National dialogue: Nigeria’s unity negotiable —Akinrinade, OPC, others

The Convener of the Yoruba Assembly, Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd), yesterday declared that the unity of Nigeria is negotiable, urging the Federal Government to set up a National Conference devoid of “no-go areas” restrictions.

Akinrinade and representatives of the Southwest ethnic nationality and civil society groups also inisted on referendum, stressing that it is counter-productive to submit the report of the conference to a National Assembly whose members are hostile to the convocation of the national dialogue.

A section of the Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-political group, led by Pa Reuben Fasoranti, which reiterated its support for the conference, maintained that it is dangerous to subject the recommendations of the conference to the National Assembly because many legislators were products of elections marred by apathy.

In his presentation on behalf of the group, Mr. Yinka Odumakin said that Afenifere believes in a referendum because sovereignty belongs to the people.

Also, the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and Ndigbo Council said the conference should give room for self-determination and autonomy for the ethnic groups, if they desire them.

The founder of the OPC, Dr. Fredrick Fasehun, said: “Any ethnic group that wants to opt out of the federation must have the opportunity to do so”.

Also the representative of the Ndigbo Council, Dr. Uma Eleazu, said: “We should ask at the beginning of the conference whether we wantto stay together as a country. If the answer is no, that is the end of the conference. The Bible says ‘can two work together, unless they agree?’”

However, Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun and Ekiti state governments boycotted the stakeholders’ consultative and interactive meeting organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference, apparently in consonance with the position of the All Progressives Congress (APC) which had doubted the sincerity of President Goodluck Jonathan.

Also, it appeared that the crisis that hit the conference committee had not fizzled out as Col. Tony Nyiam, who had an altercation with Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole during the Southsouth stakeholders’ meeting in Benin-City, was absent.

The second leg of the Southwest meeting, which held under tight security at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Victoria Island, Lagos, kicked off around It trailed the first zonal meeting held in Akure, the Ondo State capital, two weeks ago.

No fewer than 50 organisations and interest groups submitted memoranda at the meeting. They included the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Nigeria Bar Association (Ikeja Branch), Oodua Peoples Congress, Committee of Indigenous Associations of Lagos State, Awori Descendants, Union, Coalition of Oodua, Self-Determination Groups, Oke-Ogun Development Council, Women Development Initiative, Yoruba Youth Council, Lagos Global Mandate, Southwest Consultative Forum, Yoruba Unity Forum, Nationwide Team of Nigerian Patriots, and Ethnic Minority and Indigenous rights Organisations of Africa (EMIROAF).

At the meeting, majority of the interest groups, which suggested that ethnic nationalities should be the basis for representation at the dialogue, called for the exclusion of the government and political parties. But they differ on the size of the delegates, mode of selection and time-frame for the conference.

The division in the OPC came to the fore, with Fasehun and Adams opposing each other. While Fasehun said that government and political parties should not be part of the conference, Adams objected, saying government and parties are critical stakeholders. The OPC coordinator warned that government and political parties may mobilise enormous influence and resources to fight the conference, if they are shut out.

Akinrinade spoke on the conditions for a successful conference, urging the Federal Government to support the initiative with two critical bills. He said the first bill should seek to legitimise the conference, adding that the second bill should back the proposal for zonal conferences with referendum.

The civil war hero said: “Unions, be it public or private, should know what the conference would be about and eventually have the opportunity to vote. 51 per cent of the vote means yes and we suggest that, if any section walks out of the conference, they can go and form their own country”.

Akinrinade added: “The country can still remain the Federal Republic of Nigeria, if the organisers are courageous and sensible enough to allow the people to sit among themselves and decide how they wish to live together. At the Yoruba Assembly, we are delighted that at last, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has taken the initiative to call the conference. Can we ask him to courageously summon all the powers available to him to see through a genuine national conference and ensure it is the will of the people of Nigeria as agreed by them at that conference that prevails?”

He suggested that the Okurounmu Committee should adopt the Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO)’s 18 nationality region-structure for drawing the list of delegates. He also urged the committee to mobilise support for the conference across the 774 local governments in the country.

The memoranda submitted by the Afenifere Renewaon Group (ARG), PRONACO, COSEG, O’Odua Nationalist Coalition (ONAC) and Atayese Group emphasised that a referendum of the federating regions should ratify the report of the conference, instead of subjecting it to the National Assembly. They also said the outcome of the referendum should translate to an automatic repeal of the 1999 Constitution and the promulgation of a Peoples’ Constitution. The groups proposed three conference conveners, adding that each nominee must be acceptable to the ethnic nationalities, based on their good reputation.

