Sanyaolu boobytrap confab

No Comments » December 28th, 2006 posted by // Categories: Sovereign National Conference (SNC) Project



February 13, 2005

Boobby Traps Of The Confab
By Kunle Sanyaolu

Easily, it was a rigorous exercise for the
Federal Attorney General and justice minister, Chief Akin Olujinmi to defend the
National Political Reforms Conference being organised by the Federal government.
The more Olujinmi sought to justify government actions so far on the conference,
the more he exposed the fact that so many things are wrong with the idea as
conceived by President Obasanjo. To my mind, the problems of the conference are
not matters that should be explained away simplicita. That will amount to
undermining its essence and building a shaky foundation. Yet, if the foundation
is not right, the whole conference will be wrong no matter how much government
embellishes it.

Going by the recent history of this country, I do not agree that we should
dismiss with a wave of the hand, those who are calling for a legal backing for
the conference. Sure, it is a project desired by all Nigerians, President
Obasanjo himself being the last person to concede its necessity. Unfortunately,
the government started on a wrong footing by constituting a pro-establishment
committee headed by Governor Makarfi of Kaduna State, to formulate principles of
the dialogue, as it was then called. That measure looked like an attempt to
sideline, pre-empt or undermine pro-conference parties.

Ideally, these people should have been part of the foundation group of the
conference. If that had been done, some of the hitches staring the conference in
the face would not have surfaced. Government of course is quite entitled to
decide whom it wants to work with. But it would be kidding itself if it pretends
as if the national dialogue was its original dream, meant to be nurtured to
fruition by government. No. The simple fact is that the national dialogue was
foisted on government apparently when it got tired of attempting to debunk
superior logic. Those who have been canvassing for a national conference based
their position strictly on recurring events in the country. The events range
from problems emanating from perceived marginalisation by ethnic groups,
problems of religious conflict and how to secure harmony, issues of ethnic
nationalities, complaints of minorities, matters relating to the Niger Delta,
resource control, power devolution, rotation, and security of lives and property
just to mention a few. Each time a problem crop up in any of these areas, a
divergent of views and opinions usually accompany it. At the end, there is no
solution, but the issue is patched up and packed for explosion at the next
available opportunity. It therefore sounds reasonable that Nigerians should sit
down and try, once and for all, to resolve these conflicts.

Talking about recent national experiences, the Sani Abacha Constitutional
Conference, which has quite a few inputs in the 1999 constitution we are using,
has legal backing. From the word ‘go’, everyone who participated had a clear
view of what he was expected to discuss and what the possible outcome of the
discussions would be. Granted that the late Abacha had his own agenda and was
probably playing for time and opportunity, he at least never gave anyone a
chance to seek a judicial bar to the conference or its final presentation.
Largely, that national conference died with Abacha because the delegates were
thought to be Abacha’s cohorts and the deliberations were not basically designed
to be in the national interest. The few ‘progressives’ who attended the
conference with the hope of making an issue of what they considered real
national questions never had a chance to talk. Some of them were reported to
have walked out of the proceedings in anger. Many of them eventually kept quiet
and became contented with the free money and paraphernalia of office they were

Olujinmi believed that comparison of government’s conference with the Oputa
panel was erroneous. This was a panel that sat for close to three years and
toured every corner of the country, only for someone to go to court and obtain a
declaration that the panel had no legal basis. At the end, government decided in
its wisdom that it could no longer follow up the recommendations made by that
panel. The question now is, if it happened to Oputa panel, why can’t it happen
to the National Political Reforms Conference?

There is nothing on ground to suggest that the proclivity of Nigerians for
litigation, even abuse of court process, has waned in any way. One can say
therefore that a major problem of Obasanjo’s conference is that it is combining
the lack of acceptable representation of the Abacha conference with the absence
of legal basis of the Oputa panel. The result is anybody’s guess, but more
likely a combination of the fates that befell Abacha conference and the Oputa
panel report. So far, the Federal and State governments are not helping matters
in the calibre of people they are nominating for the conference. Brilliant guys,
yes. But mostly establishment people, and without the energy they possessed 20
or 30 years back. Many believe those people cannot stand the rigour of a
national conference scheduled to really discuss Nigeria’s problems.

The chances are high therefore that having been handpicked by government,
they will take briefings from government and defend official rather than
national interest. Like in the Abacha conference, the pro-government delegates
will form the majority of Obasanjo conference. They are therefore in a position
to do deals and reach compromises that may render the country back to square one
long after the conference.

It is true, as Olujinmi observed, that the Constitution allows PRONACO and
other parallel groups to discuss freely their views on national issues. However,
what point is going to be made by such parallel conference other than to lower
the esteem and acceptability of government conference? Despite Olujinmi’s
optimism that no conflict will thereby be engendered, government cannot feel
comfortable with the possibilities. Olujinmi ought to admit that the bottleneck
of PRONACO (Pro National Conference) could also have been avoided had government
genuinely sought to carry along the original proponents of national conference.
Obasanjo’s style of seeking to stamp authority on the national conference by
administrative fiat is not going to be helpful.

Neither will Olujinmi’s caveat that government will not disturb PRONACO as
long as its discussion does not threaten national stability. Such a description
is rather nebulous, and open to many interpretations that may indeed bring to
the fore the inherent conflict between the two conferences.

Opposition to government’s political reform conference is real. A good chunk
of the opposition is even coming from an arm of government, that is the National
Assembly that has so far refused to approve the N931million appropriation being
sought by the President for the conference. If that is the least of Obasanjo’s
problems, what about the legal hurdle being placed along the conference’s path
by 57 or so members of House of Representatives, on the ground that the
conference is illegal and unconstitutional? Yet, these are the people Olujinmi
hoped to present the conference report to, with a view to formulating a new
constitution. To me, the differences appear to be irreconcilable, except of
course some people are simply playing politics of self-enrichment through

Isn’t it sad that for years, the whole nation clamoured for national
conference? Yes, with difference perception, but a conference all the same. And
for years, President Obasanjo opposed it. And then, he capitulated and decided
to support it, only for the foundation to be so haphazardly assembled as to
promote the prevailing confusion. I believe however that it is not late for
government to rearrange its thoughts and possibly go back to the drawing board.
It is not impossible to reach a consensus on whether or not the conference will
be sovereign. That to me, is the most major conflict between government and
PRONACO. It is also not impossible to fuse PRONACO’S conference with that of
government. But the President will need a large heart to accept that he has a
crucial, leading role to douse the current tension. If he doesn’t play his part,
he will have a large portion of the blame for failure of the national
conference. And he will not have an opportunity to organise another conference.

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