Is the National Conference Report dead? By Azuka Onwuka

One of the best things President Goodluck Jonathan did was to organise the National Conference in 2014, and one of the worst things he did was to delay the process of passing the report into law before the 2015 elections. It was therefore ridiculous to hear the former President and some of his party men asking that Jonathan be re-elected so that he could implement the National Conference.

With the election of President Muhammadu Buhari, it seems the National Conference is dead with all the money and time that it gulped. There are many reasons Buhari will not want to look at the report of the National Conference. First, if Buhari follows up on the report, it would make Jonathan popular, and Nigerian politicians can cut their nose to spite their face in their bid to ensure that they don’t take any action that will give their opponents any iota of goodwill. Second, Buhari has never taken any action or made a comment that portrayed him as a progressive who wants structural changes to the way Nigeria is configured.

Now, let us get something straight: Being a conservative is not a pejorative or an insult. It is just a political leaning. In the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party is in power, while Labour Party is the opposition. In the United States, the Democratic Party, which is progressive, is in power, while the Republican Party, which is conservative, is trying to wrest power from the Democrats. The Conservatives usually like to maintain the status quo while the Progressives like to make radical changes. For example, in the US, the Progressives are pushing for gay rights, pro-choice (freedom to choose if to abort or not depending on the circumstances of the conception), pro-gun control, relaxed immigration laws etc; while the Conservatives are pushing for marriage as a union of man and woman, pro-life (no abortion no matter the circumstances), anti-gun control, tougher immigration laws, etc. Other terms for them are right (Conservative) and left (Progressive).

In this grouping, there are those who are far right or far left, as well as those who are moderate and those who are in the middle.

But in Nigeria of today, the political parties have no ideological leanings irrespective of the names they bear. Each party is just concerned about acquisition of power. Individuals are those that have some form of political leanings, but because of political expediency, they jump from party to party to achieve their political desire of holding political office.

Unlike former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, for example, Buhari has never pushed for the restructuring of the country or for fiscal federalism. His belief has been that once corruption is conquered, the problem of Nigeria will be solved. No doubt, corruption is a terrible cankerworm that has eaten deep into the soul of the nation, but it is obvious that something is watering the ground upon which corruption is wreaking its havoc. So, fighting corruption is like fighting the headache suffered by a malaria patient: the headache will continue to subside and rise while the patient’s situation continues to degenerate.

The convocation of a National Conference has been more of the desire of the South. Most Northerners have seen it as a move that will not benefit them because it is believed that it will advocate a change to the current Nigeria’s structure. And the wrong assumption of most Northern politicians is that a change in the structure of the country will not benefit the North. There is also the unfounded fear that a National Conference will cause the disintegration of Nigeria. Atiku said that much in 2012: “I also want to recall that during the said 1994-95 Constitutional Conference, Dr Alex Ekwueme, GCON, the Second Republic Vice-President of this federation, introduced and canvassed the concept of geopolitical zones. I was among those who opposed it because I thought that Ekwueme, coming from the defunct Republic of Biafra, wanted to break up the country again.

“Now, I realise that I should have supported him because our current federal structure is clearly not working. Ekwueme obviously saw what some of us, with our civil war mindset, could not see at the time. There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre. And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating.”

Fortunately, Atiku eventually looked at the issue of Nigeria’s structure critically and dispassionately and saw that restructuring the nation would benefit the North and Nigeria more than the current asphyxiating system that is promoting retrogression, corruption, poverty, rancour, anger and despair.

Currently, the system that makes states fold their arms and wait for monthly allocations promotes laziness, mediocrity and corruption. States receive money they did not work for and therefore care little about how it is spent because it is free money that will continue to flow in. That has made all forms of production less lucrative and increased the poverty in the land.

The agitations of the Niger Delta militants, MASSOB/Biafra agitators, OPC, Fulani herdsmen vs Plateau/Benue, Boko Haram etc are issues caused by an asphyxiating system.

The sundry decisions taken at the 2014 National Conference proffered solutions to many of these problems. I had assumed that given the divide between the North and the South on many national issues as well as the 75 per cent needed to pass any resolution that it would be difficult to agree on any issue at the National Conference. To my greatest surprise, most of the seemingly intractable decisions were agreed upon beyond the scene and passed smoothly with little or no dissension. It was like a miracle. I never believed that Nigerians from across ethnic, religious, gender and age divides could agree on issues so smoothly.

Therefore, anybody who opposes the implementation of the decisions of the National Conference does not mean well for Nigeria. Anybody who thinks that implementing the decisions of the National Conference will work against his ethnic group or religion or age or gender or profession is not farsighted.

Nigeria’s age-long problems will not disappear once corruption, insurgency or unemployment is eradicated (if it is possible to do so). The problems that have made Nigeria regress over the last 50 years will continue until we get to the root of the problem and destroy it.

It is very important that Buhari and those with similar views understand that. The fight against corruption and insurgency must be intensified as a short-term tactic, but the long-term plan should be to dismantle the faulty foundations that create these monsters.

It will be sad if Buhari pursues the issues he thinks are critical for the next four years or even eight years, only to realise that he has added his name to the list of Nigerian leaders who left the substance and pursued the shadow, and ended up working so hard without achieving much long-lasting result.

Once Nigeria’s foundations are rectified, all parts of the country’s socioeconomic classes will benefit from it and the rancour and anger will abate. Whether North or South, East or West, the implementation of the National Conference will be a blessing.

But will Buhari be nationalistic and bold enough to solve this age-long Nigerian problem and make Nigeria start blossoming? May God give him the insight and courage to do so.

PUNCH