Monday, 21 April 2014

Article: Nigerian National Conference 2014 Update

 By Christian Chukwudozie Udechukwu(Delegate)

I write for the purposes of introduction directly to you as I am one of the two Nigerians living in Europe whom have been nominated as delegates to the National Conference 2014 to consider the future of our country. I thought to personally update you on the proceedings so far. Another nominee from Europe is the widely respected Chief Adebayo Oladimeji from the Nigerian Elders Council. Two further nominees were included from other continents of America, Asia and Africa. In total, there are 8 Nigerians nominated from around the world to come home. The 8 of us are now in Abuja on this national assignment as representative delegates in a national dialogue concerning how to create a more functional, higher performance Nigeria. Now, we want to leverage this public forum to update you on what has happened at the conference during this first month of our consultative deliberations in Abuja.  

For those of you have been following the press reports on the National Conference, excuse us for repeating some issues with which you are already familiar. For those who have not been following the media, this is your media of information. After some early teething problems when the Secretariat and National Conference Delegates had familiarising themselves with the terms and conditions of our convening, the conference began to make good progress in that the rules and procedures as well as committees have been approved. However, we would quickly acknowledge that we have not started discussing any issues of substance at all. Although sometimes the Conference have lent its voice to condemning real time national disaster issues such as the horrible acts of terrorism in Nyanya, Abuja and the recent kidnapping attacks on young girls in secondary school in Chibok, Borno state. For those who know why we are at the National Conference, I dare to say we shall incorporate your views into our interactive communication with fellow Nigerian delegates and the Nigerian public in general. I believe my fellow Nigerian delegates from Europe, Asia, America and Africa will similarly welcome any additional submissions which any organised groups of Nigerians abroad and concerned individuals may desire to bring to our attention for advocacy or representation in the National Conference.

For others who don’t know that there is a national conference going on, or those who ask why are Nigerians convened at a National Conference at this time in 2014? The answer is fairly simple. We have convened because there is a general recognition that the current socio-political and economic structure of Nigeria has not served us well in the past 100 years and it needs to be revised to serve us better in the next 100years.The question is what can we do in the next few years to make sure we are on the right path? This is the assignment which HE President Goodluck Jonathan had given to the Conference Delegates during his inaugural address. According to Mr President, our agenda must be “The Nigerian Agenda” and how to create a better, fairer, most just and more equitable country. Therefore, as Nigerians living abroad, we are in Abuja to be engaged in discussing the future of Nigeria and how it can become a high performance nation of our dreams. Those of us who came from abroad are building good relations to enable us have strong understanding of other fellow Nigerians, to earn their trust through the strength of our ideas and to share with them a common view on the best path to a Nigeria which is at par with the any world class nation on earth. This has meant that whilst some good suggestions have been put forward to enable our smooth progress, there are some delegates whom seize any opportunity to grand stand on any number of national issues. There contributions are sometimes completely unrelated to matters on hand, but yet they carry on with a view to gain press interest and public attention on the issues they are canvassing. These types of behaviour from National Conference delegates are what some observers have characterised as “noise making”.

Other delegates combine quite consultation with press interviews and opinion pieces which are circulated to delegates during conference sessions and or published in the media as a means to mobilise public opinion. These sort of activities are going to become even more intense during the committee stage work which begins after the Easter Holiday on Tuesday 22nd April, 2014. Recently as committees were being set up, there have been are some delegates whom have jumped up and down to canvass why their gender, ethnic group, religion, professions and or states should be made committee chairmen. Whilst some views are embraced by the Conference Chairman, Rt Hon. Justice Kutigi. Some have been ignored or at most their demands have been met with mild amusement from the National Conference. Some have even argued that the 20 committees which have been formed by the Conference Secretariat should be reduced to less than 10 only to enable more focus and for larger groups be immersed in each committee theme(s whilst others have argued that the committee should be increased to 36 so that each state can have its representative as committee chairman. It is embarrassing to know that some of these views get reported in the media, and we have a duty to elevate the level of these discussions when we get the opportunity to do so at the conference.

