• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

The National Conference and things that bind us

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In the first hours of the current National Conference, a prominent traditional ruler was quoted as saying that if the country breaks up, he and his people would join Cameroon. I had dismissed the report as one of those misquotes, but as I have waited day after day for a refutation that has not come; I can only join the millions of Nigerians who have sighed in disbelief at the unfortunate warning.

No doubt, the statement was made out of frustration as the author may have seen the massive injustice that pervades the land, such that every segment of the country complains of marginalization even including parts of the country where current leaders come from. For those out of government, they are quick to see any deprivation, real or imagined, and even such denial that are actually fortuitous to be deliberate acts of deprivation. Those in government on the other hand are quick to interpret criticisms even when they are overtly constructive, as acts of intolerance that breed from a hangover from the past. And indeed the present waive of terror in the land is easily traceable to this mind set.

Marginalization of persons in Nigeria whether real or imagined does not only occur at tribal, ethnic, creed or regional levels. There is also a class dimension where deprivation, real or imagined, is inflicted on persons due to the imagined size of their purses or the social groups they belong to either by choice or by subjection. The most offending, perhaps, is that which is – rather inadvertently yet it is a clear indication of the cultural psyche – meted out to the physically challenged. This streak of marginalization is demonstrated in our public buildings, monuments and even schools and places of worship where the physical and social architectures make no provisions that are specific to the physically challenged.

Beyond the case of the physically challenged, it is still this same culture of marginalization that explains the seeming lack of care in terms of social welfare for the unemployed and the aged. There is no acceptable explanation for a system that has established a small clique of the super rich with little or no middle class, and a large army of the wretched of the earth. What we now confront is a system that encourages a small group of persons that presides over the affairs of others to live off the land with pay and allowances that easily dwarf any other anywhere in the world, in the face of massive lack.

This entire scenario in the polity keeps breeding disbelief in the system and consequently distrust. Dealing with this distrust is one objective that the National Conference must set itself to accomplish. This is why the only no-go area of the Conference must be motions that may seek to break up the country under any guise, and nothing else. Delegates and indeed all Nigerians who may be participating in the Conference via memoranda must be free to put forward any issues that press them, particularly whatever any group of persons considers central or necessary for that group to have a true sense of belonging within the collective called Nigeria. This must be so for all groups be they tribal, ethnic, class, creed, social or simply pressure groups.

It is central that all Nigerians agree on terms of co-existence and each group in the Confab must understand that coming from a point of view that is selfish can only achieve one thing, namely the further polarization of the country and its groups. And an imagined arrangement where some persons think that they would be better of outside Nigeria is most uninformed as those nuances and shenanigans that they want to escape from within the present Nigeria, will only be carried to whichever new contraption they may want to belong to. The only way to truly solve a problem is to face it squarely not to run away from it.

But then, it is also imperative that all of us in Nigeria learn from the French who have had real turbulence in their political evolution just as Nigeria has had; still having. After the feudal kingdom was toppled in 1789, the French went through several experiments that included military and “trustee” governments. The people went through four republics before they got it right in the fifth republic only in 1958 but which stands till this day.

Today Nigeria operates a third republic. We now gather as the French did in 1958; and although the French plebiscite was basically toward a new constitution, the parallel we must draw from the French experience is that the people respected the decisions they took via a referendum. For us in Nigeria, it is only when we streamline the recommendations of the National Conference in such a way that we can have a yes or no referendum vote and abide by it, that we can hope to have a lasting solution to our quest for a new and workable Nigeria. Any other thing will only give a new dimension to the present unacceptable scheme of things which prompted the Conference in the first place.

Chuba Keshi