Since the early 1990s, Nigerians have been calling for a Sovereign National Conference, or some form of national discourse to deliberate on some knotty issues that have remained recurrent in our national life.
The issues centre on the relationship between the various national groups that make up the Federation called Nigeria, the agitation for control and management of the nation’s economic resources, equal access to political powers, observance of the rule of law, religious tolerance and equity in national polity.
Neither the 1994 Constitutional Conference put in place by Late General Sani Abacha, nor theNational Conference under the Obasanjo administration in 2007, could assuage the agitations of Nigerians from the different parts of the country for a national conference where Nigerians should freely discuss the terms of the 1914 Amalgamation, the inherent contradictions of the British colonial rule and the panacea for the healthy growth and development of the country.
1. Elder Fred Agbeyegbe,
Legal Practitioner/ President, Itsekiri
2. Col. Tony Nyiam,
retired Serviceman/ Social Activist,
3. Barr. Tony Nnadi, Legal Practitioner/
Sec. Gen. Lower Niger Congress,
4. Mr. Ambah Binaebi,
Sec. Gen. Oporoza House,
5. Mr. Marshal Kunoun,
Chairman, Strategy C’ttee Oporoza House,
6. Mr. Hugo Odiogor, Moderator, VCH
7. Mrs. Nkiru Nnorom, Rapporteur, VCH
8. Mr. Kunle Kalejaiye, Secretary, VCH
9. Bunmi Azeez, Photographer
This is the thematic focus of this edition of Vanguard Conference Hall, which is our interactive, public policy and advocacy platform, to deliberate on issues of national and international concerns.
Distinguished guests, I want to welcome you to this edition of Vanguard Conference Hall, which is focused on the proposed National Dialogue. Without wasting time, the subject matter is quite familiar to all of us here, so, let us get acquainted with ourselves.
My names are Fred Agbeyegbe, I am a legal practitioner and a playwright am also a Theatre practitioner, I am an Itsekiri man and the President of Itsekiri Peoples Congress. From there I went on delegation to the Lower Niger Congress, where I was also elected the president .
Thank you Sir, Next?
My names are Barrister Tony Nnadi. I am a lawyer, and I am the Secretary General of Lower Niger Congress. This is a platform that seeks to federate the ethnic nationalities of the Lower Niger areas; that is, the ethnic nationalities that spread through today’s South East and South South, as Nigerians prefer to call them. These are those eleven states in that part of the country. The Lower Niger Congress is part of the larger platform involving organisations from other parts of the country that make up what is called Movement for New Nigeria. I am co-convener with late Chief Enahoro.
I am Colonel Tony Inyiam, I am simply a concerned Nigerian
My names are Ambah Binaebi, the Secretary General of Oporoza House. We are essentially; concerned with championing the Ijaw cause. In addition to that, we are equally; concerned with where the Ijaw people can live in peace and have harmonious relationship with their neighbours around this country.
My names are Marshal Kunoun. I am a member of the Oporoza House and Chairman of the Strategy Committee. Oporoza House came into being after Mr. President’s visit to Okerene Koko in 2007. Thereafter, Ijaw people were gathered to create a platform to find a way forward, so that we can have an emancipation programme for Ijaw people.
From that time on, we have been meeting and relating with the other ethnic nationalities in the country, particularly people in the lower Niger. We relate favorably and positively with the Movement for New Nigeria.
Thank you, Let me start on the issue of National Conference. First we have the dilemma of what name we should call it. Some say National Conference, others say National Dialogue, then we are debating on whether it should be Sovereign National Conference or not. In the midst of all these, there are the issues of timing Conference and the modalities to adopt in selection of representations. All these tend to cast doubts on the integrity and sincerity of those convening the National Dialogue.
Sir, what therefore was your reaction, when the after many years of dithering on the demands or agitations for a National Conference, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, suddenly brought up the idea?
Elder Fred Agbeyegbe:
There is no doubt in my mind that it should be called Sovereign National Conference. The setting up of the Committee by Mr. President did not include the word ‘Sovereign,’ but am not at all bordered by that because some time ago, this same president gave an indication that there is no need to talk at all, that Nigeria was doing fine and all we lacked was good leadership.
