Posted: Saturday 30th June 2012 at 23:32 pm

National Conference: Now or never?

BY DAPO AKINREFON

With the current state of the nation, eminent Nigerians, have again unanimously re-echoed the need for the convocation of a national conference to address the multifarious problems facing the country.

On the basis of this, the eminent Nigerians converged at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Lagos to warn against further delay for such a national dialogue.

The warning, which was given at the inaugural meeting of the National Dialogue Steering Committee convened by the National Summit Group, came in the wake of insurgency in the North.

Representatives from each of the six geo-political zones, including Second Republic Presidential Adviser to former President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai; protem chairman of the group and former Minister of Information, Chief John Nwodo; former governor of Akwa Ibom, Obong Victor Attah; Alhaja Ganiyat Fawehinmi; founder of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) Dr Fredrick Fasehun and former Minister of Avaition, Alabo Graham Douglas, former Secretary General of Yoruba Council of Elders, Chief Yinka Olajide and Chief Ralph Obiora, among others, were unanimous on the need for the convening of a roundtable discussion.

The group also elected fifteen members into the National Working Committee for the day-to-day running of its affairs, toward the actualization of a national dialogue.

They include: Yakassai (Chairman); Dr. Arthur A. Nwankwo (Deputy Chairman); Mr. Tony Uranta (Secretary); Mrs. Charity Umbwe Shekari (Deputy Executive Secretary); Chief Audu Ogbeh (Chairman, Finance Committee) and Mr. Olawale Okunniyi (Publicity Secretary). Others are: Prof. Pat Utomi (Ex-Officio); Mrs. Ganiat Fawehimi (Ex-Officio); Engr. Mohammed B. G. Bunu (Ex-Officio); Obong Victor Attah (Ex-Officio); Hon. Ralph Obiora (Ex-Officio); Ms. Ene Ede (Ex-Officio); Alhaji Balarabe Musa (Ex-Officio); Mr. John N. Nwodo (Ex-Officio) and Alhaji Gambo Jimeta (Ex-Officio).

Need for dialogue

Speakers from each of the zones harped on the need for the federal government to organise and mobilise Nigerians to discuss the way forward for the country.

Protem chairman of the NSG, Chief John Nwodo, who fired the first salvo, argued that “as long as the present structures of the Nigerian nation persists, it will threaten the unity, peace and rapid development in the country.”

Speaking further, Nwodo explained that the inaugural meeting of the steering committee will address issues such as “a programme of activities to realise our agreed objective; a strategy for raising funds for the sustenance of the activities of the steering committee that will give it objectivity; provide identification of groups with similar objectives as ways and means of collaborating with such groups.”

Expressing worry over the growing insecurity in the country, the former minister said “as we meet today (Wednesday), the security situation which worried us at our first meeting, has worsened. Our national situation is a clarion call for all patriotic Nigerians to arise and make meaningful contributions for a peaceful and speedy resolution of our national crisis.”

In his remarks, secretary of the NSG, Mr Tony Uranta expressed worry over the escalating insecurity in the country noting the need to address such issues.

In addition, he explained that the steering committee was facilitated to convene a National Dialogue aimed at addressing pressing issues facing the country.

Tanko Yakassai, who spoke on behalf of the North West, threw his weight behind the convocation of a national dialogue but pointed out that it must be done in conformity with the 1999 Constitution.

The elder statesman, who maintained that the country has a lot to gain if it convenes a national conference, said the North West is prepared to give its full support for any conference that will address the problems facing the country.

He said “We are in support of a national dialogue; we welcome a national dialogue because Nigeria has everything to gain.”

On his part, founder of OPC, Dr Fredrick Fasehun, who spoke for the South West, picked holes in the 1999 Constitution describing it as defective.

While he advocated for a Peoples Constitution, he said “you cannot continue to operate on a defective constitution. Nigeria cannot continue to operate a constitution put together by a few military men. We need a peoples’ constitution because the 1999 Constitution cannot represent the wishes of Nigerians.”

