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14 Oct Written by  Japheth Omojuwa

Who Represents Our Biggest Ethnic Group?

Why have a National Dialogue without the poor?

One has never been a fan of some people’s obsession with a national conference, sovereign or not. The reason is not just because Nigeria as it is – and even as it was in those days of yore– cannot pull it off. One is not old enough to speak about the history of Nigeria but at least old enough to know that Nigeria has never been lacking in such conferences. The only difference being that none of those was sovereign. General Ibrahim Babangida had his political bureau, General Sani Abacha had his 1995 conference and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo had what some would probably call his third term conference.

National conferences or national dialogues are not new to Nigeria, the only novelty that’d come with it would be its sovereignty. So then, while not being a supporter of any conference whatsoever, if any must hold, it must come with this novelty. The absence of such would make it another effort in futility with the attendant waste of billions, enrichment of private pockets, and not even with the proper documentation of lessons learnt. There is no need for another jamboree. But if we must have one, who will represent what some have referred to as Nigeria’s biggest ethnic group?

The biggest collective entity in Nigeria apart from the totality of Nigerians themselves is the poor people. Some statistics have put the number at 112 million people and counting. That is just as much as there were Nigerians in 1998. If we had a national dialogue today, who’d represent their interest? Will the representatives at the national dialogue be a different set of Nigerians without a history of being recycled in government? Will Nigeria’s poor people be gladdened by the fact that their government would waste another round of billions for people to gather in Abuja hotels, eat, drink and sleep and get per diems in the name of representing different ethnic groups? Whatever ethnic groups are represented in a national dialogue, most poor people in Nigeria would rightly see it as the rich representing the interest of the rich.

Rightly so, because the poor do not care about the obsession of our politicians and elites. They just want food for their stomach, a roof over their head, garment for their body and education for their children. Is this too much to ask in today’s Nigeria without the dialogue? Will the dialogue quickly make these happen or will it shift resources from these necessities to a public wanking session of political elites? We didn’t need a national dialogue to liberalise our telecommunications sector, which has since created jobs and wealth for millions of people. We do not need a national dialogue to carry out structural economic reforms that’d unburden the central government and leave wealth creation in the hands of private citizens.

The power sector is currently undergoing what could turn out the biggest economic revolution in Nigeria. This can be replicated across the economy. We need to focus on creating wealth through improved access to wealth-creation opportunities for every Nigerian. We cannot have some 70 percent of our population living dingy lives and expect that we will have a fair national dialogue. That is a structural disenfranchisement of the majority. That dialogue would only be fair if the poor are directly represented by their likes. And that’d never happen.

Nigerians have many problems, the number one problem remains the fact that some seven out of every ten of them are poor. Another major problem is the fact that more Nigerian children are out of school than ever. Our educational system is moribund and set to be finished off completely. In recent years, when it was working, it was barely a productive system. A (sovereign) national dialogue may be one of those things needed to fix the political structure of Nigeria. But combining the tension of this issue with that of the politics of 2015 elections is probably the worst disservice done to Nigerians who now have to make do with watching politics play out without the benefit of governance as the current mandate tails off in the uproar of political battles.

Dog