I took that as the statement of a politician, but thank goodness that he has come to the realisation that there is need to talk.
I believe therefore, that as time goes on, he will also come to the realisation there could be nothing less, than to yield to the outcome of the conference which I believe could be nothing less than a Sovereign National Conference.
It has to be sovereign for many reasons, I am sure we will come to that eventually.
The word “sovereign” worries a number of people in Nigeria, for different reasons.
But the people who are about to talk, have that sovereign rights which was given to them by God, and those rights are inalienable. If they are coming to talk, I believe there will be issues about the powers that they have naturally which they have prepared to secede to the country they belong to. These rights are sovereign, the people are the only ones that can decide on which powers they want to keep and which powers they want to give out.
Apart from that, it also means that when the owners of the land and the owners of the rights delibrate, and come up with what they want, no single individual, be it the president or any group of people, like the National Assembly, will have the right to change what the people have decided. I want to stop there on the issue of sovereignty.
On the issue of insincerity of interest, or whatever President Jonathan may have in mind, especially as some people are saying that “he has a secret agenda”, let me say again that this does not border me at all as far as we are concerned, what is important is how to make sure that we hold the president accountable to what he said.
Whatever he said, regardless of what his intentions may be, I have no doubt that it is the interest of the generality of the ethnic nationalities in Nigeria that will prevail at the end of the day.
For now, I can say that no President has done what President Jonathan has done in proposing this National Dialogue. All the presidents we had in the past were busy protecting some personal interests.
Barrister Nnadi, I will want you to examine the position of Professor Ben Nwabueze, in recent times on the issue of constittution making. We know that for a long time, as a member of the Patriots, he has spoken severally about this type of conference just like late Pa Enahoro whom you also mentioned that he worked with, but all of a sudden he came up with a position that some people see as inimical to the interest of Nigerian people.
Sir, what is your own reaction?
Barrister Tony Nnadi:
I have indeed read some of Prof. Ben Nwabueze’s interviews on the subject. I think it was in the Vanguard that I read three full pages of it. In the said publications, he made certain postulations.
and what came to my mind when I read these postulations, was to say that I have gotten an evidence of what I would call “the excellence of mediocrity”.
Prof. Ben Nwabueze has become one example of what we can hold up to show the whole country and the whole world, how low Nigeria has degenerated. I don’t know who taught him his own jurisprudence, but I wish he was here today. I am challenging him to a TV debate on this. I am prepared to face him in court, if he feels maligned, especilly in going all the way back to 1977 /1978, that led us to the unitary 1979 constitution.
In that interview he had, he narrated how he was one of the team that drafted a unitary constitution, before a conference was called. Today, he is prescribing that this is what must be done.
My concern is for ordinary Nigerians and those who may not know the issues and those who look up to Prof. Nwabueze as the greatest authority in the subject area, especially those in government, who seemed to have used him to do some of the damages I will expose later in my presentation.
Let me say that sovereignty belongs to the people at all time, It never leaves the people. Even when the colonial authority were here, our sovereignty was with us. What their colonialists did was to suppress it for the period that they were here but when they left, our sovereignty returned back to us.
If Prof. Nwabueze wants to be told the truth, the government, which he said sovereignty is vested in; is like a management of a company. The owners of the company are the shareholders and the ultimate power rests in them.
They draw up their Memorandum and Articles which governs the company. It is that charter that they hand over to the management team. At no time, does it become the business of the management team to begin to tamper with the name and article relating to who brings what and who takes what.
What happened to Nigeria in 1966 was a situation where management of the Nigeria enterprise found a way to topple the Memos and Articles that define the mode of operation of the enterprise and replaced that memo and article, which is the constitution, with their own preferences. From that time to 1999, the constitution which is still in place, is the one where we, the shareholders, ot those who are the federating units, in the Nigerian enterprise, have been robbed. It is when the shareholders come forward to say that “we the Ijaws, the Urhobos, the Ishekiris, the Tivs, the Yorubas, having discussed and agreed; now submit our lands and people, to a union called Nigeria”.