By Our Reporters
* Politicians, groups, others divided over timeline, delegates
* NBA threatens boycott, seeks inclusion of more lawyers
* Ohanaeze, Arewa, Afenifere leaders speak
THE Federal Government’s modalities for the National Conference, yesterday, received kudos and knocks in equal measure from eminent Nigerians, politicians and groups.
While some okayed the confab template others said it fell below expectation. They were also divided on the dialogue timeframe, making unity of Nigeria a no-go area, number of delegates from ethnic nationalities and some special groups as well as what to do with the outcome of the exercise.
NBA rejects one slot nomination, threatens boycott
The Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, said it would not participate in the proposed conference, except the Federal Government, agreed to include more lawyers in the process.
In a statement it issued in Abuja, yesterday, the NBA which is the umbrella body of lawyers in the country, said it received with utmost disappointment, the statement credited to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, which requested the association to nominate one delegate to the conference.
In the protest letter signed by its National President, Chief Okey Wali, SAN, the NBA said: “In view of the fact that so many legal issues will be addressed at the National Conference, it is only fitting and proper for the umbrella association of all lawyers in Nigeria, the NBA, to have more than one delegate at the National Conference.
“This is an area we are supposed to possess enormous expertise and will definitely add a lot of value to the process. We do not want to think that our expertise is neither appreciated nor welcome. This is not glory seeking, this is about adding value to the process, because the good of this country, is the good of the Bar and so we are determined to give whatever is needed to make our country great.
“We do not believe that the single slot given to the Nigerian Bar Association will be impactive enough, and so, we request that you, please, reconsider the one slot offer to the Nigerian Bar Association, as we regrettably will be unable to accept that offer. We hold it in your favour that this may very well be an oversight and that the Federal Government will have no difficulty in revisiting the issue”, it added.
Besides, Wali contended that “NBA is a membership based professional and legal organization of all lawyers in Nigeria with 104 branches across the 36 states and Abuja, organized into various practice sections, fora, institutes and committees. The Nigerian Bar Association speaks for the legal profession, that is, the Bar and Bench.
“Over the years, a National Conference of this nature has been one of the imperatives that define the priorities of the Nigerian Bar Association, in fact, it was a past President of the Nigerian Bar Association; the Late Alao-Aka Bashorun, that first called for a National Conference and since then, the Nigerian Bar Association has been in the forefront of the National Conference discourse.
“To demonstrate our seriousness and commitment to a successful National conference, we had on the 7th of January, 2014 set up the Nigerian Bar Association National conference committee under the Chairmanship of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria as the Secretary (the only committee or forum or section of the Nigerian Bar Association with a Senior Advocate of Nigeria as secretary).We write to place on record our dissatisfaction with the list of conference delegates, particularly, when put against representations from some other organizations and bodies.”
Igbo leaders divided
Meanwhile, Igbo leaders were divided yesterday over the confab modalities. While the Ohanaeze Ndigbo okayed the template, the Professor Ben Nwabueze-led Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought, faulted it.
President- General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Chief Gary Igariwey endorsed the modalities, saying that except for only one aspect, the position of the Federal Government tallied with the position of Ohanaeze especially on equality of representation on zonal basis.
He said: “The position of Federal Government is partly in line with what we submitted because we talked about equal representation for all zones. We also said it should be conducted in time. We commend the template. We differ in the area of the outcome going to National Assembly, but to referendum”.
On how Igbo delegates would be selected, Igariwey said that Ohanaeze as apex Igbo organization is not in contest with anybody or group, noting that Ohanaeze will call a meeting of all other organizations to decide how to choose delegates.
However, the concerned Igbo leaders said that the modalities were in total contrast to recommendations and yearnings of Nigerians especially Igbo people as contained in their letter to President Jonathan recently.
They stated, however, that they will not advise Ndigbo to boycott the exercise but would rather articulate a position document which delegates from the South-East geopolitical zone would take to the conference table.
