National Conference Or National Conflict? ‘We Have Errors To Correct’, By Bayo Oluwasanmi
Anticipating problems, George Washington opens the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 with a command not just a suggestion: “We have errors to correct.”
Washington as President of the Constitutional Convention told the delegates point blank why they were in the city of Brotherly Love. Like a prism breaking a beam of light into colors, George Washington’s challenge kindled the imagination of the delegates.
In 1787, May 14-September 17, delegates met in Philadelphia to correct the various problems that had arisen from the Articles of Confederation operated by the newly independent nation following independence from Britain.
Originally, 74 delegates were appointed to the convention, 55 actually attended. The make-up of the Philadelphia Convention was a wholesome and pleasant contrast to the rambunctious and decadent Abuja delegates. The Philadelphia Convention could boast of impressive assemblage of delegates: highly educated, profoundly steeped in constitutional theory and law with a flair and bravado that match their keen intellect.
They were men of magnetic oratory with an exceptional and remarkably learned record of debate. Over half were lawyers -34, 31 out of 55 attended a university, 10 judges, 7 state governors, 39 members of congress, 21 soldiers who had fought in the Revolutionary War, 8 who had signed the Declaration of Independence. Eighty-one year old Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania was the oldest and the youngest was 28-year old Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey.
They were towering figures – men of stature who had insatiably studied history and political theory in preparation to finding a lasting solution to the political and economic dilemmas plaguing their country. The historic result of the convention was the crafting of the US Constitution.
The Abuja Conference is mostly dominated by septuagenarians and octogenarians who are arguably disposed to resist change. It is not clear what radical changes they could initiate to rebuild this shattered nation.
Many of them could hardly keep their eyes open. Many are elderly patients with dementia-related psychosis. So far, we have lost three delegates in the advanced age column.
Agreed the National Conference holding in Abuja is not a constitutional convention. However, the constitutional underpinning objective is basically the same. The need for a National Conference was dictated by the flaws of the 1999 Constitution.
The political arrangement as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution is oppressive, unjust, which legally empowered overbearing majority to pass laws detrimental to the rights of individual.
The old political compact is inadequate to foster development, peace, security, right to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. These self-evident inalienable rights of our people are in danger from the corruption of the president, senators, and the reps.
The 1999 Constitution has in many ways jettisoned the democratic ideas and ideals of John Locke and Montesquieu – a government close to the people and where the people keep a close watch over their representatives.
The childishly foolish handling of the wisdom sensitive task by the delegates to the Abuja Conference shows the lessons from the past is painfully transparent: selfishness, partisanship, false nationalism, shortsightedness, lack of will, lack of vision, and lack of patriotism. I’ll like to remind the confab members in Abuja Washington’s words to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, that “we (they) have errors to correct.”
I’m one of the skeptics who see the conference as a devious political ploy and strategy for 2015. Boy, was I right? What we’ve witnessed so far is a political jamboree fighting over misplaced priorities. The National Conference is like a feud between villagers over cattle herding rights. Representatives are consumed by bitter animosity and acrimonious rancor. They insist and persist to drum the old, trite, ethnic bickering that have proved our undoing for 53 years.
Their behavior, action, and speech demonstrate glaringly that they have lost touch with reality due to partisanship, confusion and memory loss. They don’t seem to understand the struggles poor Nigerians go through every day. The deliberations confirm the ever-present tormenting ghost of the Nigerian factor. Representative try to force their agenda on the rest of the conferees. It’s like wheeling a cow into a straitjacket. The scene is obscure and absurd.
At a time when Nigeria is a front-page advertisement of a potential failed state, the first order of business for the members was to feed their greed by demanding government must pay for their drivers, personal assistants, concubines, maids, and what have you after the unjustifiable salary of N4 million per month per delegate.
Nigerian taxpayers’ money is being squandered by the delegates by focusing on pedestrian issues like change of National Anthem, name change for Nigeria, how many wives one can marry, where and when to make love, when and where to seek treatment overseas, and other matters that could best be handled by local government ordinances.
The next priority on their agenda was for the members to slump into uninterrupted slumber. Members that could barely keep their eyes open were busy playing puzzles and games on iPad/iPod/laptop.
No one needs wisdom more than those in positions of authority and responsibility. They are charged with making moral and ethical decisions that would be consistent with the interest of Nigerian people at heart. Their judgment and choices would impact not only their lives, but also the lives of those they represent or attempt to lead.
The all out brawl and brouhaha that characterized their debates and discussions portray many of them as putative grown-ups who bullies their way into a national bee meant for kids. They humiliate themselves by snapping their tiny spirits like dry twigs.
As we watch the theatre of folkloric tales, we find it a funny, dark comedy that is as disturbing as it is hilarious. In my opinion, this is the blandest, large, panicked ensemble in history.
No doubt, we’re experiencing the dearth of heroes and heroines at the conference. Gone are the strong, optimistic, dazzling, dashing, and good old violets of ages past. Now, cannot walk, or run, or fight for what it is best for our people!
It is safe to say that the issues that divide us as a nation are greater than the ones that unite us. Yes, “we (they) have errors to correct” and it is high time the national feud was halted and members refocus their attention to the issues that are tearing the country into shreds.
As the conference winds down, attention and priority must be given to important constitutional problems. I believe the most delicate and dubious question before the conference is the peaceful co-existence of the three major tribes – separate, hostile, and unequal.
Is Nigeria a country or “mere geographical expression”? Is Nigeria headed for disintegration? If so, why? And what could be done to save the union. No doubt, this is a big, contentious, and emotional issue which is also laden with politics. The future of Nigeria as one indivisible entity is beyond ethno-religious politics. Whether we like it or not, soon or late we’ll have to confront the question.
Other nagging issues include resource control/revenue sharing, economic and income inequalities, true federalism versus federal character, bloated federal and state cabinets, bribery and corruption, state police with total dismantling of NPF, infrastructures, healthcare system, power, education, unemployment, job creation, guaranteed pension scheme (not scam) to retirees, safety and security, separation of powers/checks and balances, the judiciary – organization, appointment, and discipline of judges.
The delegates to the Abuja Conference would find the words of George Washington to James Madison instructive. In a letter to Madison, Washington warned delegates to the Philadelphia Convention: “Wisdom and examples are necessary at this time to rescue the political machine from the impending doom.”
Nigeria and Nigerians are dying due to lack of strong leadership. The delegates have the opportunity for once to show leadership based on character, conscience, and conviction. “In matters of fashion,” proclaims Thomas Jefferson, “swim with the current. In matters of conscience, stand like a rock.”
The delegates will do Nigeria proud by heeding Jefferson’s warning. Their job is to ensure that the final product of the conference creates a Nigeria where there is justice and fairness.