BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, Deputy Political Editor
THE South-West geo-political zone, yesterday, was divided on how the outcome of the proposed National Conference should become law. While some agreed that the report should be sent to the National Assembly for consideration as declared by President Goodluck Jonathan, others said a referendum of the people is sufficient.
However, another opinion said the National Assembly should make a law to back the confab so that the dialogue will not be an exercise in illegality.
This came as Itsekiri leader, Chief Mrs Rita Lori-Ogbebor, who attended the hearing, said the Itsekiri ethnic nationality is in full support of the conference, adding that she will embark on extensive mobilization across the country to drum up support for the exercise.
The event, which was held at the main auditorium of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, was anchored by 11 members of the 13-man committee led by Senator Femi Okurounmu. The absentees are Professor Anya O. Anya, who is in Umuahia for the Council meeting of the University of Agriculture, Umudike and Col Tony Nyiam, whose continued membership is shrouded in doubt following the ugly incident that happened during the panel’s sitting in Benin.
For over six hours, the packed hall witnessed interesting contributions from the Afenifere, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Campaign for Democracy (CD), Yoruba National Assembly (YNA), Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF), Southwest Consultative Forum (SCF), Aka-Ikenga, Igbo Leaders of Thought, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and Coalition of Oodua Self-Determination Groups (COSEG) among others.
Afenifere, represented by Yinka Odumakin said: “All decisions reached by the conference should be made into a referendum and the President should take a bill to the National assembly for it to be included in the constitution. The conference should have equal representation by all the six zones of the country. At least 100 delegates should come from each zone. We should look at the composition of government on whether it should be a federal state or not. We should also insist that every state should generate its own revenue because we are sharing money derived from oil, no one wants to work again.”
The Afenifere Renewal Group, which was represented by Chief Wale Oshun, picked holes in the ongoing constitution amendment exercise of the National Assembly, which it described as an exercise in futility. He said: “The time to talk to one another is now. We should talk of the decline in our country in terms of infrastructure, education, health etc. We should look at the legislative structure, whether it should be full or part time, internal security and other issues that have become a problem.
The ethnic nationalities should be the basis for negotiation and each nationality should have the opportunity of selecting those who will represent them. No interest group like Labour, etc should be involved. It should be strictly in terms of nationalities and the exercise should last for nine months.”
Speaking for YNA, General Alani Akinrinade said that the President should use all the powers available to him and ensure that the outcome of the conference is legal. “Anyone who refuses to endorse what the people have agreed on can go and form their own country” he said.
The Yoruba Unity Forum, which was represented by Bishop Gbonigi said that the ethnic nationalities are the true stakeholders and should be duly represented; political parties should not be allowed to play any role in selecting participants and for the dialogue to receive national acceptance, there should be equal representation from each political zone. “The socio-cultural organisations should produce delegates to the conference and the size of the delegation should not be more than 400.”
The OPC, in presentation signed by Otunba Gani Adams (national co-ordinator), Lasun Ogunfowokan (general secretary) and Mudashiru Aderibigbe (national treasurer), said the federation should be based on six regions arising from the current six geo-political zones.
It also called for a federation with a loose centre and practicable federating units; devolution of powers, abolishing of the power of the Federal Government to declare state of emergency in federating units, and adoption of parliamentary system of government . OPC suggested that the conference should last for four months and should comprise all ethnic nationalities and “once the draft is produced, the constitution should then pass through the same process as the 1963 Republican Constitution, which would involve passage by the National Assembly and proclamation by the President of Nigeria.”
Dr. Joe Odumakin of CD disagreed with those who say that this is not the time to hold a dialogue. “We disagree with those who say that this is not the time to hold a dialogue. Also, whatever the outcome of the conference should be made into a referendum that will become law instead of giving it to the National Assembly to be ratified” she said.
She also suggested that international organisations should be invited to attend the national conference as observers. Dr Joe Odumakin, said on the sidelines of an interactive session of the National Conference Advisory Committee that observer status for such bodies should be considered.
“We urge the committee to also extend observer status to other international human rights organisations and international media. This is to give more credibility and authenticity to the dialogue,” she said, adding that the dialogue was the only option to save the country
Elder statesman, Dr Tunji Braithwaite, while speaking for the Southwest Consultative, said that the conference would not fail and urged the Yoruba to embrace it. “I can say with certainty that this conference would not fail. The fact that Obasanjo’s conference failed does not mean that this one would fail. This is a lifetime opportunity for us to decide on the future of the country and I want all ethnic nationality to be represented,” he said
Speaking in like manner, Chief Lori-Ogbebor, told reporters that impressions that the confab is not real are wrong.
Insisting that something must come out of the dialogue, which she promised to tour round the country to mobilize and convince people on the necessity, she said she has no doubt that the proposed conference will be a success.
While expressing delight, that most of the groups are in agreement that participation at the conference should be based on the ethnic nationalities, Lori-Ogbebor suggested politicians and political parties should have nothing to do with the selection of delegates.
The Itsekiri leader said the outcome of the conference should not be sent to the National Assembly for consideration, rather, resolutions arrived at the conference should become law without any alteration or ratification by the National Assembly or anybody.
Elder Uma Elaizu, in a presentation for Igbo leaders of thought, suggested a 360-delegate conference with each of the six geo-political zones contributing 60 delegates.
At the confab, he said a series of questions should be answered. “Do we want to stay together as a country? If no, that marks the end of the conference and then people can go and form their own republics. If yes, other issues should be discussed. And the issues to be discussed include the system of government, presidential or parliamentary, security, sanctity of life, armed forces, etc.”
Senator Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa, who spoke for some patriots, identified with the submission of the YUF and partly with that of Afenifere.
He opposed the prevailing unitary system of government and suggested that Yoruba delegates should also include Yoruba people in Kwara, Kogi, Edo and Delta apart from those in South-West.
He said the outcome of the dialogue should be subjected to a referendum and should become law through a simple majority.
Barrister Onyekachi Ubani of Ikeja NBA suggested that the conference should be backed by an Act of the National Assembly so that it will not be an exercise that will end in the dustbin.
Thereafter, he suggested that the outcome of the confab should become through a plebiscite.
On his part, Dr Goody Uwazurike of Aka-Ikenga noted that most Nigerian cities are dominated by non-indigenes, whom he suggested should also form part of the delegates from the affected cities. According to him, 60 per cent of the 17 million inhabitants of Lagos are non-indigenes and a similar scenario obtains in Kano.