BY ISHOLA BALOGUN & EBUN SESSOU
Jonathan’s presidency will transform Nigeria - Ezeife
The situation of Nigeria is so bad and it has been bad continuously. We have never had a leader whether in military of civilian who had a craving for the economic development of Nigeria.
No Nigerian leader has recognised the largest black African nation on earth in order to put Nigeria among the respected nations in the world in the interest of all the black people in the world. But I said, I felt the hand of God in the emergence of Jonathan.
Many will agree with that statement. Whatever really comes out of this arrangement is divine and I consider it the manifest destiny of Jonathan presidency to transform Nigeria into a nation where things work and not a ship wreck. And to make Nigeria to work, the 36 states are inconsistent with making Nigeria work economically.
At the begining, we were regions and we were competing, though we cannot talk about regional government now, but we can talk about zonal governments. Right now, we have six-geopolitical zones.
We can become the six federating units. Once that is acheived, many things will take their normal course. Police becomes the concern of zonal government and not federal government again. Military, foreign relations, become the concern of the federal government. In some states, especially in minority areas, even the zonal government may be weak and the local governments are stronger and it will grow. Where some zones are weak, it may become possible to create federally administered state until those states joined the zonally administered states in there zonal government.
What I was suggesting is to keep Nigeria one. One Nigeria is best for Hausa-Fulani; the east or the Igbos live everywhere in Nigeria; Yoruba is also dominating commerce and industry and they must need a large market, they cannot just stay away from Nigeria, if we can manage to keep Nigeria together.
So, if we convene a National Conference that is not Soveriegn; what makes it not soveriegn is that they cannot make laws to affect the term of office of incumbent political office holders. If we convene such a body and with which everything works, that will be the biggest legacy Jonathan can live for Nigeria. He should be able to see it that way.
On selecting delegate for the confab:
Efforts will be made to pick various ethnic groups. But of course, you know numbers will count. Human beings are not given to perfection, but we can make the best effort in organising it properly. There are two alternatives which are selection or election. Election is inefficient because this is now grassroot work, but if they come by election, then whatever they produce becomes final. But if they come by selection, whatever they produced will go for refrendum. It can even be a combination of selection and election, but the election is better and then referendum.
We must return to regional government— Olu Falae
Our position has been known for over twenty years. We produced the yoruba agenda in 1994, we produced another one again in 2004. We said then and we are saying now that the presidential system of government is not in the best interest of this country. We had tried parliamentary system and we’ve tried presidential and we are in position to make an informed choice. The choice we have made is Parliamentary system of government for a number of reasosns. First, the Parliamentary system is far cheaper to run than the Presidential. For example, any Nigeria who wants to be president today must raise a minimum of N20billion to N50billion; which means no person, no matter how patriotic, brilliant and committed you may be, who is of modest means can become a president. It is only the super rich or the drug runners or those sponsored by special interest or the international corporations can become president.
I’m sure that is not acceptable to most Nigerians. But in Parliamentary system, if you want to be the head of government, you only need to win your whole election in your constituency or villiage. Once you win and your party also has majority in the legislature and you are the leader of your party, you authomatically becomes the head of government.- Prime Minister or President. You have not spent one thousandth of what you will spend under the presidential system.
Secondly, membership of the legislature used to be part-time in the past. That is why we had people like Odebiyi, Ajasin who were Principals of secondary schools and members of House of Assembly and House of Representatives. They had their normal employment, they did not depend on politics to survive.
These are worthy people with worthy contributions. But under Presidential system, they made it full-time. Today, 90 per cent of members in the legislature have no business to be there. They have told us they are businessmen and if you make membership to be part-time tomorrow, most of them will depart, the house will be empty. That is only time when quality and committed people would go into the legislature to ensure proper governance of Nigeria. But under this present system, only the super rich and business people can play politics at any level.
Thirdly, Nigeria with over 400 ethnic and linguistic groups, it unwise to give all powers to one man called President or to one man called governor. But under the Parliamentary system, the Prime Minister or President are members of the legislature. Before the do any major thing, they will have to subject it to debate in the Assembly so that there will be consensus behind that decision. But under the Presidential system, the president or governor just sits in his office and take decision.
The cabinent is arm-twist, nobody can raise any eye-brow agaisnt the governor and regain his seat in the cabinent. So, these are some of the reasons the South-west are committed to the return to the Parliamentary system. Also, we say that we must return to the regional government. The new Western region would face an election of the six Yoruba states, and the people of Kwara and Kogi will in a referendum determine where they want to go or join the western federation.
Then we will have a western federation of seven states. It will be a lot easier to run govenment, your money will do far more for more poeple under that arrangement.
