BY OKEY NDIRIBE
Tempers flared last Wednesday in Abuja after the communique of a two day confab which was organized by the Ethnic Nationalities Forum was read.
Representatives of some ethnic groups from Southern Kaduna were about to stage a walk-out from the venue of the conference before they were pacified.
Their anger was that their demand for the creation of a Southern Kaduna State was not captured in the communique.
Not even the intervention of the Chairperson of the session Mrs Ayora Kuforiji-Olubi could appease the Southern Kaduna representatives.
It was not only the people of Southern Kaduna who went to the confab to pour out their soul. Representatives of the Bassange ethnic nationality also used the opportunity provided by the confab to express their grievances over the manner they have been discriminated against in Kogi State.
Prof. Awam David Menegbe who represented the Bassange with an estimated population of 500,000, was a sad man when he spoke to Vanguard last Wednesday in Abuja.
Giving an insight into the ethnic composition of Bassa Local government Area of Kogi State, he said there are the Igbirras, the Bassa-Komus, the Bassanges and Igalas.
Commenting on how the Bassange people have been marginalised over the years he said, “what they normally do is to gang-up against us.”
”The question I keep asking leaders of the other ethnic groups is “What have we actually done wrong?” he asked.
He continued: “They don’t want a Bassange indigene to be seen or heard anywhere. Those who behave in this way include cleaners; he or she would want to remind you that they are the owners of the land.”
Said he: “ No member of my ethnic group is either in the state executive council or state legislature. We only have councillors because those incharge can’t manipulate that level of representation.”
He accused the Igalas who constitute the majority ethnic nationality in Kogi State of sponsoring other ethnic groups against the Bassanges.
Said he: “Because elections hardly takes place at the local government level, they connive and manipulate the electoral system to put those they want in office. But they would never put a Bassange man. They do all these manipulations even at the level of workers unions including NULGE and NUT.”
He advocated that the law regulating the Federal Character Commission should be amended to ensure that ethnic nationalities are reflected in appointments into public offices.
Indigenes of the Federal Capital Territory who spoke at the confab complained bitterly over the seizure of their ancestral land without compensation.
A representative of the FCT indigenes who identified himself as Sule Isah said the plight of the indigenous people of Abuja was worse than that of the people of Bayelsa State.
Said he: “In their own case, only the oil is taken from their land. In our own case, our entire land has been taken without compensation. We are also marginalized because we are stateless. If our children want to seek admission into publicly owned tertiary institutions, they have to forge letters of state of origin”.
The people of Ogba in Rivers State also condemned the present Constitution and general order of things in Nigeria.
According to the Igwe Ogba: “The Nigerian Government made an unjust law which gave oil prospectors power to seize the land of the minorities for the purpose of prospecting for oil. When they made the law to regulate mining of solid minerals, they didn’t give that same type of power to prospectors of solid minerals. “
Commenting on the complaints of various ethnic groups in the country, Alfred Ilenre, alter ego to the late environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa who is also the Secretary General, of Ethnic Minorities Organisation of Africa ( EMIROAF) said the various grievances that had been expressed by representatives of various ethnic nationalities indicated a serious contradiction in the Nigerian set up.
Said he: “I would like to state that it was the distortion of the Independence Constitution and the abandonment of that document by the military that created the problem we are facing now.”
He continued: “If you have read that constitution, you would notice that a National Conference would not have been necessary if the military had allowed the implementation of that document. Most of the issues people have raised here would have been resolved within the mechanism of that constitution; these include state creation, revenue distribution, unemployment, settler-indigene matters and many more.”
”Under that constitution, each region operated as if it was a country on its own. The regions were such that Nigeria was basically a customs union. Each region had control of their education and even customs.
”The federating units at that time had the power to resolve most of the things this conference has set out to resolve. Unfortunately, we won’t go back to the Independence Constitution.”
Ilenre believes that if the nation had re-adopted the Independence Constitution at the onset of the present democratic dispensation, it may have been more helpful to the nation. According to him: “Nigerian leaders who fought for the nation’s independence were all enlightened people. The Independence Constitution and the Constitution of India were very similar. The nationalists modeled the Nigerian Constitution after that of India.”
At the end of deliberations at the confab which many considered a precursor to the Federal Government’s planned National Conference, there was a consensus on the nation’s need for a new Constitution.
Participants also rejected the Federal Government’s insistence on a no-go area at the forth-coming confab.
The forum which comprised of 50 ethnic nationalities across the country also resolved for the inclusion of the right to self-determination including the right to secession in Nigeria’s new constitution.
Participants also decided to attend the Government’s planned confab and continue with the agitation for a “proper conference” which would produce a new constitution that should be subjected to a referendum.
According to the communique: “….The Ethnic Nationalities are the original and primary stakeholders of the Nigerian project having existed long before colonialism and are the primary targets and sufferers from marginalisation, oppression and injustice which abounds in the country; Accordingly and because they are the heart and soul of the Nigerian State, the Nationalities demand as their inalienable right that they should be given legal recognition in the constitution and their status as separate nations or nationalities should also be recognised; That efforts should be made to harmonize the recognition of Ethnic nationalities and their inherent rights on the one hand and the citizenship rights of the individual Nigerian by the state, federal, and local governments, discharging fairly, justly and equitably the duties laid on it by Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of the state in Chapter two of the 1999 Constitution. The Forum affirmed that the status of the ethnic groups as separate nations or nationalities confers on them certain inherent rights, in particular the right to self-determination including the right of secession in accordance with Article 20 (1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which provides that “all peoples shall have the unquestionable and inalienable right to self-determination.
The Forum further affirmed that recognition of this right, which is an already existing right is not inconsistent with the indissolubility or the perpetuity of the Nigerian State; That It is a notion to which most us adhere”.