Sunday, May 4, 2014

THE NORTH



THE NORTH: A PAST IN THE FUTURE
KEYNOTE ADDRESS DELIVERED AT THE CONFERENCE OF LEADERS AND ELDERS OF NORTHERN NIGERIA AT KANO ON 10TH MARCH, 2014 BY         
DR HAKEEM BABA-AHMED

A little over 60 years ago, Northern leaders were faced with a very difficult choice. They were challenged by the need to take a decision over whether to go along with demands from compatriots from Southern Nigeria for immediate self-government for the Nigerian colony, or oppose it in the interests of Northerns. The stakes were very high indeed. To oppose immediate self government in an atmosphere in which the nationalist fervor was most intense was to risk condemnation from patriotic Nigerians, many of them Northerners, who wanted to see an immediate end to colonial rule. On the other hand, to submit to the demand for self government then would have exposed the Northern Region to all the disadvantages of relative backwardness and the possibility of being overrun by the more developed Southern Region, economically and politically. Northern Leaders, aware of their powers to resist being stampeded or blackmailed, chose to demand for a delayed and staggered decolonization process, in the belief that the Northern Region needed additional time to prepare for self government.
History has recorded how Northern Region representatives were derided and harassed out of Lagos and all the way to the North for the decisions they took. It has also recorded the consequence: the first riots in the North with political undertones. The Southern Regions got their Self-Government two years before the Northern Region, and the specter of protectionism which informed many Northern policies right up until 1966 has since been the subject of much debate.
Sixty years after that historic ‘No’ by the North, the region is facing a different challenge under circumstances that are entirely different. In 1953, the North had a strong and visionary leadership and a hefty hand of support from the colonial administration. That leadership had the confidence to stand up to being bullied, and was comfortable with the certainty that its decisions were consistent with the interests of the people of the region. Today, the people of the old Northern Nigeria are without leaders who will take a stand on the National Conference and get the nation to respect that position. It has no leaders who will move against the crippling assaults on lives and property of its poor and defenseless citizens because power is in hands of people who appear too far removed from Northern interests. In the sixty years since that historic nay by Northern leaders, the fortunes of the North have flowed and ebbed, largely determined by the consistent decline in the quality of its leadership. Sixty years after one North took one position, today we witness a most undignified stampede for crumbs from leaders and elite who should draw the line and offer leadership and guidance for Northerners. Simple northern folk are confused and bewildered by the conflicting signals those who should know are sending. Some say we are drowning, so we should swim further into the ocean. Some say we should swim towards land, but are unsure about the distance we have to cover. Some say we have lost the battle to survive, and should submit as a conquered people do.
Not long after the 1953 dissent by the North, all Nigerian leaders closed ranks and commenced the serious business of planning and negotiating for an orderly disengagement. Dates were set without apologies or recriminations until full independence was achieved in 1960. Northern leaders had respect, and in turn respected leaders from other parts of Nigeria. It took a statesmanly posture and a five minute speech from Sir Abubakar Tarfawa Balewa to resolve the bitter disputes over the 1956 census figures. The 1959 elections disputes were resolved because the North realized the need for compromise, and because the two regions in the South realized that alienating the North entirely in a political gang-up was likely to end the Nigerian union. A confident North was able and willing to enter into alliances with powerful interests in the South; carve out a Region in the former Western Region and maintain a level head in the wake of the constitutional crisis which followed the 1964 elections.
The tragic consequences of the 1996 coup have shaped virtually all major developments in Nigeria since then. Even in times of extreme adversity, Northern leaders were consistent in standing up for Northern and national interests. The North sacrificed its cohesive unity when Northern officers created states to cripple the potency of the threat of secessation from the East. Its plural nature was given politico-legal expression by the creation of States on the basis of some elements of northern minority interests. Northern military officers led the war against a rebellion, and northern limbs and lives reclaimed the territorial integrity of the Nigerian state, while northern blood nourished its full re-integration.
The North paid its dues in terms of the damage of prolonged military rule. Northern officers overthrew Northern officers as well elected leaders in the scramble for power and its spoils. Northern military officers made thousands of southern businessmen millionaires through state patronage, while destitution and underdevelopment became more pronounced in their region. Still operating under the illusion that they had powers to decide who ruled Nigeria, they bungled the 1992 elections; reinstated full military rule with Abacha, and after him, embarked on an ill-fated attempt to re-engineer a new national leadership after their own image, under President Obasanjo.
Northern hegemony came unstuck after 1999. Obasanjo’s eight years showed Northern politicians that they had grossly exaggerated their capacity to control and determine the direction of political developments in Nigeria. Within the first four years of his two terms, Obasanjo had completely dismantled the northern political establishment that created him, and the northern political elite has been on the defensive since then.
The hunter became the hunted, when Obasanjo made a mockery of PDP’s zoning formula and showed up the impotence of the northern political leadership in the manner he engineered the emergence of the presidency of Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. The ill-fated northern consensus enterprise against President Jonathan showed up the abject powerlessness of the northern political elite. A northern PDP gang-up played into the hands of Jonathan, who exploited all the faultlines of faith and fear in the North to weaken the region. Other northern politicians joined in the scramble for the heart and soul of the North, and thousands of people went on a killing and burning spree in much of the North to protest the 2011 election results.
