Belgore Committee: Another Jonathan Salutary Team?

Jonathan has a way of tapping hands perceived to have capabilities to deliver. And he may well know where to put them too; round pegs in round holes that is. But why things seem not to be working as expected despite his search for quality remains a mystery which we think sincere national prayers can demystify; after all, God rules in the affairs of men.

Attahiru Jega came into INEC and we all hailed but so far we can only ascribe marginal results to him and his team. In Delta, where I am domiciled, and many other states too, the electoral process was thoroughly rubbished and election results conjured up in favor of very evident losers. In fact, in Delta this was twice so: first, in the gubernatorial re-run election; and then, in the gubernatorial election both held here by Attahiru's INEC. Reuben Abati, a rare pick as presidential adviser on information by any standard, couldn't stop arrests of his colleagues. Rather than fight terrorism, Abati's new paymasters are fighting journalism, even in an FOI regime. From Okonjo-Iweala, Nnaji to Aganga, Jonathan may well have the best of team in our national history. But we aren't seeing the honeycombs yet, and the candies are still eluding the children, including those among their numbers who said "I am Goodluck Jonathan". Some say it is too early to so appraise. May be we're too much in a hurry.

And now another team has been tacked together by Jonathan. His government just took up the report of the National Constitutional Conference of Sanni Abacha from the dustbin of governance for consideration, sixteen years after. Consequently, he has brought a team of knowledgeable Nigerians together to review the report or recommendations of the Confab. A 22member Committee, it also has the mandate to review issues stemming from the 2006 Political Reform Conference. It is a step intended to be the beginning of national redefinition and compass for a proper national voyage. Given the caliber of men in the Committee, it seems to us that some effort is being made to return us to true federalism.

Even though we do not think that narrowing issues to recent constitutional conferences is enough, and would have wished that all related documents in our political dustbin be included, we see Jonathan's team as formidable all the same. And its timeliness is nerve-calming, which is why we cannot but here agree with Anyim Pius Anyim, Secretary to Federal Government, that: "The set up of this Committee is as a result of months of careful assessment of the political situation in the country by the government and the desire of Mr. President to create more avenues to promote peace, greater understanding, unity and good governance in the country."

Besides reviewing reports and implementation guidelines of the 1994/1995 National Constitutional Conference and the 2006 Political Reforms Conference, the terms of reference of the Committee also includes identifying the constitutional, political, economic, social and other governance issues agreed upon at those conferences but which have not been implemented. The Committee is also to deliberate on the currency and relevance of those issues; draft bills for the consideration of the National Assembly in respect of those issues; prepare policy papers and memoranda for the consideration of the government as may be applicable; ensure that these issues receive full attention as agreed upon and intended by the originating conferences; identify, discuss and seek agreement on issues of national importance upon which these conferences did not achieve a consensus. In addition it is to discuss and conduct suitable consultations, on political and other problems that may be referred to it from time to time by the government.

Headed by quintessential judge and retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Alfa Belgore, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma is to serve as deputy chairman and Ferdinand Agu (of the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government) as secretary. The Committee membership include Professor Jerry Gana and Mr. G.O.S. Miri (representing North-Central); Baba Gana Kingibe and Jubrin Chinade (representing North-East); Dr. Abubakar Sadiq and Abubakar Mustapha (representing North-West); Professor Anya O. Anya and Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife (representing South-East); Mrs. Tessy Ikimi and Ledun Mitee (representing South-South); and Professor Oladepo Afolabi and Ebenezer Babatope (representing the South-West). Labour, the media and civil society is well represented with the likes of Peter Esele, Salmot Badru, Najatu Mohammed, Ms Comfort Obi, Wakil Mohammed and Barrister Halima Alfa as members of the Committee.

Alfa Belgore: Who really fits in better? And so, he is the helmsman! But we are not too comfortable, however, with his assistant who we consider as very much unlike a chip off the old block. Jonathan should know there are exceptions to the good old saying: ‘Like father like son'. This is one exception! Justice Egbert Udo Udoma: How the nation missed him! His intellectual and legal boots none in his clan can fit into presently; his character, forthrightness and focus so needed today in governance and constitution making any of us cannot see appreciably in any of his progenies. You do not compensate a son in matters like this. Jonathan got this right elsewhere when he didn't bring in Oluwole Awolowo (a success himself in other endeavors) into his father's very rare political and constitution making shoe; but rather tapped Ebenezer Babatope.

Ebenezer is there to drive through the ideas of the best Nigerian political administrator and technocrat in history in the person of Obafemi Awolowo. Though he (Ebenezer) may have strayed momentarily in politics, and apparently for filthy lucre sake, but if those political ideas of Awolowo, especially on federalism, which he robustly entertained, imbibed and canvassed yesteryears are still intact then what a great pick! So then, we want to see his ebinotopsy lines or Awoist days reflected in that Committee. We mean that let no wads of international currencies tamper with Ebenezer's tongue and or rubbish the good position of the conscience.

We see Oladepo Afolabi effectively representing the South-West with Ebenezer. A political system that has apparently held his region standstill until all other regions catch up with it must be his pensive and brooding concern; and if he has any strong bent for true federalism it can be understood. But he must not forget to be a robust part of a political process that will make our politicians not to continue to prey on the civil service he recently headed. He has a rare political platform now to help turn things around in the civil service. In Oladepo the civil service must have a voice in that Committee. At the end of the day we want to see a civil service that is working, resourceful, result-oriented and not cannon fodder of corrupt politicians. He must not leave this good effort alone to Labor representatives in that Committee.