We have come to the conference in order engage with our fellow Nigerians - 484 conference delegates plus the executive officers of the National Conference Secretariat. We want to ensure that the Nigeria Agenda as articulated by HE President Goodluck Jonathan GCFR in his inauguration speech for the Confab is achieved.  We also want to ensure that parts of the Agenda which concern interests of the Diaspora Nigerians or Nigerians living overseas as some delegates prefer us to describe ourselves. We are very mindful that collectively, we need to proactively advance matters which concern the Nigerians overseas especially Diaspora Voting, Diaspora Commission, Citizen Diplomacy, etcetera are intensely discussed and embraced in the committee work.

The time for such advocacy work will be at the committee work which begin from April 22nd and also at the plenary sessions which follows thereafter. By this time, most delegates will have become familiar with the concerns of Nigerians living overseas, they will have better understanding and be more willing to support those Diaspora issues. They will realise that our mutual interests as Nigerians in Diaspora are not exclusive to their interests as Nigerians living in the country.  We all care for excellent schools, technical colleges or polytechnics, world class universities both in terms of teaching, leaning and research faculties; we all care about quality Jobs for our youth, superb health facilities, world class infrastructure; good governance and a fast growing economy which creates wealth for all Nigerians.

We all care about a society that is based on justice, fairness and equity - a society where everyone can rise to be the best God made them to be without prejudice to language, background, gender and religion. We all care about a corrupt free society where law and order prevails. We all care about the security of life and properties for all. We all care that every Nigerian should be able to live, work and play in any part of Nigeria without fear or prejudice. We all care that anyone, persons and groups which violate such inalienable rights should be severely punished as a deterrence to future transgressors. We all care that Nigerians should be able to freely compete for office in any part of Nigeria. We all care that Nigerians abroad should be included in the political process of elections and to not be disenfranchised from voting. However, in order for this to happen; government has to be able to adopt the policy, legislate it, fund it, and organise the logistics to enable Nigerians to vote in national elections through all Nigerian embassies overseas.

We all care and know that for Nigeria to compete with the best nations in the world, we need to field our first eleven team. Team Nigeria must comprise our brightest and best talents without prejudice to represent us at all levels at home and abroad. We cannot send our third division Nigerian team to play a Premier Club team from other parts of the world. Over the last 100 ears, we have seen how shameful it can be sometimes when we are not represented by the best amongst us. In our traditional societies each community had their best hunters, best wrestlers, best blacksmiths, best farmers, best fishermen, best herdsmen and more. Everyone in those communities of yore know these best talents in their own communities by name, in person or by reputation. Today, as a result of successive military dictatorship who bought off the political class through patronage, we have found ourselves handicapped in a knowledge based world where the brainiest nations put their best people in front, we have reversed this processes. Instead of pushing our best people forward to advance our collective public good, we have weakened our nation by, for example, encouraging the best famers to aspire to become the best political prostitutes following neither ideology nor vision of the future. And when they fail, since they have no competence in their new chosen profession, they claim marginalisation or other forms of neglect as a way to use their collective constituent group interests to harass, intimidate, bully or frighten competition. Every person or group has an unrivalled competitive advantage which when it is harnessed collectively will make the sum of different parts of our nation to become greater than the whole. Our greatest assignment is to convince our countrymen of this simple truth – that everyone is blessed with a unique unrivalled talent and all we have to do is to help each other to discover ourselves all over again. The National Conference could be used to push ideas to penalise Nigerians who seek to reinforce our differences unless they are simultaneously helping to create greater goodwill and better understanding. Our leaders should be emphasising what unites us and encouraging persons and groups to take great pride in their own natural competitive advantage both in terms of human and material resources. A great farmer should take pride in his excellence and not pretend or lay claims to some other profession for which they have no competence whatsoever. Here in lies our path to greatness as a people and nation.