ARG leader, Hon. Olawale Oshun, said: “Since the conference will produce a new Constitution, we recommend that it be completed before 2015 elections, with a new Constitution to come into force latest by January 2, 2015. We recommend two tiers of conferencing: Administrative Regional Conferencing and the Pan-Nigeria Conferencing. Whatever is agreed at the Administrative Regional Conferencing will be the working document that the Administrative Regional Conference will present at the pan-Nigeria Conference and that is what will be negotiated upon.

“We are asking that each region should have the opportunity to decide who represents them and to that extent we are suggesting that representation from each region should not exceed 30 and we recommend that an additional 18 persons should be able to join the 30 people from each administrative zone so that at the end of it, we will have a total of 198.

“We also recommend that under no circumstance should any special interest group be considered. They are all members of the nationality and if they are interested in participating, they should be called from their nationality and within nine months the exercise should be completed”.

Fasehun recommended that the National Assembly must pass a bill in support of the conference. He opposed the inclusion of government and political parties’ representatives on the delegates’ list, saying that it should be a conference of Nigerian people.

He added: “Any ethnic group that wants to opt out of the federation must have the free will to do so. It is my hope that the constitution that comes out at the end of the conference will be so good that those agitating for separation will have a rethink”.

However, the Gani Adams-led OPC faction disagreed with some of Fasehun’s submissions. Adams said 80 per cent of the members of the National Assembly do not support the call for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).

Adams said it would be wrong to subject the proposed National Dialogue to the National Assembly by passing a bill before its convergence. He warned that the National Assembly may kill the initiative.

He also said if political parties and governments are excluded, they have the machineries to truncate the conference.

The conference, he said, should pass a resolution making the result of the conference a sovereign decision.

He added: “Such a procedure would affirm and underline the sovereignty of the nationalities and of their conference. The constitution should then pass through the same process as 1963 Republican Constitution which would involve passage by the National assembly and proclamation by the President of Nigeria.”

He canvassed payment for the delegates that would participate in the conference.

“The conference is called by the Federal Government. Therefore, it should pick the bills for payment of emoluments for the delegates as it deems fit and ensure that a suitable atmosphere is put in place for proper and useful deliberations,” Adams said.

Adams called for a federation with a loose centre, stressing that the six regions should be retained and that each state should develop at its own pace.

He said the local government should be made part of development units, while resources control and revenue systems should be reviewed.

Adams said each federating unit should have its constitution, while the Federal Government should foot the bills of all delegates to the conference.

To the Southwest Consultative Forum (SCF), represented by Dr Tunji Braithwaite, the nomenclature of the proposed conference is just semantics. He said: “It’s a conference of the sovereign people of Nigeria”.

The revolutionary lawyer said the political conference organised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo was mainly to elongate his tenure, and was, therefore, invalid.

He added: “This conference will not fail. 53 years after independence, we’re still celebrating enslavement. The young generation has to take their destiny in their own hands. All ethnic nationalities should participate in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is not just about President Jonathan. It is divine. We’ll not have another election without the constitution.”

There was massive turnout at the session. The Bolaji Akinyemi Auditorium of the NIIA could not accommodate the surging crowd, such that another hall was provided where others viewed a live transmission of events in the main hall.

Outside the hall, placard-carrying youths were staging protests and drumming support for the resolution of the national question. Some of the inscriptions read: “Yoruba autonomy or O’Odua Republic”; “Sovereign National Conference or yawa go gas”; “Restructuring is the best solution to Nigeria’s problem – OPC”; “It’s better we sit down and jaw jaw than to war war.”

Stern-looking security operatives stood guard at the entrances to the premises and halls, with participants undergoing a series of screenings.The Kofo Abayomi Street was filled with vehicles parked on both sides of the road leading to the venue which further worsened the traffic situation on the axis.

In his opening remarks, the Chairman of the committee Senator Femi Okorounmmu, said the proposed dialogue was in reaction to Nigerians’ desire for a dialogue.

He said: “We are delighted we have a president who has listened to the wishes of Nigerians that we need to sit as Nigerians to talk to have a harmonious nation. Finally, we have the opportunity and we should use the opportunity to present our views.

“He wants a conference that is not determined by the government. He wants us to determine the agenda that should constitute the conference, number of delegates, how long should the conference take and the legal stand is determined by us”.

At the forum were Gen. Alabi Isama, Dr. Amos Akingba, Dr. Tokunbo Awolowo-Dosumu, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, Alhaji Rafiu Jafojo, Mr. Segun Odegbami, Chief Rita Lori Ogiebor, Mr. Ayo Afolabo, Mr. Dipo Famakinwa, Linus Okoroji, Chief Osola Filani, Mrs Modupe Sasore, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, Mr. Funminiyi Afuye, Mrs. Remi Adikwu-Bakare, Chief Fred Agbeyegbe, Mrs. Biola Akinyode and Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin.

The post National dialogue: Nigeria’s unity negotiable —Akinrinade, OPC, others appeared first on The Nation.

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