After 2011 lines were more firmly drawn. The North had become politically decimated. Political opposition was weak and localized. The president took over the mantle of leadership in the midst of ashes and rubble and widespread bitterness. His immediate supporters saw a regional resistance and hostility against him only because of his geo-ethnic and religious identity. He himself felt alienated from much of the North, which is now having to contend with an intensifying threat from an insurgency President Jonathan had inherited. Tragically, the insurgency was wrongly labeled as a political resistance against a Jonathan presidency by people who lost power to him.
The nation began to drift further apart. The Southwest built up a politically-homogenous enclave and began to live under the illusion that it was safe from the rest of Nigeria. The East made capital out of the fortunes of the South South, and its people paid a heavy price as victims of a religion-inspired insurgency in the North. The South-South basked in new found affluence, and the confidence that comes from believing that it can get away with whatever it desires. The North became further fragmented politically, swamped by a rampaging insurgency and the crippling decay of its economy.
This was the context in which President Jonathan decided to convene the National Conference. Lets be clear about this. This is the moment of the greatest weakness of northern leaders. Of all the power blocs that could resist him, the weakest is the northern bloc. A dangerous insurgency has developed from within it, and it has been powerless to fight it, or to get the President to fight it with better results. Its politicians are generally hostile to him, but their hold on their people is very weak. The region has been badly damaged by ethno-religious divisions, suspicions and conflicts. Its economy is crumbling by the day. Its attempt to cobble, together with the Southwest, a broader political opposition holds some promise, but this promise can be subverted by deepening the faultlines around the region’s pluralism. In short, the North is powerless to resist.
In spite of major setbacks suffered by the National Conference idea, President Jonathan had insisted it had to go ahead. It suffered from the denunciation that it will not be a sovereign conference. It has been condemned for not accepting to end up with a brand new constitution. It has been condemned for having its output submitted to the National Assembly, without a referrundum. It has been condemned over its timing so close to an election. It has been condemned for lack of legitimacy by its nominated delegates, for its no-go areas and for ignoring basic indices historically used in determining participation quotas.
The release of the delegates list has crippled this conference even more seriously. It is setting the North against the South, which may be a good for President Jonathan if that is his plan. It is offending Nigerian Muslims with roughly 198 delegates, while Christians have 294. It is offending northern Christians in the North-West; Muslims in Plateau State and the North Central zone; Christian communities in the North East; Ijaws, Ogonis and South Western Muslims. A few weeks ago the Nigeria Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs whose President-General is the Sultan published a paid advert in which it raised very serious questions around the credibility and legitimacy of the Conference. That was even before the list was released.
All these quarrels and reservations are unlikely to change President Jonathan’s mind over holding the Conference. Which logically leads to the question: what could possibly be the benefit to the President and the nation if a Conference so thoroughly condemned still goes ahead? At this stage, it is only safe to offer some possible answers. One is that the arguments and controversies have been deliberately designed to cause havoc to Northern unity and deepen its problems. This will make it easier for President Jonathan to exploit the fall out for his re-election campaigns. Another is the possibility that these offensive and provocative imbalances are products of poor management and scant attention to sensitivities and details. That someone may be naive to think issues about faith and region, or even the loaded pro-PDP participation may be managed by a good agenda that allows issues to be discussed and decided without delegates subjecting them to parochial sentiments beats the imagination. In today’s Nigeria this is not an assumption that will find massive endorsement; particularly because the Conference itself has been convened principally because it is assumed that our federal system needs to undergo serious restructuring along ethnic lines. Whoever designs a Conference with the prime objective of addressing perceived grievances over how ethnic (and religious) groups relate to each other in Nigeria, and then fails to secure the most minimal levels of inclusiveness of such groups cannot be said to be in search of solutions.
In any case, here we are, on the eve of a an event which can have a major impact on our future, or end up as an almighty quarrel that will cost us billions. If it is seen as a mere talkshop, then some of the most prominent and accomplished Nigerians who are delegates should feel insulted that they have been reduced to participating in an infertile junket, that will, like past events, gather dust and become another reference point in our history of failures.
If it is planned as a serious forum to discuss matters that could substantially alter the manner Nigerians relate to each other, then the serious and patriotic delegates should ask whether they are going into an arena blindfolded. How will the Conference manage damaging quarrels that it is unrepresentative, and skewed deliberately to achieve very narrow partisan interests? This is where the weaknesses of the North show even more glaringly. None of the demands of its leaders on the timing, status or composition of the Conference has been met. In fairness, it should be said that neither have those of Ohaneze, Ndigbo and Afenifere. Yet, Northern leaders have been nominated into a Conference at which they will be a numerical minority, and many of them lead prominent Northern groups and have the mandates of Governors, though not the people. If this Conference does take a life of its own and flies off against the core interests of the North which, in any case, will be represented by the most disunited and mutually-hostile delegation, who will apply the brakes? In 1953 the North stood as one, sure of its position and the nation respected and came to terms with that position. Its leader chose to stay back in Kaduna as Premier as while Abubakar Tafawa Balewa went to Lagos as Prime Minister. This was what they thought best suited Northern interests. Today our cream of leaders are scrambling to attend a Conference that their children should be attending. They have no fallback positions, no gameplan and very little strategy, since they are unsure of the nature of the game. An attempted walkout or withdrawal will expose the weaknesses of the region even more severely, because no one interest or group can muster enough influence over all Northern delegates.
