The Monday Discourse
The need for the different ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to redefine their co-existence through a national conference may have been necessary, but there seems to be no consensus on how to go about it, write Shola Oyeyipo and Ojo M. Maduekwe
President Goodluck Jonathan’s idea for a national conference was to come with acrimonies for obvious reason. For as long as he’s been president, Jonathan has never believed in the initiative. Many members of the National Assembly, to which the president had said the outcome of the conference would be sent to for ratification, also shared the president's earlier pessimism about the desirability of the conference.
Their reasons are not far-fetched. Their problem really has always been that such a conference must not have a sovereign status as being demanded by Nigerians. The political leaders simply cannot come to terms with yielding their sovereignty to the people. Therefore, when Jonathan, on October 1, announced the readiness of his administration to convoke a national conference, it naturally evoked suspicion, especially from the opposition which has never seen anything good in the Jonathan government.
Ironically, there are many of the advocates of a sovereign national conference, who thought there was nothing wrong with experimenting with Jonathan’s initiative of a national conference, if at all there is anything- the outcome would properly situate him in history. After all, he would not be the first to experiment with the idea and today, those who did for ulterior motives have their places established in history. But those opposed to the idea in totality were unchanging and one of their principal concerns is the timing. They are of the view that it came rather too sudden.
Thus, since the president made the announcement and subsequently went ahead to inaugurate the committee to supervise the birth of a national conference, the idea has attracted mixed reactions. While it received kudos from a section of Nigerians who share the view that they could leverage the initiative, the political class has a radically different perspective on the issue. The opposition especially sees the idea as fraudulent, one without sincerity of purpose in the minds of the proponents.
A leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, and those who belong to his school of thought, are unrepentantly against it. Right from the day he returned from his long medical treatment abroad, Tinubu had dismissed the initiative as deceptive and a Greek Gift. He said he would not be part of the Jonathan conference because it was suspect.
But the initiative got the support of the National Assembly. President of the Senate, David Mark, has never shied away from his support for the dialogue. Indeed, his position a few days before the president announced the Senator Femi Okurounmu Committee on Independence Day, was considered by many that he had an inkling that something like that was in the offing. Therefore, when welcoming his colleagues from their seven-week vacation, he said every ethnic group that makes up Nigeria needed to discuss matters that concern the union. He, however, underscored that issues that border on the dismemberment of the country should be a no-go area.
His support for the dialogue, according to him, is because “We live in very precarious times, and in a world increasingly made fluid and toxic by strange ideologies and violent tendencies, all of which presently conspire to question the very idea of the nation state. But that is not to say that the nation should, like the proverbial ostrich, continue to bury its head in the sand and refuse to confront the perceived or alleged structural distortions which have bred discontentment and alienation in some quarters.
“This sense of discontentment and alienation has fueled extremism, apathy and even predictions of catastrophe for our dear nation. A conference of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities, called to foster frank and open discussions of the national question, can certainly find accommodation in the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution which guarantee freedom of expression, and of association.
“It is welcome. Nonetheless, the idea of a national conference is not without inherent and fundamental difficulties. Problems of its structure and composition will stretch the letters and spirit of the constitution and severely task the ingenuity of our constitutionalists.”
The President Explains
President Jonathan was not oblivious of the criticism the idea has so far generated, hence in spite of the opposition, he remained unrelenting. During the inauguration of the presidential advisory committee on the proposed national conference, Jonathan shed more light on the idea. His explanation notwithstanding, the opposition has continued unabated.
“Let me emphasise that this is a national project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving long-standing impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development, as a truly united nation. However, we are in a democracy and in a democracy, elected leaders govern at the behest of the citizenry. As challenges emerge, season after season, leaders must respond with best available strategies to ensure that the ship of state remains undeterred in its voyage.
“Today, we are taking historic and concrete steps that will further strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of our inclusiveness and deepen our bond as one people under God. In my address to the nation on the occasion of our 53rd independence and golden anniversary as a republic, I announced that in response to the yearnings of our people, we had decided to take on the responsibility of decisively and genuinely exploring the option of a national conversation.
“In furtherance of this objective, government announced the names of some Nigerians, with wide experience from various disciplines, to form membership of an advisory committee to facilitate a most acceptable process that will bring our aspirations to fruition. Our gathering here today is to formally inaugurate this child of necessity, the advisory committee to midwife this conversation.