Briefing newsmen in Enugu after their meeting, which was attended by more than 60 Igbo elders and leaders, the Secretary of the group, Prof. Elochukwu Amucheazi, and two others, Chief Chukwuemeka Onyesoh and Engr, Obi Thompson of World Igbo Congress (WIC), reiterated their earlier position that Nigerians want a conference where ethnic nationalities would play dominant role and which outcome would be subjected to referendum to make for a fresh constitution and not subjected to National Assembly to be incorporated into the 1999 constitution.
Rejecting the modalities, the Igbo Leaders of Thought said, “we had thought that we are going to have a new constitution. We have made our point, we will continue to reminding the president that Nigerians are expecting new constitution not a revised 1999 constitution.”
ACF backs confab, Junaid Mohammed kicks
Convener of Northern Politicians, Academics and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed dismissed the National Conference as a farce intended to promote President Goodluck Jonathan’s ‘third term’ in office, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, said that it did not believe the solution to the nation’s malaise lay in the conference.
Junaid said that he had never been a believer in the so-called conference and that the modalities released by the Federal Government had vindicated the whole world that Jonathan was not sincere in convoking the conference.
According to him, the modalities unveiled by the Federal Government showed that the conference had failed on arrival, as it would not serve the national interest because of the caliber of delegates and those saddled with the task of selecting them.
The Second Republic lawmaker, who queried why the President was keen on appointing the Chairman, Deputy chairman and the Secretary of the Conference Committee, said it was clear that Jonathan just wanted his cronies to rubber-stamp a pre-determined outcome that would serve narrow political interest at the end of the day like that of the former administration, which was aimed at advancing a selfish interest.
On his own part, the National Publicity Secretary of the ACF, Anthony Sani, noted: “It is late in the day to be against or for the modalities of the National Conference. Though the ACF has never believed the solution to our national malaise lies in the conference, there should be no qualms as long as the promoters believe it can further the cause of a united Nigeria.”
Timeline is okay –Afenifere
In a reaction, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, spokesman for the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, told NAN on phone that the three-month period was enough for the conference.
“Three months is enough time for Nigerians to dialogue as long as there is sincerity of purpose. It is only when there is no clarity of purpose that people can say three months is short for the conference” Odumakin said.
It fell short of expectations – Chekwas Okorie
National Chairman of the United Progressives Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie said the modalities fell short of the expectations of most Nigerians.
How? He said the government reneged on its promise of having no-go areas, the bulk of the delegates will not come from ethnic nationalities, the requirement of 75 per cent of delegates to pass contentious issues will lead to tyranny of the minority and the incorporation of the outcome of the confab into the 1999 Constitution instead of becoming a new constitution via a referendum is unacceptable.
Political parties under represented – CNPP
On its part, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, decried what it termed under-representation of political parties in the proposed conference.
National Publicity Secretary of CNPP, Mr. Osita Okechukwu said in a statement issued in Abuja said: “It is very unfair that only five out of the 25 registered political parties were allocated 10 delegates while the president is to nominate over 25 percent of the total delegates. Whereas, we are aware that not much will be achieved by the conference, given the timing; however we are still at a loss how 20 political parties that represent various tendencies in the country were denied the opportunity to contribute their quota in a national conference. We appeal that this obnoxious anomaly be corrected before the national conference commences.”
It’s ploy to derail 2015 polls –PDP Stakeholders
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Stakeholders Forum criticised the modalities, alleging that it is a plot to derail the 2015 general elections.
Reacting to the issue, Convener of the forum, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, in a statement flayed the decision of the Federal Government to appoint the key members of the committee.
He said: “The conference which was renamed National Conference has no platform for guaranteed representation from the ordinary Nigerian citizens who would have loved to have equal opportunity through a guaranteed democratic selection process to participate at such a national discussion.
”100 percent delegate to the conference is going to be appointed by the President and few Professional bodies which have no representative’s rights for the people. It is an elite gathering of Jonathan’s allies with a few professional bodies to discuss the affairs of the over 150 million Nigerians.”
Taking a swipe at the alleged hijack of the conference he said, “We wish to condemn the decision of the president to arrogate powers to himself to single handedly appoint the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary of a conference which he termed a National Conference.”
”We wish to condemn the wasteful budget of 7 billion naira for a conference which will be having only 492 participants. What will the N7 billion be used for in a country where unemployment rate is rising daily with dilapidated infrastructure?”