By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
IN clear terms, some eminent Nigerians on Monday and Tuesday displayed in Lagos, their determination to give the citizenry a brand new constitution that will be people based.
They came from all parts of the country. Some of them were lodged at Sheraton Hotel and Towers for four or more days in view of the dialogue on the state of affairs in the country.
Organized by the National Summit Group (NSG), the parley, which was dubbed: “National Dialogue of Eminent Leaders of Thought in Nigeria,” was attended by a cross section of Nigerians from all the geopolitical zones of the country, cutting across all religious lines; political, social and economic strata of the nation..
The over 150 participants included such eminent Nigerians as Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, Chief Edwin Clark, Olorogun Felix Ibru,Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, Prof. Suleiman Bogoro, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Barrister Femi Falana, Prof. Akin Oyebode, Chief Audu Ogbeh, Chief Olu Falae, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Mrs. Ganiat Fawehinmi, Alhaji Orthman, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Mrs. Charity Shekari, Obong Victor Atta, Chief Alabo Graham Douglas, Prof Pat Utomi (Convener), Ms Annkio Briggs, Mallam Shehu Sani, Dr Federick Fasheun, Engr Ife Oyedele, Mallam Nasser Kura, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, Chief Ralph Obioha, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Dr Ishaq Lakin Akintola, Dr Ephraim, Goje, Ms Joi Nune Okunnu, Chief John Nwodo and Mr. Olawale Okunniyi.
There were also Alhaji Shettima Yerima, Mr Bala Zaka, Lagos State Commissioner for Police, Yakubu Alkali, Professor Kevin Etta, Barrister Tare Yeri, Comrade Dele Akele, Mrs Ireti Doyle, Mr Tee Mac Itseli, Mallam Mahmud Othman, Mrs Baarong , Tony Uranta, Mr Tony Nnacheta, Sheikh Abdurahman Ahmed, Ms Amara Nwosu, Ambassador Grace Bassey Eke, Mr Denzel Kentebe, Mrs Sotonye Fulton, Mr Taofeek Gani, Ms Abiola Ige, Chief Asuquo Ekanem, Col Paul Edor Obi, Mrs Gift Amangi, Professor Remi Sonaiya and Mr Saint Obi among many others.
Traditional rulers present included the Amanyanabo of Opobo, HRM King Dandeson Jaja and the Oni of Ife (represented by Oba Aderemi Adedapo). Notable organisations at the event included the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and several other civil society organizations representing special interests of youths, women and ethnic nationalities among others.
Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, Alhaji Maitama Sule, Alhaji Adamu Ciroma, Justice Alfa Belgore (rtd), National Security Adviser (NSA), General Owoye Azazi (rtd), who could not attend sent solidarity messages in support of the dialogue and urged Nigerians to participate in the convocation of a national conference.
After two days of summit, the over 150 participants observed:
* that the Nigerian nation is currently facing serious challenges which, if not urgently addressed, are capable of leading the country to total disintegration;
* that the issues constraining our development as a nation include systemic corruption, insecurity of lives and properties, poverty and infrastructure deficiencies, lack of credible electoral process, clueless leadership of state institutions and processes across board and defective structure of the Nigerian federalism, backed by a flawed constitution. These defects have lasted for too long;
* that the deteriorating state of insecurity, especially in recent times, calls for more urgent attention as it is capable of leading to violent and unprecedented collapse of the Nigerian state if not dealt with firmly and decisively; and
* condemned the senseless killing of defenseless Nigerians in different parts of the country.
Disturbed by these observations, the delegates resolved that:
* the dialogue should be continued and held in all six geopolitical zones of Nigeria dovetailing into a major national summit at the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in ensuring a total mobilization of all Nigerians and state institutions, including the legislature within the shortest possible time;
* The National Summit Group should ensure wider attendance at future dialogues and was commended for its efforts so far;
* The ultimate goal of the dialogue should be the convocation of a peoples’ national conference of the constituent units of the country that will give birth to a truly peoples Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;
* A steering committee whose membership would be continuously reviewed as more Nigerians come onboard be established, to ensure that no interest is excluded; and
* The steering committee (headed by Chief John Nwodo) is to come up with a work plan within 30 days of its constitution.
