An unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French Operas sung by Swedish artistes should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.
– Edith Wharton
The Age of Innocence
For the past many weeks, Nigerians have had to feed on a tasteless cacophony forced down their throats by a section of the political class and some self-styled civil society activists. It is in form of fresh calls for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), even as others call for a National Constitutional Conference (NCC) as distinct from a Constituent Assembly.
Like a broken record played on an ill-tuned, rusty and aged gramophone, the need, motive and necessity of such an SNC, seem either non existent or totally lost in the loud voices of desperation thus far blared by the SNC advocates. It has gone to such levels that have united former military President Ibrahim Babangida, and serving Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. And for good reasons.
Dismissing the calls as not merely diversionary and illusionary, President Jonathan matter-of-factly confessed that it was not clear to him what good such an SNC would serve, particularly now that the nation is grappling with a myriad of development needs and other sundry challenges, the same misfortune that united the presidents.
President Jonathan, instead, advised advocates of the SNC to take a second reading of the Justice Alfa Belgore’s Committee report which years ago, came up with far reaching recommendations about revenue sharing formula and devolution of power among other worries. That, at once earned the support of President Babangida who stressed that an SNC would only delay the progress of the nation which already has issues that need immediate attention.
Even so, the push for the conference has continued, unabated. In fact, the issue has so polarized the political class that the lower Chamber of the National Assembly, the House of Representatives almost witnessed a rowdy session, last week.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Zakary Mohammed (PDP/Kwara) in kicking against the renewed demands for SNC by the same self-styled political leaders toed the president’s line, saying it was not necessary, given the fragile state of the democracy in Nigeria.
But these are not the real problems. What is, mainly, is the systemic abuse of the freedom of speech and of association in a manner that heats up the polity every once in a while. Another is the nature of the debate and the kind invectives being traded by key actors, using familiar African adages, believed to be very wise sayings, to anchor their lines.
It is normal that once in every while, dynamic members of a given community, could raise both issues and questions on existing rules, axioms, traditions or even conventions. Such could either be in total or partial surrender to the over powering pressures of the constance of change, human curiosity or sometimes merely for mischief moulding purposes for the aggrandizement of a few. The search for relevance should not be ruled out also.
Let’s reduce the horizon into questioning ageless African adages, considered wise saying that the users believe cannot be faulted and how such ‘truths’ have in the past weeks impacted on our political, economic, along with even cultural lives. These adages are many but only a few deserve mention along with a cursory probing for the purpose of the NSC debates.
One is the familiar adage, “The devil you know is better than the angel you don’t know; variously repeated by those in opposition to the SNC calls, another is ‘man is moved to action not by his intellect or reason but by his desires and appetites and a third is, ‘if the owl cried last night and the baby dies this morning, who killed the baby? This is easily the most vexatious because it rules out, in someway, the possibility of coincidence, fair hearing and even accident.
Within the context of calls, among some Nigerians, for either of two conferences, National Constitutional Conference (NCC) or Sovereign National Conference (SNC) along side opposing claims that most of these calls are coming from persons who, out of power, now seek the kind of relevance, which the political process denied them. Let’s probe a little.
The opposing group prefers the fallacy, “the devil we know is better than the angel we don’t know.’ The immediate defect of this is the sharp contrast inherent in both objects in comparison, an Angel and a devil. Is it really true that a known devil is better than an unknown angel? Perhaps, it is intended to magnify another adage which says ‘a bird in hand is worth two in the bush’. This may make some sense because, among other things, the objects are about the same and not in such strong contrast. Not so with the devil and the angel, two clear opposites.
Used in this context, is it true that the Nigeria we know today, can be better than the new Nigeria in Africa which many dream for the continent’s most populous nation? Can that dream be achieved without a Sovereign National Conference or with one? This comparison is even patronizing of the main axiom, for either way, Nigeria today is a nation-state, her future not to be a continent, but an improved model of a developed or a developing nation. How can this be likened to angel and devil.
The next is “man is moved to action not by intellect or reason but by desires and appetites”. Isn’t this an unfair generalization? Are all human actions actually propelled by greed? None engendered by patriotism? In Nigeria are there any? Which? Which are not?