“There is a view by some of our people that we do not need to sit together to dialogue over the socio-political challenges facing our country. Some believe that because we have held several conferences in the past, we do not need to hold another one. I was one of those who exhibited scepticism on the need for another conference or dialogue. My scepticism was borne out of the nomenclature of such a conference, taking into cognisance existing democratic structures that were products of the will of the people,” he said.
The president therefore observed that “Nations rise to the challenges that each epoch presents. It is imperative, therefore, that in our march to nationhood, we have to be dynamic in our approach and response to the problems, even as we seek solutions to them. We cannot proffer yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems.”
Jonathan however alluded to the gains from previous conferences and dialogues. According to him, “the conferences that were held before 1960 were designed to produce a political system and a roadmap to Nigeria’s independence. The Constitutional Conference of 1957 in London, for example, effectively prepared Nigeria for Independence. The Eastern and Western regions were granted self-government in 1957, while the Northern region got its own in 1959. The Office of the Prime Minister was created and it was also decided that the federal legislature would be bicameral.
“Furthermore, the Constituent Assembly of 1978 gave us the 1979 Constitution and also created the current presidential system with its attendant checks and balances and fundamental human rights provisions. The 1999 Constitution we operate today is a successor to the 1979 Constitution and records show that the 1999 Constitution also benefited from reports and recommendations arising from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference.
“Although not enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, the idea of the current six geo-political zones that have become one of the avenues for equitable distribution of projects and public offices in Nigeria was also a product of dialogue that emerged from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference. The 2005 National Political Reform Conference produced a number of key recommendations that were sent to the Fifth Assembly, which were, however, not perfected. In 2010, I reasoned that the outstanding recommendations from the 2005 conference be revisited. It was my view that government is a continuum and that we must find ways to strengthen the foundation of our union.
“I proceeded to set up the Justice Alpha Belgore Committee with a mandate to review the report for possible implementation, especially the areas where there was a common agreement. The committee worked hard and came out with its report that included a number of bills, which were forwarded to the National Assembly. We believe that these bills will form key components of the ongoing Constitutional Review by the National Assembly. Clearly, every dialogue adds something valuable to our evolving nation. The urgency of a national conversation in the present, therefore, need not be over-emphasised,” he maintained.
The Fears against Jonathan’s Conference
Since the presidential announcement on plans to gather Nigerians for a national conversation on the nation's future, many have expressed different fears over the initiative. While those who worry about the model of another conference are not certain that the proponents may want to use the opportunity to disintegrate the nation, there is also the fear about the intention of those in power, especially given the timing.
There is yet the issue of sovereignty, which connotes that a genuine constitution must come from the people.
For such a conference, many have argued, the people should be free to discuss and debate extensively without restrictions, the result of which should reflect in the constitution through a referendum. The argument, therefore, is that it is only when a constitution goes through a people-based process that it has a legitimate right to the phrase: “We the people of Nigeria.” This however has been a major concern about the proposed conference as the government is believed not to have the political will to convene such a conference.
The fear, on the part of government, is that giving sovereignty to the masses to determine the way forward for Nigeria, especially with the current mood of the various segments of the country, is too risky a gamble as it could ultimately lead to a disintegration of the country.
As the people continue to take different positions on the ‘sovereignty’ status of the conference, Jonathan was quick to make a declaration that the outcome would be sent to the National Assembly. This has further given rise to the disapproval of the initiative by Nigerians who believe that every issue should be discussed, irrespective of the consequence. Those who share this position feel that there is no need for a marriage of convenience any more.
There are also those that feel that the proposal is merely diversionary, and without a genuine target in mind. Those who share this viewpoint feel that Jonathan is only toying with the idea to buy time in tackling the huge political crisis confronting his administration as well as the struggle for power in 2015, which the north insists must return to the region.
Tinubu Remains Unyielding
Of all those opposed to the Jonathan conference, Tinubu has sustained his knuckle fest with the president. Taking a constant swipe at the Jonathan administration, Tinubu considered the move as unnecessary, a contradiction and a distraction, as well as a demonstration of lack of honesty and integrity on the part of the government.
“How long have we been talking of it? It is only a very smart rodent in a house full of little crumbles of poison that will survive. But Nigeria is very divisive right now, so why is this necessary? Where is the sovereignty? What about the Electoral Act; what about the Lemu Committee? Have you heard of a White Paper or green paper or pink paper, come out of that for Nigerians? Why? How many months to the elections? Can’t you smell a good looking porridge; can’t you smell a pit latrine and the odour of deception when it is passing by?” he queried.
