Seat of Power

Brief remarks on national dialogue by his Excellency, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN


This is the first time in 6 years that I have prepared a statement for a courtesy call.

However I do so today because of the importance of this visit and the subject that drives it.

I also prepared this statement in the context of some emerging and disturbing events that have occurred during the visit of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue to Edo State.

Although the President supposedly announced his intentions to set us on a course for a national conference, it seems that for reasons he may know best, it is now seemingly more comfortable to talk of a “national dialogue.”

It is impossible to say with any exactitude if the President is right or wrong on his decision to embark on this initiative. And indeed if this is even the best time to do so.

Understandably there have been strong opinions on either side of the divide. I happen to have an opinion as well.

If we are indeed to have a dialogue, then surely the first thing to do is to set a clear agenda?

And if we refuse to listen to the views of those who don’t think that we should be doing what we are doing, it portends for me great concern about whether or not we can dialogue and indeed if we should be having one.

A dialogue by its very definition demands that we must listen to all views, both agreeable and disagreeable.

If those that do not agree are heckled and shouted down then the platform for dialogue is immediately weakened.

Perhaps, the onset of this exercise is the strongest implication on the challenge of leadership question that we face as a nation.

But this is not peculiar to us.

Because it is not long ago that an American, Lee Iacocca, published a bestselling book entitled, “Where have all the leaders gone?”

Iacocca was CEO of Chrysler, a multi-national company, and a successful businessman and leader in his own right. Yet if he raises concern about leadership challenges in such a mature democracy as America then we are not alone.

If we do not believe that our elected leaders in the National Assembly can undertake the task for us then we must begin to imagine how many possible people and groups seek to.

If we are to start a dialogue we must expect as many disagreements as agreements.

We must expect to hear the views of those that we know and those that we don’t know.

We must expect to hear from those that we like and from those that we don’t like.

For me, the position taken by my Governor Brother in Edo state is one that appeals to me.

If we have not even started talking about the real details, I wonder how far we can go and how restrained we will be when things really get in the eye of the storm.

My advice to the advisory committee is to remember that Roses have thorns and those who seek to enjoy its fragrance should expect that they may be pricked.

But the reason why I stand by my Governor Brother’s position in Edo is the underlying question we are both asking – What are we supposed to be talking about?

Whilst I agree that things are not what they should be in Nigeria, it seems very clear that some of the issues of dissatisfaction lie in areas where there is no need to talk. I am referring to areas such as:

Unemployment which requires not talk but concrete economic plans of action.

Education which requires not talk but a clear roadmap for addressing all stakeholders, parents, teachers and students in that sector.

Inefficient transportation which requires not talk but an urgent infrastructural renewal plan for the country.

Regular power supply which will be achieved not through dialogue but by a vigorous and impassioned implementation of the power sector reform agenda.

Hunger which is impervious to talk and requires the provision of food, delivered by a clear and aggressive food production program.

National security of which some talk may be helpful but in respect of which a general improvement in the quality of life would be far more impactful.

While it is not clear if this a constitutional conference or a talk shop, its shape and structure must emerge from the offset.

But in the event that the dialogue metamorphoses into a constitutional conference, I will say two things.

First is that we have aired talks of constitutional amendments with more frequency than can be expected of any nation.

And I have said that although it appears that our people’s disaffection is resulting in a request for a better constitution, what I believe they want is not just a better document but a better life.

The second thing is that if this to be a constitutional conference then what happens to National Assembly’s ongoing efforts for which many millions of Naira have already been expended.

When we held a constitutional conference in 2006, many areas were vigorously and passionately defended, compromised and agreed.

Perhaps many of the good that came from that would have found their way into the body of national development had they not been drowned in the cesspool of the infamous 3rd term agenda.

It is not difficult to get a copy of the report that came out of that conference. In the event that you are not able to get a copy I will endeavour to send you one.

Thank you for your time.

Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN

Governor of Lagos State

November 1, 2013

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