This is a Conference that will have neither the time nor the clout to take up the alarming rise of violence in the lives of Northerners. It will not have the capacity to ask how the Nigerian military, the same military that fought a successful civil war; the same one that took peace to Liberia and Sierra Leone, the same one that has acquired an international reputation as peace keeper and paid for that reputation with blood, lives and limbs; it cannot ask how that same military cannot protect children from being slaughtered in their schools, or protect young girls from being abducted, or entire villages being razed to the ground routinely.
The Conference will be engaged in quarrels over composition of Committees, rules and agenda, while Northerners ask who exactly is killing them in towns and villages in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Benue, Plateau, Nassarawa and Kaduna States. No one is sure what Boko Haram is anymore; and questions are being asked over the claims that nomads-farmers clashes are actually about Falani cattle rearers seeking for food for their cattle, and villagers are only protecting their little produce and their pieces of land.  Nothing is more pressing for the North than to put an end to the horrendous assaults on the lives of our people. We will not find answers at this Conference. And we will not find answers to the decaying infrastructure in the North; or solutions to millions of our young citizens who are uneducated, unskilled and unemployed; or solutions to the dangerous trend which sheds so much Northern blood every time elections come. We will not find answers at this Conference to the questions over how Nigerians can ensure that the elections of 2015 do reflect the will of the people; that the North does not become another battleground for an election that could make it an even weaker component on the Nigerian federation.
The North will participate in this Conference at best as a spectator, or at worst a helpless victim of a conspiracy to exploit its weaknesses. Yet, everyone says it must attend. They say it must attend because everyone else is attending. So the North is now reduced to escorting others’ agenda. This is the same North that determined the fate and destiny of this nation for many decades. This is the same North with over 70% of the productive landmass, the region with a much larger majority of the population; the region with potentials to develop and grow a world class economy. This is the North that is reduced to reacting to dangerous political stimulus, or having its young people reacting violently at the slightest perceived provocation. This is the North that is powerless to protect Northerners who are now routinely labeled as terrorists in many parts of the South just for being Northerners travelling in lorries. This is the North whose leaders will sit with delegates from other parts of the nation that are creating islands of affluence from resources unfairly allocated to them. Leaders of the North will parley with delegates who see the North as the only problem in Nigeria; a problem that has to be reduced to manageable proportions. In simple terms, this means depriving the North of its capacity to utilize its population to re-assert itself as a key player in political competition.
When the Conference takes off, simple folk will follow it avidly, and some will even hope that some good will come out of it. Whatever happens, it will involve many Northerners. Many will attend because they believe they can right all its wrongs once they are there. They will be wrong. This Conference remains a provocative diversion. While it goes on, the killings may continue, but they will receive less attention. Political activities and preparations for the 2015 elections will pick up, but the Conference will divert attention from potential breaches and manipulations which may compromise the elections.
If the North had a strong, cohesive and visionary leadership today, no one will dare design a Conference that so blatantly offends all indices of justice and fairness. If they did, the North would have had none of it. It could, in fact, organize its own Conference and the world would have sat up and noticed. It would invite all leaders from all groups, because the North has no quarrel with any ethnic group. But above all, it would have ensured that there would have been no need for a Conference of this nature.
For the Northern delegates who are about to enter the ring with one hand tied behind your back, we can only appeal to your conscience to do the right thing. Do not attend if all the Conference will give you is a few millions in allowances and three months in a comfortable hotel, away from all the problems of your people. If you have to attend, pay close attention to how the Conference can redress its massive baggage. Insist that the offensive imbalance between Muslims and Christians are addressed; that Christians in some parts of North who are not represented are; Muslims who have been ignored find a voice in the Conference; insist, before the Conference takes off that its composition is balanced. If you cannot achieve this, work to prevent any discussion of any substance, because this Conference is the least qualified of all Conferences in the past, to discuss serious issues. If you cannot do any of these, walk out. Resist the temptation to believe that the North will be hurt more if it has no delegates at this Conference. Every Northerner who walks out robs the Conference of more of the very little credibility it has. The more of you that walk out, the less likely it will be that they will claim that they held a National Conference.
So, for those who insist on attending, here is wishing you luck. While you talk with other Nigerians, please remind them of the abducted young girls from Borno and Yobe and Adamawa. Remind them of the reality that even as you sleep in your air-conditioned hotels, entire villages may be attacked for hours and young and old people killed, and girls and women abducted. Remind them that you represent a people who are proud to be Nigerians; who want to see a more secure, more prosperous Nigeria. Remind them that our people are tired of fighting, and all we want to fight now is poverty and impunity of leaders. If you have a chance to put in a word on the Conference itself, advise that the Nation holds a more representative, more legitimate and more popular Conference sometime after the 2015 elections.
Thank you.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sticks and stones