Again, within the context of calls either for an SNC or not, which is patriotic and which is self-serving? And who are those that fit the description of persons seeking fresh relevance denied them by the democratic process? Or is it a veiled approval of the dictum of the owl crying at night and the baby dying next morning? Such is the nature of the cacophony. If you find this less than comprehensible, so do I.
Put in context, many of those calling for a conference of any kind are actually either those who could not enjoy control of government after the May 2011 general elections and would seek to get from the constitutional review that which their electoral mis-steps denied them. How? Those opposing such calls hold that such calls would not have been necessary if the callers had been in control of the National Assembly, constitutionally empowered to work on the constitution.
Again, can the 1999 Constitution, as amended, be considered as a truly people’s constitution? Since it was imposed on Nigerians by the Nigerian military? But which constitution is ever produced by all the people? Or are the calls for a Sovereign National Conference different from that, for ages, canvassed by the oppressed minorities in the land, particularly the Niger Delta people, and denied?
Wait! Are they the same Niger Deltans still calling for an SNC or some others who were presently against SNC but who now fear that the years of political monopoly by some sections of the country might well be over, in view of prevailing political realities? What has changed? What is indeed new?
Frankly, the clamour for an SNC has the colouration of the same contradictions embedded in the three ‘wise sayings’ and together make the calls wear the cloak of a committee, a group of persons who singularly can do nothing but will meet to decide that nothing can be done, and the callers, a bunch of busy-bodies in search of what to do.
It is indeed fascinating, to some, even laughable that the calls for a sovereign national conference should take such a centre stage to the extent of dividing the lower chamber of the National Assembly, the House of Representatives.
Curiously, no political party, prior to the 2011 elections promised to give Nigerians a people’s constitution, neither did any of them find it politically expedient to promise the electorate a sovereign national conference to address, as many today clamour, the partial federalism Nigeria operates. Is this why like President Jonathan, leadership of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) considers other issues like security, fuel subsidy removal, power, infrastructural development and the economy among others as of weightier concerns? Is it also why those who are in favour are treated as bad losers who, unable to get the people’s mandate through the ballot seek to change things through the conference door?
The last time a Constitutional Conference was convoked under former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s watch, it turned out to be a veiled attempt at helping the incumbent enjoy tenure extension. With that agenda collapsing like a pack of cards, all other ordinarily loafty amendments to the constitution were also jettisoned because, as it turned out, the tenure elongation was a condition for such changes.
Unfortunately, that realisation came a little late, and after supposedly honourable Nigerians had fed fat on the nation’s scarce resources, in hotel accommodation needs, travels and the like in the name of thinking for their country. The outcome of that experience turned out to be as wasteful as the tenure elongation attempt itself.
This is why those making the fresh calls should, as President Jonathan and IBB advised, return to the Belgore report, and if necessary channel their needs through their elected representatives who after extensive inter-face and consultations with their constituents could then do what is expedient and right.
To do otherwise is to attempt to get the kind of relevance the political process denied them.
My Agony is that those calling for a Sovereign National Conference in order to balance a shaky federation and thereafter produce a truly people’s constitution have said very little or nothing on how to effectively involve the people in such a process, without doing so through their elected representatives.
That is why it appears to me that what is being canvassed is at best another political circus show, a thirst for another all expenses paid national jamboree and a shouting match in which the loudest automatically nominate themselves, members for another round of backslapping and clicking of glasses at the nation’s expense, in the name of thinking for others. No, not now.
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One Year Anniversary: Governor Wike Sues For Unity
Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Ezenwo Wike has called on Rivers people no matter their political affiliation to join hands with his administration to build a stable and vibrant economy.
In a state-wide broadcast to mark the first year of his second term in office today, Governor Wike noted that the state can overcome the present global economic situation if citizens come together in unity of thought and purpose.
“Yes, we can if we resolve to downplay our individual differences and work together for the common good of our heritage, our lovely State, our communities and our people. As a government, we welcome constructive criticisms devoid of politics and mischief, because they serve to make us better performers.
