Dialogue has been rediscovered the world over as a subject of public debate and of philosophical inquiry. Politicians from the ideological divides, leading intellectuals, and concerned citizens from diverse backgrounds are addressing questions about the content of the human character. In our country, Nigeria, the imperative for an all-encompassing dialogue cannot be overemphasized. Immediately after the Civil War in 1970, what our leaders ought to have done was to call for and host a national dialogue to cut a new deal and move the nation forward. But they were smug in their self-assurance. Unfortunately, they saw the entire polity as their war booty and were blissfully unaware of its consequences. The outcome was that desperation among Nigerians became infectious.
Even when the military decided to hand over the reins of governance in 1979 to their civilian counterparts they hurriedly put together a phony constituent assembly and drew up a constitution without the input of the authentic representatives of the Nigerian people instead of opening up a forum for national dialogue. The upshot was that the Second Republic was soon to collapse like a pack of cards. In 1993, after the annulment of one of the most placid Presidential elections ever conducted in Nigeria by the military, the people openly canvassed for a Sovereign National Conference in which they would discuss the basis for the corporate existence of the country. But the Khaki boys in their wisdom repudiated this idea. Of course, Gen. Sani Abacha later organized his own conference in 1995 to give legitimacy to his illegitimate regime. Despite the stark illogicality of the military praxis, a few courageous politicians led by the late iconoclastic Yoruba leader, Chief Abraham Adesanya, called for, and hosted a well–attended All Politicians Dialogue in Lagos in 1997. This helped to galvanise support for the massive agitation for a return to civil democratic governance which became a reality on May 29, 1999.
Again, the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (1999-2007), the first civilian government after a protracted period of military gangsterism, rapacity and greed, bungled a great opportunity to host a formidable National Political Conference in 2005 due largely to the plot for tenure elongation of President Obasanjo. The Goodluck Jonathan administration, by husbanding the 2014 National Conference in which Nigerians of all faculties were adequately represented, had succeeded in providing a platform on which the nation would be re-invented. Yet many continue to associate dialogue with a prudish, Victorian morality or with crude attempts by government to legislate peace. It is against this backdrop that all well-meaning Nigerians should advise President Muhammadu Buhari to dialogue with the aggrieved, from his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) which has manifested clear evidence of division in its infancy, to other Nigerians who feel shortchanged by his administration. The government seems to be fighting so many wars: the Boko Haram insurgents, militants in the Niger Delta, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, the Shiites religious group in the North West, etcetera.
President Buhari must note that his becoming president in 2015 was a product of dialogue. An initiative for dialogue towards a peaceful transition by the Jonathan administration was masterfully encapsulated in the hosting on Thursday June 12, 2014 of the first ever Nigeria Political Parties and Political Stakeholders Submit at the International Conference Centre, Abuja. With the theme, Nigeria’s Political Hearts Must Beat As One, the summit which was chaired by His Excellency, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), former Nigerian Head of state, and a keynote address by President Jonathan, was what made Buhari to sail easily to the State House without rancour and animosity. Massively attended by registered Nigerian political parties, leading Nigerian political stakeholders, civil society organizations, members of the Fourth Estate of the Realm, and members of the diplomatic community, the summit did address the activities of very powerful anti-democratic forces intent on exploiting lapses in the system to wage a bitter struggle against the democratic state.
It would be recalled that political parties played a crucial role in the evolution of Nigeria’s nationhood leading to independence in 1960. The leading parties were: the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) which stood for political democracy in its classical, individualistic form; the Action Group of Nigeria (AG) which stood for federalist democracy; the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) which exemplified the modernization of traditional political authority; and its radical opponent, the Northern Elements Progressive Union (NEPU) which espoused egalitarian democracy. As a conservative party, pledged to preserve a reformed traditional order, the NPC wished to collaborate with conservatives in the Southern regions. However, the AG and the NCNC were trans-regional parties with strong libertarian and egalitarian traditions. The issue of regional versus trans-regional extension was the core of inter-party relations in 1959, and despite embracing the NPC’s doctrine of political regionalism by the conservative faction of the AG which broke with its national leadership after the 1959 parliamentary election, all the parties had to come together on condition of political security within their respective regions and a proportionate share of national power.
In essence, the principle of “regional security” was, in effect a political formula for socially conservative capitalist development in the First Republic. The need for collaboration amongst existing political parties in the face of mounting security threat to the corporate existence of our dear country is long overdue. A sufficiently re-enforced collaboration amongst existing political parties will foster a positive national political climate that will engender social stability, deepen national security and cohesion and to reactivate a healthy political competition among the parties. To douse the current tensed political atmosphere, our politicians must close ranks and put the unity and survival of the nation first. There must be a national democratic agreement among the contending forces and political stakeholders. It is better to jaw-jaw than to war. We need resources to develop the country and to feed our teeming population, not to prosecute wars. Dialogue is an important component of the democratic process.