By Dapo Akinrefon
MR Tony Uranta, the Executive Secretary of the National Summit Group, believes the agitation for the convening of a National Conference to address the anomalies in the country is imperative. To the Niger Delta activist, “there must be dialogue on the state level, there must also be dialogue on the regional level, and, more importantly, there must be dialogue on the national level”. He bares his mind on other burning national issues. Excerpts:
Recently, the National Summit Group’s (NSG) Steering Committee was inaugurated. As the Executive Secretary, what is the next line of action?
As you rightly noted that it was recently inaugurated, and went a step further to elect its National Working Committee (NWC), chaired by Alhaji Tanko Yakassai; with members like Sir Arthur Nwankwo, Chief Aid Ogbia, Mrs. Ganiat Fawehinmi, Professor Pat Utomi, Obong Victor Attah, Chief Frederick Fasehun, Ms. Ene Ede, Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, Mr. Denzil Kentebe, Mrs. Charity Shekari, Mr. Wale Okunniyi, Chief Nnia Nwodo, Alhaji Mohammed Bunu, and Miss Tare Yeri.
Numerous others are serving in sub-committees or in liaison with the NWC. They include Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, Mrs. Roz Ben-Okagbue, Alhaji Bala Zakka, Senator Ben Birabi, Mrs. Sotonye Toby-Fulton, Senator Ewa Henshaw, Alhaji Shettima Yerima, and Ms. Toyosi Akerele.
Why I named the last set is because it is a mix now of both old people and young ones, and this represents virtually all sectors of Nigeria.
After the inauguration, there have been NWC meetings in Lagos and Abuja, and another one is going to be held probably next weekend. At these meetings, we received goodwill and solidarity messages from numerous people (in and outside of government), whose names I will not mention here because we have not been empowered to do so; but we know that, publicly, and independently, General Ibrahim Babangida, former Military President has thrown his weight behind a national dialogue, as has, of course, the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the UNDEDSS (which is the umbrella body of all of the Niger Delta) and the Middle-Belt Forum all making case for a national dialogue.
We have endorsement from even state governors that were initially averse to it. The President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives have all agreed that dialogue is the way forward. And, in fact, Mr. President himself, tacitly, endorsed national dialogue while receiving the report of the Belgore committee set up to review or to propose reforms for a standard constitution, in words like ‘we want this reform’s report to serve as a foundation in the event of people coming together to dialogue in the future’. I see it as a very strong likelihood that people will dialogue in the future and it means that Mr. President himself seems to be on the same page with the majority of Nigerians. Whether dialogue is necessary or not is therefore no longer in doubt; the question now is, who bells the cat; who is to convene a national dialogue that all Nigerians will respect; when, how, and where?
In fact, everybody is now saying Boko Haram has to come to a dialogue table. Even the new National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, is talking about reaching out to talk with them, that is what we are saying: “talk” is the key; because the more we talk, the more we understand one another and the less likely we are to jump into wrong conclusions about each other’s intentions or ambitions.
And so the more likely it is for Nigeria to remain a united, peaceful country, that can now proceed under Goodluck Jonathan (or, in the future, under other leaders) to experience positive and sustainable transformation truly inside-out, and not a re-branding outside-in; a transformation that will lead us to a healthy, united, progressive and prosperous country made up of contented, fulfilled and wealthy Nigerians living together as brethren as much as is humanly possible.
We have noted, sadly, lately the killings in Plateau State which were not even about Boko Haram but that of indigeneship. What is your take on this?
Well, I will like to make a distinction between Boko Haram and the issues of the Plateau.
The issues of the Plateau have existed for over 50 years and there has been wrangling on the ground.
Today, in America, a second generation American, of Kenyan origin, is President. If he were to come to Nigeria and be a twentieth generation Yoruba-born in Calabar, the likelihood that he will win even a local government election is very minimal. This should not be, and it was not always like this!
In the 1950s, a Fulani was elected the Mayor of Enugu, a predominantly Igbo city and the great Zik of Africa, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, nearly became Premier of the Western Region, running against a great Yoruba leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo!
We cannot continue this way. Fulani slaughtering Berom, and vice versa, in Plateau State! We have to settle some of these fundamental issues of who is a Nigerian. Where is he a Nigerian? What are our rights and responsibilities as Nigerians?
Just as we have to ask who is the Nigerian youth? The Nigerian constitution does not mention youths at all, except when it talks about the National Youth Service Corps. So, for example, the people are now being told that whether your children would be killed or not, you must send them into areas of danger. I consider this as very highly irresponsible of the government; even if it is a decision that comes from the Federal Executive Council headed by Mr. President, it is a very big error, it is in fact a big insult and it is like commanding us to send our children to die.
But having said that, why are people even at risk of death to this level? It reminds me of Iraq, where people were being blown up in places of worship? It reminds me of Afghanistan and Iran! Now, we are not Palestine, Iraq, Iran. They (some mad men!) are trying to import that madness that happened in those places into Nigeria. That madness must not be allowed, it must not be condoned, it must be crushed by the security forces.
Albeit, if possible, it could also be engaged; that is, the people inspiring, sponsoring them have to be engaged. There must be reasons behind it, what is the reason? What are they grieving about? If there is a grievance, let them talk. Let them dialogue!
There must be dialogue on the state level, there must also be dialogue on the regional level, and, more importantly, there must be dialogue on the national level.
Yes, Boko Haram (whilst it must not be dealt with, with kid gloves!) has to be approached and talked to. I was of the popular view before that we must not dialogue at all with Boko Haram, but the continuous hatred and killings that have been going on have made it imperative that somebody needs to talk with them; and it must be somebody that they trust.
Don’t forget that when Olusegun Obasanjo went to Maiduguri to talk to Baba Fugar, they did not trust that Obasanjo had their interest at heart, hence they killed Baba Fugar! So, we must be sure that whosoever we push forward to talk or to find out what their grievances are, are people that they trust, they will be sincere with, and people who will be able to tell us the truth and be able to relay our own position as a nation, as government, back to them candidly.