By Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu
It was with great fanfare that Nigeria commemorated its 53rd anniversary of Independence. And despite the sensationalism we often witness in international headlines, our nation had much to celebrate.
Nigeria’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (NSWF) and the recent establishment of an accredited Authority to oversee it have drawn international commendation. We as a nation are making great strides to forge lasting partnerships in order to combat insurgency both in country and across the continent. Agricultural investment is again sparking interest, contributing 40% of our gross domestic product (GDP) in the second quarter of 2013. Our private sector continues to lead by example in both innovation and corporate social responsibility, for political actors to follow; I am immensely proud of the steel mill to be built in my home state of Abia, for example, which will facilitate the creation of thousands of new jobs, an initiative executed in collaboration with our longstanding partners from India and around the world.
It could not, of course, be all festivity on the day, without bearing an onus of responsibility. President Goodluck Jonathan remarked from the State villa in Abuja that this Independence Day would also coincide with the inauguration of a National Conference. The project, believed to be a pragmatic undertaking to deter the future fragmentation of Nigeria, was put in motion by the President to “…realistically examine and genuinely resolve the longstanding impediments to our harmonious development as a truly united nation”.
This is surely an ambitious endeavor and one to be commended, given the obvious sincerity behind its mission. However, the connotation of ‘National Dialogue’ in these geopolitically shifting climates is undoubtedly clear and concerning- the challenges that brought about this forum are not that unlike those that would grow to threaten to tear apart States in North Africa and the Middle East. However, our burden is inherently unique, as the would-be disintegration that preempted the Conference is vastly multi-layered.
Therefore, this experiment, put forth to Nigeria some 53 years after gaining independence, is one that no other modern democratic state has had to endure, much like no other state has had to experience such severe socioeconomic imbalance coupled with adverse market shocks in such a short period of time.
We live and serve under a political pendulum that continues to hang over our national cohesion and bureaucratic stability, one that has existed from the dawn of Nigerian history. It endures as a temporary reinforcement to a much deeper wound, existing to appease the religious and ethnic divides brought on us to together bear, with the promise of national transition of executive power from region to region.
Recent disillusionment in its foundation undoubtedly fostered the development of a ‘New’ PDP, a significant further splintering of longstanding party stewardship that has increased the urgency of this National Conference, one that will play out over the course of the weeks to come.
The Igbo Community of which I am a proud member (and I indeed serve as Chairperson of the Njiko Igbo Movement) has been routinely targeted for persecution and alienated from notions of Nigerian unity. This is tragic as the Igbo have been and continue to be acutely woven in to Nigeria’s socioeconomic fabric. However, and indeed often at the behest of State leaders, we have witnessed prejudice, unconstitutional deportation and even violence simply for affiliation and community allegiance.
Such imbalances lay at the heart of the Nigerian dilemma, a country serving as a thought leader for Africa and a viable trade partner for the world, despite these tremendous accomplishments perpetually being executed in the face of discombobulated adversity.
Six-to-eight weeks have been allocated for the Conference, a timeframe that may consequently not be long enough for those that believe the political party structure is in disarray and the forging of new associations, truly an inevitability. It surely will not be long enough for those that have been marginalized over the span of decades to air their collective and respective grievances and voice alternatives to tried, tested and often failed policies.
And yet, our newfound Sovereign Wealth Fund was in part positioned to build a support infrastructure to ensure national sustainable development and provide a base for future generations to work from in the years to come. Should we envision the National Conference as such a facilitator and, with cautious optimism, call for temperance and humility in the hunt for nationwide consensus, we may spark a lasting change in the promotion of discourse as opposed to petty politics and the invocation of our differences.
Renowned Igbo poet Chinua Achebe once stated the proverb “Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya – He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down”. Should Nigerians avoid conjecture and infighting, allow this opportunity to be an opportunity and stay receptive to new ideas to one day form a revitalized sense of unity, our continued trajectory will be assured, our position at the forefront of globalization a collective certainty.
Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu is a former two-term Governor of Abia State in the Niger Delta, 2007 Nigerian Presidential Candidate and Chairman of SLOK Holdings. The views expressed are his own.