Stakeholders in the South West on Friday expressed strong support for the proposed national conference, saying the national dialogue should birth a new constitution for the country. They also urged President Goodluck Jonathan to take steps to protect the decisions of the constituent members of the federation.
For over five hours in Lagos on Friday, stakeholders in the zone advanced reasons for a national conference, noting that this would determine whether the Yoruba race would remain part of Nigeria or not.
The stakeholders who included leaders from all sections of the South West spoke at an interactive session hosted by the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs, Lagos.
Some of those who spoke said the 1999 constitution is defective and further elections should not be held until it had been changed.
They asked the Committee, chaired by Senator Femi Okurounmu, to advise the President to muster the courage to accede fully to the demand of Nigerians for a genuine, ethnic nationalities-based dialogue.
The participants representing Yoruba-interest groups, civil society organisations and professional bodies took turns to call on Jonathan to summon the courage to initiate a national dialogue and respect the outcome as the wishes of the people.
Presenting the position of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, the National Publicity Secretary, Yinka Odumakin, said the conference should examine the philosophical foundation of the Nigerian State, forms of government, structure of the Nigerian state, legislative list, executive list, law enforcement, economy and the judiciary.
Afenifere proposed that the draft constitution from the conference of the nations within Nigeria should be taken to a referendum after which the President should forward an executive bill to the National Assembly to enact it into a law without tinkering with any of the decisions taken by the conference. He added that the federating units could write their own constitutions after such a law.
“Delegates to the conference must emerge through elections. We suggest a conference of not more than 700 delegates with 100 from each of the six geo-political zones and the remaining 100 from special interest groups, he said.
In his own contribution, the Convener, South West Consultative Forum, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, submitted that there was no going back on the decision to hold a national dialogue.
While commending Jonathan for ‘buying into the patriotic and historic call for a dialogue,” he said the President should disregard those saying such a dialogue was needless.
He said, “The Arewa Consultative Forum believes that it may fail like other conferences, which resolutions were thrown away, but I want to say that this will not fail.”
He explained that there should be no confusion over the word sovereign, adding that “it is a matter of semantics, what is important is that it is national dialogue and it must represent the interest of all ethnic nationalities.”
Speaking on the agenda for the conference, the National Chairman, Afenifere Renewal Group, Mr. Wale Oshun, said that each region should be allowed to table the issues that were of the most importance to its existenc within Nigeria.
He proposed that the conference should look into the devolution of powers, internal security, resource control, revenue allocation, management of federation account and immunity from prosecution of political office holders among others. On representation, the ARG said that delegates from political parties, labour groups and the media should not be allowed to participate at the conference.
Oshun said, “We are recommending 30 delegates from each of the present six administrative regions to attend the conference. They should be elected.
“We do not support that the state or Federal Government should nominate any delegate. It may send observers and technical support staff there.
“Since the conference will produce a new constitution, through a referendum, we recommend that the conference be completed before 2015 elections.”
The Convener, Yoruba Nation Assembly, Gen.Alani Akinrinade, corroborated some of the views of the Afenifere and the ARG.
He stressed the need for the conference to be given a legal backing, thus asking the President to submit a bill to the National Assembly for ratification, describing it as “a doctrine of necessity.”
On modalities, Akinrinade said that there should be public enlightenment towards electing the delegates for adequate representation. He proposed an ethnic-based representation of a total of 300.
Once the representation is deemed adequate, he said, “Anyone or group that walks out of the conference or doesn’t agree with the conference can go and form their own country.
“Anyone who refuses to endorse what the citizens agree on in a referendum can opt out and decide what they want to do. I think we should not tie ourselves down because we do not want the country to break up.
“It can still remain the Federal Republic of Nigeria if we are courageous and principled enough to allow the people to go.”
The President, Campaign for Democracy, Joe Okei-Odumakin, said that conference delegates must be ethnic representatives, not politicians.
She said that there would be no elections until the conference had been convened so that the new set of leaders could be subjected to a constitution by the people.
She said, “There is nowhere that government makes constitution for the people, it is the people that make constitution to govern themselves.
“We want to state that the conference must address issues that are pertinent to the people and the resolutions must be respected. It must not be altered except through a referendum.”
The Yoruba Unity Forum in its submission presented by its head, Rev. Bolanle Gbonigi, said that the issue of delegates should not be lost to politicians.
“This might be the last great opportunity to discuss together peacefully as a nation. Therefore, we must get it right this time. We propose about 400 delegates,” he said.
When it was time for the Gani Adams faction to present its position to the audience, shouts of Oodua rented the hall.
But as soon as Adams got to the podium, he picked holes in the two positions earlier made by his counterpart, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun.
He said, “I wish to say that I represent the Gani Adams faction of OPC and we do not agree with two of the positions earlier stated.”
Fasehun, had in his presentation asked that a bill should be sent to the National Assembly to give theconference a legal backing and that delegates of political parties should be part of the conference.
But Adams said, “About 80 per cent of the members of the National Assembly are against the national dialogue, if we wait for them to give it a legal backing, they will kill it.’’
Speaking for the Coalition of Oodua Self Determination Group, Femi Obayori, said that those who don’t want to be part of Nigeria should be allowed to go.
He said that ethnic nationalities should form delegates of the conference and not the zones.
He said that the Federal Government should not be represented at the conference but should remain an umpire.
But contrary to the view of the ARG, he said that representatives of professional bodies should be part of the conference.
On referendum, COSEG agreed with other speakers, but said that it should not be taken to the National Assembly for ratification.
He said, “This conference is not about the unity of Nigeria, any ethnic nationality that does not want to be part of Nigeria should be allowed to go.”
A member of the committee, Mr. Tony Uranta, told journalist by the sideline of the session that the committee was committed to reporting the views of Nigerians on the call for a national dialogue to the President, saying that they believed that he would make good his intentions on the matter.
Uranta said that the committee’s mandate forbade it to talk on the issues raised but rather to listen to all being said.
Asked about the incident between a member of the committee, Tony Nyiam and Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, during a similar session in the state he said, “I believe that the committee member must be feeling a sense of remorse. What I know is that we have tendered a public apology to the governor and he has accepted it.”