“This is a time for governance, not politics, and we welcome everyone on board to create an environment that promotes balanced economic growth, thriving private investments, boundless opportunity and a State we can truly call our pride and heritage.
“For us, nothing matters more than Rivers State, our people, our interests, our treasures, our enormous resources and assets, our accomplishments and our greatness,” he stated.
The Governor pointed out that within the last one year, his administration had embarked on urban renewal programme in the State capital and the construction of the multi-billion naira three flyover projects at Rebisi, Okoro-nu-Odo and Rumuogba.
He said that the dualization of Kira- Sapkenwa-Bori-Kono Road straddling three local government areas in Ogoni heartland has reached 92 percent completion.
The Oyibo(Mbano camp) road to Iriebe linking Oyigbo and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas had been completed while Alesa-Agbonchia-Oyigbo, Rumuakunde/Isiodu and the second phase of Isiokpo community Roads had also been completed.
Rumuji-Ibaa-Isiokpo, Omoku-Egbema, Odufor-Akpoku-Umuoye, Ula Ehuda-Odioku-Anwunugboko-Ubeta-Ihuechi-Odiereke, Umueze-Umuogba-Umuokpurukpu-Umueke-Umunju-Umuelechi-Eberi, Eteo-Sime-Nonwa and Abonnema Ring Roads have reached various stages of completion.
In addition, the governor said, work has commenced on the expansion of the entire stretch of Ikwerre Road from Education Bus Stop to the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa.
According to him, the long abandoned roads to the coastal communities of Opobo and Andoni in Opobo/Nkoro and Andoni Local Government Areas has almost been delivered with appreciable work already done on the Ogoni-Andoni-Opobo Unity Road.
On healthcare delivery, the governor said the Mother and Child Hospital has been furnished, equipped and only undergoing necessary testing and preparations for commissioning.
The Braithwaite Memorial Hospital, he said, has been fully equipped and converted to the Rivers State University Teaching Hospital (RSUTH) leading to the accreditation of the programmes of that facility for the training of medical students by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
Governor Wike stated that the regional referral hospitals in Degema, Bori and Degema are presently being equipped while structural work is on-going on the ones located in Omoku and Etche.
The State Chief Executive pointed out that funds had been released for comprehensive upgrade of Enitonnia High School, Comprehensive Secondary School, Borikiri, Obama High School, Degema, Community Secondary School, Tombia, Community Secondary School, Omuanwa in Ikwerre Local Government Area and Kalabari National College, Buguma.
Others include, Community Secondary School, Kugbo in Abua/Odual Local Government, Community Secondary School, Obeakpu in Oyigbo Local Government and Community Secondary School, Eteo in Eleme Local Government Area.
On Real Madrid Academy, Governor Wike announced that the construction of students’ hostels is progressing and that the school would soon open for simultaneous football and related training programmes.
He said in line with the promise to refocus on agricultural development, the Datco Cassava Processing Plant with a guaranteed off-market opportunities for 3000 local cassava farmers would soon be completed to stimulate cassava revolution in the state.
The governor regretted that despite the advisories and regulations on social distancing and compulsory wearing of face masks, most residents are flouting the directives to the collective peril of all.
“These are all irresponsible and risky behaviour in the face of the invisible and ravaging pandemic and the enormous threat it poses to public health and the safety of human lives.
“We shall bring the full weight of the law to bear on every recalcitrant person, business or institution, irrespective of status who decides to treat the existing orders and regulations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in our State with contempt.
“Government may be forced to reinstate lockdown if members of the public continue to flout and disregard the established regulations on social distancing and the compulsory wearing of face masks,” he said.
Governor Wike however, commiserated with the families of those that lost their loved ones to the pandemic and prayed for the peaceful repose of their innocent souls.
He said that while we pray for the quick success, for the global search, for vaccines, the responsibility still rests on everyone to strictly comply with the established mitigating measures.
A Statewide Broadcast By His Excellency Nyesom Ezenwo Wike, CON, GSSRS, POS, To Mark The First Year Of His Second Term In Office …My Dear Good People of Rivers State
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