“It is dangerous to be sincere unless you are also stupid.” George Bernard Shaw.

In the space of two days, President Goodluck Jonathan and Sultan of Sokoto, Saad Abubakar III raised alarm over the damage which elders cause by the manner they comment on political issues. The President spoke during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day Church Service in Abuja. He regretted that people who are 70 or 80 years, who have seen it all and who ordinarily should know the unity of this country is more important than the interest of any individual “sometime preach hate and even encourage young people to carry arms and kill themselves.” As far as he is concerned, he says, “any ambition I have at any time is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. I will never ever expect any Nigerian to spill his blood because Goodluck Jonathan must fulfill his ambition.” The Sultan also cautioned politicians to watch their utterances as the 2015 elections approach during the 9th Zakat Distribution Ceremony organized by the Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation (ZSF) in Lagos.

How reassuring it will be if these words of caution will have real effect on developments in the nation. Hope is all simple folks will do because clearly, matters are not within their control. Two major centers of activity determine how the vast majority of the population is affected by political developments. One is what political leaders say and do. The other is the manner those who feel an obligation to enforce their designs and plans react. The leaders have huge stakes in a system which is precariously balanced between violence and persuasion. Our democratic system has created a tiny class of powerful and wealthy Nigerians who can determine whether poor Nigerians live, lose limbs or die in defence of their interests. Huge sections of the nation have been captured by fragments of these elites, each establishing a hegemony which equate personal or narrow ethno-religious issues with matters over which blood can be split, or lives lost. Every election
since 1999 has shown the potency of violence in determining the quality of our electoral process, and the nation, even as we speak, is bursting at the seams with para-military outfits and protected, organized thugs whose primary goals are to enforce the designs of elected people.

The tragedy is that the two leaders who have drawn attention to the danger of inciting violence, could, but have no capacities to limit the damage. The Sultan is revered in the nation, particularly by Muslims, but there will not be more than a handful of politicians, in or out of office, who will listen to him. As befits his status, he could advise President Jonathan to weight the implications of his candidature in 2015, but he is likely to get a polite reposte that it is not about Jonathan, but about the PDP and millions of Nigerians who may demand that he runs again in 2015. He could have a quiet word with Professor Ango Abdullahi of the Northern Elders Forum over his ear-splitting demands that a Northerner must be President in 2015. But he will be advised to prevail on Jonathan not to even think about running. He could caution the President and PDP chairman over the manner the party is disintegrating and its implications for the nation’s security
and unity. He is likely to be told that it will make more sense to warn the defecting governors to tone down their rhetorics against him, his administration and the PDP they have defected from.

