OLOROGUN Great Ovedje Ogboru is a former governorship candidate of the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, and the leader of the opposition parties in Delta State. In an interactive session with journalists recently, he spoke on the proposed national conference among other issues of public interest. Gab Ejuwa was there. Excerpts
What is your take on the just inaugurated national conference?
It depends on those who are for or against the conference. Those who are against believe that nothing good will come out of it. They believe it will end like an empty talk shop just like the previous ones. But my view on this issue is that we have to talk.
I am not so sure that the mood of the country today would permit a talk shop for the sake of it. I want to believe that whatever agenda will be put in place, restricting the parameters of the conference may not necessarily hold water because from the agitations so far from the ethnic nationalities, several stakeholders and eminent opinion leaders, the tendency is that people want to get to the root of the problems bedevilling this country from the time of the amalgamation till today.
They believe that we have to do it in such a way that it ends up on the table of the people of this country. There is a consensus that solutions to our present challenges are far beyond existing political arrangements.
That is to say,the outcome of the conference has to go beyond what we have today as a national assembly. It has to go through a referendum of the people if we are truly sincere.
That way, the people would have to decide their fate once and for all. And if we want to look at it very well, what do we talk about and why are we talking in the first place? If we are satisfied about what we have today, then there is no need for the conference.
If there is a conference of this magnitude in the first place, knowing that we have a national assembly in place, it shows that something is lacking which is beyond the capacity of the National Assembly.
If that is the case, it goes to the root cause of the national question, our ethnic nationalities, who we are, where we are and how we got to where we are today.
That is to say, whatever the outcome of the conference cannot be restricted again to the same National Assembly which by the very convocation of the conference has been established as incapable of handling the fundamental issues. Therefore, the people must decide their future through a referendum.
You are an Urhrobo leader, are you working with others to present a common view at the conference?
I am not so sure when you say I am an Urhobo leader. Traditionally, we have leaders whom we very much respect and defer to and we trust them to present a common view for our various ethnic nationalities in Delta. In any case, that will be restricting my person to an ethnic nationality. I do not speak for an ethnic nationality.
I represent the aspirations of all our people and speak about the Nigerian state as we have inherited it. We are looking for a solution to the so-called nationality question. And that is what the national conference is all about.
Do you subscribe to the idea that there must be no go areas at the conference?
There should be nothing like no-go areas. The notion of no-go areas presupposes that there should be no conference at all. If there is a conference, the outcome cannot be pre-determined.
I believe that some of the fears being nursed by some Nigerians are uncalled for. The fear of no-go areas is to imagine that there are some persons coming to the table of brotherhood to ask for the country to be disintegrated. That is not going to happen.
I want to believe that 99% of Nigerians believes so much in this country. They have lived together for the past 100 years under one nation call Nigeria. Therefore, they have acquired mutual understanding, mutual benefits, mutual tolerance, mutual vulnerabilities, and interdependence in these 100 years.
So, the basis for discussing our unity, which was absent in 1914 is actually there today. Therefore, whatever affects the Northern part of the country will mostly likely affect the South. To these extents, we have to look for a solution that will make us united even further. Having said so, the philosophical underpinning for that kind of union has to be consensually defined from the conference. What are those areas we have found in the past that make it impossible for our union to work efficiently?
Why is national cohesion elusive? How do we build a strong and a virile nation? I believe that these and much more are fundamental issues that the conference must attend to. Sometimes, we just have misplaced fears. In a conference where all issues are inclusive and with no restrictions, everybody can come there and say whatever they want to say. At the end of the day, Nigeria will be better off for it.
Take for an instance, if I were to ask all of you here even as educated people from different parts of this country, how did your ethnic nationality come into Nigeria? With all your education and exposure, you will be looking at me.
You may just be able to say, Lord Lugard amalgamated us in 1914. Where are the amalgamation documents? What are the conditions for that amalgamation? What are the limits of that amalgamation? We cannot be living under a treaty or a union that is not defined, that we don’t know how we relate to.
Those are the things we have to discuss. Forget about the fears of disintegration. That is not going to happen. But we have to build a lasting legacy for generations to come. That is not right with the Lugardian treaty and we have to correct it.
And then the military constitution that we have talks about the ‘Nigerian people’ and they did not participate in its making! These are the issues that the conference has to talk about. Our experiences living together for 100 years as one nation inspite of the imperfections show we are a resilient people.
But we cannot continue to live with mistakes we can correct. The fact that we have realized that now, we are mutually vulnerable and interdependent means we are ready to look at the hundred years that we have lived together and the shortcomings to have a workable direction and arrangement for the future, an arrangement that can lead to a better Nigeria. That is what this conference should be about.
Where there is peace, there will be prosperity and security of lives. I am very sure that we will be having a better environment, a more prosperous nation, a healthier nation and a better country. That is what the conference should be about, nothing short.
How will you assess President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration?
I will not be able to justify that President Goodluck Jonathan has not done very well but against the backdrop of other political leaders, I can see that there is progress in his administration. The administration that came before this, that was the one of our father, Obasanjo, spent outrageous sums of monies on electricity and we got nothing.
This one has taken major pragmatic steps to ensure that sector of our economy is privatized like we did in telecommunications. And I think that will yield dividends in the no distance future. But as a humanist, I am more interested in the development of the human resources portfolio of our country.
I am more interested in the development of our leadership capacities and institutions. With this premise, I look at what this president did in 2011 by ensuring that 99% of the National Assembly that we have today is freely and fairly elected unlike in the past when 99% of the national assembly was hand-picked or selected.
That for me is a singular most important achievement because it guarantees proper leadership and the effect goes down to the root of the society and then synergy comes in and makes it possible that we can have good administration. It leads to better management of our resources to create better gains because of qualitative leadership inputs. Where that is absent, the growth and development of society becomes stunted.
And that must be absent where leaders are imposed. Today, we see what has been happening in the National Assembly. It is because we have choices. That is because we have elected representatives. What is happening in the National Assembly today did not and could not have happened at any other time because we had monologue National Assemblies.
Everything was yes.What the master said must be obeyed. But this is a national assembly, representing the variety of diversities of the Nigerian people, elected to represent their people. So, you don’t even look at it as a dysfunctional assembly. It is a virile national assembly. At the end of the day, water will find its level. You have to give that credit to President Goodluck Jonathan.
Are you going to take another shot at the governorship election in Delta State?
Like I have always said, the question of whether I am going to re-contest or contest is to be answered not today but at a later date in the future and that God Almighty will take control of that situation. We are looking at all options.
All we have done is to try to rescue our people, to lead them, to show them what democracy is all about and to make them understand that alternatives are important in a democracy and that we are an alternative. Should they think we are right and proper, elect us. Until the people say they no longer want us, we will continue to stand there and wait for them to decide.