Another face of the complement of challenges facing the search for unity in diversity under the ambience of peaceful coexistence among disparate ethnic groups in Nigeria, played out over a conference on insecurity hosted last week by former military Head of State Abdulsalam Abubakar in Minna. Attendance at the forum expectedly featured representation from the stakeholders in the country’s security network including the armed forces, police and others. However, the effectiveness of the forum was compromised by its boycott by four of the critical socio-cultural bodies in the country namely Ohaneze – the premier Ibo socio-cultural body; the PANDEF, – representing the minorities of the oil rich Niger Delta; the Middle Belt Forum which stands for the North-Central states and; the Afenifere which represents the South-West of the country. Representing some of the most vibrant and vocal stakeholders in the country, the boycott by these groups substantially diminished the political value of the forum.
Expectedly, the boycott generated sharp responses for and against it, even as some of such responses were actually counter-productive, as they further deepened the very cleavages in the country’s body politik, and which spawned the conference in the first place. Just as well, even as the propriety of the enterprise, including the associated responses by participants and the absentees are still swirling in the public domain, there remains a rather fundamental issue which the circumstance of the forum has revived. And that borders on the preference of Nigerians to place higher premium on resolving knotty national issues through backdoor, informal fora which are organized outside the formal statutory platforms for building national consensus, such as the National Assembly.
With due respect to General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and his team whose altruism in organizing this forum under consideration was not dampened by the eventual turn out of events, the limited utility of such fora beyond the status of formal and informal talk shops, qualifies for more than casual attention by Nigerians. While the Abdulsalami Abubakar forum remains elegantly nationalistic and the convener eminently patriotic, the undeniable truth remains that it joins a long list of past efforts at promoting dialogue on burning national issues, while whatever outcome from them seemingly faces crass indifference from successive governments, who see such as mere private initiatives. Perhaps the best dividends from such exercises in the past had been to activate and titillate the country’s numerous public debate circles, for some time until another debate topic arrives to dissipate and displace the earlier one.
Meanwhile every four years since independence in 1960, and in particular since 1999 return of the present democratic dispensation, the country deploys massive stocks of resources in terms of manpower, finance and time to organize and conduct elections into the various tiers of the legislature. After the ascendancy of such elected legislators, the country simply isolates and spares them the challenge of confronting the various thorny national issues, which they are constitutionally designated to address – pursuant to building national consensus around such matters.
Even in the most acute stage of mutual distrust, there are fundamental areas on which most Nigerians agree. For instance, Nigerians largely agree that the country exists, and has citizens drawn from several disparate legacy ethnic groups. Even those who are inclined to opt out of the union to supposedly greener pastures, still use the country as a reference point of intended departure. Likewise, in the anticipation that the various peoples of the country will have to confront thorny issues about co-existence in the course of time, the Constitution’s framers provided for a legislative establishment that is vested with powers to build consensus on issues as well as make laws for the good governance of the country.
Incidentally, due to factors which are matters for another day, many Nigerians actually see the legislature rather undeservedly as just another talk shop like others. Yet unlike other talk shops, it still enjoys the unique endowment of constitutional leverage to add effect to its resolutions. That is why matters that usually enjoy premium attention by the rash of conferences organized by non-state actors should be routed resolutely for treatment by the legislature.
Not surprisingly, a disparaging argument has been trending that the Nigerian legislature and legislators have been hijacked by sundry potentates at their respective tiers. The argument specifically holds that while the state and local government legislators are in the pockets of the respective state governors, the National Assembly also has many of its members equally serving as surrogates of the same state governors, who facilitated their ascendancy into the institution in the first place.
Even if such misguided generalisations remain tenable, its reverse would also not justify the habitual isolation of or denial of the legislature at the various tiers from serving as first line of action for addressing the burning national issues. Isolating the legislative houses from engaging the burning issues of the day such as the current state of the nation remains akin to acquiring a tool for a job and keeping it idle or deployed otherwise.
Not a few Nigerians have noted that one of the weaknesses of our political system is the preponderance of powerful individuals instead of powerful democratic institutions. This tendency is common with emerging democracies across the world where the transition from a traditional power structure of powerful individual potentates dominates the democratization of the power matrix. Nigeria as a typical emerging democracy cannot be an exception, hence the regular resort to powerful individuals to overlap into areas where the formal democratic institutions face routine constraints to act appropriately. This may have induced patriotic elements like General Abdusalami Abubakar to initiate peace moves where the state apparatchik have demonstrated crass failure to act.
It is also not a secret that even the resolutions and recommendations from conferences as well as fora which were statutorily organized by previous administrations, and remain statutorily obligatory for succeeding administrations to buy into, are treated with revulsion by the present administration. How a privately organized peace-building forum like Abubakar’s will enjoy more traction remains an interesting expectation.
Or was it intended to succeed where others failed, by serving as a backdoor peace mission?
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