Then there must be massive devolution of powers from the centre to the state or to the region. The federal government will be faced with such jobs as the supreme court, central banking, diplomatic relations, there must be regional police to compliment the federal police force; boundary adjudication. Money will be contributed by the regional government to enable the central governemtn perform these limited functions.
And in the new constitution we will propose, there is only one legislative list- that of the federal government (those things that they should do will be listed there) and all other that are not listed belong automatically to the regional or state government. This is kind of position we have taken in our former document and which we propose to push
On Resource control: It was the British who brought the various parts of Nigeria together. It was the British who brought people in Akwa-Ibom together with people in Borno and say we are in the same country. When the British left, there was constitutional conference in London, at which we negotiated for and obtained a federation in which the various units had considerable autonomy to manage their own affirs. Every state collected the revenue accrueing to it in a constitutionally agreed proportion. It was the region that was collecting the revenue and contributing a prescribed proportion of it to the centre.
Under this new arrangement, petroleum revenue will be collected by each of the states in which oil is being produced. The federal government will now find out how much revenue is accrueing as royalty and petroleum profit tax.
Now under our constitution, the petroleum profit tax is collected and passed on hundred percent by the state to the federal government. In my own view, royalty should belong to the owners of the land and the communities where oil is found. It is those communities that will approriate the royalties hundred percent. That is what make them the owners of the resource. That is resource control.
On selecting delegate for the confab:
That is no problem at all. Every ethnic group, no matter how small must be represented. In my own formular, two thousand people is not a large number to represent 150million people. So, I will propose that every ethnic group first of all have one delegate. That ensures that evey ethnic group is there. Now, let us say they are 400, we have 1600 left, that figure should now be re-distributed. There are two ways of doing that.
You may divide that figure to the number of states with a proviso that every ethnic group in the state must be fairly represented in picking the delegate to the conference. That comes to about 45. That ensures that every ethnic group is represented by that number, so that when we get there. The minority will have a voice.
There shall be no group that will not be represented under this arrangement. How this group pick there own representative is there own business.
In the South West for example, we might decide to consult ifa oracle in picking our delegate, we might decide to have election or decide to let each of the states produce its own people, or the local government produce certain number of people with a traditional ruler, politician, women or whoever we deem fit or better still by election. We should leave Nigerians to have this flexibility of chosing how they will be represented. Nobody should impose the uniform or unitary system on us. The military have ruled us for so long and militarised our mentality and we need to demilitarised our thinking.
It is possible that there’s govt sponsorship but they can’t stop us – Balarabe Musa
The conference is a continuation of a search for a better arrangement for Nigeria. We have been agitating for this organised National Conference since 1994.
This is the second National Conference on the state of the nation. We know the problems of Nigeria. We want a solution to the problem and therefore we recall this forum to discuss the problem and what should be done to solve the problems. If care is not taken, the problems can cause either perpetual suffering or a break-up of the country and we don’t want either of them.
We want a united Nigeria to continue with prosperity for every Nigerian. We are not only concerned just about the progress of Nigeria as a country, we are also concerned about the progress of every individual Nigerian.
The message has been passed and the programme is on-going, the dialogue continues until we have reached a certain stage where we will call for National Conference.
We have different opinions about this. Some of us rely on the government and the National Assembly to achieve the conference. Some of us say whether government or the National Assembly will buy like it or not, we will use our fundamental human rights to have the conference and the National Assembly and the government will then decide what to do with our resolution.
The National Assembly should know that once we arrived at our decision at the National Conference, the government or the National Assembly cannot stop the programme. We will bring about the revival of Sovereign National Conference by other means. We can engage the govt in a prolong and articulate protest until they have no alternative than to accept. So, I’m foreseeing another protest, but at the moment, we are giving peace a chance but if it becomes necessary, then we don’t have another choice. We are concerned about our country and our states and therefore we will use all our constitutional rights to achieve our objectives.
Contrary to fears in some quarters, this process will not lead to any break-up. I don’t think so. It is those who don’t want the truth that are saying that. Nigeria has passed the the stage where we can disintegrate because the level of social, economic and political integration in Nigeria has reached a level that it is not in the interest of any section of the country to break up.
Those who are talking about break-up are the same people who are benefiting from the present situation of the country, no other person in Nigeria is talking about breaking up than the elites. They are the same people stealing everything in Nigeria and benefiting from the oil and gas in Nigeria.
They are the same people in control of power in Nigeria. If Nigeria disintegrate, they are the same people that will suffer, therefore they will not allow any break-up. A good example was the Biafra’s agitation, if Nigeria had broken up, the people wouldn’t have gotten their properties. The peace and the unity of the country is so paramount that nobody is seeing a likelihood of break-up. But if marginalisation continues, then the people will not be left with no choice other than than disintegration.
