“National Conference: Making Nigeria Work.” By Asiwaju Bola Tinubu
REMARKS BY HIS EXCELLENCY, THE ASIWAJU OF LAGOS, SENATOR BOLA AHMED TINUBU, AT THE 8TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE PASSING OF THE LATE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, DR. BEKOLARI RANSOME-KUTI.
FEBRUARY 10TH, 2014
The man we celebrate today, Dr. BEKOLARI RANSOME-KUTI remains an ICON undiminished in death and unrivalled in courage and tenacity. He is the sad reminder though of how Nigeria wastes some of her best and brightest. He died fighting for us all. For a Nigeria that works. For a democracy that guarantees freedom, justice and fairness and for a government that is responsible and accountable.
That he died in the midst of the battle to liberate our country was a big loss. We, however, have a lot to learn from his life and times. We have a lot to work within the principles he espoused. He was a decent man. A core professional, who sacrificed his professional career in the struggle to liberate his people.
The things he fought for, the kind of country he wanted and the cause to which he dedicated his life gives us an idea of what needs to be fixed for this country to excel. Nigeria is assailed on many sides by an inept leadership, corruption and funds mis-management and collapse of public infrastructure. The climbing unemployment level speaks to the disarticulated economy we operate as a country. Lack of economic freedom has made Nigerians vulnerable to all sorts of government pranks. Nigeria can no longer continue on this sorry and uncertain path. There must be a change in governance and general orientation.
Let me return to the issue of the national conference and the attempt to hoodwink Nigerians that the “Jonathan Conference” is what will be the panacea to our problems.
On the issue of National Conference, I have been consistent. I have always maintained that the call for the convocation of a national conference to give to Nigeria and Nigerians a people’s constitution is justified. It is not only the process of the enactment of the 1999 Constitution that is faulty and undemocratic, the contents of the constitution are also inimical to the operation of democratic governance and the realization of the aspirations of the federating units and the peoples of Nigeria
A Sovereign Conference is an idea Beko during his lifetime championed. Several others and myself through PRONACO and similar platforms have actively promoted, supported and advocated the same idea of a Sovereign Conference. To insinuate that I, of all people, will be opposed to the convocation of a national conference that meets the prescription we have advocated is mischievous and totally untrue. The Jonathan Conference is not what we have continuously agitated for.
My opposition to the Jonathan Conference is anchored on principle. In October 2013, after a deep review of the Jonathan Conference proposal, I told Nigerians that the conference is not what Nigerians had advocated for. I warned that booby traps lay ahead. Though I remain an unrepentant supporter of a genuinely Sovereign National Conference, I am suspicious of this present concoction because it is half-baked and fully deceptive. Government’s sincerity is questionable, the timing is also suspect. Now that this government is sinking in a pool of political and economic hot water of its own making, it seizes hold of the national conference idea as if it were a life jacket.
Today, there are enough contradictions and confusion to sink the conference even before it starts. Yet, the government forges on. In that same October 2013 write up, which I made public, I articulated my position on the national conference being organized by the Jonathan government. The issues I raised remain. The fears I mentioned abide and the demands I made on the Jonathan government to treat some long standing issues before rushing us into another jamboree are fundamental to moving this country forward. For the benefit of this important occasion and audience here today, let me repeat some of what I said.
This government has not the honesty, foresight, tolerance and objectivity to hold a National Conference of any type. This government is so partisan and parochial; it can’t even hold its own party together, how dare it even think it can organize a national conference that lives up to its name by being truly representative of all the nation’s constituent parts. At most, all they can conduct is a conference comprised of one section of their party and those shell, artificial civil society groups that purport to reflect the public’s mind yet do nothing but spew government propaganda and get paid good naira for their service. This government cannot hold a National Conference anymore than a comatose man can stand and hold up a candle that the rest of us might see our way to a better Nigeria.
Before embarking on new public relations ploys to whitewash its tarnished record, the government should treat some long outstanding issues and matters. This government cannot give what it does not have.
If the conference must be held now, we must return to the spade work already done by the Obasanjo government in the aspect of constitutional review. Let the Jonathan government bring it out, remove the third term toxic component and set up a technical review committee to examine the 118 recommendations therein. We must continue from where we disagreed. Nation building is a progressive work and to totally jettison the considerable spade work already done is to set back the hands of the clock. Time is not on our side.
Secondly, this government should implement the Uwais recommendations on electoral reforms. That report was the work of imminent Nigerians and it was done after widespread consultations to constituencies far and wide. We all know that our electoral system is broken and unfair. If the President has done nothing to fully implement this corrective report that would fix a system so blatantly broken, why would he implement recommendations of national conference if those recommendations do not suit his narrow purposes? The government should first implement this important work in order to demonstrate to Nigerians that it can hold and honour the outcome of a National dialogue.
This government should do so to show that it has nothing to hide and is willing to engage in the upcoming electoral contest on a level playing field.
This government must first show good faith for Nigerians to believe them. President Jonathan is not the man to give Nigerians a true National Conference. He can only give us a “Jonathan conference” as bitter icing on the sour cake his government has become. This government lacks the presence of mind and the decency to implement a national conference.
This administration has not achieved any tangible transformation because it has no concrete goals. Now it tilts and staggers under the weight of insecurity. Claims of transformation and of building an economy that is robust and institutions of democracy, by the President shows someone who believes fiction is more important than fact and imagination is more genuine than reality.
Both in timing and in style, previous administrations adopted the same tricks of National Conference as a framework to structure their agenda to which people presented memoranda and attended plenaries before realising it was a trick.
This government’s offer of a National Conference is a wingless bird. It will not fly. The report and recommendations of the Senator Okunronmu advisory committee is now the subject of raging controversy because it failed to the aspirations of Nigerians. Rather than bring clarity, it has brought confusion. The structure and mechanism of the process in that report confirms my assertion that we are on a journey with no destination save the wall of futility.
Yes, we need to talk. However, we need a national conference that is truly sovereign and not one dictated by the reactionary and regressive elements of the ruling party. This is not the way to clear Nigeria from danger. This is a selfish ploy that will place the nation deeper in darkness and indirection.
Nigeria is adrift and unless we start a discourse aimed at updating and improving our political economy and its structures, we might wake up one day from a night devoid of dreams because we have turned into a nation devoid of hope.
However, an imposed national conference by individuals, who have shown total disdain for anything nationalistic, that do not unduly benefit them, and who have demonstrated lack of respect for the opinions of others because they are in “Power”, will have little success. It will be an empty and expensive futility with no true dividends for a people wanting their leaders to show them a way out of the pit and not a way deeper into it.
So, how can we make Nigeria work? First, government must devise a system by which it can deal with the issues that readily confront the Nigerian State and also the constituting ethnic nationalities. This is fundamental. Equally, there can be no short cuts if Nigeria is to be liberated from its present quagmire. Here is a prescription:
1. Overhaul Government-get competent and knowledgeable in key positions to conceive and execute dynamic policies
2. Diversify the economy, revitalize agriculture to create jobs and create wealth
3. Combat corruption by plugging loopholes and government wastages
4. Provide adequate energy to power homes, industries and businesses
5. Subscribe to the rule of law and ensure there is justice for all and not just a few
6. Fiscal/true federalism must be practiced in all ramifications.
These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, but Nigeria must first confront the known demons that have held it back.
Today as we pay glowing tributes to an extra–ordinary activist, a patriot of great repute and detribalized Nigerian, I call upon us all to honour him by fighting for the ideas he promoted and defending the principles he sought to promote: a truly democratic society.
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu
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