We all know that what is good for a family in Sokoto, Kano, Lagos, Aba or Abuja is also good for a family in Ibadan, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt. We should celebrate and focus on families as a basic building block for Nigeria. The basic family should be the basis of our national planning. How well does every man or woman wish for their family? Human needs all over the world are almost basically the same and not much different from the needs of an average Nigerian family. We want to travel the world without limitation and without prejudice. We have no apologies for being amongst the most ambitious, intelligent and hardworking people on the planet. Individually we compete to match the best in the world, but collectively we despair at our lack of cohesion at home.

As a people, all Nigerians want to succeed in life and the purpose of the Nigerian state is to create an environment within which all men and women can rise to fulfil their greatest capabilities without prejudice. It is only when people want to rise from one level of unrivalled expertise to another new level that problems of fairness and equity arise; it is then that some resort to claims or leverages of ethnicity, gender, religion, state of origin and more to enable them to eliminate rivals whilst accessing the competitive opportunity which may otherwise elude them. We all know that resorting to and acquiescing to these prejudices have held us back from progressing rapidly as a nation, therefore for us to make progress we have to let go of these outdated prejudices and embrace new inspired - knowledge based solutions to move Nigeria forward.  We have to change our national values and re-orientate ourselves. Everyone must be and live the life of change which we desire to see. Each must lead the other by example. We know we have to, and we can, aim for, and hopefully, achieve consensus at the national conference 2014. This is my great expectation. But the jury is still out.

The verdict on the performance of the national conference so far has been mixed. It ranges from the cynicism of those who never wanted the conference to be held in the beginning, to those whom are aggrieved that President Jonathan has predefined the specifics of the issues for our group consideration at the conference including the no-go areas. It also includes those whom are worried about the possible outcome of the national conference and their fear drives them to attempt to sabotage or discredit the conference before it reaches any resolution at all. This is why the conference spent so much time arguing the value of a simple majority, 2/3 majority or 75% majority voting as a basis for decision making in our voting rule and procedure. Agreeing the rules and procedure therefore took much longer time than expected including taking two separate adjournments until an innovative solution was agreed. Of course there are those who think that the delegates are convened as a political distraction. The money being paid to delegates by government is also an issue. Some critics are convinced that the whole exercise is another national expense extravaganza. But there are delegates whom are super wealthy professionals/business people whom have no need of the money being paid out and have refused to be in receipt of the same. There are also delegates whom can earn more money doing their own private sector work over the same period of national dialogue than what they are being paid in the conference. Some delegates are far well accomplished in their chosen professions and have no need for the National Conference as a basis for funds or fame. There are those whom have need for the money and the national conference financial rewards is a welcome prospect. However, national service through the national conference is the only thread that binds all these variety of complex groups together. So in all, money is not a primary motivation for daily participation in this historic event. It is for this reason that some national conference delegates have remained focused on the set goal and refuse all distractions. In addition, there is a hard core of delegates whom are determined that some change will come from this national conference. The government which is spending huge sums on this project will also make sure there are specific outcomes to benefit the nation. The variety of views and perception of both the national conference and its delegates are too complex to cover here. However, I have given you a broad spectrum view.

The National Conference have had almost four weeks of interaction which essentially revolved around delegates getting to know each other, considering the rules which will govern the interactive national conference, discussing issues of mutual interest concerning the nation and, a variety of groups have articulated their own corporate positions with a view to consulting competing groups to build a coalition on issues, and to commonly canvass issues which are important to their collective constituencies.

For example, I have had meetings with the National Conference Secretariat to canvass matters of interest to Nigerians in Diaspora including the spread of our 8 delegates into specific committees covering Foreign Affairs for Citizen Diplomacy and Diaspora voting in the Elections Committee. Some Nigerians living abroad have lamented that not one from amongst our 8 representatives have been nominated to be committee chairman out of 20 committees formed. However, my own take is simple on these matters. If you have to wear gold bars in order to exercise authority, you are probably not worthy of the gold bars in the first instance. The man or woman with the highest title is sometimes not the most influential. The representatives of Nigerians living abroad can exercise influence at the National Conference without being committee chairmen. The power of our ideas, respect –not tolerance - for differing views, mastery of human relations and passion for our issues is sufficient to swing people around to our views. The considerations which influenced the choice of committee chairmen are reserved for the wisdom of the National Conference Secretariat. 

