Journalism in the service of society

The National Conversation: Interests and Intrigues that Shaped the 2014 Conference

Authors: Akpandem James and Sam Akpe

Publisher: Wordsworth Global Resources, Abuja

ISBN: 978-978-999-540-0

Year: 2022

Pagination: i-xvii + 1-633 

Reviewer: Solomon Obot Etukudo

AKPANDEM James was an inner member of the conference; and thus an insider at the conference. He was well-positioned, and very knowledgeable about the modus operandi, as well as the nuances, intrigues, special interests, dramatis personae, and the games that played well and scrambly at the conference. 

James is most qualified to do this book. He is a seasoned communications strategist, an editor and experienced media person. Sam Akpe as a staff rapporteour worked with James together to bring this monumental work to limelight.

The 2014 Conference was a courageous policy decision by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a former Executive President of Nigeria. No Nigeria’s elected or non-elected leader-ruler had ever attempted the feat. But President Jonathan took the bull by the horns, and he rode and rocked the bull to the cheers of the Nigerian people. 

In this book, James and Akpe document how the President leaned back, to instruct the conference participants to go through to the beginnings of Nigeria, as a country. He mandated the conferees to come up with strategic options for Nigeria to become what it wants to be, and what it can fulfill for ALL Nigerians.

The writers enumerated the communicative methods the President pinpointed as the ways to NIGERIA’S continued co-existence as a polity. 

In simple and succinct prose, James and Akpe have chosen the exchanges, the verbal-vocal combats, the camaraderie, the relaxed atmospheres, the comical reliefs, and the tense-and-terse encounters, between competing and conflicting interests. The authors vividly recount one such incidence: “Some were calling for a break up (of Nigeria) while others were grandstanding in contentious issues, largely bordering on lack of inclusiveness….in fact (these) had become a recurring feature in the annals of the country, even before independence in 1960.” (p.xi). Such admission sets the tone for what was to follow between the covers of the 633-paged epitome of a book.

The resolve to write was documentation-driven. As practicing journalists, it is second nature for them to keep journals of events. The conference was in fact, igniting a reservoir of expertise in both accredited practitioners. Mr. James noted that the essence of the book writing was “to document what transpired particularly behind the scenes; those things that were probably not in the public space” (p.xii). 

The intrigues of interest groups and their dramas, as well as the personalities, made the book different from the other journalistic reportage. 

This book transcends the typical who did what to whom and where, why and how. In the book, we read and hear peoples, regions, religions, interests, and cliques articulating specifics of their desires and wants IF NIGERIA IS TO EXIST.

This book documents deeper emotions that overflew during the conference. James and Akpe painstakingly wrote a bosom-swelling missive to Nigeria and Nigerians. 

The post-presidential election tribunal needs to go through this volume, page by page.

The book speaks the languages of Nigerians in different tongues. And these words are anchored on Nigeria’s structures. 

These are the fundamentals in the national conversation. These are the bread and butter sensitive issues that confront the most ordinary of Nigerians as equally as the most important power and status-seeking others.

In the book, the writers provided detailed verbal, I prefer vocal, exchanges, to add spice and texture to the habitually staid conferences of this type. One reads and feels the pulses, the emotions of Nigerians. The book is not all logical. And that is the attraction. This is humanistic journalism.

The table of contents is elaborate to nearly being exhaustive. In a masterful journalistic style, the authors exhibited the skills and organizing abilities, to arrange the table of contents into three sections, plus the appendix. 

Of memorable to me is the mention of President Ebele Jonathan’s inaugural speech, along with the speech at the closing ceremony. As a student of politics, history, language and communication studies, formal openings and closings matter. Their inclusion reminds me of epideictic discourses, where you praise, blame, and move on. 

This book attempted to merge politics and language to formulating policies. In the genus of speechmaking, inauguration and farewells, one must begin and end what one started in a speech. This sense of opening and Nigeria’s much-needed endings that have stalled Nigeria’s growth is liberating, in the relation that everything has a beginning and an ending. 

Nigeria’s conversations must not end in permanent divisions, conflicts, and habitual, cyclical, disagreements, according to President Jonathan in his opening address.

This book reminds Nigeria to give closure to challenges and difficulties. Nigerians need to move on as one people, and one country because there are greater things to be done, outside of religion, regions, classism, and ethnicity.

I had twenty copious handwritten notes on the book. Any reader of this book review would notice my love for Nigeria, history, politics, language, and speaking communications.

The authors have written an intellectual historical documentation of the country from 1800 to the present. The writers did not go back to the era of European wars among themselves. But that prompted the 1884 Berlin Conference from which Nigeria was invented.

I wonder why they did not expand as much on a comparison and contrast of NIGERIA’s constitutional development as they did on America’s constitutional conferences. The writers showed mastery and depth in detailing participants and activities in the American constitutional conferences, but nothing of note of Nigeria’s constitutional conferences that started as early as 1922.

All said this work was a labour of love, commitment, and courage, to sort out, edit, write and publish this voluminous intellectual history for Nigerians. The book is more than a knowledge of Nigeria’s history; it is a book on the skills and wisdom of, for, by, and with Nigerians, as well as to the world of inquisitive minds who need to know why nations in non-Caucasian worlds fail or succeed.

Sections two and three bare it all. These two sections expose the nitty gritty of Nigeria’s nationhood, issues, topics, personalities, and all.

This is a monument of a book. It demonstrates a love for the craft and country by two of the best and wisest and brightest. It’s not all that one knows and sees that one speaks and writes about. Akpandem James and Sam Akpe saw a lot, heard a lot. They remain Nigeria’s precious metals.

Buy and read the book for Nigeria’s sake. 

I recommend the book to all the members of the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive. Every journalist and personal assistant to anyone who matters in Nigeria should read it.

*Etukudo is Professor of Mass Media Arts, Journalism and Communication Studies

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