20 February 2005

Nigeria: As the Confab Begins


Lagos — President Olusegun Obasanjo has set the ball rolling on Monday, Feb 14, 2005, when he announced that the National Political Reforms Conference, otherwise known as the National Dialogue will begin on Feb 21.

If there is anything that every one is agreed upon it is that the nation which is in a state of decay needs an urgent fresh lease of life. Several public opinion polls show that the opposition, demagogues, activists, charlatans and all, indeed, a broad spectrum of this troubled country do not quarrel with the need to talk.

Perhaps, this explains why the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO), a veritable regrouping of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which fought the Abacha Dictatorship to a standstill are talking about an alternative conference.

Even the Obasanjo administration which had doggedly resisted the idea of a National Conference, sovereign or not, despite its well known cloak of arrogance had to finally come down from his high horse to accept this diluted conference.

The Obasanjo administration which had to finally bite the dust in the face of spirited public pressure, and PRONACO have agreed that a national dialogue is vital to the nation's long term survival, they only differ on modalities.

PRONACO says that a sovereign conference by a broad based representation of the people and not hand picked government lackeys, is the essence. While, government argues that a no- holds barred conference will allow Fifth Columnists, seccessionists and religious fundamentalists a field day to push through centrifugal agenda.

What is not in doubt is that Nigeria at over 44 is close to a terminally ill patient. Current economic and political profiting of the country locally and international have come close to describing it as a bandit and outlaw nation. All these platitudes about democracy dividends, transparency, accountability and the march of the so-called nascent democracy, have been exposed for what they are, cheap propaganda.

Transparency International (TI) declared for the second year running that we are the second most corruption nation in the world. TI couldn't be bothered by the antics and the sabre rattling of the ICPC and the EFCC in their much touted "anti-corruption war". The European Union (EU) sent a high powered delegation to monitor our 2004 General Elections. They took a deep look at it and dismissed it as the most fraudulent electoral exercise ever witnessed since the invention of the ballot box.

If you think that it was the usual foreign stereotyping of an African country, what of the confirmation that came from our own Court of Appeal? Ruling on the petition of the All Nigeria Peoples Party Presidential (ANPP) candidate, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, the Honourable Justices declared that there was incontrovertible evidence of large scale fraud even in the election of the man calling the confab- President Obasanjo.

The minority Judge described it as a "black Saturday for the nation." Well, if that is the opinion of others about the ruling Peoples Democratic Party's (PDP) management of the nation, what about the opinion of the administration's top officials about their colleagues and their performance?

The President and his two ministers in the Finance ministry recently described most of the Governors, remember PDP has 28 out of the 36, as foreign exchange scammers, and promptly went to sleep over the accusation.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in separate situation reports which they recently submitted to the President, declared that Nigeria is in dire economic straits.

Inflation is galloping at an alarming rate. Unemployment is the highest ever, even the NDDC declared that its team of experts have found out that over 70 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. A livid President Obasanjo took them to task contesting their verdict, calling their expertise to question.

The global economic ombudsman, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) published its Annual Report (2004), listing Nigeria within the 23 most poorest countries in the World. Should it be so for the world's sixth largest exporter of crude oil?

As evidence of the growing discontent by restive youths nationwide, they become ready conscripts for the proliferating ethnic militia which have been in running battles with security agencies. From the Niger-Delta creeks to the mangrove swamps in the South East and the slums of the South West ethnic militias are having a time of their lives.

Isn't it the irony of our time, that society's dregs a High school drop-out and a carpenter have made political mileage out of the mounting societal discontent to become the heroes of the day? The Ateke Toms, the Dokubos, the Gani Adams and their militia forces - NDVF, OPC et al became such a serious threat to law and other that it took a truce with the president to break their resolve.

As part of the emerging trend of showing total disregard to constitutionalism and the rule of law, there is selective application of the law by the Executive, and what the immediate past president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Chief Wole Olanipekun described as a "black market for Jankara rulings" obtainable from Judges at the right fee. Corruption has become so endemic that no sector of the nation is spared. Members of the Nigeria Police are disparaged as the "N20 police" for their penchant of collecting N20 bribe from motorists. Are they so low in self esteem that even at doing such a negative thing, their asking price is so ridiculous?

There is also the issue of the national question. Nigerians are living in mutual suspicion of each other. Ethnic nationalities are crying out aloud at real and imagined marginalisation over the distribution of national resources and power.

Niger-Delta says it wants 50 per cent of oil resource as part of "resource control". Certainly, for them the diction being one's brother's keeper" is a matter for fools. Several years of Military dictatorships had so distorted the Nigerian Federation that it has become a cross between an amoeba and an algae.

Sure, every country has its fair share of problems and Nigeria may not be an exception, a cynic may say. With these catalogue of endless woes it is obvious "recycled old men "who are generally thought to be part of the problem to talk about. PRONACO should drop its opposition and come on board.

But given the general level of cynicism in the country about government's handling of the Reports of previous confabs and commissions of inquiry from the Abacha Confab to the Oputa panel which had been consigned to the dust bin of history, in this one going to fare any better?

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