By Wale Adedayo
I was among those in the forefront of castigating Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he voiced opposition to President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Conference. Tinubu did not mince words in describing the proposed gathering as a Greek gift that’ll bear no useful fruit. But, along with others, I argued otherwise. And forcefully too.
We felt it was the first time a sitting president would on his own without any prompting from known agitators agree that Nigeria’s component units sit at a round table to chart a new course for the polity through a workable constitution. More importantly, Jonathan picked a cerebral former General Secretary of Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, as chairman of the committee to prepare a road map for the conference. That sealed it for us given Afenifere’s long held position that the ethnic nationalities which make up Nigeria must return to the negotiating table as they did before independence to fashion a new constitution for the country.
Okurounmu was not just another Afenifere scribe. He had a pedigree. Apart from serving as a senator on the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD) (1999 – 2003), he carved a niche for himself as a staunch proponent of a Sovereign National Conference. A scholar and a person many of us considered a deep thinker, we had no doubt he’ll not disappoint. We said so in so many words in several places using different platforms to confront those who did not believe in the conference. But we now know better.
With developments arising out of Okurounmu’s work thus far, I want to admit that we missed it. Jonathan sold us a dummy. And Okurounmu disappointed us in his old age. And I wonder what these old men are leaving behind as legacies with the decreasing distance between them and their graves. How will Chief Adekunle Ajasin feel? What’ll be the position of Pa Solanke Onasanya? What kind of words would Senator Abraham Adesanya reserve for Okurounmu, who for whatever it is worth has put a final nail in the coffin of whatever little respect the average Yoruba has for Afenifere?
A National Conference is a veritable admission that the foundation of a polity has given way. It is the shortest route to dismantling that polity without the chaos and casualties of a civil war – and putting the humpty dumpty back again before detractors get to know what is happening. And that can only be done as it was in the beginning before Nigeria got her independence from Britain – our different ethnic nationalities MUST sit and discuss the basis of the Nigerian union.
Any National Conference without the ethnic nationalities as primary participants remain a mere talkshop. It cannot work. It will fail. It is also a wrong position to have a National Conference submit what it arrives at to the National Assembly. A genuine gathering to change the current constitution should have the National Assembly and two-thirds of the state Houses of Assembly giving a go-ahead to the National Conference that whatever it comes up with is final and binding as articles of faith in running our affairs as a nation. That is what we were expecting to happen in this instance, not a return to the same circle of political actors who brought us to this sorry state – a patient cannot treat him/herself.
It appears Tinubu, with his many shortcomings, is better at seeing deeper than most of his critics as I am one of them. There is hardly anything an average Yoruba want than a restructured polity in today’s Nigeria with its flawed federal structure. Of course, genuine South-South patriots – not militants turn merchants – want the same thing. But this Jonathan CONference has turned out a 419 project to get mainstream Yoruba behind his re-election bid. It is now clear the whole charade is political 419. And Tinubu said this earlier. But we did not listen. Instead, we hurled abuses in his direction.
Those of us on this side meant well for ourselves, and our people. But we appear too romantic in our reasoning and arguments. And I don’t think that is bad because we desperately want things to work despite all the visible obstacles. So, any little sign of light proving the end of the tunnel is here, we rush there with joy. But in the case of this Jonathan’s CONference, my sincere apologies to Tinubu. He got it right. We missed it.