By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
President Goodluck Jonathan, in his national day broadcast, expressed his resolve to convoke a National Conference. Consequently, the President set up an Advisory Committee made up of eminent Nigerians to work out the modalities for the National Dialogue as he called it.
Members of the Advisory Committee are Senator Femi Okurounmu (Chairman), Dr. Akilu Indabawa, (Secretary), Prof. George Obiozor, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Sen. Khairat Gwadabe, Sen. Timothy Adudu, Col. Tony Nyiam, Prof. Funke Adebayo, Mrs. Mairo Ahmed Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq, Alh. Dauda Birma, Mallam Buhari Bello and Mr. Tony Uranta.
Even before Jonathan’s pronouncement, Senate President David Mark, while welcoming members of the Senate from their two months vacation, had emphasized the need for the country to have a National Conference.
Though Mark emphasized the need to have a National Dialogue, he was not in support of the appendage, ‘sovereign’. Meanwhile, other members of the upper legislative chamber have commented on the issue. In what may seem to be a unanimous decision, senators say no to SNC.
The Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said that the Senate was in full support of the decision of convoke a National Conference and that it is in line with the earlier call of its president, David Mark, to that effect.
Abaribe said the upper chamber was aware that the National Conference, as designed by Jonathan, would be limited to the scope where the sovereignty of Nigeria was not called to question.
He argued: “It is therefore given that the proposed conference is in tandem with the time tested stand of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and as enunciated by the President of the Senate, Senator David A. B Mark, in his address at the last Nigerian Bar Association Conference in Calabar and to senators penultimate week.
“The Senate has always canvassed the position that it will always welcome a conference where all ethnic nationalities would converge to discuss all critical issues and proffer the very best way that will enhance national unity,” the statement read by the Senate spokesperson added.
“The Senate red-line and for which was aptly factored in the President’s broadcast is the conferment of a sovereign status to the conference.
The Senate is happy that it is a conference that will hold with due respect to the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. It has always been Senate’s considered stand that there cannot be two sovereigns at a time.”
He further said that he was “gratified with the development and see it as an opportunity to address all of Nigeria’s structural problems that keeps agitating the mind of her ethnic nationalities”.
“The Senate is confident that the conference’s final outcome would go a long way to cement Nigeria’s unity.”
In the same vein, the Senate Leader, Chief Victor Ndoma-Egba, welcomed a confab to negotiate and re-negotiate the terms of the union of the country. Ndoma-Egba said, “You don’t go into a union and, 100 years later, you are still operating under the original terms of that region.
“So, we hope to, every now and then, re-negotiate the terms of staying together. Yes, we moved from four regions in 1963 to 36 states today, was it through a democratic process? Certainly not. It was by military fiat. States were created, local governments were created by military fiat not through discussion, not through negotiation. And the amendments to structures have come with consequences. That is because they were created under the military regimes.
“We have not been able to sit down and deal with the consequences of very fundamental structural issues that arose during the times of the military. So, we need to deal with some of the consequences that arose during the military.”
But he vehemently objected to SNC, saying, “Well, I keep asking people what is it that will make the conference sovereign? What ingredients should we look out for a sovereignty of such a conference? My understanding, and I might be wrong, is that our sovereignty, yes, sovereignty resides with the people, it derives from and resides with the people but that sovereignty is expressed in the Constitution.
“So, our sovereignty is the one that is expressed in the Constitution. And the Constitution has proclaimed itself as supreme and we have accepted it as supreme. People say that the origin of the constitution are dubious. I concede that point that we the people never met. But we have ratified the Constitution by conduct because we all have submitted to a president or presidents that were elected under that Constitution”.
Also speaking on the issue, Senator Burka Abba Ibrahim said, “I have nothing against National Conference, it is most welcome, we will participate in whatever way we can. But what is not possible is for somebody to talk about Sovereign National Conference. You cannot have a Sovereign National Conference when you have a National Assembly. What we will have is a National Conference and whatever is decided by the National Conference, the National Assembly will have to ratify and then it becomes law in Nigeria.”
A legal practitioner and former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Uche Onyeagocha, has, in the meantime, condemned the position of the lawmakers, saying what the country needs is SNC and not National Dialogue or mere National Conference.
Onyeagocha said, “Well, I am particularly interested in the issue of National Conference. My view is that, we do not need a National Conference as suggested by Mr. President. What we need is a Sovereign National Conference.
“Where Mr. President does not have the enough courage to allow for us to have a Sovereign National Conference, then he shouldn’t waste our time, money and the energy over the issue of National Conference.
“If you may recall, we had a National Conference under Abacha. Then, it was a jamboree, a waste of public fund and resources. Nigeria is in a dire situation and does not require for us to spend whatever the little resources that we have doing a talk show that will worthless. It is time we have a proper Sovereign National Conference where all issues will be put on the table and nothing should be off limit for discussion so that we can re-negotiate Nigeria and agree on the way forward for this nation.”