In order to further advance our focus of interest and purpose, I have held meetings with both the co-chair Ambassador of the Foreign Affairs committee to which I am now listed as member and they have strong understanding of the added value which Nigerians living overseas bring to their homeland - Nigeria, especially the human capital in-flows and the $21billion annual diaspora remittances which is far above all annual foreign direct investment in Nigeria. I also met separately today with Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, Deputy Chair of the National Conference to canvass Diaspora interests and the need for our diaspora delegates having dual overlapping committee memberships dual to cover the Economics, Trade and Investment Committee in recognition of the huge confidence which our citizens abroad demonstrate annually through financial remittances, commercial investments, project development, humanitarian professional missions to Nigeria plus more. Prof Akinyemi being one of our most outstanding diplomats agreed and instructed that his Secretary should help prepare a note/letter for this to be done. The letters were done and signed. With this simple illustration, it is evident that Nigerians at home know that Nigerians abroad are catalysts for change in our national life. This is what gives us great expectations that we could do more during up coming weeks of focused discussion at committee levels which will feed into the National Conference Report for the plenary session deliberations.  

Therefore, we welcome everyone to share their views with us. The more substantive and constructive postulation of any ideas, the easier it will be for our progressive consideration and advocacy. All of my delegate colleagues such as Chief Oladimeji Adebayo are attending a variety of constituent meetings being held daily after the national conference; and they use these meetings to promote collective interests. Others such as the delegates from America and Singapore amongst others have written personal opinion editorials which have been circulated in the National Conference during sessions. Others have done radio, television and or print media interviews which have been published/broadcast and others will soon be published. I have granted interviews to African Independent Television, AIT. I have also granted interviews to a variety of Newspapers including Daily Trust, Leadership, Sun, Vanguard, Union, etc. Similarly interviews have been arranged for TV. As a business rule, I do not actively seek out the media because professionally we tend to put the media spotlight on others- our corporate clients instead of ourselves. However I have decided to make carefully considered use of the media as may be necessary to advocate national issues and matters of interest to the Diaspora Nigerian at this time. I should also mention that whilst there are no regular report from our Diaspora delegate colleagues, I have tremendous respect for their professional competencies, enthusiasm as advocates of Nigerian and Diaspora Issues. I believe they are doing very good work quietly, some in the public glare.

Kindly note that any Nigerian living abroad can also join in the public debate at the National Conference directly through targeted emails, writing open letters, granting press interviews, engaging in public discourse and penning specific open opinion editorials for all delegate representatives to the National Conference, You can begin by listing out your expectations for the National Conference and the delegates from Diaspora with a view to influence the Nigerian public. You do not have to be at the National Conference to be a part of it. If you have something to say, simply say it. But think about what you want to say. Why? Well, the matter is simple again. Would your statements help to create better understanding amongst Nigerians? Would it create or mobilise public goodwill towards your issues? Would it help our nation fulfil its leadership destiny as the largest African nation on earth? If, as a contributor, you want to be taken seriously, say something sensible and focus on issues. You can help to raise our collective voice share in the public space of national discourse. You cannot leave the task of influencing the Nigerian leadership to us exclusively, National Conference delegates alone.

Remember, whoever you are, you can participate from anywhere, everywhere and wherever you are. So please, all hands must be on deck. Let’s work collectively for success, especially with everyone doing what they can to the best of their abilities to influence the National Conference and the Nigeria Leadership. This is with a view towards delivering our expected outcomes, our dream nation. Our collective future is at stake. Let’s make it become the best it is.

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