27 January 2013

Nigeria: Diverse Tunes At Nation-Building Dialogue

Photo: Bunmi Oloruntoba/AllAfrica
Festus Moghae, former president of Botswana, presiding at the Daily Trust dialogue in Abuja.

The Media Trust Limited, publisher of the Daily Trust and the other journals in its stable, held its 10th "Dialogue" on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 at the Congress Hall of the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.

It is pertinent to point out that the Dialogue, which has been running for a decade now, has become a platform for the meeting of minds on germane national and international issues and through it find solutions to the pressing challenges of the day. In a sense, it is the company's way of making sure conversation (dialogue) on the Nigerian polity never flags through provision of an avenue for people to make a clean breast of their views--it does not matter whether they are blinkered, palatable, progressive, retrogressive, socially or politically correct or otherwise or even out and out ill- advised. It is therefore, at once, a veritable national public square and marketplace of ideas, freely canvassed.

This year's gathering was graced by a glittering array of personalities, which included the former President of Botswana Mr Festus Mogae, who, as the chairman of the occasion, adroitly steered the proceedings in a manner not unlike ensuring a clamorous cabinet meeting does not degenerate into a shouting match and a cacophonous free for all. Indeed the towering status of Mr Mogae as one of the few Africa leaders whose tenure as president was adjudged selfless and impeccable, and as a result won him the Mo Ibrahim Africa Leadership prize for good governance, was duly recognised by the Chairman of the Media Trust Limited -Malam Kabiru A. Yusuf while he was introducing him. Other personalities include Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, the Speaker of the House of Representatives who gave the keynote address, the former Chief Justice of the federation, Muhammad Uwais and a number of past and serving governors or their representatives.

The topic for discussion was entitled:-Nation Building: Challenges and Reality, and the distinguished speakers invited to discuss it included Bishop Mathew Kukah, Ms Ann-Kio Briggs, Mr Femi Falana and Dr Sule Bello. The Chairman must have sensed the direction the discussion was to follow, he wisely noted that whatever it was that was holding back Nigeria's development, had its solution here in Nigeria; that the answers to Nigeria's challenges are in the hands of Nigerians. The central issue of Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal's address was the inevitability of conflict in democratic settings like Nigeria's, noting that indeed conflict need not necessarily constitute a debilitating clog for progress. If managed well, he reasoned, it could serve as a spur for rapid transformation.

The discussants repeated the familiar litany of woes that are usually mentioned in gatherings where Nigeria wellbeing is the subject. They include corruption, poor and inept leadership, tribalism, ethnicity and nepotism, and the Niger Delta conundrum etc, indeed any word that connotes lack of movement forward was thrown for effect. But that does not suggest for one moment that the proceedings of the dialogue were drab. Indeed there was no dull moment at all. Ms Ann Kio Briggs set the ball rolling by telling the gathering that she had come to canvass the Niger Delta position which she characterized as the inequality underlying a situation where a place that provides most of Nigeria's resources is the one that benefitted least from it and declared that the situation is not acceptable. She made glib references to confederal form as opposed to federal form of government as a way to run multi-ethnic polity like Nigeria. She said that ethnicity s a bane to the progress of Nigeria and it is exhibited through the support given to a particular government, adding that an ethnic group withholds or extends supports to a particular government depending on whether those at the helms of such a government belongs to one's group. This certainly is a veiled reference to opposition to Goodluck Jonathan's administration from places other than his area.

On his own part, Dr Sule Bello argued that the inability to build virile states in Africa has given rise to the plethora of weak states that abound on the continent; he blamed this on incessant foreign interventions in affairs of African States, impunity by those governing these states and the general lack of virtue on their part. The last two, he argued, have created a climate of lawlessness as leaders see themselves as above the law. He was particularly passionate against leaders who turn themselves into surrogates of their foreign counterparts thereby running their countries according to their dictates and eventually running them aground. To him a sad development is the upsurge of the "ideology of ethno-centrism," where striving to build virile and viable multicultural states is replaced by clamours for structures based on ethnicity and clannishness and noted that Chinua Achebe's latest book - There Was A Country - is an example of such relentless onslaught against the evolution of multi-culturalism as a basis of the state.

Similar note on multi-culturalism was underscored by Mr Femi Falana through his reference to the Latin phrase: A pluribus unum, meaning from many nations, one is formed to depict the US as a conglomeration of many races. A measure of the high level of corruption in Nigeria, according to him, is the fact that no authentic official figure can be given on the amount of oil lifted per day from Nigeria and this has turned Nigeria into the butt of jokes by countries which have newly found oil on how not to use their oil resources. The distinguished lawyer predicted that soon the revolution which everyone has predicted would be actualized unless the leadership begins to address the issue of poverty and deprivation prevalent in the country urgently.

One person that did not buy the revolution peddling at the occasion was Bishop Mathew Kukah who said the same reasons some people are calling for revolution are the same ones upon which the nation derives its strength. According to him the fact that almost all Nigerian leaders came to power virtually unprepared indicates that the manner of leadership recruitment should be examined and improved upon. In other nations those who aspire to high national office justify and show proof why they want power and what they intend to do with it, he stated. The Bishop means it is futile to expect good performance from leaders when preparedness for high office was not stipulated as a qualification.

To sum up, the 10th Media Trust Dialogue measured up to its billing as a forum for the dissection of issues of national importance and in the process served as a platform for the articulation and ventilation of salient range of views, some of which rarely find expression. Through this platform, therefore the cherished tenet of free speech and expression has been reinforced and deepened in such a way to serve Nigeria's democracy.

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