‘The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labour’.
These words of the French philosopher, Albert Camus, featuring the absurdist tale of poor Sisyphus inevitably bring to mind the pitiable story and futile circumstance of some 496 individuals, most of them advanced in years, who, on the 17th day of March, were ‘conscripted’ to partake in the on-going national conference.
President Goodluck Jonathan has said the conference is a medium where high-standing national stakeholders will ‘engage in intense introspection about the political and socio-economic challenges confronting our nation and chart the best and most acceptable way for the resolution of such challenges in the collective interest of all’. The question that crosses ones thoughts then is; what comes next after the resolutions have been charted?
It is visible to the blind and audible to the deaf that the conference is an utter waste. Reasons being: one, despite the fact that the whole venture is meant to be a service to the nation; and many of the delegates are pensioners with enough wealth to suffice their whole village and numerous progenies, the government still finds it appropriate to fund the conference with ridiculous generosity. At a time when various abandoned projects daily cry for attention, we find the government bold enough to spend as much as about 7 billion naira on a ‘talk-shop’.
If it were to end there, the situation may still be manageable as the funding, though unnecessary anyway, can be deemed a sacrifice for a worthy cause. But then, the whole process is just ‘vanity upon vanity’, waste upon waste, because the conference, from all indications, lacks any iota of efficacy. This is because the conference is not sovereign and fully autonomous. It is, at the end of the day, answerable to the President. In essence, whatever the resolutions reached, no matter how laudable, they are still subject to the whims and caprices of the government of the day which is the quintessential exemplar, if not origin, of the decay in the nation. This is a pointer to the sad fact that the national conference is nothing but a façade of seriousness and an incapacitated gathering of honest patriots. As Tony Blair aptly puts it; ‘power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile’.
The national conference is not the panacea we seek. It was set up to find solutions in issues such as fiscal federalism, resource control, regional autonomy and security of lives and property. And even if it actualises this, it definitely cannot serve as a means of tackling political corruption, abject poverty, miscarriage of justice etc., as these are problems only sincerity on the part of the supreme authority in a country can solve. It cannot be, as the President has said, ‘a means of resolving differences and tensions that may exist in the country’, because the delegates were not popularly chosen. When it ends, it does not mean the average Ibo man will cease to hate the average Hausa man, or that the Yoruba Ijaw man will be comfortable handing his daughter in marriage to the typical Yoruba man.
Fred Allen once said that ‘a conference is a group of people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done.’ How true this is. The reports of past conferences and committees, a good instance of which is the National Political Reforms Conference constituted by Former President Obasanjo in 2005, are still gathering dusts wherever it is they were dumped.
To conclude, I would say the national conference can definitely not be regarded as a form of progression. In fact, it is a means for retardation. It is not a step in the right direction; instead, it is many steps on a vain path. It is not a thing of value; rather it is a big joke, a diversionary and pointless activity; a waste, of time, money and, most saddening of all, lives. To suggest otherwise is to live in fanatical denial.