He dismissed the suggestion that the election be postponed in other to have the national conference discuss the way forward for the country, noting: “That is the saying of a thief; he wants to continue to pilfer because he is enjoying as a thief. What are you postponing about the election? Is it with the head you walk or with the feet? You must stand on something,” he said.
Afenifere, APC, Others Disagree
Tinubu’s position has however elicited reactions both for and against the conference, especially from the civil society, an indication that the progressive may also not be together on Jonathan’s idea for a national conference.
A Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, dissociated itself from his stand and instead, took a swipe at Tinubu. Spokesman of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, questioned Tinubu’s position on the timing of the conference.
“When will be the right time? It is on record that Senator Tinubu was one of those that first called on the federal government to enter into negotiation with Boko Haram. If he called for negotiation with Boko Haram, why would he say that negotiation with the people of Nigeria by the government now is uncalled for?
“In 1998, after the death of Chief M.K.O. Abiola and General Sani Abacha, the then National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) of which Tinubu was a member in Diaspora, called for national conference before any election would be held to take the country out of the woods. The same Tinubu was one of those who insisted that elections ought to hold first before any dialogue. Fourteen years down the road now, things have gone from bad to worse for the people of this country. When does he now think that the people should sit together and discuss their future? When will be the right time after 14 years? That is the question,” Odumakin said.
Afenifere however warned Nigerians to be wary of politicians targeting only the forthcoming general election at all costs, without any consideration for an opportunity to address the structural imbalance in the country, adding that those were the real enemies of the country.
“All politicians that are only looking forward to the next general election without any consideration for how we can address the structural problem that can make or mar the future of Nigeria are the real enemies of Nigeria. We should all talk before we hold those elections. It is more important,” he added.
Okorounmu is however optimistic that despite the mixed feelings that has greeted the idea, the initiative is a good one. Particularly worried about Tinubu’s reported position, Okurounmu said: “Tinubu must have been misquoted. Tinubu has been one of the financiers of the agitations for national conference. He funded the PRONACO conference which was held in Lagos. So Tinubu has been at the forefront for the agitation for national conference, so the press must have been misquoting him. That must be another Tinubu, not the Tinubu I know.”
But a co-secretary of the 2005 national political reform conference, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, is also strongly suspicious of the national dialogue. “I have my very strong suspicion about the motive of the conference. I am very suspicious of the whole thing but the council will discuss it and we will come out with our own position. But for me as a person, I have my suspicion based on activities leading to the turn-around of the government because the government, including the Senate President had been opposed to it but suddenly overnight, they changed their opinion. I am very suspicious; very, very suspicious of the change of mind.
“Now that’s a homer. It is provocative and dead center. Can Jonathan and his co-travelers be trusted? Why are Nigerians being handed cocoyam when they have asked for bread?” he said.
Senate Minority Whip, Senator Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon was the first to describe the initiative as a Greek gift and condemned the timing. Solomon, who had spoken on a television programme before Tinubu returned to the country, expressed his worry against the fact that the administration had never been in support of a national conference and as such, its sudden turn-around was worrisome.
Also, Senator Babfemi Ojudu, who has also been part of the agitation for a national conference has a different view. He described Jonathan’s national conference as “poison” and went on to describe the decision to hold such a conference now as "dishonest and deceitful", adding that as far as he was concerned, the Jonathan government, beset by a myriad of economic and political woes, was employing the national conference to divert the attention of Nigerians.
“His consultants or advisers must have informed him of the workability of making Nigerians talk while trying to put his house in order. The man is just looking for time and space to buy. It is also a strategy to put a stop to the APC progress of mobilising Nigerians for the 2015 elections. I will not be surprised if the outcome of the conference says 2015 is no longer feasible for elections and that Jonathan should be allowed to continue in office,” he said.
Not done, Senator Ojudu went down the memory lane and exposed the Jonathan administration of borrowing from recent history when government after government gathered people in the name of national conference or political summit so as to divert the attention of the people from the political challenges faced by their administrations and thereafter jettisoned or watered down the recommendations of those conferences.
Ojudu declared that his opposition to the Jonathan conference was in no way at variance with his advocacy for a sovereign national conference and reminded Nigerians that he had always been a strong advocate of sovereign national conference, as opposed to a national conference, as far as 1990 when Alao Aka-Bashorun attempted to organise a sovereign national conference in Lagos.
