….Nwabueze insists on right to self-determination
BY OKEY NDIRIBE
Abuja — A forum of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria, yesterday, in Abuja rejected the imposition of a no-go area on the planned national conference.
The 25 ethnic nationalities represented at the forum, canvassed an all-inclusive agenda in the forthcoming confab being organised by the Federal Government.
The groups, which expressed optimism at the possibility of using the opportunity offered by the conference to move the country forward, also faulted the composition of the delegates.
Speaking at the opening of the two-day mini-conference of ethnic nationalities organised under the auspices of Ethnic Nationalities Movement, ENM, chairman of The Patriots and a foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, said any conference that excluded discussion on the right to self-determination by the ethnic nationalities had not done justice to the aspirations of the people.
He said there was need for the country to consider enshrining in its constitution the right for any ethnic nationality to secede if it so desired, as a means of checking the excesses of government and protecting the interests and rights of the co-existing nationalities.
According to him, the idea of insisting that discussions over the unity of the country should be no go area is not good.
He said the conference should rather allow a cross-ventilation of ideas and opinions on the rationale or otherwise for us to continue to co-exist as one Nigeria.
While faulting the composition of the conference delegates, Nwabueze said ethnic nationalities were the primary stakeholders in the national conference, adding that all the other groups and professional associations were mere appendages.
He criticised the Federal Government’s allocation of nearly 50 per cent of the delegates to the conference to professional bodies and associations which, according to him, have nothing to do with the plight of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
“We must recognise that as nationalities, following the example in the constitution of Ethiopia of 1995, of which I was the constitutional adviser for the drafting and making of that constitution, there is a right inherent in the Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa.
“They have the right because they existed before Nigeria. You can’t take away that right and the right to self-determination. That right should not be denied. It is the inherent right to self-determination.
“They said once you grant that right, Nigeria will disintegrate, every ethnic nationality would want to secede.
That right of self-determination is in the Ethiopia constitution, including the right to secede. It is well entrenched, enshrined in the constitution of Ethiopia.
“Since 1995, the important function it performed was to restrain government or any group in control of government from using its power to oppress others and create a state of instability in the country. Nobody wants to be oppressed in a country.
“And now we have a conference that says that the indivisibility of Nigeria is a no go area. Does that mean that we cannot even talk about the inherent right of the ethnic nationalities to secede? That we have no right to self-determination? Is that what it means? If we can’t even discuss it, that excludes the right of the delegates to talk about self-determination. This is a burning issue.
“We the Ndigbo, have already decided to insist that that right of self-determination must be there. I use this opportunity to invite other ethnic nationalities, the Yoruba, the Hausa, the Edo people, the Itekiri, the Ijaws, the representatives of the Ijaws are already demanding it.We must all come together to discuss it, “ he posited.
Most of the 25 ethnic nationalities of the 389 recorded ethnic groups in the country which attended the meeting, urged the Federal Government to allow all issues to be discussed at the conference without any form of restrictions.
They also demanded the review of the list of ethnic nationalities to include some of the groups currently excluded in the composition.
Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, who said the country needed restructuring, advocated the return to true federalism as the only way to ensure equity, justice and vibrancy in the country.
The governor, who was represented by the Senior Special Assistant, Research, Planning and Policy Implementation, Mr. Olusegun Bada, said ethnic nationalities should form the bedrock of a sovereign conference to resolve the burning issues affecting the nation’s existence.
“With true federalism, we will have a mutually evolved system where none of the federating units is inferior to another, and each derives its powers and exercises them within the framework of the constitution.
“To be sure, at a time in our history when true federalism was practised based on the regions, the country as a whole was better for it. It was the days when each region thrived on its own resources, cocoa in the Western Nigeria, palm kernel in the East and groundnuts in the north, “ he said.
While welcoming delegates at the forum, a prominent legal practitioner, Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN), said the country’s 1914 amalgamation could not be said to be fruitful, hence the fear of those who felt that discussing Nigeria’s union at the conference will lead to dissolution.
He said the conference of ethnic nationalities was important because as primary stakeholders, they were the ones to define what Nigeria should be.
Said he:”As a federation, Nigeria is a failure and all these explain why Nigeria is not working and why we must take this opportunity offered to us by the present administration for a national conference very seriously, “.
Speaking with journalists shortly after the meeting, a representative of Ika ethnic nationality, Chief Daniel S. Usifo deplored the emphasis placed on major ethnic groups in the country to the disadvantage of minorities.
“It is very obvious from what we are seeing that if you add up all the minority nationality groups,we are probably more than the majority ethnic groups in the country, “ he said.
He said the reason the minorities in the country were marginalised was because they had not been organised before now.