A case of political schizophrenia By Segun Ayobolu

These are truly most interesting times in Nigeria. This is a season when most of us are born again yet remain firmly rooted in our sins. We are all elated at being members of the kingdom of God but continue to hold tenaciously to and enjoy the bounties of the kingdom of Satan – a veritable spiritual dual citizenship. Janus faced, we exhibit the uncanny capacity to look simultaneously in two fundamentally opposite directions; to bask self-righteously in the radiance of light while at the same insisting on savouring, surreptitiously, the destructive pleasures of darkness. Ours appears to be the political equivalent of the medical condition known as schizophrenia – the coexistence within the same entity of essentially contradictory and incompatible impulses.

Shortly before the country’s 53rd independence anniversary on October 1, our beloved President Goodluck Jonathan apparently experienced an epiphany. The light shone brilliantly around him and dispelled all forms of presidential darkness. Spurred by what must have been a divine revelation, our President suddenly became a born again federalist – or something of the sort. In a most moving exhibition both of humility and courage, the Commander-In-Chief ate his previous words, confessed his past constitutional obduracy, repented of his former Unitarian doctrine and affirmed his new faith in a national conference as the inevitable path to the country’s redemption.

Please do not mind the cynics. They claim that it is all an elaborate exercise in trickery. For them, the timing of the President’s purported constitutional rebirth is quite suspicious. A fierce civil war rages within his party. Even if Dr Jonathan clinches the party’s ticket for his barely disguised second term bid, the PDP has suffered considerable damage as a formidable vote harvesting machine. And this is happening at a time when, against all odds, the opposition is gradually forging and consolidating a cohesive front. To worsen matters, it is argued, there is precious little to show for the President’s much trumpeted transformation agenda more than half way through his tenure.

Well, if the emergency preoccupation with a national conference or dialogue or conversation – sovereign or otherwise – is an effort at political distraction, you must applaud the President’s handlers for the sheer brilliance of their strategy. For, the manoeuvre is certainly succeeding well beyond their wildest imagination. Just look at it. The prospect of a national conference is such a juicy bone that there is a frenzied scramble to partake of the delicacy. Hardy pro-democratic activists, doughty ex-Generals, wizened Awoists, seasoned senior advocates, trenchant ethnic entrepreneurs, cerebral academics and much more have all been charmed. For them, it is a national conference or nothing.

It does not matter to the pro-national conference enthusiasts that President Jonathan has signalled his intention to forward the proposals of any such concourse for the consideration and approval of the National Assembly. Not even the President’s thunderous silence on their vehement protestations that the outcome of the conference be subject only to a popular referendum has dampened the ardour of pro-national conference elements.

President Jonathan must find it difficult believing the sheer scale of his good luck. Just think of the implications of this manoeuvre. The 2015 elections suddenly do not matter anymore. There will unlikely be any need to account for unfulfilled electoral promises. Neither will there be the inconvenience of having to answer awkward questions on a transformation agenda that promised so much but has so far delivered so little and shows no indication of making any dramatic impact. Whoever dreamt up this idea most certainly deserves an armoured BMW luxury car or two as compensation.

If the pro-national conference elements have their way, then the opposition both at the centre and the states will surely be in a quandary. For, the opportunity to constitutionally contest for political power will be put on hold until the expiration of the dialogue, which may be an indefinite, open-ended affair. Meanwhile, the incumbent occupants of public office at all levels will remain securely in power superintending the emergence of a new order. Beneficiaries of a supposedly iniquitous status quo will thus be expected to usher in a new era of fundamental change that erodes the foundation of their political advantage. This can be nothing but sheer illusion. Pray, can there be any more subtle yet exceedingly effective tenure elongation agenda?

But in what way does this amount to what we have described as the political equivalent of schizophrenia? Now, President Goodluck Jonathan poses as a born again advocate of a constitutional conference. To the extent that he hitherto was vehemently opposed to the idea, his claim of repentance and change is valid. However, the President from all indications remains fiercely determined to actualise his constitutional right to seek a second term in office. But that constitutional right emanates from the discredited 1999 constitution, which advocates of a sovereign national conference want discarded!

If the President has seen the light and now supports fundamental constitutional change through a national conference, it means that he agrees that the 1999 constitution on which his political legitimacy rests is incurably defective. What then should be the logical outcome of the President’s professed new political orientation? It is simply that his purported political and ideological rebirth cannot be a half way affair. Rather, he must be thoroughly and completely born again by renouncing his second term ambition and getting other elective office holders at all levels to do the same. That way, a level playing ground will be created for the institutionalisation of the genuine constitutional change he now claims to believe in.

But then, what do we have? Diverse elements in civil society are taking the brand new Jonathan at his word and working hard towards actualising his proposed constitutional conference. Yet, the old President Jonathan is alive, well and actively using all the power at his disposal to ruthlessly pursue his second term ambition and indirectly entrench the discredited status quo. Thus, the agents of the state have intensified the unconstitutional harassment and intimidation of Jonathan’s opponents within the PDP. The centralized police continues to be used in a most brazen, flagrant and partisan manner to undermine legitimate governance in Rivers state.

A minority of six legislators continues to prevent the Rivers State House of Assembly from functioning with the active support of Abuja. In the same vein, the Jonathan presidency continues to lend its considerable weight to the immoral antics of a minority of governors who petulantly refuse to accept the outcome of a democratic election within the Nigerian Governors Forum. A born again presidency claims to be committed to a new, equitable and just political order. Simultaneously, an unreformed presidency is working towards the entrenchment of the current political order beyond 2015. This is a case of political schizophrenia.

The self -styled Southern Nigeria people’s Assembly (SNPA) offers another example. At the end of its last meeting in Abuja, the group of eminent Nigerians gave undiluted support to the proposed national conference. They want the conference to draw up a new constitution between now and May 31st, next year and are silent on whether this exercise can be undertaken concurrently with the 2015 election. If elections do not hold before May 2015 as scheduled, where would any incumbent administration derive its authority from? To give legitimacy to the conference, which they presume will have sovereign powers they curiously called on the President to “invoke section 14 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. This column submits that the President has no powers to carry out a coup against the constitution.

Yet, the same SNPA believes that the National Assembly has no legitimacy to review the outcome of the conference. They want a referendum to perform that function. But is it not the same election that produced both the President and the National Assembly? What confers legitimacy on one and not the other – the arbitrary whims of the SNPA? This kind of confusion is a function of political schizophrenia.

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In the beginning...Let there be Light http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japheth_J._Omojuwa

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