Cronies and surrogates had taken the lead drumming the chorus of a sectional yearning for the return of the President for a second term in office. Indirect threats from the Presidency itself had sought to heighten fears of the return of the ill-fated Niger-Delta militancy if the Delta-born President was not allowed to return. This was followed shortly after, by the infantile threats of a vulgar, make-believe warlord Asari Dokubo, who chose the megaphone to warn Nigerians of hellfire and brimstone if Goodluck Jonathan was not returned for a second term. The catchword at the center of all speculations at the time, was the possible disintegration of the country since the North has predominantly expressed its rejection of another term for the incumbent President. Amid the politics of coercion, inducements and volatile antagonism, the President threw the bombshell ? there was to be a National Conference.
The message that came through was obvious since the debate on a Sovereign National Conference had been looming large above all other items on the political agenda since the days of Olusegun Obasanjo?s Presidency. A sovereign conference was to assume full powers and authority to discuss and shape the future of Nigeria under the protection of the word ?sovereign?. It would have kept it above and beyond all presidential, legislative and judicial control. The President much like his predecessors had always rejected this notion since a sovereign national conference may leave him with no country to preside over, the legislators with no laws no legislate and the judiciary with no cases to adjudicate. On the other hand, a National Conference without the predicate ?sovereign? summoned by the President can be dissolved by the President. The rules governing it can be set by the President and the process stage-managed also by the President. One of the options would then mean a President-engineered definition of the future course of the country. In other words, ?stay or split, the President will hold the four aces?!
At the center of it all remains Goodluck Jonathan?s ambition for another four years in Aso Rock. On the face of it, an inalienable right! After all, every President has a constitutional right to run for re-election provided he has not been previously re-elected as President. As far as the legality (or constitutionality) is concerned, I (as a layman) have no doubt that Goodluck Jonathan has an inalienable right to run for re-election.
Unfortunately however, politics all over the world is not limited to elections and transparency alone. Elections and open deals in politics, I would dare say, make up only a fragment of the game proper. Once elections are done, horse-trading takes center stage in processes that often do not have much to do with the wishes of the voters. While the intensity of this practice differs from country to country, the practice is largely true of all functional democracies. Deals struck in one electoral or legislative period often go a long way to determine occurrences and the course of the next period. Therefore beyond constitution, elections and governance, democracy thrives on a number of unwritten rules called the ?Gentleman?s Agreement?! This is simply true of all lands and climes.
This was demonstrated in Turkey where the present President Abdullah G?l ? then as a no-name politician ? held sway for the present Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan, who had no parliamentary mandate at the time and therefore could not be elected Prime Minister by the parliament. Abdullah G?l held sway as Prime Minister for a few months based on a private (non-constitutional) arrangement between him and Tayip Erdogan. When Erdogan finally got elected into parliament in a by-election, G?l vacated the office of Prime Minister as agreed in a gentleman?s agreement even though he had all the apparatus of state (Police Force and military) to crush any dissenting voice.
This was demonstrated in Russia by Dmitry Medvedev who held sway in the Presidency for Vladimir Putin in a private (non-constitutional) arrangement because Putin could not be fielded for re-election for a third term. Medvedev kept his word against all western political pressure and inducements and did not seek a second term even though he had the means of setting his country on fire and starting a constitutional crisis.
In Nigeria, the story is different. It is no longer in doubt that President Jonathan truly gave his word in a Gentleman?s agreement that he would serve just one term as President. This has been severally confirmed not the least by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who mentored and brought President Jonathan to the limelight. The President made a non-constitutional private pledge.
In a desperate attempt to renege on this pledge however, cronies and surrogates have been fulfilling desperate assignments threatening Sodom and Gomorrah. The failure of all these threats to make an impact on opposing voices, observers assume, led to the threat of convening a national conference with the subtle risk of cancelling the state of Nigeria if the will of the incumbent is not allowed to prevail. So strongly had this notion taken hold in public psyche that the President somewhere down the line, had to retrace his steps and make further clarifications. He declared in clear terms that the corporate existence or any form of divisibility of the nation Nigeria was and remains non-negotiable. Here again, one could not help suspecting another backroom deal for some underhand support of sort from invisible power brokers.
Yet, overt and covert systematic efforts had consistently remained underway to eliminate all obstacles by hook or by crook ? by inducements or by force. The Nigerian Governors? Forum, Rivers State?s House of Assembly, Rotimi Amaechi, Sule Lamido?s sons, etc. readily come to mind. The latest victim Sanusi Lamido Sanusi had to be hastily dealt with before the start of the national conference in a public relations game plan that was easy to see through. With the start of the national conference, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi would cease to capture the headlines and the pain in the ass would have been disposed of once and for all.
In mid-March 2014, the national conference was truly constituted and is due to last for three months barring possible extensions. What has become obvious however is that the vast talking shop of 492 delegates is not only an unnecessary and wasteful drain on the elitist free-for-all finances of the nation, the role of the meeting is simply unknown to the actors themselves.
While some interest groups see in the conference, the opportunity to completely redesign the structure of Nigeria, others see in it, the chance of breaking away and creating new, independent nations in spite of whatever the President may have said ? in their reckoning ? after boozing one shot or two, while others believe they will be drafting a new constitution for Nigeria. Yet, they are all appointed and none elected by any single voter. The conference is neither a constituent assembly nor is it mandated to deliberate on who remains Nigerian or independent of Nigeria.
Nocturnal and backroom meetings in the run-up to the conference have seen the plotting of strategies by interest groups pursuing conflicting agenda with some hoping to hijack the project from Jonathan and derail the deal of indivisibility. The ideological salad of opposing political interests is now clashing with prejudices, preconceived notions and intransigent positions: a perfect recipe for chaos and scientific waste of time with the high volatility of fisticuffs and flying saucers! Voting pattern and determination of majority has been the starting point of disagreements and a northern traditional ruler has already voiced the ominous word of secession loudly and clearly.
Each of the 492 delegates, as widely reported, will be paid a total of Naira 12 million for the three months of the convention. An unconfirmed report has also emerged claiming that the website of the conference is to be designed for Naira 14 million. It has meantime become obvious that the delegates selected by the President are largely political friends with assignments for the President beyond the national conference, re-election included. Marginal political names and politicians with fading fortunes have been resurrected for the Naira 12 million-compensation. Friends of friends, children and spouses of friends, political associates, old men and women of sympathetic political colors have been selected for the Naira 12 million-compensation. Several disgruntled actors that could not be compensated with political offices since 2011 have been reportedly picked for the Naira 12 million-compensation. Many are learned, some are voluble and some have notoriety for activism. All that they have in common is that they will end up happier with Naira 12 million in their pocket and the notion of having being on Jonathan?s side would be a worthwhile deal with their infamous ?share of the national cake?!
It is yet a mystery what the conclusions of this assembly without constitutional or electoral validation will amount to. Yet there are voices within the conference rejecting a referendum on or a legislative endorsement of their conclusions. In the end though, such conclusions will not be different from mere recommendations for presidential approval.
Given the penchant of the present President for dumbness and unintelligent decisions however, we should expect reasonable outcomes from this national conference only at our own perils.
Frisky Larr (M. A.)
Radio/Television Journalist/Communication Scientist
Govt.-accredited Translator/Interpreter of the English language