Saro Wiwa, nay, Ledun Mitee leads the South-South pair in the Committee. Many have sold out in the South-South. History is replete with them. Will Ledun? Ledun has always been there for the Niger Delta and by extension for Nigeria. He represents the good of the region which translates to the good of the country. He knows that when it is well with the goose that lays the national eggs then it will be well with this amalgamated tribes and tongues. This is Ledun. This was Ken Saro-Wiwa. This is many of us who have written our pens dry on the Niger Delta question. The Niger Delta question is actually a national question. Until we get this right we get it all wrong. Since pre-colonial days this has been the perceived fact. Belgore's Committee will soon find this so. And we trust Ledun will properly guide it; but he must stay out of all traditional lures that have made our representatives sell out hitherto. With him to present a common ground is Tessy Ikimi; a material OBJ also deemed fit to be a member of one of his then Committees.

Jerry Gana the wordsmith is there. All the articulation needed to argue Nigeria's way to a commonly acceptable path and so to the ‘Promised Land' are not wanting in him. IBB it was who took him from the ivory tower and rolled him into the national political scene as MAMSER helmsman and his wheels have not rolled back since then, except when he corked his political steam with Umaru Yar'Adua's government apparently because OBJscuttled his dream of becoming the number one citizen. But having served in that national grass-root organ (MAMSER) and severally as information adviser/minister very few people should know Nigeria better than Jerry. He is a choice pick and many ways fitted for this very important national assignment. My grouse with him is not related to the issue at hand, and that has to do with how he or his then office supervised the near demise of The Guardian newspaper under Abacha's regime. That is one dent on a man with great appeal; an infraction of his ordinarily lively conscience which here represents a disturbing parenthesis to this piece. Take that away, Jerry has reared up as a model of some sort and he sure has ingenuity on his side to unknot many a Nigerian problems. Not to forget that G.O. S. Miri pairs with him in the fireworks that would likely see North-Central surging away from the puppetry role it has played overtime.

Anya O. Anya, a Hope Waddell Training Institute alumnus, Professor of Zoology, economic guru by any standard, great university administrator, one of Africa's leading scholar and a man who has variously answered national clarion call to firm up various aspects of our national governance pairs with Chukwuemeka Ezeife to represent the South-East. Ezeife attended Harvard University on a Rockefeller Foundation scholarship where he obtained a masters and PhD degree. The former School Headmaster, lecturer at the prestigious Makarere University College, Kampala, and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University, Consultant with Arthur D. Little (Cambridge, Massachusetts), Permanent Secretary, Governor and Presidential Adviser on Political Matters to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Ezeife has long carried the burden of his exploited and alienated people: Ndigbo. Now he has the best vent.

If there is any region so gifted, and that can make it without the rest of us, this is it. Yet, if there is any region that has known humiliation, alienation, subjugation, this is it! Yet, if there are any people that have paid the greatest price in this country, this is it. And if there are any pair that know these things more than any of us and have been articulating them all along, it is Anya and Chukuemeka; Anya systematic and tactful, Chukwuemeka pointblank and nail-on-the-head. This pair is not just arguably the best that can represent the South-East in this circumstance but arguably the best pair out of all the sets of pairs from the six regions in that Committee. To employ Warri patois or say it in its parlance, ‘these men are loaded'. And they will soon be downloading, but they both may settle on a middle-way approach for better effect.

Of course, we know that Ndigbo, like the South-South, has sold out many a times; and in fact, it seems it has always sold out. But now, it seems to us that if there is any pair you cannot railroad or skew their conscience with oil bloc, it is this pair. So, Ndigbo may well be set. No more excuse.

Baba Gana Kingibe has almost seen it all on the political turf having held many top-level Federal government posts. He has served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister of Power and Steel, Nigeria's Ambassador to Greece and Pakistan and briefly as Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria under President Umaru Yar'Adua who ditched him after spreading rumors about the President's ill-health and who some believed was contending for the presidency at the same time. He also served from October 2002 to September 2006 as AU Special Envoy to Sudan and subsequently as Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and head of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) and Darfur.

Between his knowledge of the goings-on in Sudan/Darfur and Nigeria's sorry story which peaked in our civil war and peaked again in the June 12 saga (where Baba himself was a very key and inglorious player) there may be lessons enough learnt by Baba that makes him a linchpin in this new assemblage and national rebirth dream. And, of course, his quick-wittedness and penchant for words are not in doubt. Jubrin Chinadi is joining him from the North-East to diffuse the firepower of fellow compatriots and to offer some.

Dr. Abubakar Sadiq is one of two persons representing the North-West; a region many think has had more than enough share from the presently imposed national arrangement. A young man and former Minister of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation under Goodluck Jonathan as Acting President he still has the zest of a youth. Abubakar Mustapha pairs with him in this political tackles with others. Will this two-of-a-kind concede to true federalism? Or, because man is insatiable, will they be asking even for more, and further diminish our already too exiguous take home?

So then, the regions are set for duty. No duo dares soft-pedal on the position or representation of others. Labor, media and the human right community cannot be better represented. This smells a parley like none before it. Perhaps the country is getting ready now to stoop to conquer. And we would really wish to see these sessions life; for we see high reasoning power and huge persuasiveness overwhelming the review sessions and determining its various outcomes. Informed fireworks which necessarily inhere in processes such as this will not be in short supply. Before harmony there must necessarily be healthy disharmony. I see reason on the side of each pair and representatives of Labor and co that should harmonize all positions and give us bills that will affect the Constitution for good and give us a nation where no man is oppressed; though tribes and tongues may differ.

As we therefore review those political documents and expectedly push in or influence outcome with regional positions, let us home in on the best for this country. Let us have our ways only with strong and enthralling reasons, and let us accept better arguments or more informed positions. From now we hope to see true federalism that creates no pawns in this our shared nation. On the whole a truly federal arrangement should not be compromised. No, not again! So, let there be results; but we should also pray.

Igho writes from Warri.



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