The Sultan could have a word with his co-chair of the Nigerian Inter-Religions Council (NIREC), Pastor Ayo Oritsejiafor on the need for greater circumspection in his utterances, or more specifically, in the manner he uses his office in the Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) as the spiritual campaign arm of president Jonathan. The Pastor is likely to insist that he has the right and the duty to protect President Jonathan against perceived Northern or Muslim hostility. He will insist that Christians as a whole have retreated against Muslim onslaught beyond what is tolerable, and his office demands that he draws the line at each and every occasion. The Sultan could deepen his productive relationship with clergy such as Cardinal Onaiyekan, but that will only distance them from other clergy who will be responding to traditional demands that faith and political partisanship cannot be separated, and politics.

If the Sultan is hardly likely to make an impact in the fight against a political system that prepares the population as if it is going to face a real war, can President Jonathan do better? Well, he could start by appealing to Chief Clark to play the role of elder and caution rather than threaten. He is likely to be reminded that the Ijaw project cannot be compromised in the face of fear of Northerners who are used to having things their way. He will be reminded that his Presidency beyond 2015 is not an issue personal to him. In the face of the opposition being lined up unfairly against him, all is fair in the manner he and his presidency is defended. Or President Jonathan can appeal to Asari Dokubo and fellow-travellers whose idea of protecting their territory is to light a match anywhere they smell kerosene. He will be told that the enemy cannot be appeased or reasoned with; and if the nation has to go to war or break up because he has to be President
beyond 2015, so be it.

There are a few elders President Jonathan may wish he can influence, but they are beyond his reach. President Obasanjo now writes letters which have to be replied. His letters, including the latest one in which he says he will not leave the PDP but will hold his nose against the stench it celebrates in the South West, tend to place him beyond reasoning with. Then you have people like Senator Okurounmu who recently released a salvo of condemnations that include wards like ‘chicanery’, ‘mandatious’, ‘obsfucations’ at Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) when the latter led the Igbo Leaders of Thought to condemn their own version of the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on National Conference. The Igbo Leaders of Thought themselves will join the league of temperature raisers in the manner they wholeheartedly condemned what they think is the possible outcome of the National Conference.

There is, of course, a way in which all this heat can be avoided. Leaders who have responsibility to avoid playing into hands of elders who want to put the nation on fire should be more responsible in the manner they conduct themselves. In a year when we should be celebrating a century, we ought to have marginalized the doomsday prophets and nay-sayers to the fringes. Alas, people who set standards now turn around to blame those who respond appropriately. There are young Nigerians who have never known a period when leaders and other groups are not routinely abused, insulted, stereotyped or demonized. These Nigerians have been badly let down by a nation which by any standard, could be better. More than anyone else, President Jonathan can do better than lamenting. He could lead with a firmer grip on his government and his circle.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Let us quarrel

 “The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people.” African Proverb.

