Leaders of the South-south, South-east and South-west regions of the country recently gathered under the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly and resolved that national conference must hold not later than December to review terms of coexistence.
For some time now, Nigerians have been clamouring for sovereign national conference or a platform that would enable citizens come together and discuss issues affecting their coexistence. However, some interests have been against it, giving the reason that it could lead to a breakup of the country because of the volatility of the issues involved. But the majority is for it with a constant justification that it allows every area, the opportunity to express their grievances and adopt a way of living together as an entity.
At the third summit of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly in Lagos, which opened recently with a gala night and was concluded the following day, eminent Nigerians from the southern part of the country, after a serious deliberation, resolved that sovereign national conference must be convoke not later than December because it is the ideal way unity of the country can be brought back and sustained.
“Our rescue lies only in the convocation of a national conference which shall provide an unfettered platform for Nigerians to negotiate and agree on the terms of living together on the basis of mutual respect and trust. This is the only way to justify and make meaningful our centenary celebrations,” the leaders noted.
They, however, urged President Goodluck Jonathan, to take every appropriate step that would lead to convening of a national conference without further delay.
The event witnessed several dignitaries from the southern part of the country such as former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme; Chief Edwin Clark, Rev. Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, former Secretary to the Federal Government, Chief Oluyemisi Falae; Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade; a former Chief of Defence Staff, Oladipo Diya; former Goveror of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife; National Coordinator, Oodua Peoples Congress, Chief Gani Adams; Chief Graham Douglas, former governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyasiegha and Prof. Anya O. Anya.
Also in attendance were Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State represented by his deputy, Alhaji Alli Olaniyi; Governor Rauf Aregbesola, represented his deputy, Mrs. Titi Laoye-Tomori; the Yeye O’dua, Mrs H.I.D. Awolowo, who was also represented by her daughter, Ambassador Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosunmu; Professor Fred Onyeoziri, Senator Anthony Adefuye, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Prof Adenike Grange, Mrs. Tokunbo Awolowo and John Nwodo Jnr.
Though, other issues affecting the country were discussed, the concern for an SNC was total. For instance, on the issue amnesty for the Boko Haram sect, the southern leaders, in a communiqué. expressed support and confidence in the actions so far taken by the president, especially the declaration of a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa States to bring to an end, the ugly and senseless killings of southerners and Christians in that part of the country.
The communiqué also stated that the activities of Boko Haram were akin to guerrilla war and like in every war situation, care and caution are the best prescriptions for the defenceless, noting that the people of the affected states should cooperate with the military to end the era of constant fear and insecurity.
The leaders declared that the idea of amnesty for members of the Boko Haram sect, as unpopular as it was, has been fully endorsed by government, saying that innocent Nigerians, especially Ndigbos and other southerners, who suffered unprovoked and insensate pogrom should be adequately and appropriately compensated, adding that it was the only way government could convince Nigerians that it did not only hold the principle of equity and justice sacred, also committed to its working implementation.
The assembly promised to pursue the objectives of working for the continued and deeper collaboration and cooperation of Southern Nigeria as a basis to strengthen the unity, cohesiveness and indissolubility of the Nigerian nation. This was clearly stated in the communiqué.
They argued that attempt to bring partisan politics into serious national security issues rather than collaborate with government in finding lasting solution did not show patriotic sentiments and respect for human lives and therefore contended that the matters of politics should be discernibly separated from occurrences that affect the very fabric of the national existence as a country.
The issue of corruption, according to the southern leaders, “has been deeply entrenched in our national life long before President Jonathan assumed the reins of governance. It should be stated that he owes Nigerians the responsibility to not only tackle this unwarranted malaise head-on, but bring this cancerous scourge to an end”, adding that the president must sum up the desired courage and political will to fight corruption for posterity.
It was also resolved that government should enact appropriate legislation that defines the parameters and considerations for plea bargaining in view of its persistent abuse by the Nigerian judiciary. They urged that government should take a strategic position at reducing youth unemployment as a way of tackling violence and other social malaise.
The southern leaders appealed to the National Assembly to give expedited passage to the Petroleum Industry Bill without any attempt to compromise the 10% provision for host communities that have persistently suffered the brunt of oil and gas exploitation and exploration.
Given the fundamental need to equilibrate the existing state structures that are lopsided in favour of the North, the Assembly concluded that two additional states be created for the south one of which must come from the South-east.
Early, an address presented by the South-south zone but signed by Clark, stated that the time has come to correct the errors of yesterday. The statement identified the negative effects of the divisiveness of southerners as lack of common understanding and inability to speak with one voice unlike the North that in spite of their differences, always remains united in matters of common interest. It urged SNPA to ensure that there is unity and cohesiveness among them, as a veritable tool for collective strenght.
“We are convinced that if our political leaders and forebears had invested some of their energies, exceptional brilliance and wits in fostering a united southern Nigeria in the pre and post independent Nigeria, the challenges of fragmentation and distrust which have been very clearly expolited by the north to supplant us in virtually all aspects of our political lives would have been avoid.
“Southern Nigeria was indeed blessed with highly gifted and very bright minds who, assisted to navigate the independence of Nigeria.
“They were respected and revered by both friends and foes alike,yet they could not weld the South together in unity.They were so to speak, united more in distrust and cynicism about each other. The unfortunate result was the lack of unity, cohesion and solidarity among their people. Because we could not speak with one voice in matters of common interest, the South became easily manipulated and preyed upon by our detractors whose tactics has always been to divide and rule.”
Following the pattern of discussion, Ekwueme, who led the South-east zone, reiterated that there was urgent need to convoke a national conference to provide a platform to address some issues confronting the unity and stability of the cnation.
He emphasised the need for the South to come together and speak with one voice. "The military which was dominated by the north has always be using divide and rule and this has entered into our democracy. The SNPA will be a vehicle of transformation through which every Nigeria would have a sense of belonging. If any group feels it has a lot to gain by being together in the country, then we can forge ahead,” he said.
Leader of the South-west delegation, Gbonigi, decried the parlous state of the nation and noted that the zone would continue to work with other bodies for a quick resolution of the Boko Haram insurgency.
“We commend the president for recently taking a bold step and decisive action in confronting the menace of the terrorist insurgents as we have repeatedly advocated. The president now seems to grasp the full import of the insurgency in the north which is to challenge the sovereignty of the Nigerian state and establish a separatist Islamic fundamentalist state.
“In the earlier conferences held in Uyo and Enugu, we, from the South-west, have focused extentively on the major concerns of the Yoruba people in respect of the state of our nation. These concerns relate to the issues of corruption with impunity, national security and the necessity of convening a national conference.
“We believe now that we have a counterpart in the South to the Arewa Consultative Forum, namely the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly, future meetings with the ACF should be by the SNPA only and we should put an end to the practice of ACF holding separate meetings with our various zones. We strongly recommend that this conference should adopt this position.”
Mimiko, in his remarks, posited that a conference such as this remains fundamental to the constant examination and re-examination of the challenges facing the nation’s polity for some reasons. The governor hinted that “the event in our country since the return of civil rule in 1999, show clearly that the termites of ethnic and religious intolerance are beginning to eat the wood works of our national unity and cohesion.”
Ezeife, on his part, noted that the emotional output on the floor of the conference shows that the southern Nigerian people’s conference has come to stay.
On 2015 presidential election, the former governor disclosed that since the independence of Nigeria, the north has held power for 38 years, noting that the north must wait for the south to gain more years before coming back to national power.