Rinsola Abiola: National Conference Jamboree, Or The Way Forward

The proposed National Conference has been the subject of heated debate for quite some time; while some opined that it would be just another jamboree which would yield no concrete results, others believed that it would present THE opportunity for Nigerians to come together and resolve their differences and address the question of whether or not to remain as one sovereign, indivisible nation. Those who belong to the latter category have, no doubt, had their optimism shattered by the recent announcement that everything except Nigeria’s indivisibility would be addressed. For others who never had any confidence in the concept, however, the list of organisations and interests to be represented have only further strengthened their conviction.

There are many discrepancies in the aforementioned list; not only is representation seemingly skewed [excessively] towards politicians, major stakeholders such as women and especially youths are also grossly underrepresented and in some cases, not represented at all.

Taking women for example, the number of slots which compulsorily have to be occupied by women is sixty (60); while this may seem commendable at first glance, the fact remains that a group which makes up about 47% of the Nigerian population is not nearly well-represented here. 60 women out of 492 participants would yield a ratio of roughly 1 woman to every 8 men at the conference. But as far as numbers go, women still have it better – much better – than youths.

In all, a total of 18 slots have been allotted to young people as follows; 6 from the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), 6 from the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and yet another 6 ‘outstanding youths / role models’ to be chosen at the government’s prerogative. If this is anything to go by, then the entire youth delegation might as well be handpicked by the government – the Council, even though the current excos are trying to redeem its image – is still embroiled in a leadership crisis and an overwhelming percentage of Nigerian youths whom it supposedly represents is not aware of its existence. Where NANS stands and where its allegiance lies is not up for debate either and on the remaining six youths, just what do they mean by ‘outstanding’, and who gets to decide what that is and who would qualify?

A call to the current president of the Council, Comrade Abdullahi Abdulmajeed, on how they intend to proceed and most importantly, truly represent and speak for Nigerian youths yielded some fruit; he stated that the 6 representatives would be chosen via nomination and consensus from each geopolitical zone, and that there would be zonal consultations before the conference begins. Probing further on why he felt that convening a conference at this time – especially in light of the fact that whether or not to remain as one nation would not be up for discussion – was expedient, he expressed optimism that it would indeed provide an opportunity for a great many other issues to be placed on the front burner. On why the National Assembly seemed to be having its duties outsourced and the huge cost of convening the conference, he said that NASS has had series of sittings without actually implementing progressive policies, especially where youth welfare is concerned. He said: ‘during the constitution review, the Senate refused to pass any bill which could have impacted Nigerian youths positively’, and also added that the N7 billion for the conference compared with the N150 billion budget of the National Assembly shouldn’t in fact be a cause for alarm. This, however, isn’t quite an acceptable argument to many because budgeting N150bn for the National Assembly shouldn’t make it okay to expend yet another N7bn on a conference which many Nigerians are neither aware of nor have faith in. The amount allocated to the conference could be used for the provision of basic amenities instead – amenities which are lacking in many areas of the country.

The published list also made provision for 37 ‘elder statesmen’ – yet another very vague term – and 6 former governors, 6 former senators, 6 former federal representatives, 6 former speakers, 6 former LGA chairmen, 109 state political office holders. This brings the number of politicians and people who have been involved in one way or the other in putting Nigeria in her present situation to 176, and that’s excluding the 20 representatives of the Federal Government of Nigeria and other delegates from political parties. That this list is heavily skewed towards politicians is a cause for concern; what could they possibly discuss or contribute now that they couldn’t have fixed or helped us avoid while they were in power?

Nigerians in diaspora, who contribute immensely to the economy, are also grossly underrepresented; but still, if the list is anything to go by, the diasporans have it better than the artisans – the welders and hairdressers and carpenters – and the illiterates who constitute an overwhelming percentage of our population. They will not be represented at all.

Will this conference be worth our while? Will it make any difference or will it just be another avenue to waste state funds that we really ought to conserve? Should youths be concerned about the dismal representation despite constituting 65% of the Nigerian population? Should Nigerians in Diaspora wait this out and comply with the committee’s directives, or should they demand for adequate representation which would be at par with the contribution that they make? Should Nigerian women demand for a higher number of delegates which would reflect true demographic realities? Should we collectively ask that the influence of politicians – the authors of our predicament – be drastically reduced? Does it make any pecuniary sense to place the constitution review process before the National Dialogue? And the most important question of all – of what point is this conference at all if the NASS which they implicitly condemn in an attempt to justify the conference would still have to ratify the decisions and recommendations? Or would these delegates’ words be final?

Ms. ‘Rinsola Abiola
CEO, Kareesmah Concepts
PR and Events Management
(Interim) PRO, APYF
NIPR (in view)

One Comment

  1. Rinsola, we get these all the time. Too many questions and problems with no solutions. Begin to think solutions. Nice piece and quite analytical.

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