Message to the National Conference, by Olusegun Adeniyi

Posted by News Express | 3 April 2014 | 3,570 times

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Nothing perhaps speaks to a time like this better than the message embedded in “The Sorcerer's Apprentice” by the 18th century German writer and politician, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. As distinct from the 2010 American fantasy adventure film, the poem in question tells a compelling story which begins as an old sorcerer departs his workshop, leaving his apprentice with chores to perform.

Tired of fetching water, the apprentice, who had apparently observed his master at work, enchants a broomstick to help him with the task, deploying a magic he is not yet fully trained in. While the magic works, as water begins to flood the house, the apiring sorcerer realises that he cannot stop the broom because he does not know the command word to make it stop. And the more he tried to control the enchanted broomstick by splitting it into two with an axe, the more the problem is compounded as each of the pieces takes up a pail and continue fetching water, now at twice the earlier speed. Eventually, after much damage is done, the old sorcerer returns, quickly breaks the spell and saves the day. The poem finishes with the old sorcerer's statement that powerful spirits should only be invoked by the master himself.

In the world of scholarship, it is generally believed that the story captured in the poem embodies a powerful moral about the danger of setting in process forces over which one may have no control. And it has been used by several philosophers and writers, including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who, in “The Communist Manifesto”, made allusion to the poem while comparing the contradictions within the capitalist society to "the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells."

For me, the poem illustrates the reason why many Nigerians (including this reporter) were wary of the National Conference that is currently being held in Abuja, and coming at a period of growing apprehensions, in several quarters, of an impending national crisis. This fear, even if unduly hysterical, is fuelled by the incendiary nature of the subtle and not so subtle campaign about where the next president of Nigeria should come from and what religion he should profess. That then explains why many have queried both the motive and the timing of the conference as I did in "Another Organised Waste of Time" but now that we are confronted with a fait accompli, it is important that we engage the issue in a more pragmatic manner.

Unfortunately, if the morning shows the day, the last two weeks have shown that some of the fears being expressed about the conference are not misplaced. With threats of “relocating” to Cameroun to join some ancestral relations by some otherwise respected traditional rulers and the campaign by some clerics for some nebulous “Ecclesiastical Court”, we should all be worried. Yet given that the list of delegates was compiled apparently on the assumption that the wisdom of Solomon had something to do with the age of Methuselah, the comments credited to some members are rather disappointing.

While we can argue that the oft-predicted breakup of Nigeria remains largely far-fetched given that what unites the Nigerian ruling elite (from both the North and South) far outweighs what divides them, we should also be wary of the fact that when Nigerian politicians become desperate as many are becoming in the build-up to the 2015 general elections, they are usually very dangerous to the health of the larger society.

At a time like this therefore, when ordinarily we should begin to fashion out the requisite strategies necessary to overcome the human and institutional barriers that for decades have held the country back, some of us feel that the National Conference could just provide a ready platform for some hate mongers whose polarizing rhetoric could only push our plural society towards its delicate fault-lines. We should guard against such tendencies. However, it speaks to the nature of our society that at a most critical period in our history when we need to focus on accountability and good governance by embracing a more productive and cooperative form of national engagement, we are saddled with another talk-shop.

Nevertheless, as I stated earlier, to the extent that the National Conference has started (especially considering the fact that I am being reminded everyday by a respected delegate that “the train has left the station”) and there are several prominent Nigerians who are not only attending but put so much faith in its outcome, it is a process we have to engage. Therefore, the issue is no longer whether we believe in the conference but rather on how it can be made productive to the promotion of our national well-being. Or to put it more appropriately, the challenge is how we can ensure that neither its process nor its conclusion is counter-productive to our national cohesion and the health of our society.

For sure, there are issues that the conference can productively engage given the caliber of persons that have been assembled for the talk, regardless of how they emerged. One of them is the monumental loss of innocent lives being witnessed in our country today. From the North to the South, we are dangerously sliding towards a violence that can neither be explained nor rationalized. We see all this everywhere and every day. The level of intolerance is increasing. The desperation of the actors is becoming unimaginable. Tension mounts everywhere. This is one of the critical issues that should engage the respected men and women gathered in Abuja and it would be the height of tragedy if, rather than help in addressing this problem, they only heighten it by making inflammatory remarks.

Therefore, it is important for some of the delegates to moderate their ethnic/sectional and religious posturing that does not in any way advance the good of our society. It is equally important that our elder statesmen (a title the media used to bestow on any and every old man that catches their fancy before Aso Rock now put its official imprimatur) live up to that appellation. They must know--and I say this because it has become the pastime of some of these old men--that pointing fingers at one group or the other is not going to solve our problem. In Nigeria today, there is enough blame to go round for our collective failings as a nation.

As I pointed out in the piece I wrote to mark Nigeria’s 50th Independence anniversary on October 1, 2010, the ethnic-based blame game circus in our country that has gone on for so long is almost akin to the African folklore of three famished brothers eating from the same plate of food which may not be enough to satiate their hunger. Apparently losing out in the game of greed, the first brother remarked but to no one in particular: “you are eating too fast”. To this the second brother responded: “so you saw him”. The third brother completed the farce: “That was exactly what I wanted to say”!

And while still on the subject, this idea that the next president must be a Christian or a Muslim is not only infantile but patently silly. In fact, by now Nigerians should be wise to the antics of those who use religion to achieve political ends. The fact often missed is that we are not looking for a pastor or Imam for 2015, what we need is a president who will be fair and just to all, a president who will maximize our potentials as a nation. While we desire that our president be religious, it is in the conduct of such a person that we prefer to know how much he believes in the God he professes. With the landscape strewn with broken dreams and wasted opportunities, what Nigeria needs today at practically all levels are honest leaders who will accept responsibility for our past; as well as men and women who will stand up and be counted in the process of rebuilding our nation. And it does not matter whether he is a Christian or a Muslim.

It is glaring from the foregoing and some of the issues that now come to the fore that whatever may have been our misgivings about the National Conference, we can now only ignore it to our eternal peril. That is why it is important that members realize the enormity of the burden they bear in making their contributions, especially on the floor. Whether they realize it or not, they carry the collective burden of our nation and that comes with enormous responsibility which should never be lost on them.

In conclusion, I will also offer a piece of advice to the delegates for all that it is worth so that they would not be disappointed if their efforts come to naught at the end of their assignment: The challenges that we face as a nation are such that can task even the most of optimists. This then brings me to another story I have told before of a Pastor who, worried by the state of the nation and its multifarious ills, decided to task his congregation to fast and pray for one week. On the last day of the fast, time was set for a special prayer for the nation in the course of which the pastor admonished his congregation that henceforth, nobody should make any negative statement about Nigeria again because of the power in the spoken word.

The service over, the members were in boisterous mood as they departed the church with the pastor leading the way. But just as he exited the door and saw his vendor bring to him newspapers with a screaming headline: “Perm Sec caught with two billion Naira cash”, the Pastor muttered rather subconsciously but to the hearing of some members of his congregation: “Chei, Nigeria is finished!”

While I commiserate with the family of retired police AIG Hamma Misau who died last week in Abuja, I wish the remaining delegates a successful conference.

•This piece by Adeniyi (shown in photo) originally appeared in his column “The Verdict” in today’s edition of ThisDay. He can be reached via

Source: News Express

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