By Simon Ebegbulem, Benin-City
The South -south sitting of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference/Dialogue, held on Monday in Benin-City, Edo State, has come and gone but its ripples will probably continue reverberate long after the event. What will likely be remembered most was the unruly behaviour of one of the committee members whose action almost disrupted an exercise meant to seek the input of Nigerians in the search for a system that will be agreeable to everyone in a nation touted as the giant of Africa.
With the age- long agitation for resource control by the people of the Niger Delta and other germane issues resurfacing at the conference when members of the Senator Femi Okurounmu-led committee took time to collate opinions from the zone, the mid-session outburst by Col Tony Nyiam (rtd), nearly put a clog in the wheel of the exercise.
However, who is who in the Niger Delta attended the pre-confab meeting. The leaders include Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, the Iyase of Benin Kingdom, Chief Sam Igbe, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, Senator Francis Okpozo, Chief Diette Spiff, Maj.Gen. Patrick Aziza, Prof. Sam Oyovbaire, Barr Edward Ekpoko (Itsekiri leader), Rear Admiral Peter Eluma, Chief Benjamin Elue, Chief Clark Gbenewei, Chief Dennis Oturo, former Governor Diepreye Alamesiegha, Chief Emmanuel Okumagba and Comrade Paul Bebenimibo.
Return of oil and gas resources
Top of the submissions made by oil and gas producing communities in 10 states of the country included demand for total control of their oil and gas resources. The states are Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Edo, Ondo, Abia, Imo and Anambra. In their memoranda submitted to the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference, they said:” It is pertinent to emphasize that, we the oil and gas producing communities of Nigeria want to have total control of the oil and gas resources found in our lands and rivers.
We stand for total resource control in any form and structure of government, parliamentary, presidential or regional government which Nigerians may eventually adopt. The Federal Government of Nigeria and Nigerians have been most insensitive to the agitation of the oil and gas producing communities to have control in the management and use of the oil and gas resources”.
The oil and gas producing communities traced their three decades struggles which led to the 13 percent derivation provision in the Constitution, but lamented that the Federal Government was paying the derivation fund to the producing state governments to the exclusion of the actual oil and gas producing communities in violation of two mandatory provisions of the 1999 Constitution, Section 162(2) and the principle of separation of powers”.
For 13 years now, the Federal Government, in collaboration with the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission and the Federal Ministry of Finance, has continued to pay 13 percent derivation fund to the state governments, leaving the actual oil and gas producing communities who are the legitimate and exclusive beneficiaries of the 13 percent derivation fund in ravaging poverty, hunger and penury”, the oil producing communities said.
They alluded to the United States of America from where Nigeria copied its presidential system of government and said what obtains there was strict adherence to fiscal federalism, where the owners are allowed to manage and exploit their resources and pay taxes to the central government.
”We in Nigeria, the oil and gas producing communities, want to seize this opportunity of the National Dialogue offer to ask for the return of our oil and gas resources to the original owners so that we can exploit, manage our resources and pay tax to the Federal Government”, they said. The Isoko Consultative Forum(ICF), in its memorandum, backed total resource control for oil and gas producing communities. It also demanded for the creation of two additional local governments for the Isoko people.
Others who submitted memoranda include the Ijaw National Council, Urhobo Progress Union, Benin Forum, Ijaws of Gbaramatu, Itsekiri Leaders of Thought, Isoko Development Union and Mid-west Consultative Forum. While the ethnic groups agreed that state governors should not be allowed to nominate delegates for the conference, the representatives from Bayelsa State argued that governors must be allowed to select delegates since they will still be the ones to sponsor the delegates for the conference.
There was a rowdy session when a second Ijaw group, Ijaws from Gbaramatu Kingdom, was called to make its presentation after the Ijaw National Council submitted its memoranda. Other ethnic nationalities protested, arguing that the committee members were accommodating all Ijaw groups with many linking what appeared successive permission for presentation by the Ijaw groups to the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan is from the area. The protest, led to a face-saving submission by the next Ijaw speaker who, after mounting the podium, said he agreed with the earlier submission by the Ijaw National Council.
‘No faith in this process’
While different groups were making their presentations, Governor Oshiomhole walked into the hall at about 3pm and members of the high table arranged a seat for him. The governor sat for about 15 minutes and there was signal that the governor was to leave the hall shortly to attend other state matters. Committee chairman, Senator Okunrounmu, told the audience the comrade governor will be allowed to make his contribution before leaving.
