When will chopping end?

Those who have doubts about unity governments have history to back them. One party gets hurt along the line, and the victim in most cases is the weak partner in the unity arrangement. But the sustaining power of unity governments is always what everyone is there for – chopping. What did Afolabi of the PDP tell Bola Ige of AD when Ige was trying to project the personality of his party in a PDP government? He told Ige that he was invited into government to chop! Neither AD nor APP gained from participation in the government of Obasanjo between 1999 and 2003. So it always has been that when the threat that gave rise to the arrangement for multiparty presence in government is removed, the weaker one is dispensed with; no problems that affect the people’s welfare are solved, and life goes on for the political class.

The language has become familiar and routine – government of national unity in the national interest. But I am not aware if there ever has been a meeting of the minds on what constitutes national interest even when this is in black and white in chapter 2 of the Constitution. But there seems to be something new in the speech read on behalf of President Umaru Yar’Adua by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. It is the definition of that something new and what is needed to address the issues raised that we must look at here to know whether, when seriously analyzed, what is being proposed is not another name for the culture of compromise which always leaves our problems unresolved. Addressing AC, ANPP and PDP delegations to the meeting called by the President, Dr. Jonathan was quoted as saying that a government of national unity was necessary because of the urgent need of politicians (emphasis mine) to unite to solve Nigeria’s problems. Some of these problems were listed as those of the Niger Delta, national security, constitutional amendments and electoral reforms. The failure to achieve meaningful success in resolving the issues to the benefit of those who really matter, and should matter, was boldly placed on the doorstep of governments that have ruled this country in the last 40 years. That would include the one that was there from 1999 to 2007! Yar’Adua seems to be in no doubt about who can bring forth the results that will grow the country. They are “politicians who will commit themselves to the creation of those minimum conditions without which our national aspirations will remain a mirage.”

The good news about the meeting is that this government is interested in effecting changes, but these changes must be in the national interest. And this is where the bad news is. Politicians hardly see national interest outside their vested interests. So how willing can they be in bringing about changes which will definitely adversely affect them? The wrong step being taken by this administration therefore is to think that the solution to our problems lies in all political parties coming together to form a government. It is not government that brings about changes of monumental import. It can be the instrument for effecting such changes. It can even initiate them if the political party constituting the government has the vision to initiate such structures and the number in the legislature to effect the changes. Obasanjo initiated the National Political Reform Conference. This was a structure that could look our problems in the face and proffer solutions to them. Then with the discipline of a political party that has the number to effect changes, a peaceful revolution would have taken place and we would, in government or outside government have patted ourselves on the back and congratulated our political class for selfless service. But the opportunity to make meaningful changes were destroyed by the greed to continue in office.

Today, the PDP is stronger in government than at any other time since 1999, and its soul is the former president who assumed power as chairman of the Board of Trustees during the week. His voice is law in the party because , going by the provisions of the constitution, he is the de facto head of state because everyone is subject to the dictates of the party and the former president can take decisions on behalf of the party. With a vision for a Nigeria with decongested political space, the PDP has the muscle in the National Assembly and at least 26 state assemblies to do anything they like with our Constitution. With these immense powers of the PDP, why would they need any other party to bring about necessary changes? The questions to be asked and answered include what the party’s stand is on structural changes that Nigeria needs to grow? Do they share the need, in seriously addressing the cost of governance, to replace executive governor positions with a House of Assembly where the party with the majority provides the head of government business, as Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Awolowo were; where only the head of government business and the commissioners are full time and all other law-makers are part-time; where local governments are created and funded by the federating units which are not these helpless 36 that go cap-in-hand to Abuja asking for monthly allocations, but strong and viable entities that can generate resources to attend to the needs of the people; and where the national assembly has its 93 powers to make law reduced to less than two dozen exclusive areas that unify the federating units; and where consequently the powers of the president to implement law are reduced?

