Confab is serious business – Femi Falana

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Some delegates shared their perspectives on the conference.  Mr Femi Falana (SAN) spoke first

I am confident the house will reach a consensus. The way the meeting has been managed so far has given room for a seeming confusion. But I think a committee has been set up. My only worry is that quite a number of people in the committee have fixation. They have pre-conceived position on how Nigeria should move forward.

It is also interesting to note that some of them, with profound respect, caused some of the problems we are here to address. But there are people in the committee who are open-minded and who are prepared to influence majority of the members and arrive at a decision that will be acceptable to the house. For instance, I cannot see the basis for this confusion.

Falana

Falana

I think what has emerged is the fact that we tried to put the cart before the horse. We are not likely to vote until when the reports of the committees are brought in and when we are in those committees, we are going to work at close quarters as smaller units which should provide the opportunity for us to reduce tension and allow the superiority of ideas to prevail. So that when we come out of those committees to the larger house, we are like to have known ourselves the more and be availed of superior reasoning. But the way we are handling it, some people have their fears borne out of pre-conceived notions and that is why it is a bit problematic.

From the information at my disposal, the committee that is consulting with the Chairman is likely to arrive at a decision that will be acceptable to the house. I would have wanted us to look not the issues one by one. In any of those contentious areas, we need to convince ourselves before we  can meet even simple majority not to talk of two third or three quarter. But the areas of massive corruption in the country, infrastructural decay, the security of life and property, and lack of access to education, health and the rest of them, I can’t see problems; if people are committed to take this country to her rightful place in the comity of nations, there shouldn’t be any areas of frictions. The cost of governance has become enormously unbearable. We can’t copy the American system of government.

The American government doesn’t have this unprecedented number of special advisers and personal assistants and all that.

I am fully for the involvement of the Nigerian people in the management of the conference. We must get the Nigerian people to own the process. In each of the countries where the idea of National Conference succeeded particular in francophone countries, it was a serious business.

The people owned it and that was how each of them acquired sovereignty. It didn’t acquire sovereignty ab initio. It was the profundity of recommendations that made the people to embrace the idea. And that is what we are doing. The only thing I will suggest to the secretariat is: don’t make it an elite affair.

We disagree to agree —Frank Nweke Jnr.

My desire is a Nigeria where justice, equity and peace prevail. A Nigeria that is inclusive and caters for the needs of its citizens, whether you are talking about security or health care, opportunity, national unity, that is my concern, justice and equity more than anything else. It is difficult for somebody like me, given my experiences and exposure, to think of Nigeria in any other way beyond one that is united, strong and have equal opportunity for all and sundry.

Because of the very nature of our diversity, it is not out place for people to disagree to agree and agree to disagree which is what is going on. I think we are talking. At some point we will reach a compromise.

Most of the problems are intractable – Mr Ray Ekpu

At Abacha’s conference, it got to a point where Dr. Ekwueme was speaking and there were hecklings.

They would not let him speak. And then, Emeka Ojukwu got up and stood behind Ekwueme and said, “I am standing behind you, speak on”. So, these things do happen but, at the end of the day, try and patch up things. You are dealing with a diversity of people from different parts of the country from different backgrounds who have different interests. But I believe that, at the end of the day, the prevailing interest will be national interest.

You can see the diversity playing out here. That’s why you have this problem with the voting system whether it should be three quarter, two third or even  simple majority. It was actually a surprise for me to see three quarter because I have never heard of any arrangement in this country or any where else where you have three quarter. 75 percent is quite on the high side.

My view is consensus. I believe the President meant well by talking about consensus because if you arrive at consensus, it will help the country. But in the lack of the  ability to arrive at consensus, you must make do with what you can get. But I must tell you that this conference is not going to solve all the problems of Nigeria. Far from it. It may be able to resolve some of the problems. Most of the problems are very intractable and they are ethnic, tribe and religion based. You can see that the country is polarized along ethnic, religious lines.

One hundred years after we were brought together as a nation, 53 years after we got  independence, you can see the enormity of the problems we are facing. My view is that we must work hard, not taking and not giving all. We must all work hard to see that we will arrive at a reasonable compromise.

The North’s fear over two third – Ambassador Yerima Abudulahi, elder statesman from  Gombe State

I am glad that the Chairman has taken this reconciliatory route of making progress. This is not the first time. In a situation of this nature, we will arrive a situation where violent disagreement can arise. In 2005, one situation happened and one or two other issues. And we had to adjourn and called some heads in. I am glad Mr. Chairman has done so now.

I hope they will lay down their caps of being from so, so and so from those ethnic groups to being Nigerians, leaders of Nigeria and think and discuss the situation they are required to discuss purely as Nigerians because this country belongs to all of us. As one of our leaders has said, we have no other country we can call our own except Nigeria. And so, whatever we can do to make sure that we retain and maintain a united Nigeria, we will do it.

If you analyze the membership of this conference, you have 492 outside the officials. But going a little further into the demography of this country, about 55 percent  of the population is from the North,  but Mr. President, in his own wisdom, decided to nominate 290 people from the South, his  area  and nominated only 200 from the North.

Automatically, that gives the South a serious advantage of two third majority without even any contribution from the North. And I don’t think this is what Mr. President  wants. Because, if that is done, then it will not be a Nigerian decision. It will be a southern Nigerian decision which is not healthy for Nigeria. Now, I think that sanity should prevail and, therefore, in view of the practical situation on the ground, we should take the three quarter decision and stand there.

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