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The problem with Prof. Nwabueze, by Goody Uwazuruike

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Chief Goody Uwazurike is the President of Aka Ikenga, the think-tank of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo. A lawyer, he is also a  delegate to the on going National Conference in Abuja. In this interview, with Levinus Nwabuchiogu he reacts to Professor Ben Nwabueze’s position on the conference, describing it as petty.

How do you describe the proceedings so far?

So far so good. We had our teething problems as expected of a body that is not a standing one. Remember it is adhoc because we were created to do some things which we all came from different backgrounds to do. In other words, from our different backgrounds, we have to reach out to do set out the rules, the work plan and so on. These have taken our first two weeks and I will say we have not done badly. We have resolved the issue of voting percentage. This is actually the most trying one we have had so far. I will say we are on the right track.

There is the insinuation that the conference is a waste of time in the light of the fact that we had some previous conferences without fruitful results?

Whoever is saying that is being uncharitable. In any case, the person has no sense of history. In history, all these talk shops had given rise to the next line of action. Let me drag you a little further. In invention, when they were trying to fly the first aircraft, eminent professors of physics came out and declared that nothing heavier than air will ever. But today we know that we have gone beyond that.

Nwabueze: Demands a national conference

In 1994/95, we also had a conference. People said it was a talk shop. It was this, it was that. That it was just nonsense. One of the things that came out of that conference is that today we look up to six zones in this country Yet people do not think it was possible. Obasanjo’s own raised a number of issues. Obasanjo’s 2005 conference was not conclusive in the sense that issue of whether Obasanjo will run for third term  or not disrupted the trend of movement. But not this time.

Here, President Jonathan has his right to look for second term. It is not even an issue here. Support for Jonathan is not an issue. What are the issues: governance, cost of governance, the judiciary, the political system and equation, women’s rights, the rights of everybody, creation of states, issues of local government.

These are the issues in the front burner. Since they are in the front burner, these issues are germane to the future of this country. So, if you talking of what next, no body will ignore the outcome of this conference. Because everything will be sent verbatim to Mr. President. It goes to him then it goes to all the principal officers of this country.

As germane as these issues are, they have been enveloped by issues of ethnicity and religion. And we see them here playing out.

In every gathering, the issue of religion and ethnicity must play out unless you have taken a decision to push it away from the front burner. In Nigeria, we have kept ethnicity and religion in the front burner, therefore, those two must rear their heads and these two issues are among the issues to be handled by 20 committees, so that we have to find a way to manage ourselves in religious and ethnic matters. That is why we have the six zones based on ethnic nationalities. It is there. We also have the two principal religions: Christianity and Islam producing people. So , it will always be there. Let’s make no mistakes about it.

Many delegates made allusions to the fact that some people amongst them are cause of Nigeria’s numerous problems as they had participated in post conferences that didn’t see the light of day. With such question mark, do you think Nigeria will make any progress having these people in the ongoing conference?

Well, there are so many people. Some were here in the 1950s, at least I know one person who was already in the parliament that time. In 60s, a couple of them. In the 70s, many of them. Then in 80s and 90s, you also still find some of them. Today, we have those who were born after some of them had stopped being governors. They are here. You have those who are in their 20s who were born probably when Abacha was in power or when Shonekan was in power. There are so many who were born when Babangida was in power.

They are all here because from the experience of different people we must harness some things we must use and work with. The man who I know was in his 50s will tell you what happened when they went for various conferences. Now, you talk of those who were there in the 60s, they will tell you what led to civil war. We must harness from each and everyone of them in his own experience.

I am tempted to describe it as the good, the bad and the ugly. But they must come together for us to choose what is good. And, believe  me, those who were there in the 50s are worried more than us about the future of this country. So to just wave them aside and say they caused the problem is wrong. The military caused most of our problems and they are here too.

Another controversial issue is referendum. Government appears slightly undecided over it. Delegates themselves are also divided on what to do with the outcome of the conference. What do you think?

Well, Mr. President set us up. When we are through with our deliberations, we have only one job: hand over the report to Mr. President. Now, he will decide what he wants to do. He has some options. He may decide to sit down and suppress it for which he will risk the anger of the people or most likely, he will take it and present it to the National Assembly as an Executive Bill.

Now, what Mr. President said about referendum is that the amended constitution being proposed by the National Assembly, there is a provision for referendum. In all future amendments of the constitution and that this one we are doing here will fall squarely into that and when he presents it to the National Assembly; of course part of the process is referendum.

You are an Igbo man. What are the Igbo bringing to the table at the conference?

The Igbo of the South-east, because we have the Igbo of the south-south, the Igbo of the South-east, are here in full, of course led by Senator Ike Nwachukwu. We have the president of Ohanaeze, remember Ohaneze covers South-east and South-south. But the south east delegation alone is led by Senator Ike Nwachukwu. Now, the Igbo in the South-south also have their leaders. The things we are bringing are many. One of them is equity and fairness. That us what we are demanding in this country. You can’t have South-east with five states, North-west with seven states, all the other zones six states. Of course, we are looking forward to true federalism.

What’s the point in all kinds of local governments with 1,000 names when, in fact, there is no body there. Based on that you collect all kinds of unfair allocations. We are not interested in local government being the creation of the constitution; it is true federalism we are asking for. The structure of government we are asking for today is that there will be federal government, there will be state government. Local government is the business of the state government. Of course in this country, we are asking for reduction of the cost of governance.  We are asking for the right of residency in any part of the nation. There should an abolition of the dichotomy of you are from here, you are not from here.

Professor Ben Nwabueze, a legal luminary, elder statesman and leader of The Patriots, in a nut shell, summarized what is going on here as a waste of time. Most people are tempted to say, given his antecedents in constitutional matters and law, an elder statesman man who knows it all has spoken. Would you dismiss or welcome his submission?

I will not dismiss his submission but I will also remind you of what you said now: “An elder statesman who knows it all.” That is the problem. No body knows it all. In the case of Professor Nwabueze, we have always called him the Oracle of Law. And as the Oracle of  Law, we pay attention whenever he speaks. We analyse everything he says and he is somebody I have the highest regard for.

As the  President of Aka Ikenga, he knows how we feel about him. We did our 10th anniversary, he was there as guest speaker. I still hold him in highest regard but there are so many issues he is canvassing that I am not comfortable with. When this issue of advisory panel for this conference came up, he was there. He was nominated. But he declined on the grounds of ill health.

So,  we lamented, ‘oh, we have lost a great mind’. But shortly after, he formed The Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought. Then we had about five meetings in all. Suddenly, it became very active. He would choose a delegate and the end of the day, he didn’t choose a delegate. He was going to tell us the Igbo position and, at the end of the day, no body said anything. Delegates had been chosen, the Igbo position we already had it. Several meetings we have been holding and today he describes those meetings as a waste of time. Well, he is entitled to his opinion.

We also have other legal luminaries. We have other people who have been  ministers. Like Nwabueze was a minister too. We don’t even remember it. He was a Minister of Education. We have great authors like him. We have leaders. The President of Ohanaeze, Chief Gary Igarowo, is here. So, there is no way anybody can ever describe what is going on here as a waste of time or nonsense. We have just commenced. You don’t even know where we are going. You don’t even know how far we will go, you are describing it as nonsense.

That is being uncharitable. That is being petty. It is not necessary. All you have to do is to keep our fingers crossed. We have even asked the public to submit memoranda. Let him support his own. He can even say this nonsense and we will still consider it. There are 492 of us here from different backgrounds, from different ethnic groups representing different professional groups. As far as we are concerned, we are here for a serious business and we will stick to the serious business.

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