Speaking on behalf of the South South zone, Alabo Graham Douglas said it was time Nigerians stop rhetoric and convene a national conference to restructure the country.

According to him, “We must immediately stop rhetoric and begin the process of restructuring the nation. The federal government should spearhead the national dialogue as it has the capacity of getting everybody involved.”

Action point

At the end of its meeting, the steering committee issued a communique on action points to be taken to address the problems facing the country.

It called on government to “develop a lasting solution to the current security challenges through wide consultation and engagement of all stakeholders in order to bring about dialogue with Boko Haram adherents to bring to an end this unhappy state of insecurity in our nation as it did in the Niger Delta region.”

The communiqué, signed by chairman and secretary of the Steering Committee, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai and Mr. Tony I. Uranta respectively, said it was imperative for government to bring to an end the menace posed by the Boko Haram insurgency “as expeditiously as possible, in order not to undermine the corporate existence of the country.”

In its resolve, the forum called on security agencies to be more proactive in their intelligence gathering operations, and “seek the cooperation of all Nigerians, especially community and religious leaders, to assist the security agencies by giving useful information”.

Besides, the group said should the federal government fail to convene a national conference, it was committed to the task of mobilizing the “Nigerian masses, including Civil Society groups, Government, legislators at National and State Assemblies, Students, labour organizations on the imperativeness of convoking a national conference.”

While it reaffirmed its commitment to the “unity, political stability and national security of Nigerians, it however, condemned the continued spate of “wanton acts of murder, destruction of properties and arson committed on innocent Nigerians in their places of abode and worship.”

The committee further enjoined security agencies to be proactive in their intelligence gathering operations just as it called for cooperation of all Nigerians, especially community and religious leaders, to assist the security agencies by giving useful information.

On the level of corruption in the country, it said that “corruption in our national life has become pervasively endemic and systemic in proportions not imagined as evident by the appalling levels of sleaze exposed by the probes into the management of Fuel Subsidy, Pension Fund, Securities and Exchange Commission at the National Assembly, in addition to the one on power sector.”

In addition, it called on government to be sincere, and go beyond “paying lip-service”, in decisively fighting corruption by prosecuting all those who have been indicted in corruption related probes.”

Also, it maintained that “it is only a Peoples’ National Dialogue to produce a ‘Peoples Constitution’ that can guarantee the survival of democracy in Nigeria and the nation.

Therefore, Government should immediately put in motion the machinery for initiating the process of convoking a National Conference of all ethnic nationalities and other interest groups to address the challenges of nationhood at the earliest possible time.”

Current structure threatens unity —Nwodo
Extracts from Nwodo’s speech at the meeting: As long as the present structures of the Nigerian nation persists, it will threaten the unity, peace and rapid development in the country.

The inaugural meeting of the steering committee will address issues such as a programme of activities to realise our agreed objective; a strategy for raising funds for the sustenance of the activities of the steering committee that will give it objectivity; provide identification of groups with similar objectives as ways and means of collaborating with such groups.

As we meet, the security situation which worried us at our first meeting, has worsened. As we meet today, no single person is being prosecuted for fraud and sleaze in the oil sector. As we meet today, the allowances of our legislators in the National Assembly remain a secret.

As we meet today, the federal government’s monopoly of power, rail, major road infrastructure and the lion’s share of our federally collected revenue has promoted graft, inefficiency and poor delivery of our capital projects. Our state governments maintain a disgraceful recurrent expenditure too heavy for a nation poised to be one of the 20 most developed countries in eight year’s time.

The checks and balances of governments at all levels have become increasingly ineffective. The credibility of our National Assembly and our judiciary is under serious question. Our national situation is a clarion call for all patriotic Nigerians to rise and make meaningful contributions for a peaceful and speedy resolution of our national crisis. Our present situation abhors by standing, undue partisanship, sycophancy and boot licking. Only the truth can save our country. It must be saved peaceful and through dialogue. The younger generation will not forgive us if we do nothing now.

