Era Of Committee And Non-commitment By Abba Mahmood
As every civil servant knows, the best way to kill an issue is to set up a committee. A committee, whether ad-hoc or permanent, whether called a task force, a commission, a panel or any other name, is still a committee. It is meant to douse tension incurred by a matter for the moment, to give government time to wriggle out of a precarious situation, to give those who set it up options, and to give reasons to delay, debate or destroy an idea. This government has perfected the art of setting up committees. Perhaps that is why the government’s main policy thrust is called Transformation Agenda. If what you have is an agenda, then, you are ready for a meeting and it is after the meeting that you take decisions which are going to be implemented! Lallai kam!
Soon after coming into this second term in 2011, without any recourse to debating the pros and cons of that policy, this government increased the price of fuel on January 1, 2012. It was not part of the campaign promise or manifesto of the party. It was just announced with military fiat as if we are not in a democracy. The people came out to the streets to protest. It was then that the vigilant civil society came out with the mind-boggling revelations about the subsidy scam. To douse tension and buy precious time, government set up task forces on the petroleum industry. Reports were submitted to the government but since then it has been like the proverbial planting of the chaff: silence.
When there was clamour for dialogue with insurgents, government set up the Turaki committee which is still working. Following the clamour for a sovereign national conference, government has also set up the Okuronmu committee to look into the possibility. It is the era of committees. With so much uncertainty over the next elections, very soon there will be a committee to look into the possibility of President Jonathan contesting or not.
With regard to the conference, there have always been some ulterior motives for all the immediate previous ones. When Abacha convened the 1995 national conference he was not even sure of how long his transition was going to be. It turned out that he was even thinking of transmuting into a civilian president. The constitutional conference delegates became the recruiting ground for the subsequent ministers that were appointed as well as other key government functionaries. The ultimate aim of that conference was for Abacha to succeed Abacha. Nature took its course…
Virtually all the delegates that participated in the Abacha conference found their ways into the Obasanjo 2005 political conference. They debated and deliberated and agreed on 185 issues out of the 187 issues raised. The two that remained contentious were tenure elongation and the increase in the derivation percentage from 13 per cent upwards requested by the Niger Delta delegates which was opposed by the rest of the country. It turned out that the ultimate aim of the 2005 conference was for Obasanjo to continue as president as written by Condoleezza Rice in her memoirs. The natural course dictated otherwise….
Yours sincerely travelled somewhere and saw some youngsters wearing T-shirts which had the inscription, “No Risk, No Commitment”. And I kept wondering: what will life be if one cannot take risk and one cannot give commitment? Life is a huge gamble and those who can take risk usually end up as historical figures. Whether verbal or written, a commitment is a commitment and not adhering to a commitment, non-commitment, is the surest way to losing integrity.
In the build-up to the second term bid of President Obasanjo, a meeting of the expanded caucus of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) was held here in Abuja. It was agreed that zoning and rotation of the presidency should be upheld and Obasanjo should be given a second term so that he would hand over to the northern states for two terms too. One of the signatories to the attendance list in that meeting was then deputy governor Goodluck Jonathan who represented Bayelsa State.
That zoning arrangement was jettisoned in 2011. The zoning principle is enshrined in the PDP constitution. It has become a national convention by which every section is feeling a sense of belonging. It got inspiration from the Federal Character Principle of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Today, the PDP is in crisis and has been factionalised, a direct consequence of the flouting of the party’s constitution and non-commitment to adhere to agreements.
President Jonathan has sworn to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He took the Oath of Office. He also took the Oath of Allegiance to be faithful to the federal republic. He has just set up a national conference which is directly opposed to what he swore to uphold. The conference has no basis in the constitution; the president has no power to enact any law; the proposed delegates have no known constituency in law; and I do not see how government-appointed delegates will satisfy those who want the conference to be sovereign and thus remove the government that appointed them in the first place.
General Gowon did not sign any agreement with anyone on the number of years he would serve as head of state. He gave a solemn commitment in a speech after the civil war that he would hand over power on October 1, 1976. In 1974, he reneged on that commitment by saying that 1976 was “no longer realistic”. He lost legitimacy and lost the support of even the armed forces he was heading. That was the main mistake of Gowon.
General Obasanjo did not promise to hand over to civilians but adhered to the programmes of his assassinated predecessor Gen. Murtala. As gentlemen, the Nigeria armed forces headed by Obasanjo organised a most transparent transition to civil rule and handed over to civilians on October 1, 1979. That was the main selling point of Obasanjo: that he was able to adhere to a commitment.
Buhari overthrew the civilians. One of the main shortcomings of his regime was that there was no programme for transition to civil rule. Babangida’s regime undertook a far-reaching reform in both political and economic spheres of the nation’s life. One of the main shortcomings of IBB was the endless transition programme that culminated in the June 12, 1993, debacle during which a free and fair election was annulled. All his fine legacies were vitiated by that singular act of non-commitment to organising a tidy transition to civil rule programme.
Obasanjo did a lot of wonderful things for Nigeria when he came back as elected president from 1999 to 2007. The foreign debts were paid; a robust anti-corruption drive was embarked upon; Nigeria became once again a respected voice around the world; and there were a lot of socio-economic programmes that have impacted positively on the lives of citizens. But these achievements were almost marred by the third term attempt. Obasanjo wanted to renege on a commitment.
Even recently in New York, President Jonathan made it clear that the constitution recognises only a maximum of eight years’ tenure for president and governors. And it is very clear that if he contests and wins again in 2015 he would go beyond these eight years. Those who are saying he must contest should also convince us why he deserves any more time when he is still setting up committees and identifying an agenda instead of taking actions to solve the problems bedevilling the country. We are tired of meetings and literature reviews. It is time for action. History is on the side of the oppressed.
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