In this interview with Ben Agande in Abuja, a member of the National Conference representing the civil society organisation, Barrister Rommy Mom speaks on the work of the conference and the consequences that await the nation if the recommendations of the conference are not implemented. Excerpts:
The National Conference is at the threshold of its duration. What would you say it has achieved?
I think the conference has achieved a lot of things. Principally is that for the first time, Nigerians have come out t ventilate their grievances and get to talk about how the country is and how it should be governed. Of course one might say that there were other conferences before now but this is the most inclusive conference in terms of true national representation.
We have representatives of persons with disability, youths, students, market women and all. For me, the fact that every group is here, ventilating their opinions – hopes and fears at a time like this is very important. This is the first time in the history of this country where we are confronting lots of internal conflicts. The country is at the point where this kind of talk is very important and the fact that Nigerians are talking peacefully, for me, is the biggest achievement of this conference.
Secondly, I think the conference has given Nigerians an alternative towards amending the constitution that most people say does not belong to us. People will always say that the preamble of the constitution that says ‘we the people’ is not true. It is a lie and it is wrong. I think if the recommendations at the national conference come out eventually to form part of the constitution, then we will say this is truly the people’s constitution.
How can it be a people’s constitution when there is no law backing it up?
This can happen if the national assembly amends the constitution to include the provision for a referendum which we understand is on the table. If the constitution is amended to include a referendum, the recommendations of the conference can be carried round the country and Nigerians carry out a referendum on them. If Nigerians say this is what we want, then the recommendations can become part of the constitution. This is an opportunity for Nigerians to say this is our constitution and I think Nigerians should not miss this. This is an opportunity and a responsibility we delegates owe our our constitution and to a larger extent our country. We have relate with our elected representatives in the National Assembly and impress it on them to make provisions in the constitution so that they can accept or reject the constitutions.
If the conference is not a product of the law, how will its provisions have effect of the law?
It is not expressly a product of the law but it is an assembly that has been put in place through the exercise of the product of the law by the president. The president has the powers to set up such acts as setting up the national conference. To that extent, it can be said to be a product of the law. It is an assembly that was created by the president and the president has such powers.
What ever recommendation passed by the conference is still subject to the National assembly. How do you think the National assembly will grant it such powers bearing in mind that many people think that the Conference is a sort of rival to the it?
I concede that it may be difficult for the national assembly to adopt what the conference has recommended as the decision of the national assembly. That is true but this is where they need to rise above their egos. The national assembly has to respect the true representation of of the conference which, to me, goes beyond the constituency level. What we need to do is for us to go back and meet members of the National Assembly as our elected representatives and encourage them to amend the constitution to include referendum. That means that the man on the street would now have a say in the making of the constitution and that will have more legitimacy than what we have at the moment.
Some of the recommendations being made by the Conference are antithetical to the wishes of the people especially the one that seeks to restrict access to social media.
That was a recommendation that came from a committee that was deliberated upon. I don’t think that the National Conference expressly censored social media. My contribution during debate was that you cannot regulate the social media owing to the advantages it has. The advantages of the social media far outweigh the disadvantages. The issue of the Chibok girls for instance was brought to international attention because of the social media. I don’t think that we should regulate the social media.
We have the laws on defamation; we have the law on slander to take care of any misuse of the social media.
We have before the national assembly, a cyber crime law which stipulates provisions that will take care of any abuse of the social media. What we had at the National conference was a recommendation of a committee which is still subject to final deliberation. I think the press got it wrong.
Will the outcome of the national conference provide a new lease of life for the country?
I keep coming back to the issue of referendum. Just like the past constitutional conferences that have been held and all their reports are now in the trash can, this conference can go that way.We can only talk about it having an impact on Nigerians if the national assembly opens the door for referendum. Even if this does not happen, the most important thing for me is that it has afforded us an opportunity to talk. Close your eyes and imagine if there was no national conference. There would have been lots of heat. Nigerians are listening to us because we are speaking their minds and their frustrations and that has given the country an opportunity to calm down.
In the event that the recommendations of the conference are not implemented, what do you think this will portend?
That means we will have to contend with how to manage with the situation that we have seen unfolding in the country.
I am saying that because, before the national conference, there were calls for secession, there were calls for a break up of the country.
If the recommendations of the national conference are not implemented, we may go back to that stage in a much more desperate and demanding way that it may be much more difficult for us to hold ourselves together.
Are you saying that if the recommendations of the national conference are not implemented, the corporate existence of Nigeria will be threatened?
Let me say this; the corporate existence of Nigeria has always been threatened. It is not whether the conference will add to it or not. I think the corporate existence of Nigeria will depend entirely and heavily on the 2015 general elections. If the wishes of Nigerians are not respected in the 2015 elections, we might not be able to hold ourselves together again. Nigerians are patiently waiting for the 2015 elections to speak their minds on governance and if their opinions on governance is again abused, if there is no free and fair election in 2015; then we should be ready for whatever consequences. Our prayer is that it should not come to that.
Does the present circumstance give room for hope that 2015 will be better?
I think people are wiser including those governing us. We have lots of elections behind us to learn from and we have seen how Nigerians’ have reacted in some areas where their votes were tampered with.
I want to believe that everybody who loves this country would not go near the issue of tampering with votes again. If we truly love this country, if we want this country to remain one, the people’s votes must be respected.