Before they reached these agreements, the delegates were initially divided on the nature of confab to be held – sovereign national conference or national conference. There were also fears that the talk shop could lead to the disintegration of the country. But in the end, they all agreed that a national conference, which output would not be doctored by the government, was the surest way out of the murky waters of socio-economic and development stagnation the country is submerged in.
Having arrived at a consensus on holding a national conference and raised a steering committee to marshal the way forward, the NSG’s push has been assailed by a number of nagging questions such as: How will the delegates to the conference be selected? How will the ethnic nationalities be represented in terms of number? Who will convene the confab -the NSG or government? If the government refuses to convene the conference, what next? If the NSG decides to go solo, will the document be legal?
Proponents talked about referendum but how are they going to organise it without the government? Who is going to fund the exercise? Won’t the confab go the way of previous efforts?
It’s another jamboree – Youth group
Indeed, on the opening day of the dialogue, a youth group, which described itself as ‘Worried Citizens’ carried placards to protest alleged non-inclusion of Nigerians in the summit and alleged the parley was being sponsored by the government.
The protesters described the gathering as an unacceptable jamboree and warned that the outcome, like other previous confabs, would not have any effect on the polity.
Inside the hall, some delegates also questioned the source of funding, warning that if the Federal Government had anything to do with it, they would back out.
Fashola, Police assisted us – Uranta
Responding to these allegations and questions, Secretary of the NSG, Mr Tony Uranta, said the parley was not a Federal Government-sponsored initiative. He explained that the initiative was borne out of the desires of eminent leaders of thought, who “genuinely want the nation restructured.”
Prodded further on the last day of the summit, Uranta insisted that the Federal Government had no hand in it, saying, “if we got any government funding, we got financial support from Fashola and assistance from the Police, who provided security.”
We are ready to die for Nigeria – Nwabueze
On whether or not the confab would end like previous exercises, Chairman of The Patriots and Project Nigeria, Professor Ben Nwabueze (SAN), said the organisers were determined to get results this time.
“Whatever we discuss here today is a prelude to a National Conference to have a people’s constitution, which has been denied the people since independence. Anybody who wants to prevent the convening of a National Conference is an enemy of this country. My group is preparing a working document on this and I hope you will support it. I am 83, I am prepared to march to Abuija to present that document when it is ready. Anybody, who is going to stop us must be prepared to kill all of us,” he said.
The question of whether or not the exercise would yield dividends is anchored on the fact that the history of Nigeria is replete with an avalanche of confabs and documents that are gathering dusts at government archives.
Apart from the series of pre-independence constitutional conferences in London and the 1978 Constituent Assembly that produced the 1979 Constitution, other exercises could aptly pass for jamborees, which guzzled tax-payers’ money with little or no tangible results.
Before the outbreak of the civil war in 1967, a meeting of representatives of the Federal Government and seceding Biafra Republic in Aburi, Ghana, produced the Aburi Accord, which was never implemented. The country paid dearly for it with the 30-month civil war that claimed about three million lives and about $13.7 m.
The General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida-led military government also held a Constituent Assembly in 1987 and nothing came out of it. Late General Sani Abacha organised a constitutional conference 1994, where some recommendations including the current six geo-political zones were recommended but the exercise did not produce a constitution. After Abacha’s death, his successor, General Abdulsalami Abubakar raised a number of committees that came up with the 1999 Constitution.
In his first term as President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo raised a techincal committee to review the constitution. The National Assembly equally set up a constitution panel. Both teams toured the six geo-political zones gathering input and memoranda from the citizenry. The output of these money-swallowing efforts did not produce or amend the 1999 Constitution as envisaged.
Another round of efforts were made in Obasanjo’s second term. The President organised a National Political Reforms Conference (NPRC) and the National Assembly’s committee also worked. However, the commendable jobs done by the NPRC and NASS panel were torpedoed by Obasanjo’s alleged Third Term ambition.
Within the period, The Patriots led by Prof Ben Nwabueze (SAN) prepared a draft constitution and the late Chief Anthony Enahoro-led Pro-National Conference Organisations (PRONACO) held a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) and produced a draft constitution for the country. Both documents were submitted to the National Assembly and little or nothing was done on them.
Although, the country has been able to amend the constitution thrice -first in 1963 and twice under President Goodluck Jonathan, the nation’s topsy-turvy march in fashioning a people-led constitution raises questions on whether or not the NSG push would make inroads.