Now that the modalities for the National Conference have been released, it is clear that this dialogue is going to be a citizens driven discourse which to every true progressive must be very reassuring, because as most married couples know, it spells disaster for a nuptial union if you spend time preparing for a wedding rather than a marriage. A wedding is a day’s event. A marriage is a lifetime affair. And what Nigeria had on the 1st of January 1914 was a wedding.
Recently, I became aware of Brian Tracy’s maxim of management which provides that “every minute you spend planning saves ten minutes in execution; this gives you a 1000% Return on Energy”.
Tracy’s nugget of wisdom is more telling of the Nigerian situation when you take into account the fact that Nigeria at independence in 1960 had more potential and a higher Gross Domestic Product than Malaysia, South Korea and the island nation that has come to be known today as Singapore. But because these aforementioned nations spent the decade immediately following 1960 preparing, their execution of their plans has been better than ours was in the same period and today, their GDPs are exponentially better than Nigeria when considered by Per Capita distribution although in the last three years Nigeria has been making steady progress in narrowing the gap.
And so, if Nigeria has to catch up (and we have no choice but to catch up), we have to retrace our steps and address those unhealthy rivalries that have caused us to spend our energies resisting each other rather than assisting each other, because as the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, said in 1981, “it is safer and wiser to cure unhealthy rivalries than to suppress it”.
And truly, what we have been doing in the past is to suppress unhealthy rivalries.
This present National Conference is people driven and highly inclusive. Whereas previous dialogues had the incumbent Head of State or President and his team of military or elected governors nominating delegates, this present conference has delegates to be freely chosen by almost every association in Nigeria cutting across religion, gender, age, profession, vocation, political leaning, blocs of the real sector, employed, unemployed, retired and traditional institutions.
Every strata of the Nigerian society will be involved so that we can address age long questions that have baffled us.
And one of the questions that have baffled most of us is the question of marginalization. Every ethnic nationality, bar none, has complained of being marginalized. The Northern Elders Forum, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Middle Belt Forum, Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndi’Igbo, South-south Peoples Forum, Borno Elders Forum, all of these groups have at one time or the other (and even simultaneously!), cried out that they are being marginalized within the Nigerian nation state.
Every now and then we hear of indigene/settler, military/police, oil company/host community and inter and intra state squabbles.
Our women folk have complained that there are no inbuilt Affirmative Actions that help them cope with male dominance. From time to time we hear complaints from people living with disabilities that they are estranged from the Nigerian nation state. Similar cries have been made by sub sects of larger groups such as the Shiites within Islam and the Pentecostals within Christendom. Fringe groups such as the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, the Agbekoya Farmers Association and other such groupings have equally voiced such concerns.
Therefore, let them all supply delegates, as the National Conference has afforded them, so we can know who has been marginalizing who, why he/she/it/them have been able to marginalize and how such powers of marginalization can be neutralized to the end that we may become one so our enemies are none.
You see, this will afford us opportunity to prepare for the marriage where we had hitherto been prepared only for the wedding.
We have previously been talking at each other, now, let us talk to each other. Let us talk to each other so we can have that authentic ‘We the People’ moment that came out of such dynamic and history defining gatherings such as The Boston Tea Party of 1773 and the Philadelphia Constitution Convention of 1787, which eventually led to such a synergistic document as the Constitution of The United States, that marvellous document that has served as the charter that has guided the marriage of The United States of America serving as a light house that has directed America to land during stormy times and propelled her to being universally acclaimed as God’s own country!
Nations are dynamic not static and they can be birthed by a wedding, such as the wedding of 1914, but they cannot be sustained without a marriage and just as successful marriages today flourish when there is understanding, nations only flourish when they have national agreements freely entered into.
Even when he got the Ten Commandments from God, Moses didn’t ram it down the throats of the ancient Israelites. He first showed it to them and consulted with them by calling for a congress of the people and asking them if they were willing to be bound by the provisions of The Lord’s commands. The Israelites agreed by consensus that they would be guided by the Ten Commandments.
And I must stress the ‘we’ part of We The People, because, going by the modalities released by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, resolutions from the conference will be reached by consensus! This means that there will be synergy and a win-win approach of all for one and one for all.
Without participation, there is simply no buy in and without buying in you will not have stakeholders and when you don’t have stakeholders what you end up with are onlookers who will never ask what they can do for their country but will certainly ask what their country can do for them. This is why over the years, Nigeria has been like a cow that very few are feeding but everyone is milking. But with this National Conference, we the people of Nigeria can change the conversation from ‘who will change Nigeria?’ to ‘how can we change Nigeria?’.
Since the death of the visionary, Steve Jobs, I have been reading his biographies and studying works done on him because I wanted to fathom how one man was able to drive so much global positive change within the space of such a short time.
I came to understand that in taking those decisions that elevated him to become what he became, Jobs stood at the junction between Exploitation and Exploration.
Exploitation meant taking advantage of the things and ideas that had been done before. So, he could figure out how to make better versions of products created by others.
Exploration meant making out time for the contemplative process that led to the creation of new pathways and ideas for new products.
If Jobs chose to exploit, he could make the world a better place, but if he elected to explore he could change the world for the better.
I think in Nigeria we face a similar choice. We have the choice to exploit the wedding of 1914 and carry on as before with only cosmetic changes that help us do what we have always done but to do it better.
Or we can go the route of exploration and chart a new course by that will help us do better things instead of doing old things better. A course that will bring about a paradigm shift where we do not just see oil money to be shared, but we see seed monies to be used to create food belts on our very fertile Middle Belt regions, convert arid lands in the North into oasis with flower beds that can usurp the flower selling industry from The Netherlands and Kenya. To be a net exporter of foods rather than a net importer of foods.
The possibilities are endless and speaking of possibilities, that is exactly what the National Conference can be, should be and will be. A conference of possibilities that will cause us to explore Nigeria instead of just exploiting her.
Today, we have a new ill in Nigeria called terrorism. Terrorism is just the use of terror to force particular changes in a territory. The best antidote to terrorism is to bring about desired changes via consensus instead of terror. Once the National Conference takes off, people will be able to let out the steam in their minds.
As an aside, I want to ask why those who heavily campaigned for government to dialogue with Boko Haram and give them amnesty are now heavily campaigning against the idea of Nigerians dialoguing together? It makes no sense to me and I think this should be food for deep thought.
And so, when those who profit from the status quo and who feel threatened by a National Conference come to muddy the waters (and they will come) with politics and personal agendas, ‘we the people’ have to bear in mind that while they and their children can run away to other nations whose citizenship they hold, we and our children have no other nation than Nigeria. So, are we going to let those with partial commitment to Nigeria scuttle this golden opportunity for the masses who have total commitment to Nigeria? Nay, but let us remember the words from Bob Marley’s Redemption Song
‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds’.
Indeed, none but Nigerians can free Nigeria.
Reno Omokri is the Special Assistant to President Jonathan on New Media.