Nigeria: Reality dawns as Elders of reason put heads together to forge a fruitful future

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Nigeria: Calls for a National Conference
Our Heroes past Turning in their graves

Statesmen, political leaders, right activists and representatives of ethnic nationalities have  reiterated their calls for a Sovereign National Conference (SNG), warning that Nigeria was heading towards anarchy and already holding a status of  a  failed nation.

At a pre-National Conference brain-storming session in Lagos organised by the National Summit Group (NSG), delegates also stressed that only a national conference of over 484 ethnic nationalities can midwife a peoples’ constitution for the country to replace the 1999 Constitution, which came into being following the promulgation of Decree 24 of 1999.

According to them, the National Assembly, as it is presently constituted, lacks the competence to make a new constitution for the country.

Issues discussed at the summit, which was chaired by the convener, Prof. Pat Utomi, included corruption, rule of law, checks and balances, security, power and revenue sharing by tiers of government, the constitution, wealth creation by states, education, and leadership failure in the country.

Participants at the meeting, which held at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja, included the leader of Patriots, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), former Secretary to Federal Military Government Chief Olu Falae, former Governors Balarabe Musa (Kaduna State), Felix Ibru (Delta), Chukwuemeka Ezeife (Anambra), and Victor Attah (Akwa-Ibom); former Federal Commissioner for Information Chief Edwin Clark, former Finance Minister Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, former Information Minister Chief John Nwodo, former Aviation Minister Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) founder Dr. Fredrick Fasehun,former Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) secretary Dr. Kunle Olajide, former national chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Chief Audu Ogbeh, frontline activist and publisher Chief Arthur Nwankwo, Chief Ralph Obiorah, Ambassador Grace Ekeh, Chief Alabo Douglas and Arewa Youth Consultative Forum leader Alhaji Shettima Yerima.

Also at the summit were Prof. Akin Oyebode,  Chief Mike Ozehekome (SAN), Lagos State University, Ojo (LASU) teacher Dr. Lakin Akintola, Denzil Ketenbe, King Jaja of Anaboyabo Kingdom, secretary of yoruba Council of Obas, Oba Aderemi Adedapo, Elder Seidu Dogo, Mrs. Joy Okunnu, Mrs. Ganiat Fawehinmi, and her son, Mohammed, John Kolawole, Dr. Peter Esan, and Lagos State Commissioner of Police Yakubu Alkali.

Solidarity messages came from invited delegates who could not make the meeting, including Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Ogoni leader Leedun Mitee, Prof. Grace Alele-Williams, Justice Isola Oluwa and Alhaji Maitama Sule.

Proceedings were transmitted live on the Channels Television.

Amid the conference, a quarrel brewed between former Information Minister Chief Clark and former Aviation Minister Chief Fani-Kayode over the deployment of troops in Lagos State by President Goodluck Jonathan in the wake of the national protest against fuel subsidy removal.

Clark, who decried the hypocrisy of opponents of troops deployment in Lagos, pointed out that these critics had kept quiet over the deployment of soldiers to the Niger Delta for some years. He said: “There are soldiers in Warri, Port-Harcourt and Yenogoa. Why are they protesting the presence of soldiers in these areas? Why is Lagos different?”.

Fani-Kayode, who spoke after the elder statesman, disagreed with his view, pointing out that a difference existed between keeping soldiers in troubled spots and invasion of soldiers in peaceful territories.

He stressed: “There is a difference between keeping soldiers in Port-Harcourt, Warri and the North where there are bombings and Boko Haram and Lagos where there was peaceful protest”.

Lagos lawyer Femi Falana, who apparently aligned with Fani-Kayode’s view, said: “Under the principle of federalism, if you want soldiers to terrorise your people, I have the right to say I don’t want soldiers to terrorise my own people”. However, Pa Clark insisted on his view, although he did not have opportunity to elaborate his point.

Welcoming the delegates, Summit Secretary Tony Uranta dismissed insinuation that the meeting was sponsored by the government. He said: “This is not a government initiative. The initiative is borne out of the desire for the restructuring of the country. The Abuja Political Conference and Pro-national Conference Organisation (PRONACO), which I was part of, did not achieve it. This effort will lead to a national conference”.

The convener, Utomi, said that he was seized by sadness and hope as the arrowhead, stressing that while he is sad that Nigeria is on the brink of precipice, he had to take solace in the possibility that the country has a future as a potentially fast growing economy.

He lamented the raging poverty, deep cleavages, absence of checks and balances and loss of accountability, warning that, in the absence of true federalism, many people would abdicate their responsibilities in the system.

Utomi said: “States should challenge the centre. We need state constitutions so that governors can create conditions for prosperity for their people. A process has been set up, but it is inadequate. Elected representatives are not living up to expectation. We must create a situation where the cost of government will be low and people will see being in government as a service”.

Musa, who kicked off the discussion session, warned that Nigeria was on the verge of a failed state in every respect, adding that leadership failure has remained the bane of the country.

Lamenting the lopsided federal arrangement, Falae said the National Assembly is not truly representative of the 484 ethnic groups constituting the country, adding that it cannot make a new constitution for the country. He said since over 50 ethnic groups are not represented at all in the National Assembly, the body is not qualified to act on their behalf.

Falae stressed: “In 1958, as a prelude to independence, our leaders converged in London to evolve a covenant, a federal constitution. The Englishman was not a fool for agreeing to a federal constitution for the 484 ethnic groups.

