By Dan Amor
In “Culture and Anarchy”, Matthew Arnold, one of the greatest social and literary critics in Eighteenth Century England, employs a delicate and stringent irony in an examination of the society of his time: a rapidly expanding industrial society, just beginning to accustom itself to the changes in its institutions that the pace of its own development called for. Coming virtually at the end of the decade (1868) and immediately prior to W.E. Forster’s Education Act, “Culture and Anarchy” phrases with a particular cogency the problems that find their centre in the questions: what kind of life do we think individuals in mass societies should be assisted to lead? How may we best ensure that the quality of their living is not impoverished? In this little book of about 238 pages, Arnold applies himself to the detail of his time: to the Reform agitation, to the commercial values that working people were encouraged to respect, and to the limitations of even the best rationalist intelligence. I do not know how much of Arnold had former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan read. But a critical or psychoanalytic study of the former President’s inaugural speech at the National Conference 2014, in Abuja on Monday March 17, 2014 advertised a clear departure from the wayward past. Despite whatever anyone may say, the composition of the team of delegates was the best anyone could put together anywhere in the world. It was an assemblage of dynamic personalities, of the men and women who forged our freedom as a country. And in spite of my well-articulated reservations about some of Jonathan’s previous speeches, I saw his address at the Confab inauguration as sublime. In that beautifully crafted, enquiring and highly readable speech, the former President brilliantly showed how in the course of a single lifetime, Nigeria changed from a confident continental power into an uncertain, reluctant and domestically fragmented member of the African Union with all her institutions almost failing due to a misbegotten leadership. With bold colours and unremitting pace, President Jonathan’s speech captured the drama and vital regrets of our collective existence. A lamentation of the appalling Nigerian condition in all its glory, gore and mortal frailty, the speech offered a uniquely succinct and accessible account of post-colonial Nigerian history. In it, the former President deliberately laid out the whole story so that the various vicissitudes can be put into context by the conferees. Given the President’s terms of reference which, among others, included: form of government, structures of government, devolution of powers, revenue sharing, resource control, state and local government creation, boundary adjustment, state police and fiscal federalism, local government elections, indigeneship, gender equality and children’s rights, it was yet a new dawn for the country. It took courage, composite political dexterity and sagacity for Jonathan to have provided such solution delivery templates. Even cynics and implacable skeptics would agree that Nigeria was no longer a feudal state; that our democracy was gradually advancing towards maturity. Although it is indisputable that democracy cannot solve all of mankind’s problems, we must admit that we cannot as yet solve many of those problems without democracy. The Confab inauguration had, in spite of all odds, reinforced our conception of democracy as being anchored on popular participation. By that singular action of the former President, politics weighed more heavily than history in Nigeria during his administration. What this means is that Jonathan had used the epochal convocation of the conference to make history in Nigeria. Except Jonathan’s die-hard critics who deliberately wanted to undo him in order for them to take over his exalted position every patriotic Nigerian worth his onion was in support of the conference. There was every reason for Nigerians to appreciate the President’s point of departure. The country had been badly battered, bruised and disjointed by both the citizens and the leadership who often engage in unprecedented scale of national blunders. Nigeria has been polarized and balkanized to such an extent that people no longer place emphasis on those things that bind us together but on things that would lead to a possible breakup of the union. Of course, as a community of men and women with differing interests, backgrounds, worldviews and idiosyncrasies, it is natural that Nigerians should see national issues from varied and a times contradicting perspectives. Indeed, there is nothing strange in the seemingly endless disagreements by nationals on many themes. These are the necessary fallouts of a gregarious reality. What is really puzzling is the way and manner some sections openly display pride and arrogance as though the entire country is their private estate. There is a degrading monotony of ethnic or tribal posturing in the polity such that even a former head of state was recently quoted as saying that any decision by Jonathan to run in the 2015 Presidential race and the plan of the North to return to the Presidency would make or break up the country. Corrosive processes such as nepotism, a progressive inability of our politicians to understand, control and promote a culture of genuine patriotism, and a diminishing sense of national identity and significance have conspired to destroy both our capacity for national growth and the human dignity and freedom which are its chief end. Yet, as a nation which has just celebrated the centenary anniversary of its fusion, we must appreciate the need for a thoroughly considered approach to change, a perspective that sets the attractions of potential benefits against the backdrop of potential harm that this sentiment-induced patriotism and the dejavu of tribal bickering can cause to the polity. Admittedly, there are tendencies that are basic to all political unions, since all units within the federation, respectively, have certain local interests and values which they hold dear to themselves and for which they will not tolerate any infraction. What makes Nigeria’s case different is the seeming stubbornness on the part of those opportunists who shot their way to power and entrusted with the national responsibility of husbanding a truly co-operative federalism that has led to the prevailing perception that some are wittingly or unwittingly using the federal arrangement to lord it over others. The military in their wisdom consolidated this lopsided agenda during the 30 years they held sway at the epicentre of the nation’s politics. The 1999 Constitution written without input from the authentic representatives of the Nigerian people testifies to the imbalance in the federal structure, in the allocation of states and local governments. This has been a cause for despair for some, but also for a certain amount of quiet rejoicing for others. We must reconstruct Nigeria beyond the cold, bloodless ethnic cleavages and flaring of tribal emotions being promoted as national politics. Let us, for once, admit that Jonathan certainly did take a bold step toward the foundation for a new Nigeria in which everybody would have a sense of belonging. The way in which the 2014 Cobfab began and ended, its composition and resolutions, shows that the future of the country lies in the implementation of its report. Therefore, the recent call by the Senate for the Report of the 2014 National Conference is salutary and should be commended. The implementation of the Confab Report is the only thing that can douse the tension in the land. It is better to jaw-jaw than to war.