You would have thought that the large volumes of reports, recommendations and annexes presented to President Jonathan by the Advisory Committee on the National Conference late last year will be the headache of the Presidency. Making sense of the babble which trailed the committee across the land could not have been easy to handle by a group of people ranging from the long-converted to the most cynical. The committee had already registered a number of casualties, from a member who attempted to thug-out a governor who said the wrong things, to the torpedo released by Prof Ben Nwabueze (SAN) when he demanded the right to write a draft constitution that should represent the focus of the Conference from his living room, even while the Advisory Committee he would have chaired was still working. The committee managed to put together a report from thousands of discordant views and submitted it to a president who has already set aside billions for the event. Most  members of the committee must have felt some relief that they had concluded a tough assignment which had sapped all their energies.
But the chairman of the Advisory Committee Senator Femi Okurounmu apparently has a lot of energy left. Certainly enough energy to take on Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN) and the entire Igbo Leaders of Thought over their comments on the report of the committee he had chaired. Not one to let a fight pass by, the Senator was offended by statements made by Nwabueze & co. “Hear-say”!, he thundered at some of the claims of the Igbo Leaders of Thought, asserting that the comments from Nwabueze’s compatriots were mischievous fabrications by people who want to raise the level of resistance against the conference. His language leaves no one in doubt over his anger. He almost sounds like one of President Jonathan’s spokesman defending the report against Nwabueze’s assaults; “... the chicanery of the critics must be exposed...”  Then again, “the Nwabueze-led group has clearly gone beyond the bounds of decency and decorum by fabricating a report purely from their own imagination and levelling such scathing criticisms against it with a view to discrediting the real report, which it was obvious they have not yet seen.” Then he rounded up with a few choice words for the criticisms. He said they are “wild, mendacious, obfuscatory and ill- intentioned.”
If they did not know already, foes will be reluctant to provoke this Senator with his arsenal of language henceforth. But what was the provocation responsible for such anger, even from a man not particularly known for his mild temperament? Let us see. First, he was the chairman of the Committee whose report he says Nwabueze and his fellow concerned elders are fictionalizing. Before you feel some sympathy for the chair, please recall that he was chair only because the Nwabueze whose chicanery he says should be exposed said he was too ill to take up the life-time opportunity. Indeed, some circles suggest that he recommended the name of Okurounmu as chair in his place. No matter. Nwabueze had tried to rain on Okurounmu’s parade earlier when he asked to be allowed to craft the end-product of a conference Okurounmu and colleagues were advising on. Then words began to filter out that his replacement on the committee, Barrister Asemota was becoming quite a handful, with a suspected stimulus from the aging Nwabueze. Some said he even wrote a minority report. President Jonathan recently said he had not. If Mr Asemota did write and submit a minority report, the President’s denial of its existence could be a major irritant that may explain this spat.
All these sins pale into insignificance, however, compared to the reported demand by the Igbo Leaders of Thought that the recommendations of the Conference should not be submitted to the National Assembly as they claimed they know Okunroumu’s committee had advised. They said they are aware that the Advisory Committee had recommended a constitutional Amendment rather than a wholesale replacement, and this unmentionable heresy is rejected in totality. 
Senator Okuruoumu said, who told you? Did you see the report? He knows they did not read the report because that was certainly not what his committee recommended. Since he will not say what his committee recommended either, we can safely assume that it did not recommend that the National Assembly should have the final say on the recommendations of the conference. It is also safe to assume that the committee has not recommended a constitutional amendment, whatever else it suggested should be done to, or about our 1999 constitution as amended. 
All this is terribly perplexing, and leaves simple folks with a load of questions, only one or two dealing with meaning of words like mendacious and obfuscatory. Why is Okurounmu so desperate to defend the conference? We know that he had served extended time in the national conference trenches, but are there traces of an ethnic falling-out over the new direction of the national conference adventure in this high brow quarrel? Has Nwabueze’s group virtually placed a stamp of Igbo rejection on the national conference on the basis of how they think or know it is being conceived? Will they go out on a limb with such specific denunciation of key areas if they have had no inkling of contents of the report? In these days when virtually every important document is guaranteed to be massively leaked, how can Okurounmu be sure there are no leaked copies? Or pirated copies?  Or versions of the report leaked to Nwabueze by a member or two who have grievances to settle? 
More to the point, where does all this leave the national conference initiative? Igbo Leaders of Thought think it will be a wasteful jamboree if it is not organized exactly the way Nwabueze has always thought it should. They will not stop President Jonathan from organizing it, but they can make sure that one or two distinguished grey hairs from Igboland are missing in the line up whenever it is convened. Seventeen opposition governors are also likely to spoil the game, and between them and the Igbo Leaders, they will deprive the conference of much legitimacy. Strong opinions against the conference have been registered in many parts of the North as well. Professional groups are unsure of the value of a government-organized parley that could  heat up the nation or produce waste  at great cost. You will have to search hard and long before you find much enthusiasm for the national conference in some remote geriatric circles, mostly in the South-West.
Still, President Jonathan will have his National Conference, even if only for the fact that Senator Okurounmu has submitted a report, and there is N7b set aside to be spent on it. To be fair, there are also one or two additional reasons. Ethnic and interest groups will send in representatives only because others will also do so; and no one wants their entire future negotiated away behind their backs. There will also be politicians who will use the National Conference to catch the attention of voters towards the 2015 elections. Finally, there wil be another opportunity to quarrel over the form, structure, utility and future of a nation which has clocked 100 years; only this time, it will all be paid for by a public which just wants things to work.