Aside, a number of other prominent groups, individuals and organisations across the country have spoken up against the proposed national conference and questioned the sincerity of the Jonathan administration.
Expectedly, the position of Tinubu and the likes are being challenged by those of the loyalists of the Jonathan administration.
Head of the Amnesty office, Mr. Kingsley Kuku, has also rallied support for the national dialogue and advised that those that have taken bias position should have a change of heart. “There can be no ulterior motives behind the planned national conference. The President, I know, has a genuine intention to move Nigeria forward. He believes in Nigeria and is also committed to the growth and development of the country,” he said.
Also, the All Progressive Congress (APC) has threatened to boycott the national conference even as renowned lawyers have kicked against the decision. The party, rising from a meeting of its interim national executive held in Abuja had noted that the APC was "averse to any form of national conference that would have its outcome subjected to the approval of the National Assembly."
Interim National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who made the declaration on behalf of the party, attributed the resolve of the party to take such position, to the view that "the present administration has lost credibility and control of the economy", with security and corruption assuming unimaginable proportion.
But Professor Itse Sagay, a distinguished legal scholar, said though he was a sympathiser of the APC, he would rather plead with the party to review its position on the proposed national dialogue. He expressed the view that rather than being political party-based, the conference would be nationality-base, thereby limiting the influence of the parties on the conference. He therefore suggested that the APC had better use the opportunity to the advantage of its people.
"As far as I know, the conference will not be based on political party. I expect that it would be based on nationalities. So the political parties will not have influence on it. I'm a great sympathiser of the APC because it is the party that gives us hope of good governance, so I’ll advise them to participate; take it over and turn it around to what they want; take over the driving seat and bring about the desired change.
Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba, shared the same opinion. "I don't know the answer to the question," he said, adding that even with the plethora of suspicion coming from the public about the conference, it is yet an opportunity to move Nigeria forward.
"I do know that there are several concerns about the credibility of the conference, but for me, having being a proponent of the conference, no matter what the obstacles are, I would engage the problems. The Nigerian problem is that we don't have a model that will make the nation work. If the APC says it would not attend, I cannot talk for them but I would see the conference as a way to discuss.”
Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, felt that such a decision by the APC was not in the best interest of the people. According to him, the decision to boycott the proposed national dialogue would not affect the credibility of the conference.
In contrast, Lagos lawyer and rights activist, Mr. Festus Keyamo, believes that without the APC, the conference would be a failure because of the states the party controls. He also believes that the conference was not designed to succeed.
For Okechukwu Nwapa, a public affairs analyst based in Lagos, the
issue is not that the national conference is not a welcome
development, it is the motive. Coming from a president and a
senate leadership which once resented the idea, there is bound to be
some form of suspicion. “Politicians are known to speak from both
sides of the mouth, and so it will be wrong to take them for their
words,” Nwapa said.
“Remember in 2005, former president Obasanjo initiated the National
Political and Reform Conference, a decoy to help him get an additional
term. That exercise was futile because of the motive of the
convener. Aside gulping about a billion naira, it was a waste of time
from the start because the forum was dominated by Obasanjo and the
state governor’s nominees.
“The same scenario is what is playing out now. President Jonathan is
looking for a second term, same way Obasanjo was trying to amend the
constitution to get himself a third term in office. President Jonathan
too I can say, like Obasanjo would fill the conference with his
nominees and the state governors would nominate delegates that would
be loyal to them.
“Certainly, a national dialogue is what well-meaning Nigerians from
every facet of the society have been clamouring for, but I must say
that from every available indices, the timing and the president’s
change of mind, call into questioning and doubt, his motive.
Nigerians should not be deceived because it looks like the president
does not mean well for Nigeria with this conference.”
But Mr. Akinlabi Adebayo, a social activist based in Lagos, has a contrary view. For him, the national dialogue, whether sovereign or not, is a welcome development. “The thought that Nigerians across religion and ethnic divides can sit and talk about how we want to be governed is good news.
“Remember that the president was against this idea before,
irrespective of the pressures that were mounted on him. Now, he is
all for the idea. We should take advantage of this mood of his. Some
people are saying that he has an ulterior motive for calling the
dialogue. I will say let’s have the conference nonetheless, because
between now and 2015, we have no other options.”