Oshiomhole, in the course of his presentation, expressed doubt about the success of the whole excercise, asserting that it might be another waste of public resources. The governor, who made it clear that he was only expressing his personal opinion like any other Nigerian including those that had spoken before him, said, the lack of an agenda for the National Dialogue presupposes it will lead no where.
He said: ““I will be surprised if anything changes. Sincerely, I have no business to deceive or mislead anyone. I believe that the outcome of this conference will not be different from that of other conferences we have had in the past. All I owe Nigeria now is to speak my mind. It could be error of my head but certainly not of my heart. As much as I wish you well, I just want to say that I have no faith in this process and I do not think it was necessary at all.
I am unable to find any basis to give me some illusion that this exercise will not be different from the others. And I honestly think that in terms of the private sector, when a country keeps debating how we can live together that cannot be one of the basis on which the outside community will invest in Nigeria. They may well wait until we know how we want to live in Nigeria”.
He lamented that 53 years after independence, Nigerians still prefer to look at themselves from their ethnic origin rather than being Nigerians, saying, “For me, I am just a Nigerian. I do not think that more than hundred years when we have set aside billions of naira to celebrate centenary celebrating the fact of our amalgamation of the North and South of Nigeria, and we have lived together as one country for over a hundred years, and we have gone through independence, we have been free for 53 years and we are coming back to ask the question, how could we be there?
I think Nigeria needs to address very serious issues. “When I see eminent Nigerians discussing this issue, I am sure they know that Nigeria’s problem is not this politics of sharing, which the National Dialogue is all about, who is getting what, who has this natural endowment, who should do this or not do this. This is the act of perfecting poverty. The real challenge is getting Nigeria back to production.
The real challenge is creating industrial base and this cannot be resolved through conferences. We have moved from parliamentary system in our own wisdom to the presidential system. We have test-run it and it was aborted by the military and it has re-incarnated in the present form. Nigeria does need a serious reflection about how to return to those core values that made Nigeria work before. Those healthy competition between the governments, visit the whole question of attitude and, unless that changes, I do not see how any dialogue can work”.
But while the governor was still on his feet, one of the committee members at the high table, Tony Nyiam, got up in an attempt to stop him from continuing with his presentation. He was simultaneously joined by some people in the crowd believed to be of Ijaw extraction. Nyiam was shouting at the top of his voice asking Oshiomhole to sit down, while the committee members made frantic effort to prevail on Nyiam to cease his outburst. The governor stood bemused as he watched Nyiam point hands at him insisting that the former stop his address while Ijaw youths at the hall rained abuses on the governor. Shortly after, Oshiomhole left the hall and wished the committee well in its job.
Following the uproar, the leadership of the committee apologized to the governor, expressing disappointment with Nyiam’s action. According to a letter of apology, entitled “Dialogue Committee condemns unruly behaviour” it said: the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue wants to put it on record that we noted the sad incident at today’s (Monday’s) interactive session with Nigerians from the South-south held in Benin-City, Edo State. The committee wishes to state its unequivocal commitment and that of its members to the principles of democratic discourse.
Although we take special exception to the unruly conduct of one of our members who joined the crowd in shouting down the Comrade Governor of Edo State, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, while he was giving his remarks, the session continued and ended peacefully.” The committee continued, in the letter dated October 28, 2013, “We want to emphasize that the committee will listen to all shades of opinions in the areas of its mandates and will not henceforth condone the kind of unacceptable behavior we witnessed in Benin-City.
The committee wishes to express its sincere appreciation to the government and people of Edo State for providing support to the committee in its assignment in the state.” Sunday Vanguard learnt that Nyiam resigned his membership that night following pressure from committee members but it was later learnt that he decided to seek an audience with the president before knowing what to do. It was gathered that his alleged resignation made him not to attend the sitting of the committee in Enugu.
Nyiam’s attitude elicited reactions from participants. An Ijaw leader Chief Dennis Otuaro, and Comrade Paul Bebenimibo, said Oshiomhole should not have attended the meeting since he earlier met with the committee members. “The meeting was called for those who are ready for the conference not those who said it will not work. People came to submit memoranda and not to kick against the committee.
