A delegate to the national conference, Col. Tony Nyiam (retd.), says those who feel marginalised from the confab can still be part of the conference through indirect participation. Nyiam expressed this view and others, in this interview with TOBI AWORINDE
Now that the conference has eventually taken off, how do you feel?
I am so happy, because President Goodluck Jonathan’s inauguration address was pregnant with many children. Most of the worries we all had, like whether the conference will end up at the National Assembly or not, and whether the conference solutions will end up only as amendments or a new constitution, the President has addressed them.
None of us wants this country to divide. But we equally do not want this country’s unity to be based on injustices and unfairness, because such unity will not flourish. So, I agree with the President that we all want one Nigeria, but it must be based on the principles of equity, fair play and room for self-determination. So, what I’m saying is, it is one of the best speeches the President has ever given.
I hear some journalists say the conference is for rebranding Nigeria. No, the President said its (the country’s) rebirth is towards a new dawn. There’s a difference between rebirth and rebranding. Rebranding is what previous conferences had always been. What he has said is for us to build a new Nigeria in the second 100 years of our history.
From what you have seen so far, are you satisfied with the composition of delegates?
What I like about the composition is that it is made up of different strata of people. You have seasoned politicians, statesmen, activists, those with militant tendencies, civil societies and trade unionists, and the disabled. So, it’s a good combination.
I’m saying, compared to previous conferences, the composition is one of the best. And moreover, what is unique about this conference, unlike previous conferences, is that there was so much consultation prior to this conference. And the President himself, more than any time in our history, conceded that it is the voice of the people that will speak; that both the executive and the legislative arms have to respect the voice of the people, at the end of the day. This is what democracy is about.
How will you react to the cries of marginalisation from people such as the Itsekiri of Delta State and the Egun of Badagry?
I sympathise with, for example, a nation like the Itsekiri, the Urhobo, and of course the Egun people of Badagry. All I can say is that, for me, I will do everything to represent the Itsekiri, the Urhobo, the Egun, because we share the same aspirations.
It’s a pity those people were left out. I’m surprised that some of them were not represented in the states they came from. For example, I’m surprised how, in Delta, the Itsekiris were not represented, even where that state governor comes from. But, I can say this: South-South delegates will do everything for the Itsekiri man as they would for their own ethnic groups.
So, any of us who is lucky to be in the conference has to fight for those who are not represented.
Some of them have regarded their exclusion as unlawful…
The issue is not a legalistic thing; it is more of legitimacy. They may have grounds in terms of legitimacy. But as to legal grounds, the existing structures, which the constitution has allowed, is what has conditioned the President to go this way. He cannot do anything beyond the bounds of the constitution. He has to use the existing structures, which some of us don’t like. He’s the President, and he’s the President of all, until things are changed. Like I say to people, I wouldn’t care whether I’m in the conference or not, if what I desire is tabled.
Are you saying if you were not nominated, you would have been satisfied having someone outside your interest group speaking on your behalf?
I’ve said it so many times; the way the President has spoken, the conference extends to those who are not in the conference, because the people in the conference have to listen to those who are outside. And in this age of the social media, which the President has recognised, there is a conference going on outside the conference, much more, at times, than the conference going on inside. Those, who cannot participate directly on the floor of the conference, can do so indirectly through avenues provided outside the conference. So, I would have still played my part, whether I was a member or not, as I have always done.
Initially, the North was against the confab but now they are part of it…
Point of correction; I do not recognise North and South. I recognise, for now, the six zones. I can assure you it’s only one or two zones that did not (agree to the national conference) initially. The North Central is in support of the conference. So, we need to be careful how we use ‘the North’ and ‘the South.’ As far as I’m concerned, we are recognised in terms of the six zones.
Will you say it’s a victory that those northern groups opposed to the confab now support it?
It is not an issue of victory. The people in the North are our brothers, we are one Nigeria. The ordinary talakawas there have the same aspirations as the poor man in the South. They are human beings like me. I have some of my best friends from those parts of the country. So, it is not ‘them and me,’ or ‘them and us.’ We are fighting the internal colonisers who have hijacked all of us, both northerners and southerners, if I may use those words.
So, it is not an issue of victory. The victory is that we now have an opportunity to engage one another in a peaceful way towards correcting certain injustices, which have been sources of agitation for majority of Nigerians.
Who is to blame for the omissions in the nomination of delegates?
The nominations were done by the states. The Federal Government didn’t nominate the 16 for each zone. Will the representatives of the different states and zones deliver? That is more important.
Is there no way the confab can still accommodate delegates from the protesting groups directly?
We have not started deliberating. But, as I’ve said to you, the conference is not limited only to delegates in the hall. It’s a people’s conference, and the President has indicated that. He has conceded to the issue of referendum and the possibility of a new constitution, he’s a listening President. So, if a cry is made strongly, we the delegates have no choice but to listen to the people. We are grateful that we have a President who has begun a process for us to reclaim our power. And we can do so, both within and outside the conference. Remember, at the end of the day, we must not accept anything less than a referendum, where the people will decide.
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