Before the disclaimer by the Baraje faction of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP of speculated agreement with President Goodluck Jonathan, events had pointed at that grim direction despite claims from supporters of the president. Early indication came when the Tukur-led executive set up a caretaker committee for the Kano State chapter of the party. If there were some agreement, the Baraje faction would have been taken into confidence on the matter or it would have pended till the resumption of talks presumably in the first week of October.
But Tukur went ahead even as both factions are still embroiled in power struggle over the soul of the party. Of course, the Kano state government did not waste time to denounce it citing the party constitution that has no room for such contraption. The other signal which also came in quick succession was the visit by the Baraje group to the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly to brief them on their grievances.
During both visits, the group tabled all the issues they hitherto purportedly reached agreement with the president including the demand that he should not be allowed to go for another term. To underscore the deadlock this time around, they referred to the purported ambition of Jonathan to run in 2015 as a third term agenda.
The purport of this terminology should not be lost on any discerning person. If anything, it underscores how hard the mind of the group has stiffened on that project and their irrevocable commitment to oppose it with their last blood. Their new disposition may have been fallout of speculations that the president pointedly told them he never told anybody he will not run for another term. This could have been extrapolated as clear indication that Jonathan has made up his mind to run. And it could be logically so deduced.
The third term coinage has therefore left no one in doubt as to the sequence of events to follow.
Their engagement with the Senate President, David Mark was orderly. Mark never left them with any shred of doubt that he stood for a united PDP. But their encounter with the speaker of the House of Representatives turned out rowdy. There was fracas as the anti- and pro-Baraje factions engaged each other in shouting bout and subsequent fisticuffs. The battle line was very clear and indicated very glaringly that harder times await the nation as the crises within the ruling party plays out in the days ahead.
Before the visit, Mark had succinctly captured the mood of the nation when he said at the reconvening of the Senate that he has seen the imperative for a national conference. According to him, steps should be taken to convene a national conference of ethnic nationalities to confront the “perceived or alleged structural distortions which have bred discontent and alienation in some quarters”. Such a conference in the thinking of the senate president could find accommodation in extant provisions of the constitution that guarantee freedom of expression and association.
Mark however put forward two caveats. The first is that it will be unconstitutional to clothe such a conference with constituent or sovereign powers. The other is that discussions on dismembering the country should be a no-go area. These aside, Mark believes every other question should be open for discussions as the resolutions of the ethnic nationalities called under the auspices of the federal government will carry tremendous weight.
No doubt, the senate president’s backing for the convocation of a national conference of Nigeria’s estimated 390 ethnic nationalities is a very positive development for the country. It is also in line with the feelings of those who had before now, seen the conference as the only way out of the multifarious challenges facing the country. These challenges have been so much so that doubts have been expressed on the capacity of the country to withstand recurring systemic stress. Things are not helped by prediction from the United States of America, US that Nigeria might go the way of a failed state come 2015.
Though this predication had been roundly denounced in official quarters, events as 2015 inches nearer, show increasing signals that we may be in for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to stave off the prospects of this looming danger, several well meaning Nigerians and interest groups have recommended the convocation of the conference. But the greatest opposition to that idea had come from the National Assembly basking on the powers which the1999 constitution appeared to have conferred on it.
Now Mark has spoken, it would appear that a major stumbling block to the imperative of a national conference has given way. He believes that the National Assembly though constitutionally not bound by the resolutions of such a conference, will be hard put to ignore them in the current constitution amendment process. In effect, Mark would want the conference to go hand in hand with the ongoing constitution amendment process. He would want the Nigerian people to come up with resolutions on how they desire the nation’s affairs to be conducted. When such resolutions have been crystallized, the National Assembly will then incorporate them as part of the ground norms for running this country. That could be a way out provided the resolutions of the nationalities will not be subjected to another round of debate by the lawmakers. This may not be as simplistic as has been presented. All the same, the key thing is the admission that we need to sit down and discuss issues affecting the constituent units.
The issue of structure and composition should pose no serious problem when it is understood that the overall goal is to save the country from going asunder. This objective weighs more than anything else. No sacrifice will be too much in its pursuit. In the same vein, fears on the possible fallouts of a sovereign or constituent variant can be taken care of, if all are genuinely committed to the overall unity and progress of the country. After all, the National Assembly derives its powers from the people and cannot possibly be above the ultimate sovereign power- the people.
Signals emanating from sections of the country, increasingly speak of an increasing pull towards centrifugalism. And at the root of these are increasing feelings of alienation, marginalization and the inability of the central government to equitably cater for the component units. There are also several structural and systemic distortions that have stood on the way of the citizens realizing their potentials to the fullest. They are loaded with frightening prospects for system collapse and failure. It is more profitable to address than allow them weigh down the country.
It is gladdening that President Jonathan and Mark are buying into this visionary and futuristic idea. What is required now is for the necessary machinery to be set in motion for the immediate convocation of the conference. It is possible. All obstacles that have been raised are human including aspects of the constitution. Being human issues, they can be redirected to serve humanity better.
But, we need to hear the position of the factional PDP led by Baraje on the propriety of a national conference. We also need to hear from the Arewa Consultative Forum, Northern Elders Forum and others that have been vocal on power shift. This will help sift those genuinely for the peace, progress and stability of this country and others seeking power to perpetuate the glaring inequities of the decadent order that has led to this pass.