“Every region had its constitution, coast of arms, Agent_General in London. Thus, Nigeria had four ambassadors in London. as a student of the University of Lagos, I studied four constitutions. There was healthy competition. Awo wanted five shillings as minimum wage, free education. others were not ready. Military threw away the federal covenant. They imposed a quassi-unitary constitution which cannot take Nigeria to the future. Sovereignty belongs to the people. All these problems are symptomatic of fundamental disequilibrium.

Professor Ben Nwabueze

Nwabueze, who narrated to delegates how he was tear-gassed during the protest against troops deployment in Lagos, said it is imperative for the ethnic nationalities to converge for a Sovereign National Conference for the purpose of making a peoples constitution for the country.

He added: “Anybody who is opposed to a Sovereign National Conference is an enemy of Nigeria. The National Conference will draft the constitution and we will march to Abuja to deliver copies to the National Assembly and President”.

Ogbe reviewed the state of the nation, contending that Nigeria must return to true federalism, evolution of productive states, housing through mortgage scheme and agricultural development for food security.

Ijaw leader Clark backed the call for national confernce, stressing that “we must know why we are living together”. He added: “States should move at their own pace, and not that if you cannot move, I must not move”.

Prof. Oyebode cautioned against the feeling that the unity of Nigeria cannot be negotiated, drawing attention to the eclipse of some countries which failed to resolve their national questions.

He said: “There is definitely the need for a new constitution. Abdulsalami Constitution, written by 25 people, is now outdated. It was for a brief, transition period. The National Assembly cannot create a new constitution. Only a Legislative Assembly can do it, not a National Assembly that is set up to make law for the good order.

“The National Assembly is incompetent to give Nigeria a new constitution. After the peoples’ constitution is made, a referendum is conducted. If 51 percent says yes, the 1999 Constitution is put in abeyance. There is the need for devolution of power. Why should we have a register of births and deaths in Abuja? Nigeria’s unity is negotiable. That it is not negotiable is an infantile statement. if we don’t do the right thing, Nigeria may become a past tense”.

Dr. Olajide said: “Government should listen to criticisms. We must move this movement from zone to zone. National Assembly can only amend the constitution, but we don’t have a constitution to amend”.

Obiorah said: “The President should create a state of emergency in the four states of the north threatened by Boko Haram. Today, every household in Igbo is mourning. Igbos are the truest Nigerians. Governors of Ebonyi and Imo states asked them to stay on in the north to prevent the repeat of 1967 saga”.

Dr. Kalu said: “Some people fear that the country may break down, if Sovereign National Conference is held. That confirms the need to talk and allay their fears. We need  peace with security, peace with justice, peace with the rule of law, and an acceptable constitution where these things come from.

“Federalism is not an excuse for the high costs of governance. It is a question of leadership. Sovereign National Conference does not mean that a government will be displaced. But what emerges from a Sovereign National Conference becomes sovereign”.

Fani-Kayode warned that Nigeria may break like old India and Sudan, lamenting that “some people believe that, if the federal government is not in their hand, there can be nom peace”.

He added: “Sovereign National Conference should bring equity and justice. We have taken our unity for granted. In 2012, before entering the church in the north, people and cars are being searched. There is need for a full force against Boko Haram. No to negotiation with them.  They are not powerful than government. Some people say there is a link between Boko Haram and revenue allocation. It is unacceptable”.

Mrs. Fawehinmi asked the delegates never to relent on the subsidy question, recalling that her late husband had published a book 10 years ago, which described it as a ruse. He warned that fuel price may go up to N300 in the next two years, thereby making it unaffordable to Nigerians.

Douglas frowned at the refusal of many northern elite to publicly decry the menace of Boko Haram, adding: “We can’t be myopic that we don’t know the operators and perpetrators”.

Nwankwo said: “Time is running out. This government should be in a hurry to call a Sovereign National Conference now or they perish”.

Nwodo said: “Our leaders should come out to take a position on the Sovereign National Conference. Our present constitution has failed. In Patriots, we drafted the constitution and sent it to the National Assembly and President. Nobody took us serious. I was the government’s spokesman when the 1999 Constitution was made. It did not evolve from a Sovereign National Conference. People were in a hurry to return to civilian rule”.

Ezeife said: “The President cannot transform Nigeria without restructuring. All the sections need one Nigeria. Igbo will continue to live everywhere in Nigeria, even if the country breaks up. We need zonal police, zonal army commanders, a unicameral, part-time legislature.

“Sovereignty belongs to the people. But it must be clear that the tenure of the National Assembly and President is not affected. That done, nobody born of woman will reject the recommendations of the Sovereign National Conference”.

Falana recalled that when the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference started, some of those who sent police after the agitators are now part of the summit. He added: “The issue of structure can only be discussed in a conference. When 84 percent of the resources go for recurrent expenditure, what is left for development? No value has been added to oil. we don’t know the amount of money made from oil. Over 70 percent of our people live with less than N300 daily.

“National Assembly is opposed to any form of national conference. We should tell them that we want to write a new constitution, not to stop their jumbo pay for now, but that 1999 Constitution, which is Decree 24 of 1999 cannot stand”.

Fasehun said: “If the federal government is afraid of Sovereign National Conference, let us invite Prof. Attahiru Jega to conduct a national referendum on it before it starts”.

The two-day summit continues on Tuesday.
Source: The Nation