Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The truth shall set us free, not consus

There were very many Nigerians who had unequivocally pronounced the National Conference dead-on-arrival when Mr President announced his intention to convene it. If I did not join that bandwagon, it was not for lack of informed reasons for
pessimism. It was my considered opinion back then that cautious optimism was a better and safer prescription in confronting Nigeria’s chronic debilities. Notwithstanding the doubts that hung around the sincerity of the conveners, and the stated ideological underpinnings of the conference that were, at best, woolly, I was prepared to go out on a limb to believe that some good could come out of the exercise at the end of the day.
Let me also confess recalling a verse from the Good Book that my Sunday School teacher had compelled me to memorize very many years ago. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Despite controversial conceptualization and a forum whose success depended largely on the fortuitous, I was imploring the good Lord, for the sake of his purpose, to make it work. I was minded to believe that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who had spared his people from certain annihilation in the Medo-Persian era would possess the minds of the 492 delegates to steer the ship of the Nigerian state away from the precipice.
I am not a physician but I have been in and out of hospitals often enough to know that Emergency Room procedures are predicated on very distinct protocols. When you are trying to save someone’s life, seeking to know their name or state of origin will be a devilish distraction. My thinking was that the NC was like an ER initiative with a clear mandate to save the life of the nation as it had become painfully clear that her condition was becoming comatose as the treatment regimen was obviously not working. With a 3-month duration, it was meant to be a fast, focused intervention, and with a N12 million honorarium to boot, no one would complain of lack of incentive. I was actually hopeful – cautiously, that is.
My sense of unease was activated soon after their inauguration when some delegates began whining about the welfare of their retinue of aides. It’s the sort of thing you expect from the regular, green-and-red-chamber chaps: our handsomely-remunerated care givers whose health statuses have improved in the same proportion as ours have deteriorated. As if that was not scary enough, they spent about 4 weeks haggling about how to reach an agreement on issues: whether with 66%, 75% or consensus. It was at this point I began mulling the possibility that all the efforts and expense might actually be heading down the drain.
Now don’t get me wrong: I am not quarrelling with percentages or consensus. Whether in academics or career, most of us have been enabled to our current station by either of them. Since the advent of the current political dispensation, the National Assembly, the 36 State Assemblies and other arms of government have employed these to pass budgets and hammer out resolutions and decisions. If 15 years of consistent practice still led us to this pretty pass, I had assumed the NC offered the opportunity to inaugurate a radical paradigm shift. From happenings at the NC, I think I was living in a fool’s paradise.
Let me also confess that I have focused most of my attention on the Committee on Devolution of Power because in my opinion, that is the most critical issue. Sadly, I have been sorely disappointed: no thanks to the puerile concept of consensus that enabled the compiling of a report even the green-and-red fellas would have bested. To cut my personal losses, I had just about fully divested my emotional involvement from the conference to the Chibok chimera when news filtered in that a member of the committee – a woman after my heart – was up to something heroic.
Annkio Briggs needs little introduction. A familiar face in the historic struggle of the peoples of the Niger Delta for economic and environmental justice, she cut her revolutionary teeth as the spokesperson of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. Disagreeing with the consensus decisions of her committee, she had written and submitted a minority report. That document is the most concise and brilliant piece of writing I’ve read in a long while. I was once again optimistic that at plenary, the consideration of her report would trigger a complete change of approach to dealing with the country’s many ills. Instead, what the distinguished delegates agreed on, goaded on by the Zedekiah of the conference, was for her report to be marked: Received but Rejected! It was at that point I elected to put pen to paper.
A few thousand years ago, a corrupt and unrighteous king, Ahab, ruled the ancient nation of Israel. The kingdom of Judah, once part and parcel of Israel, had a godlier fellow, Jehoshaphat as king. You can imagine Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan and Salva Kiir of South Sudan getting together in Khartoum. Ahab had a problem: he needed to recapture the city of Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians (they have always been a naughty lot). Back then, kings as commanders-in-chief actually led their armies to battle, so Jehoshaphat was persuaded to accompany Ahab on this battle of recovery. One important detail first had to be sorted out, though: the prophet, who exercised spiritual oversight over the king, had to sign off on the enterprise. And this is where things got really interesting.
Ahab had 400 prophets in his employ who, in answer to the question, “Shall I go against Ramoth-gilead to battle,” responded in resounding consensus: “Go up: for the Lord shall deliver it into the hand of the king!” The Chairman of this particular prophetic enterprise was a fellow named Zedekiah. Jehoshaphat immediately smells a rat in their dubious unison and immediately raises an alarm: “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord besides, that we might inquire of him?” It turns out there is (there always is): Micaiah the son of Imlah who the sulking Ahab confesses – and rightly so – “does not prophesy good concerning me.” 
When Micaiah was bundled to the palace, he wasted no time in hitting the nail on the head: “This so-called nationalistic zeal for territory recovery is a divinely-orchestrated ploy to lure you, Ahab, to battle to die. A lying spirit had to possess your ‘prophets’ to facilitate this.”(my paraphrase) Ahab predictably sided with the consensus opinion of Zedekiah and his gang of merchant-prophets and went to battle. Micaiah’s minority report was ‘Received but Rejected.’ Ahab didn’t make it back alive and Zedekiah was never heard of again.
Despite official braggadocio and the upbeat mien of 492-minus-one delegates, I am not comfortable with the direction the NC is headed. I hope, at the end of the day, the conference does not unwittingly signal the death of Nigeria: the very thing it was designed to arrest. I honestly hope that we don’t regret the fact that, presented with consensus and truth, we dumped truth.
If Annkio Briggs’ so-called minority report represents the truth, rejecting it will haunt us for a very long time. Because after all the shenanigans, only the truth will set us free.



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