BY DAPO AKINREFON
Mr Tony Ipriye Uranta, Executive Secretary of the National Summit Group is passionate about the need for restructuring of the polity. In this interview, Uranta argues that what Nigerians really need is a national dialogue and a sovereign national conference.
He also stated the need for the involvement of youths in the ongoing constitutional review process. He also disclosed how far the group has gone to convene a conference where all ethnic nationalities will be represented. Excerpts:
Do you agree with the insinuations that the ongoing process by the National Assembly to review the constitution is a jamboree?
To start with, I attended all the hearings at the constituency level, senatorial and zonal and I am telling you that there were many issues raised which cannot be heard in about six hours. How do you find out what people want within six hours, even if we start 12 midnight and end 12 midnight.
It will be impossible for the people to fully voice a position whether united or not that will be so clear to allow you to distill all and articulately represent the wishes and will of the Nigerian people.
Whereas a national conference would presume that whoever or however they are elected to represent any constituent part of the country would have carried out this same thing that we went through and the National Assembly went through which is a bit of a charade carried out in less than one day would have done so over a period of weeks or months .
If they concentrate only on issues they supposedly have captured through the verbal and written submissions of the people through this quasi process that cannot fully capture all that the people want and the people will come in there and talk haphazardly because they have not had time to consult even within the lowest level of the constituency and arrive at a common position which you must encourage for a national conference.
The National Assembly is now going to pay only a half hearted attention, if half at all, to the issues that the people have submitted. I therefore want to submit that the process can not therefore bring a proper or the best document or with the reviews they are bringing .
As it stands now, what will be your input should the process scale through?
I will not condemn it outright.
Because there were two issues prayed at the retreat that the legislature should do and from submissions at the hearings I know that the NBA and others emphasised it.
First is to make Chapter 2 of the constitution justiceable so I can take somebody to court if a public officer do not live up to his responsibilities. I will now have the right to take them to court whenever I notice an anomaly.
Secondly is to enact a law that will make any future constitution subjectable to a referendum of the people before it can become a constitution. I am not saying that the reviews or whatever is gathered now should be subjected into a referendum.
No, that will be unconstitutional because there is no space for referendum in our constitution but we are asking them to amend this constitution including at the very least those two items. Whether the National Assembly fully represents all the people of Nigeria is another debatable issue for another time.
Having said this, how close are we to convening a national conference?
I think we are very close. What I am trying to say is that we are carrying along nearly everybody. We have members of the Bar Association, Medical Association, National Council of Women Society and members representing the Youths group.
We believe that it is now agreed that the nation needs a dialogue and a national dialogue and you will note that even the President in his last media chat with the nation said he is in support of a dialogue and that what he will not support is what used to be the battle cry of those of us who were at the frontline during the war against the military, a Sovereign National Conference. A lot of people are still clamoring for that but they forget the implications of sovereignty.
Once you ask for sovereignty with a national legislature in place, you are going to be opposed and we cannot carry this process out successfully and say certain people are not part of Nigeria. Infact, the National Summit Group believes that this process should be owned and carried out by the sovereign people of Nigeria.
The executives, the state governors, the local governments, the presidency and the legislators. The Councillors themselves, the state assemblies and the National Assembly. Everyone one of us own Nigeria and everyone of us must come together, sit together and discuss this process.
Who convokes the national conference? How do you pick representation to the national conference?
We at the NWC of the NSG arrived at two possible options and I am not free to divulge that out. But I can say this without breaking the understanding of the NWC that we have worked out two possible options that will allow for representation from the lowest possible constituent unit that all parties will agree to both governmental and non-governmental.
We shall try to sell these ideas to the Nigerian people beginning with the executive including the national leadership of the legislature and including the Governors Forum which by the way is an unconstitutional body but we are carrying out so many unconstitutionality.
What role will the youth play in this process?
This really should be their fight. The youths of Nigeria will be carried along more than ever before. We want to say we find it appalling that in the whole of the constitution, youths are only mentioned in the issue of the National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) and there is nowhere that there is provision for the elderly or the handicap.
They have an idle voice because tomorrow is today. We kept calling them leaders of tomorrow and they themselves bought the foolery. They are leaders of today. If they don’t join in fashioning tomorrow, it will be lost to them and they will all join us in sitting either in anarchy or in woe.