Yes we shouted at the governor because we felt that he came to disrupt the meeting. What he meant was that we should not have sat there and we said no”, they said. But the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, Chief David Edebiri, Edo Youths and a former governor of Edo State, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, declared Nyiam’s action as disrespectful and called for his removal from the committee. According to Esogban, “I want to call on the President to remove Nyiam because he almost set the whole place on fire. He misbehaved and we want to advise the president, if he wants to succeed, to replace such a person. If because he is a member
of the committee and one cannot air his views, people cannot express their views freely due to his arrogance, it means he is not fit to partake in the business of this nature. His attitude almost destroyed the entire proceedings and it is shocking that such reaction came from a member of the committee”.
On his part, Oyegun said, “Those who initiated the conference, if they mean well for our country, should know that this is an exercise with many contrary views. But if before we are even starting the conference, a member of the team is losing his cool and his balance, then it shows that those who initiated it don’t mean well and they have their own objective. Nyiam is not qualified to be a member of that committee and it is good he resigned”.
My grouse, by Nyiam
But Nyiam, who defended his action, alleged that Oshiomhole spoke with the committee members as if they were kindergarten when they visited his office. According to him, ‘’With that background, he now came to the venue after the Benin Development Forum spoke. He came late and, after listening, he asked for intervention.
He took the micro phone and then decided to repeat the lecturing and treating people like students and castigating the Federal Government and more offensive to me is that he was talking down on the elders there that the idea of them coming together was a waste of time. One talking down on people is contrary to the philosophy of our people, we had former governor there, elders, traditional rulers.
Second, when we are in an interactive session with the people, it is not for a governor to come and take over the stage and start grandstanding. This is a governor that spoke for over 40 minutes when we were with him. This idea of governors trying to run down the President, a governor abusing the office of the President to make insinuations against the Presidency, to criticise peoples ability for self expression, is unacceptable.
So when people started booing the governor, I went to the chairman to remind him about the rules of our committee and the chairman said we should give him chance to continue. He carried on with his derogatory remarks and it was at that point I then said no, not again. When I said that, his aides tried to come at me, but when I suspected that one was at my back I stood up, I sat down through out.
Not long after, a group of thugs came towards the table, it was then that the SSS people advised that my life was not safe and I was taken away for safety. The Director of SSS raised security around us, the Commissioner of Police came to see me and they brought security. The police drove us all through out of Edo State because of fear of attack. So contrary to what they said that I mobilized thugs, it is not true, it is Edo people that protected me”.
‘Lack of respect’
But countering his statement the state government in a statement signed by the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Peter Okhiria, said: “We wonder when Col Nyiam became the president’s spokesman as to want to drag the president’s name into his shameful act. We are however not surprised, going by his antecedents. The Benin incident was just another manifestation of Nyiam’s lack of respect for constituted authority and his love for disunity.
Even as an officer in such a disciplined profession as the Nigerian Army, Nyiam stood out like sore thumb and his naked ambition for power led to the death of many officers and men who owned up and faced the sentence for treason, but where was Nyiam? He took to his heels rather than face the consequence for his action, like all cowards do.
Nyiam said Governor Adams Oshiomhole was “talking down on the people”. We wonder when airing one’s opinion or saying “I believe that the outcome of this conference will not be different from that of other conferences we have had in the past” means talking down on the people, Nyiam deserves our pity. He might still be hallucinating thinking he is an army officer who must be obeyed. We recognize that no military officer worth his salt would openly disagree with a superior or a Governor at a forum such as the one in Benin City.
We find it interesting that Col Nyiam has exposed the undercurrent motive of the conference which has also confirmed Governor Oshiomhole’s initial fears about viability, necessity and desirability of same. In as much as we believe that Nigeria is in dire straits. The governor insists that a talkshop with no agenda is not necessary at this time”.
On its part, the Conference of Registered Political Parties (CRPP), in a statement by its chairman, Dr Samson Isibor, said Nyiam’s action was the height of executive rascalty and impunity that “has now become the other of the day in the PDP”. Elder statesman, Senator Francis Okpozo, who was at the venue, also reacted. His words: “Both of them are our brothers but I believe that as the governor of a state, Nyiam is supposed to give him the respect to speak his mind”.
The Africa Network for Environment and Economic, ANEEJ, called on President Goodluck Jonathan to sack and order the prosecution of Nyiam, for shouting down the governor. The ANEEJ statement, signed by its President, Rev David Ugolor, said it was sad that “such character was exhibited by a retired military officer who knows the sensitivity of the office of a governor”.
The Media Adviser to the Governor, Kaseem Afegbua said the state government will send a petition to President Jonathan.