Unfortunately, for the Jonathan conference, the fact that it started to suffer credibility problem from the very start could ultimately affect its outcome. But whatever the misgivings, the position of some persons which canvasses the need to give the conference the benefit of the doubt may not be asking for too much, some analysts have said. The fact that previous exercises failed may not be sufficient to completely write off the present exercise.
Importantly, because this idea has assumed a life of its own, it deserves the chance to either live to disappoint its antagonists or vindicate them as may be evident in its eventual outcome.
Caption: See second picture.. attached…
…When the Committee Berthed in the South-west
James Sowole gives an account of the meeting of the presidential advisory committee on the national conference when it visited the South-west for consultations
The enthusiasm was much. The audience was diverse; but they all have the same mission of charting a path for Nigeria's future through a
national conference. Equally, submissions of the various groups were unique and common in terms of expectations.
Considering the attendance and views expressed by various stakeholders
that attended the first in the series of the South-west Stakeholders’
Interactive Session, organised by the Senator Femi Okurounmu-led
Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue, it was clear
that various ethnic groups and nationalities that make up Nigeria were interested in discussing how they want to continue to relate with one another.
Realising the importance of the assignment in making their
yearnings for discussing the future of Nigeria become a reality, stakeholders, including, socio-political organisations, human right
groups and activists, traditional and religious leaders, student
activists, members of the state Houses of Assembly from the South-west
converged on the Babafunke Ajasin Auditorium, Akure, Ondo State, venue of the forum.
It was filled to capacity while canopies were also erected
and large television screens installed at strategic points for the audience outside the auditorium to follow the proceedings.
On October 18, 2013, Chairman of the committee, Okunrounmu, set the ball rolling when he read the terms of reference of the committee to the gathering. He also informed them that the memoranda to be
submitted included the structure of the conference, legal framework,
duration, agenda and legal procedure on constitutionalising the
outcome of the conference.
Notable among the groups that submitted their memoranda were a pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Pro National Conference (PRONACO), Yoruba Unity Forum, Arogbo Ijaw Communities, Akoko Patriotic Forum (APF) and Movement for Reformation of Nigeria (MRN), among others.
Apart from groups’ memoranda, individuals, including Reverend Nelson
Fadoju, Oladimeji Abitogun, Francis Alonge, among others, also made
submissions on what they expected from the conference in line with
the committee’s terms of reference.
To all the stakeholders that attended the forum and their submitted memoranda, President Goodluck Jonathan should be commended for having the political will to set the machinery in motion for the conference by inaugurating the committee. The stakeholders also commended the president for putting together what they called some of the finest and best human resources available in the country to serve on the advisory committee on national dialogue.
The opening of the memoranda underlined the fact that the dialogue was an opportunity for the ethnic nationalities to come together and discuss all contentious issues overheating the body polity.
They acknowledged it was not the first national conference that the nation had put together. “We have had several conferences in the past that have not succeeded in addressing the underlying national issues not only because the representations to the conference were not true representatives of the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria but also because of government’s reluctance to even implement some of the decisions of the conferences,” one of the stakeholders said.
Though, the terms of reference of the forum are very clear and cover five broad headings, the preambles of various memoranda submitted showed clearly that the South-west geo-political zone was convinced that many things were wrong with the present state of Nigeria, how it is being administered and the way the geographical entities were relating.
Driving home its point, Afenifere quoted specifically from various speeches delivered by personalities from different parts of the country, including the Premier of Nigeria, the late Alhaji Tafawa Balewa in 1948 and literature written by nationalists, including one of the Governors General, John Macpherson, during the first Council of Ministers meeting and the writing of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his book, "Path to Nigerian Freedom."
The stakeholders were however unanimous in their submissions, which though written and presented separately, on the outcome of the proposed conference. For instance, they all rejected the president’s proposal to send the final outcome of the conference to the National Assembly for ratification.
Rather, the stakeholders unequivocally maintained that the sovereignty resides in the people, stating that the final outcome of the conference should be subjected to a referendum.
The memorandum presented by each of the stakeholders, who appointed a speaker to read it, recommended that representation at the conference should be of all ethnic nationalities in the main but with accommodation for civil society groups, religious leaders, labour, students and other interests. Another feature common to all the stakeholders in their memoranda was that the conference should be sovereign to address all the unanswered questions about the Nigerian nation.
