Osinbajo and limitations of mini confabs

By Alabi Williams   |   18 June 2017   |   3:39 am  

Alabi Williams

By his callings, the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, is a man given to arbitration and reconciling differences. As a lawyer, he is trained to prepare disputes for settlement, whether in courts or at alternative dispute resolution platforms. He also cuts a good image of a judge, even though that has not happened yet. Then as a pastor and spiritual coach, he has willingly taken on the mandate to reconcile people of the world to Christ. That comes with far more challenging personal qualities. In all, the Vice President, now Acting President is seen as one who must at all times gravitate towards enhancement of justice, fairness and truth.

Many have testified regarding his efforts to reconcile Nigeria, within the mandate his office approves. Earlier in the year, we saw him run through states of the Niger Delta at a time tempers were very high in the zone. Tempers became very high because this government seemed not to have an agenda for the Niger Delta. When it came on board, the Buhari administration made no pretense about its innate disregard for issues pertaining to the Niger Delta. This government met on ground a peace initiative that had seen oil production growing robustly for years. The amnesty programme that was put in place by late president Yar’Adua had ensured that restive youths no longer applied their raw energies to destroy oil installations. The youths were kept busy in rehabilitation and training centres, at home and abroad.

But when this administration came, rather than commence a review of amnesty programme to fine-tune it for improved performance and make its governance system more transparent to eliminate waste and corruption, government rudely announced it would wind up the programme by December of 2015. Between May 29 and December 2015, there was a backlog of allowances that were not paid to ex-militants and their training programmes were unattended to. Restiveness gradually crawled back and the boys threatened to ground the oil industry.

And what was government’s response? Military deployments of different code names were dispatched, as if the Niger Delta had become a vassal territory to conquer. That did not work; instead, oil production went miserably low below 1.5million barrels per day. The economy was threatened; and that was the beginning of the peace tours by Osinbajo, to meet with stakeholders, community leaders and the PANDEF. So far, that has yielded substantial peace for oil production to be sustained. The real talks where the demands of Niger Delta people will be put on the table have not taken place. Within his mandate, the acting president is still holding mini confabs with groups and persons who claim to have interest in the Niger Delta. Sometimes, such meetings are administrative, with ministers of petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, and that of the Niger Delta, Usani Uguru Usani in attendance. At other times, transport minster, Rotimi Amaechi will be there. Incrementally, the mini confabs are yielding low hanging fruits. Oil majors have been told to relocate their headquarters to places in the Niger Delta. The Maritime University has been ordered to resume. Hopefully, compliance level will increase overtime, but these are still not the real things.

The Jonathan Confab of 2014, whose report this government treats with disdain has articulated a roadmap towards managing Nigeria’s expanding troubles. President Buhari has confessed he will not read the report. I’m not too sure what else he has read, but the point is that when the Confab was summoned in 2014, Nigeria was not half as troubled as we have it today. But the elders who gathered must have envisaged an escalation of trouble for Nigeria. Despite initial challenges and mischief by some of the attendees to frustrate the process, that Confab enumerated recommendations that could gradually attend to most of the questions this present system of government and structure have no answers to. Even progressives in the Southwest who were apostles of restructuring didn’t see the sense in the Jonathan Confab. They thought they hold the franchise on such matters, and said a lot to discredit that gathering.

Today, that Confab report is being sought to provide urgent answers in these troubling times. The Senate last week urged the Federal Government to take a serious look at the report. In a motion named “The Need for National Unity and Peaceful Co-existence in Nigeria,” sponsored by 107 senators, they called for consideration of the Confab report to determine the solutions to apply to current tension raging across the country. From most unlikely quarters, the Confab report has won the hearts of Senators, who on a good day will not even talk about it. They wouldn’t touch it because they predominantly belong to Nigeria’s conservative political class that does not want the status quo tampered with, because their needs are sufficiently provided. But now, they have seen that Nigeria will no longer provide their needs if she is set on fire by irate youths and some unrepentant elders.

This is the stage we are now, and the responsibility has again fallen on Osinbajo to steer Nigeria away from impending conflagration. Somehow, these things get programmed to unravel when his mandate in office moves from being vice to acting President. That’s fortune, perhaps. But he should use this opportunity to move from mini Confabs into major ones, like actually opening up the 2014 Confab for discourse.

It was not an accident that Arewa youths are issuing ultimatum for Ndigbo to leave the north by October 1. While the quit notice could be a timid response to the successful, peaceful Sit-At -Home order in the Southeast by IPOB and MASSOB, to commemorate the Biafran civil war, it is the outpouring of pent-up emotions held by many in the north. It is the same way other groups and zones nurse similar grudges and hatred against others, which they are unable to voice out. The Arewa youths should be commended for voicing their feelings regarding Ndigbo, or any other group in the country. Ango Abdullahi, Junaid Mohammed and Usman Bugaje, including Ibrahim Coomasie, all northern elders, have said similar things at different times, and nobody took them seriously. Just the same way elders of the Niger Delta have demanded restructuring for several years and nobody listened to them.

Now, we have entered the season of ultimatums. A coalition of Niger Delta militant groups, at a meeting in Port Harcourt, Thursday ordered all northerners to quit the oil rich region. They have threatened to attack all oil wells owned by northerners in Niger Delta before October 1. The Coalition of Niger Delta Agitators berated Osinbajo, the Inspector General of Police, Department of State Services and the Army for not arresting those who issued an ultimatum to Ndigbo to leave the north.

This is the time for the Acting President to move away from mini Confabs. The time has come for Nigeria to be recreated. Those who want to live in perpetual denial can continue to delude themselves that Nigeria is one. There was a particular phone conversation that was on the social media last week. The two politicians alleged to be in that tape have denied knowledge of it. No intelligent Nigerian would have expected confirmation by them. But what was conversed in that tape was not different from what the northern youths have proposed. It is all about political treachery and parasiting on Nigeria. Politicians are oiling their machines for 2019 and they could say and do whatever to gain upper hand.

But if Nigeria is restructured, there will be little or no room for the kind of hatred there is now in the political space. There will be more accountability and leaders at the tiers will be closer to the people as Nigeria is unbundled. This is the task Osinbajo must take to his Oga in London. He has met with northern elders; he has met with Southeast elders. Maybe this week he will meet with Southwest leaders. He has been meeting with Niger Delta leaders.

It should occur to Osinbajo by now that these mini Confabs are merely buying temporary peace for interim governance. We need to revisit the 2014 Confab or convoke a larger one before the various ultimatums by restive youths begin to mature.



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