T HE Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Babachir David Lawal, recently described the 2014 National Conference organised by the immediate past administration as a mere reward for jobless youths. He spoke against the backdrop of clamours for serious, collective thinking on pragmatic and realistic solutions to the critical issues underneath the wobbling Nigerian federation. The rash of violent conflicts in parts of the country, especially in the North-East and the Niger Delta region, upped the ante of the crusade. In their wisdom, well-meaning stakeholders in the Nigerian project believe that implementing the report of the 2014 National Conference offers a veritable window of opportunity for the country to get out of its prolonged quagmire and step forward towards attaining nationhood. Their insistence is anchored on the far-reaching decisions arrived at by consensus at the confab on highly contentious challenges constituting a wedge in Nigeria’s quest for a workable federal structure.
Coupled with the landmark resolutions is the pedigree and calibre of delegates to the conference, who included seasoned technocrats, senior citizens, clerics, legal luminaries and traditional rulers, with the entire representation underscoring the political plurality and ethnic heterogeneity of the country. Some of the delegates included the chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria; Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Pa Olaniwun Ajayi, Ambassador Tokunbo Awolowo Dosumu, Professor Jibril Aminu; Emir of Ilorin, Alhaji Sulu Gambari; Lamido of Adamawa, His Royal Highness, Dr Muhammadu Barkindo Mustapha; Gbong Gwong Jos, His Royal Highness, Elder Jacob Gyang Buba; chairman of the Arewa Consutlative Foerum (ACF), Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie; the most senior lawyer at the Bar, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN); Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, and the Emir of Gummi, Justice Lawal Gummi.
It therefore amounts to a gratuitous insult for the SGF to refer to such a crop of distinguished citizens as boys who availed themselves of jobs disguised as a confab. His outburst is indicative of the fact that certain individuals easily get carried away by the privileges of office, power and authority, all of which are temporal and ephemeral. Indeed, while the SGF’s political camp may not share the spirit of the confab, it does not deny the reality about the progressive outcome, which represents the collective wishes and aspirations of Nigerians about the future of their country. Democracy is about the majority having their way, while at the same time not denying the minority of their say. Therefore, nobody should see himself as being larger, powerful and influential than the rest of Nigerians put together just because of the aura of office, political association, inclination and persuasion.
It is disturbing to say that a conference presided over by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria was a mere job for the boys. It is equally provocative and disdainful to aver that the assemblage of such senior citizens spiced with the new breed was a jamboree to siphon scarce national resources, and to infer that the report of such a historic gathering was self-serving, given the precarious state of the Nigerian federation at the period the conference was held, and the prevalent despondency in the country today which even President Muhammadu Buhari has acknowledged while demanding patience, understanding and sacrifice from his fellow compatriots.
The SGF’s comment ignored possible backlash from other major stakeholders in the Nigerian project who, in spite of bottled up emotions, have demonstrated maturity by calling for restraint from hitherto restive quarters in the hope that, with time, reason would prevail concerning the sanctity of the confab report to safeguard the unity of the country. Therefore, we strongly condemn the outburst of the SGF and advise that he treads the path of honour, integrity, decorum and statesmanship in the discharge of his duties, and when speaking from his vantage position on national issues. It will be outlandish if such indignity suddenly becomes the norm rather than the exception in exalted offices in the land.
We believe that the delegates and indeed Nigerians as a whole do not deserve any form of gratuitous insolence and vituperation, regardless of whoever is in the corridors of power. Lawal needs to show penitence and demonstrate sufficient capacity to acknowledge his fallibility as a human, otherwise his utterances and actions are capable of creating the mindset that leadership amounts to impugning the integrity of the vast majority of the populace.
Certainly, in a plural society like Nigeria, there is bound to be divergence of opinions on critical national issues. But the divergence must be expressed within the framework of promoting decency and decorum. Leadership is about responsibility and receptiveness, and not cant and profanity. The SGF needs to descend from his current Olympian height to ponder the realities confronting the country. He must not be seen to be talking down on others who have equal stakes in the Nigerian project and have demonstrated patriotism. It is unethical to insinuate political harlotry on the part of elder statesmen and professionals of no mean integrity and repute who volunteered to serve their fatherland, denying themselves of personal comfort, resources and time towards proffering workable solutions to grave issues threatening the corporate existence of the federation.