On possible government sponsorhip
Well, it is unfortunate. What gives me the impression that the allegation might have a basis is that, I thought that the first day, the commissioner of Police, Lagos was there from the beginning to the end of the programme and participated and I couldn’t understand why that should happen.
Secondly when we were closing, there was the presence of soldiers in the hall and I couldn’t understand the reasons for that too. So, there were indications and again there was so much restraints about the general attitude towards the issues that were raised and they were too conservative for my comfort. So, I can’t say that allegation is baseless. Even if it is the government that financed it, I can assure you that the interest of Nigerians will not be subverted to the interest of the government. We will have a message towards a Sovereign National Conference in the end.
We all want to remain as one – Yerima Shettima, Leader, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum
We just felt that as patriotic Nigerians who desire peace for this country, it is important we have a summit where we can engage major stakeholders in Nigeria to dialogue and fashion out a course for Nigeria that we will be proud of.
It was a success because every stakeholder was there representing various interest and at the end of the day, a communique was released and we have discovered that one of the challenges we have in the country is corruption and it is certainly something we must address.
We felt strongly that what we can do now to cleanse the system is to have a Sovereign National Conference and we agreed unanimously to continue to tell the government to see reasons why there must be Sovereign National Conference and at the end of the day, we will have a legitimate document and we will be able to put the system in a good place.
Again, anyone aspiring and going into government will know that his/her primary objective is to be accountable and responsive to his people at the grassroots and in the absence of that, there is no democracy.
On Sovereignity and fears of break-up
Nobody wants Nigeria to break. All of us are prominent Nigerians and nobody came talking of the country breaking up. The only thing is that those who are holding one political office or other are trying in their capacity to poison the minds of the people, telling that the country would break. Everybody is working in Nigeria and we want to remain as one but the only thing to do right now is to address current issues in the country before it leads to unimaginable chaos.
The country is on its way to disintegration. The crisis that is going on in the country, the insecurity, ethnicism, religion have become a major threat. And without this programme, the country might break. So, it is better we have a conference where we can all be heard and come up with a certain conclusions but I am optimistic that if the issues is addressed, everybody will like to remain in Nigeria. Everybody was represented and I was happy.
On Resource Control we stand — Chief Annkio Briggs, Niger Delta activist
The out-put of oil in the Niger Delta area has been reduced to between 700-800 barrels per day which theoretically means that Nigeria was going to be affected if something wasn’t done to address the situation. The grievances of our people in the Niger Delta and the quickest way to bring peace was to offer our people in the Niger Delta the amnesty.
And a lot of us got included because of the offer by the late president to tell our people to give the offer at least a year and see if federal government will deliver on its promise or not. Unfortunately, Yar’Adua didn’t live to be able carry out the project. But Jonathan became the president and the amnesty continued. Jonathan being the president and amnesty being accepted is not the answer to the problems of the Niger Delta people.
Not a single kilometre of road in the East-West road has been built and completed for the Niger Delta people. We are talking of unemployment, injustice of arresting our people and holding them for years without proper trial. When an organisation like MEND gets up now to continue its agitations in its way on behalf of the Niger Delta people, it came to all of us as a surprise, but I am not surprised.
The question is what really are Nigerians demanding of the Niger Delta people. We want to know: what we’ve not contributed including our lives, environment and resources?
The peace that came about in the Niger Delta after amnesty was accepted as a fool peace because the reason why my people went into the creeks in the first place to agitate and to prove a point to the federal government have not been addressed. Only 26,000 youths accepted amnesty, we have millions of other youths across the Niger Delta including Irobos, Itshekiris, Ijaws, Iperes, Ogonis that are unemployed.
They don’t have anything they are doing. Some of them are in jail! These are the grievances we have in the Niger Delta, that haven’t been addressed. So, the peace is perceived but the Niger Deltans know that there is no such thing as peace in the area. There cannot be peace in the Niger Delta as long as injustice exists.
The federal government was pursuing an economic interest by offering the amnesty. So, the beneficiaries are the people who have gained from amnesty and not my people, not my region, but the federal government and the oil companies.
So, as far as I am concerned, all these agencies including the NDDC haven’t achieved anything for the Niger Delta people and that is the reason for calling for a Sovereign National Conference and the calling for Resource Control which we have been talking about before Jonathan became a politician.
We have never said we don’t want resource control, the agitation in Niger Delta has nothing to do with Jonathan emerging as the President of Nigeria. It is the constitution that pave the way for him. So, I don’t see how that will take away the rights of the Niger Delta people. Therefore, everybody should control their resources.