EVEN before the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference/Dialogue inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan, could begin the onerous task of fathoming out the framework, ideas as to what Nigerians really need started pouring in yesterday.
From the ethnic nationalities, civil society groups and eminent personalities across the ethno-political strata of the nation came clear indications — a near-verdict — that Nigeria needs to be ‘reworked’ to meet socio-political and economic aspirations of the masses.
Niger State helmsman and Chairman of the Northern Governors Forum, Babangida Aliyu, Saturday night, issued a statement saying the region has nothing to lose to the Confab; yet, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said, since the group was not part of those that canvassed the proposed dialogue, it would comment on it only after the Committee would have come out with its report.
Although none of the individuals or groups, who spoke to The Guardian, demanded outright dismemberment of the country, the need for restructuring, based on true fiscal federalism and effective revenue allocation, runs through the gamut of opinions.
Led by its Secretary General, Dr. Joe Nworgu, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said the group would make a strong case for restructuring the country “along the line of true federalism that recognises the six regions.”
According to Nworgu, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo believes in true derivation principle, based on area of production.
“The area of production should be taking the money and giving a (certain) percentage to the Federal Government,” he said.
This, according to the Ohanaeze scribe, “is based on justice, equity and fair play for all Nigerians.”
He said that the Imeobi Ohanaeze (the highest Igbo council) would meet on Saturday to formerly present and deliberate on what he referred to as the ‘Igbo position,’ even as he stressed that the meeting would be open to further suggestions.
Many in the Southeast also entertained the idea of dialogue to proffer solutions to what, according to them, are the real “challenges confronting the nation.” Citizens, who spoke, want the proposed dialogue to be backed by law, as various administrations in the past had held similar talks without any meaningful implementation.
For the umbrella Igbo Youth Movement (IYM), several nagging issues that have plagued the country should be made the fulcrum of the dialogue.
Speaking on the issue, President of the IYM, Elliot Uko, said the committee should review the present structure of local governments and 36 states and consider six regions as federating units.
He said the committee should consider part-time unicameral legislature as opposed to bicameral to reduce cost of governance, as well as 50 percent for derivation.
Similarly, the Ijaw National Congress (INC) wants the advisory committee on the national conference to create adequate space for input from ethnic nationality groups.
INC President, Senator Tari Sekibo, said effective participation of ethnic groups is “imperative and conditional” to the success of the conference’s planning committee as well as the dialogue. It said it would want the conference to specifically deal with issues of restructuring; resource control, and devolution of powers, among others.
In the same vein, President of the Ogoni Solidarity Forum, Mr. Celestine Nkabari Akpobari, said part of the agenda for the conference should be to explore means of granting the power for communities to manage their resources.
Prince Tony Momoh, former national chairman of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and former minister of information, however, warned that the planned national dialogue could be a two-edged sword ready to consume whoever would try to scuttle the outcome.
Saying the sudden change of heart did not come to him as a surprise, Momoh noted that the issues currently confronting the nation have gone beyond an individual.
“Mark my statement; the decision did not come because there is any sincerity of purpose in it. It came because the country is no longer governable,” he said.
“For instance, there is none among the six geo-political zones in the country that is experiencing relative peace. These challenges and mountain of crises are gradually forcing us to cooperate with the inevitable, the need to adjust; and even the beneficiaries of the present ‘killer system’ are getting afraid, not knowing what could happen to them any moment, all because we have reached ungovernable stage. As you can see, we cannot govern Nigeria again “unless we talk.”
Former vice president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Isah Tijjani, thinks the whole idea of the proposed conference is vague. Admitting, nonetheless, that he has not settled down to read the terms of reference handed to the 13-man advisory committee to draw up modalities for the conference, Tijjani, said “issues to be discussed are still not very clear. I expected (that) Mr. President would categorically state a concrete agenda for the conference.”
There is, as well, a common understanding among the citizens of Edo State on the proposed national dialogue, even as there is unanimity on the need to make the discussions open, all embracing and free for Nigerians to delve into all areas of concern.
Some respondents insist that all ethnic nationalities, interest groups, civil society, students and youth bodies must be involved in the deliberations.
According to Dr Philip Ugbodaga, the national president, Coalition to Save Nigeria (CSN), for the country to remain one peaceful entity, the conference must find answers to the following: “how to operate a true federalism, including fiscal federalism, resource development and utilisation, state police, local government autonomy, the structure of government — whether to continue the present wasteful presidential system or to revert to the parliamentary system, uni/bi-cameral legislature — settling the indigeneship and settler issues, and how to bring about economic justice, political justice, electoral justice, social justice, religious justice, and cultural justice via the construction of a new constitutional framework and how to utilise our immense and huge resources to bring about a genuine socio-political rejuvenation of our country from the ashes of despair and disequilibrium.”
Also speaking on his expectations of the proposed national dialogue during a visit by officials of the Anioma Congress to his palace on Thursday, Prof. Chike Edozien, the Asagba of Asaba, commended President Jonathan for “offering Nigerians the much-awaited opportunity of a National dialogue.”
“The Anioma Nation is in full support of the forth-coming conference, because we believe such platform for all Nigerians, will help deepen our democratic values and strengthen our unity as one nation. It will also provide Nigerians, the opportunity of determining the basis of our mutual co-existence,” he said.
According to the Asagba, the Anioma nation believes that there is the urgent need for Nigerians to genuinely discuss and eventually resolve the thorny issues militating against Nigeria’s progress.
Edozien appealed to “all Nigerians, to give peace a chance by accepting this Presidential offer as the only way forward to resolving our differences.”
But the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said it would only comment when the committee must have brought out a template for the conference.
Northern elders through ACF’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, yesterday, said the region has not made up its mind on whether to make representation or take any grievances to the conference, until the Advisory Committee inaugurated by President Jonathan come out with the aims, content and direction of the conference.
Sani stressed that the North “ have never believed in the conference “even though the country has problems.”
Yet, Gov. Aliyu who was a guest at the commissioning of the Liberty Radio in Kaduna, yesterday, said members of the Committee in charge of the Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation had already been directed to collate whatever position the north would present at the Confab.
Dr. Moses Tedheke former head of the Department of Political science and Defence Studies of the Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, however, said the conference should bring on board questions bordering on leadership and statehood.
“The Nigerian State,” he said, “has reneged on her duties. And, in fact, it is a problem because we have not equally domesticated the State; the State has to be domesticated.
“The State now in Nigeria is a foreign State, and that has to be a part of the resolution at the national conference. The State that is imposed by the British and the imperialist powers remains foreign. We have to understand what is imperialism. This is not a legal issue. Look at the time bomb we have in the North today. Ten million almajeris are in the streets; that is a time bomb! When it degenerates beyond this, Boko Haram will be a child’s play. The whole of the North will turn into a thermo-nuclear field.”
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