Afenefere, in its position read by one of its leaders, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said: “We insist on a national conference with sovereign power as far as the decisions it reached are concerned. The role of the existing government on the decisions of the conference would be only implementation.
“The only process that would be able to alter any of the decisions
reached at the conference is a referendum of the Nigerian peoples. Afenifere right from under the direct leadership of Chief Obafemi
Awolowo has been consistent in asking that the nationalities in Nigeria must sit down and discuss their union and agree on a federal constitution to guarantee stability, justice, peace, real unity and development borne out of autonomy for the constituent units,” Adebanjo stated.
Adebanjo’s position was similar to that of Arogbo Ijaw Community, whose memorandum was read by Chief Francis Williams, who said what the Ijaw wanted was a sovereign national conference.
“We advocate a sovereign national conference. All decisions reached at the conference will have the force of the law. The conference is to determine the basis for our continued existence as a nation. This in effect, means the making of a new constitution. The decision may be subjected to a national referendum.
“The National Assembly as presently constituted, is part of the Nigerian fraud; it is part of the key issues to be addressed at the conference. The decision of the conference cannot go to it for ratification. Sovereignty belongs to the Nigerian people,” Williams stated.
In his memorandum, a lawyer, Mr. Felix Alonge, said a national conference not sovereign should be rejected by Nigerians.
“It is inappropriate to convoke a national conference and then subject the result to a body which represents the status quo, which has entrenched interest that it wants to protect. The legislature as presently constituted due to flawed elections at national, and state Houses of Assembly lacks the political will to insert in a new constitution, critical issues like devolution of powers to the regions/states, unicameral legislature under a parliamentary system, truly independent INEC, EFCC, ICPC, creation of additional states, true federalism, state police, resource control and other issues,” he said.
Submissions on the composition of the dialogue, which also includes method of selecting delegates for the conference and the memoranda, were also synonymous in their various recommendations.
They all agreed that all ethnic nationalities must be represented and that selection of delegates must be fair and not subjected to political consideration of any form.
According to the presentation of the Yoruba Unity Forum, signed by a retired Bishop of the Akure Diocese of the Anglican Communion, Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, and presented by Bishop Remi Ladigbolu, the composition of the dialogue is critical to the resolution of the underlying crisis plaguing the country.
“If Nigerians are to discuss and agree to live together on the basis of terms of the conference, the delegates to the conference must truly represent the stakeholders. We cannot afford to subject this important event to the hegemony of partisan politics.
“Political parties should not play any role in selecting, appointing or electing delegates. For the dialogue to receive national acceptance
and rest many of the contentious issues, the composition of the conference must be the true representatives of the ethnic nationalities from each geo-political zone. The representation from each geo-political zone must be fair and equitable,” he said.
This position was also similar to that of the PRONACO read by Mr. Baba Omojola, who died hours after the presentation.
PRONACO said each ethnic nationality should be allowed to select its own delegates to the conference and they must be to discuss freely at the conference without any fear of intimidation.
The Arogbo Ijaw also suggested that there shall be no such thing as ‘no-go areas,’ adding: “Every issue under the sun shall be open to discussion, including the desire by any nationality to opt out of the existing structure or conditions for its continued stay.”
This position of Arogbo Ijaw was shared by the Afenifere Renewal Group that warned against anything that would turn the conference to another jamboree warning that there should be no ‘no-go areas’ at the
In his remarks, Okurounmu, who had earlier paid a courtesy call on Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and the paramount ruler of Akureland, Oba Adebiyi Adesida, stated that the committee would look into all memoranda. He urged Nigerians to be calm and gave the assurance that the committee would be thorough and would not be bias in handling its assignment.
Mimiko, on his part, commended the president for initiating a
move towards realising the yearnings of Nigerians. He said the federal government made no mistake in choosing Ondo State as the take-off for the assignment of the committee because the state had always been in the forefront of progressive politics in the country.
Mimiko said the Action Group, which metamorphosed into several
progressive political parties and Afenifere were all founded at Owo, Ondo State, stating that one of the foremost leaders of the National
Democratic Coalition that fought for the current democratic dispensation, the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin was an indigene of the state.
With the unanimity of purpose that characterised the South-west meeting being the take-off point, there is no doubting the fact that the Nigerian people might still have a say in the quest for a sovereign national conference.
However, there is the nagging suspicion that the conference is not about the people but one designed by government to either buy time or distract the attention of the public from the prevailing political situation in the country.