The reason for cooperation being sought by the Yar’Adua administration should, therefore, be sought outside the speech delivered by the Vice President. Many see it as one of those gimmicks to undermine the processes for settling electoral grievances. Elections are not over until the issues canvassed at election tribunals are resolved. Some say the invitation is premature. Let the cases get resolved and then the elections can be said to be over. Then meetings to form a government of unity can be seen to be in good faith. I am however ready to concede that the Yar’Adua government is really serious with making changes that would grow this country. Can we therefore not set an agenda for ourselves by saying that the massive changes necessary to get this country striding proudly into international reckoning by whatever way described should take effect from May 2011? Those elected now and settled in their offices after all court processes have ended will know they have not much to lose. A brand new order will come into effect in May, 2011. The political parties and other stakeholders in the country should send representatives to a conference of national reconstruction. We will say that by the time we are 100 years old as integrated space in 2014 (taking off from 1914 when the protectorates of southern and northern Nigeria were brought together in a union), the result of our present effort at national integration would have started to bear fruit. As we are now, if we shy away from the important and incisive changes needed to grow us, we will be presenting to 2014 an unworkable and greedy contraption that diverts our national resources into the bottomless pockets of politicians.

So, the meeting being called by President Yar’Adua should, without prejudice to the cases in court, be one Nigerians can accommodate to give them what has eluded them since independence. They have not enjoyed free choices of those who should lead them. They have seen hard-earned money being spent on political actors, especially since we made politics full time for everybody, from the ward councilor to the senator of the national assembly. They have seen bloated structures, especially in the public service, cornering funds that should go into providing welfare and security for the people. They have looked helplessly at loose controls of public treasuries, and the bold and open distribution of funds meant for social services. They have watched in awe as a country with 97,000 communities, with their own ways of life, are controlled from one office in Abuja. Some of them have watched as their resources are taken away for sharing without a thought for how they live. They see people killed in their homes by those who have no business being in possession of firearms; and when they look at our roads and schools and hospitals and jobless boys and girls, they wonder if government is there to inflict pain on those whose mandate they stole.

The speech which the Vice president read at the meeting of political parties did not spell out these problems of growing the country in sorrowful detail. But that is why there must be a stakeholders’ meeting, and the people to go there and address the issues and give us lasting solutions are not the political parties and politicians. The body should work outside government, but it must reflect the vision of the political parties insofar as such vision is a child of national interest. I would go further to suggest that the body should be headed by Dr. Alex Ekwueme not only because he is respected across the political board, but also because of the pivotal role he played during the deliberations that brought about the 1995 Draft Constitution. He is associated with championing the restructure of Nigeria on geo-political lines that have become our unofficial working structures – South-West, South-East, South-South, North-West, North-Central and North-East. A lot of work seemed to have been done during the constitutional conference instituted by the regime of General Abacha; but we hated him so much that we threw away the baby with the bathwater, just as we threw away all the recommendations of the National Political Reform Conference of 2005 because of the third term project. The reforms of General Obasanjo, the Vision 2010 document, the comprehensive proposals of PRONACO which even include a draft constitution, the suggestions made by a committee set up to revisit the 1995 Draft Constitution of General Abacha, the Yoruba agenda document, and many other proposals are there for the Ekwueme Committee to look into. Mallam Sule Hamma, Gen Abacha’s Political Adviser, and Director-General of the ANPP Presidential Campaign Organization can be asked to work with Ekwueme because he must still have the presentations made to the ruling military council of General Abacha when everyone seemed scared that restructuring Nigeria on geo-political lines and thereby reducing the federating units would lead to secession. If the military council could see what his case was and accept to adopt it for Nigeria, then we must not run away from the need to fundamentally address the problems of Nigeria which are structural. If this is the way Yar’Adua’s mind is working to, for once, resolve Nigeria’s growth dilemma, then he should carry his party along and all others will gladly follow. But this does not need the sharing of positions that will be seen as the perpetuation of presence in government for what you can get – chop, chop and chop.

(Published in Vol. 2 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 353 – 358; Lagos, 2008).

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