Our philosopher President By Mobolaji Sanusi

All speech is vain and empty unless accompanied by action – Demosthenes

Hitherto, President Goodluck Jonathan’s speeches were always dingy and humdrum, leaving listeners with virtually nothing to hold onto. But his speeches during the 53rd Independence anniversary of the country and in particular, the one delivered at the inauguration of the Senator Femi Okunrounmu-led Committee actually evinced deserved elevation in presidential speech making. With improved delivery, it points to the fact that our president is fast adjusting to presidential traditions and etiquette.

Yours sincerely has taken time to read over, in particular, his speech at the committee’s inauguration earlier this week and marveled at its rigour, and indeed, the depth of intellectual input deployed. President Jonathan fondly went down historical lane without forgetting to espouse his theoretical understanding of politics, nationhood and electioneering principles to drive home his points on the need to convoke his new-found love – a national conference. He spoke about a new reality including the yearnings of the people as having informed his suspicious over-night favourable disposition to a confab.

He tutored some of us that believe that there is no need for another conference since the country has an avalanche of reports/recommendations from the numerous previous conferences that this administration can tap from if indeed it is sincere about truly restructuring the country. In case we chose not to know or deliberately have forgotten, the erstwhile lecturer turned politician, lectured us that ‘each era and season had its own challenges and that leaders in a democracy must respond with the best available strategies to ensure that the ship of state remains focused in its voyage.’ He believes this is the path that he is toeing with this idea of a confab.

But his purport becomes more confusing when he said: “I was one of those who exhibited scepticism on the need for another Conference or Dialogue. My scepticism was borne out of the nomenclature of such a conference, taking into cognisance existing democratic structures that were products of the will of the people.” The president could not clearly elucidate on what the nomenclature of his new envisaged conference will be and whether when eventually convoked, it will not, as erroneously believed by political conservatives like Mr President, affect existing democratic structures. He did not say that there would be no-go areas just as he was silent on whether there could still be such later.

Moreover, his historical excursion in his review of past purported confabs is quite refreshing, but unconvincing. He said: “Let us remind ourselves of the gains from previous conferences and dialogues. The conferences that were held before 1960 were designed to produce a political system and a roadmap to Nigeria’s independence. …The Constitutional Conference of 1957 in London, for example, effectively prepared Nigeria for Independence. The Eastern and Western regions were granted self-government in 1957 while the Northern region got its own in 1959. The Office of the Prime Minister was created and it was also decided that the Federal Legislature would be Bi-cameral.” But he failed to add that the political system and roadmap were abridged by the military coup of 1966 and beyond and further messed up by the civilians. To buttress this fact, under the current democratic dispensation, the independence of the relics of these regions has been encumbered by the federal government’s unjust control of the police, resources from the states and larger chunk of revenues accruing there-from, among others. Where then is the self determination from these regions in Jonathan’s current epoch?

Again, preparatory to the Second Republic, he reminded us: “Furthermore, the Constituent Assembly of 1978 gave us the 1979 Constitution and also created the current Presidential System with its attendant checks and balances and Fundamental Human Rights provisions.” The president should not have made any big deal out of this since the country had a constitution at independence and also another one that proclaimed her a republic in 1963.

While trying to make something out of what happened in 1999, he retorted: “The 1999 Constitution we operate today is a successor to the 1979 Constitution and records show that the 1999 Constitution also benefited from reports and recommendations arising from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference.” However, the president failed to explain to what extent in this regard. He also failed to tell the nation whether his six geo-political zones mentioned in the speech being used for a supposed equitable distribution of projects and public offices in Nigeria today is the only meaningful decision from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference. What about other meaningful decisions of that conference?

The President equally failed to let the public know why: “…a number of key recommendations that were sent to the 5th Assembly” being outputs from the 2005 National Political Reform Conference are yet to be perfected – even when according to him, he had reasoned since 2010 that the outstanding recommendations should be revisited. Again, how far has Mr President gone in lobbying the national assembly for the passage of the report (containing a number of bills) of the Justice Alfa Belgore Committee which he set up? A complacent president in the saddle or…?

Mr President, in tandem with his foregoing historical analysis, is planning to pick one or two decisions of the confab when eventually convoked that suit his whims and caprices for implementation. That is what can be gleaned from his references to the previous conferences, especially those hypocritically allowed by the establishment from 1994 to 2006. But this is not acceptable to majority of the people that crave for total overhaul and definitive restructuring of the country. Okurounmu and other members of his committee, except the moles planted amongst them by government, will be disappointed at the subsequent turn of events. We are watching.

However, President Jonathan’s two successive previous speeches reminded one of the days of the self-styled evil genius called Ibrahim Babangida as ruler of the country. Babangida was fond of churning out brilliantly crafted intellectual speeches that left the public, especially students of the social sciences, bemused for long only to turn out to do things that were drastically different from their contents – to the chagrin of the populace. This approach seems to be the new-found love of the president in his bid to distract the public from his controversial 2015 Presidential re-election ambition. Perhaps Babangida’s end and that of those adept at creating dubious conferences in the nation will suffice here.

Demosthenes, an Athenian general and imaginative strategist during the Peloponnesian War in BC 424 once made a profound statement that: ‘All speech is vain and empty unless accompanied by action.’ Yours sincerely adds that not just any action but positively decisive ones. Jonathan’s committee inauguration speech is full of intellectual duplicitous truths. And this reminds of William Blake, the 19th century writer/poet of high standing who once said: “A truth that is told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” The time to say NO to fake political philosopher president in Aso Rock Presidential Villa is now!

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