I therefore call on all of you to put on your thinking cap and make our time worthwhile.”

We welcome National Dialogue—Yakassai (North West)

Tanko Yakassai who spoke on behalf of the North West; threw his weight behind the convocation of a national dialogue but pointed out that it must be done in conformity of 1999 Constitution.

The elder statesman, who maintained that the country has a lot to gain if it convenes a national conference said the North West is prepared to give its full support for any conference that will address the problems facing the country.

He said: “I am one person that will any day welcome a national dialogue as a way out of our current national crises. Each time I am asked to talk on issues of national security challenges, I always urge that the best way and only way is to embrace dialogue. We therefore have everything to gain if Nigerians would sit down and dialogue We are in support of a national dialogue; we welcome a national dialogue because Nigeria has so many things to gain, dialogue always solves disputes. Nigerians should be allowed free access to discuss the state of the nation.”

1999 Constitution defective—Fasehun (South west)

Extracts from Faseun’s speech at the meeting
If this country that is at present in a state of flux must move forward, she needs a decent constitution, a constitution that will take into cognizance the youths, the women and the aged. I think it is time to sit down and table our problems and I think we have enough problems with this corruption. We have been dancing from crisis to crisis. When a mad man knows that he is mad, he is half cured. So, we need to sit together, identify our problems, proffer solutions, write ourselves a decent constitution and submit the constitution to a referendum through the INEC. It is then and only then that Nigeria may become the pride of the black race

You cannot continue to operate on a defective constitution. Nigeria cannot continue to operate a constitution put together a few military. We need a peoples constitution because the 1999 Constitution cannot represent the wishes of Nigerians.

We must stop rhetoric—Graham Douglas (South South)

Speaking on behalf of the South South zone, Alabo Graham Douglas said it was time Nigerians stop rhetoric and convene a national conference to restructure the country.

According to him, “we must immediately stop rhetoric and begin the process of restructuring the nation. The federal government should spearhead the national dialogue as it has the capacity of getting everybody involved. We must stop rhetoric and immediately start working out the date when the national conference will take place. We need an instrument of peace and security for our people.”

There is danger if we don’t dialogue —Chief Arthur Nwankwo (South East)

Nwankwo warned against the dangers of not dialoguing to find solutions to the problems of the country.

“There are two things facing us if we choose to do it or not. One, we can build a viable and powerful Nigeria if we do that; the other one is not to  do it and everyone will go his separate way. I don’t deceive myself. I don’t live on illusion about the break up of this country because this is the only country that Britain put together that is still remaining together.  India has broken up; Sudan has broken up. So, what I am advising is that we must sit around the table and chart our future or we go our separate ways,”

Dialogue is important —Mrs. Ene Edeth (North Central)

According to her, the fact that the individual and collective needs of Nigerians are not being met despite all the potentials, is an indication that something is wrong somewhere “and this why we find this dialogue very important.”

“All the zones have equal opportunities, they have equal potentials and challenges but we can overcome these challenges if we discuss. There is a deep yearning for us to sit at a conference and that is why we must see this dialogue as an important one. It is important for all of us to sit down and discuss because this opportunity must not pass us by.”

Splitting will not solve our problems — Babagana Bunu (North East)
Bunu blamed the problems of the country on information gap, saying it was important to dialogue in the face of the threat by the Boko Haram sect.

“I am of the view that dialogue is a welcome thing anywhere in the world. Anything dialogue at this point in time of the activities of Boko Haram is welcome development. It is a pity that many Nigerians are being killed in some parts of the North.

There is a lot of suspicion because some people have attributed the activities of these terrorists groups as political, some say it is political. I think we need to sit together at a round table and discuss the way forward. If we say we want to split ourselves, we will not make any progress”.

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National Conference: Now or never?

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