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Renowned constitutional lawyer and elder statesmen, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Wednesday raised the alarm that some unseen forces were currently working round the clock to ensure that the proposed national dialogue doesn't hold.
Speaking with journalists ahead of the meeting of the Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought billed to take place today in Enugu, Nwabueze also dismissed insinuations in some quarters that he demanded to be allowed to draft a new constitution for the country.
Nwabueze, who declined his appointment by President Goodluck Jonathan to the Advisory Committee of the proposed national dialogue on health grounds, however, made it clear that he would be willing to be a delegate to the conference if nominate by the Igbos.
He urged the Igbos to be united in supporting the conference as it would be in their interest that Nigeria survives in a re-negotiated form, adding that it had become imperative for all the ethnic nationalities that make up the country to come together and review the nation's political structure almost 100 years after the amalgamation.
"A lot of forces are working to ensure the conference doesn't take place. But, let me make it clear that it is in the interest of Ndigbo that Nigeria survives in a re-negotiated form," he said. Nwabueze added that the leaders of thought were committed to drawing up a roadmap that would help to save the country from collapse.
He said his group would also discuss and release the Igbo position to the conference, stressing that they would come up with the minimum requirement for the protection of the Igbo interest.
"To achieve the minimum, we have to reach out to other ethnic groups for the interest of ourselves and our children. This is the second attempt at getting it right. What we failed to get through armed conflict during the civil war, we are still going to get that this time around," the 83-year-old Nwabueze noted.
He said already his group is having lots of discussions with other ethnic nationalities including the Yorubas, Hausas Ijaws, among others preparatory to the conference, adding that there's an enthusiasm among the ethnic groups.
"Yorubas have already sent us voluminous documents saying what they want, so we are not alone. Adamu Ciroma and his group are also working on a position paper for the conference. We are looking forward to a re-negotiated Nigeria."
He said some parts of the North especially the North-west is opposed to the conference because of their determination to continue to dominate the nation's political landscape.
He was of the opinion that some northern leaders are afraid that the conference might end up balkanising the region.
"The North has no common position but the middle belt want to tear away from d north. This isn't the first time. North-west is opposed to the conference because that's where you have the seat of the caliphate but we are not sure whether the North-east is entirely with the North-west.
"We only want to protect our own interest; North wants to continue domination of the political landscape, they don't want to loose any part of their region especially the Middle Belt. They have continued to accuse me of planning to take part of the North away. The caliphate is very much powerful, it’s the invisible government of Nigeria. They feel the conference will bring an end to their domination of the country. They are fighting back and are mobilising seriously.
"For the Igbos, our concern is to work out the minimum requirement for the protection of Igbo interest in Nigeria. Our meeting will work it out. We'll consider all ideas, people are sending in radical ideas and we'll look at them. We are not afraid of defining our minimum position and then reach out for support from other zones, we'll do that after thorough and mature deliberation," he said.
On participation at the conference, Nwabueze expressed his readiness to be part of it once nominated by the zone, explaining that he turned down his appointment to serve in the advisory committee because of his health condition.
"I made it clear that the job is for younger people and not for an old man like me. The job of the committee involves touring the country and it involves physical exhaution; I made it clear that I can offer my idea as a think tank. Touring the country can't help my age. People are now saying since I said no to the appointment, why am I coming with this again. Well, it’s unfortunate that they muddling up issues.
"If Ndigbo ask me to go, I will oblige so long as it will not involve me touring the country," he said while also making it clear that he would not accept to chair the conference if prompted to do so.
"The chairman must be somebody that's acceptable in the North and South. If I am appointed, I will reject it immediately. It’s not the job of an 83-year-old man who's in bad health. It requires somebody who is emotionally stable. The conference is going to be a stormy one, perhaps the stormiest but with a capable chairman with energy, emotional stability and patience, it would produce something acceptable."
He used the opportunity to dismiss speculation that the president might be asked to appoint 120 person to the conference, stressing that the exercise is expected to a conference of ethnic nationalities.
Nwabuze also made it clear that he never asked anybody to allow him draft the constitution single handedly, explaining that for the conference to sail smoothly, there must be a draft constitution which would form the basis for deliberation.
"There's no way every Nigerian will submit draft to the conference. I was part of the making of the 1979 constitution and it worked because we prepared a draft as directed by government. There must be a working document for the conference. They should set up a drafting committee for the conference," he said.
He dismissed the position paper presented to the Senator Femi Okonroumu committee by the Ohaneze Ndigbo leadership, saying it did not represent the opinion of the people.
"The document Ohaneze presented didn't come before Imeobi so it’s not an Ohaneze memorandum. Imeobi consists of 125 respected people from the zone and there was no time we discussed their so-called document. “We are not usurping anybody's function but the memo submitted is not adequate; they didn't deal with the position from d point of view of the whole country. There's a gap which we the concerned Igbo leaders of thought want to feel."