Culled from Sunday Mirror on Oct 13, 2013 1
…as Okunrounmu insists on ‘no-go areas’
With the inauguration of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the proposed national conference last Monday by President Goodluck Jonathan , the committee is set to draw the agenda for the conference and in doing this, it would need the inputs of Nigerians. President Jonathan heeded the advice of many Nigerians who had earlier called on him not to restrict the Committee and the conference to certain areas of the national life. Speaking at the inauguration of the committee, President Jonathan gave the committee the freedom to choose names for itself and for the conference, while he also gave the committee free hands on areas to be discussed at the conference. Jonathan, who said he had deliberately used different terms to describe the committee and the conference because he wanted the committee to select its own nomenclature, admonished it to consult widely before sitting down to develop the framework that would guide and guard the proceedings of the discussions. Also speaking, the chairman of the committee, Senator Femi Okurounmu said Jonathan’s sincerity and commitment were “further buttressed by the fact that he has not established any so called ‘no-go areas’ for his committee, thus opening up for discourse, all aspects of our present constitution and national life.” He promised that the committee would not let down Nigerians, hoping that with the conclusion of the assignment and the national conference that would follow, “even those who were once skeptical and critical of the idea of a national conference will have become persuaded of its merits and benefits to our nation.” With this sound of optimism, Nigerians are willing to set agenda for the committee and in essence, for the national conference that will come up later.
First to respond to the setting up of agenda for the conference was the Awolowo Foundation which held an executive leadership seminar, in Lagos last week and noted that the proposed conference can contribute to the creation of a viable Nigerian polity. Tagged, ‘The national conference: Roadmap to Nigeria’s stability’, the seminar was convened by the group’s Executive Director, Dr Olatokunbo Dosumu and chaired by Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi. Also at the event were President, Guild of Editors, Mr. Femi Adesina; Prof Ayandiji; Daniel Aina; Prof. Princewill Alozie; Prof. Bolaji Aluko; Dr Chris Asoluka; Prof. Bukar Bukarambe; Mrs. Ayo Obe; Prof Ayo Olukotun; Dr. Tunde Oseni; Prof. Akin Oyebode; Prof. Itse Sagay and Alhaji Yerima Shettima. The participants noted that the Senator Femi Okurounmu-led committee was skewed against the youth, who will have to live with the consequences of the decisions to be taken on the confab. A communiqué signed by the participants recommended that there should be 400 delegates for the conference and that 90 per cent of the suggested 400 delegates to the conference should emerge through an election on non-partisan basis from the ward to the zonal levels and 10 per cent nominees of professional bodies, trade unions, civil society organisations, youth/ students, women and pan-Nigerian religious bodies. They said the draft constitution that will be produced should be subjected to a national referendum not later than three months after the end of the conference. “There should be no ‘no-go areas’ in the course of this national discourse. The fact that people are not restricted will enhance frankness of discussions as well as greater acceptability and respectability of the conference outcome. “The conference should address true federalism as established by the founding fathers, with emphasis on granting the federating units room to develop competitively at their own pace. “It should be channelled to build a more tolerant, egalitarian and prosperous modern state with a constitution that emphasises the protection of individual rights. “The present state structure should be reconfigured to more manageable and sustainable units. “The outcome of the conference should address and lay appropriate emphasis on the needs and aspirations of the Nigerian people,” participants at Awolowo Foundation lecture said. Also speaking with Sunday Mirror on what should be the agenda of the conference, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, said that everything under the sun should be discussed at the conference . “Our position is that Nigerians did not directly participate in what happened at the 1957 conference and other constitutional conferences where all Nigerians had the right to participate in. Even the Constituent Assembly that produced the past constitutions like that of 1979 what they put there were the views of the people at the conference and not that of ordinary Nigerians. It was selective. “At this national conference, Nigerians should discuss what brings them together, what they want to do together and what they want to do separately. How they want to live and how they want to be governed. Do they prefer the unitary system of government, or federal system of government? Do they like parliamentary or presidential system of government? Whether they want to continue to bear the name given to them by Lord Lugard and his girlfriend or they want to bear another name. “Even if we agree to stay together, how do we share the natural resources? What will accrue to the owner of the land? Who will benefit from the derivative? Is it the government of the area in which the land is found? What kind of royalty will be paid by the explorers and will it be paid to the state or the Federal Government which has no land of its own? “There should be a restructuring of the political system and we should determine the basis of our union. We should painstakingly look at the issue that affect Nigerians and every unit that wants to stay on their own should be allowed. In essence, there should be opportunity for self-determination. “Nigeria is not united by language but by geographical expression. This was also not by choice but through compulsion. And so if the various tribal groups want to integrate, it must be through consensus to live together. “Therefore, there should be no, ‘No go areas’ during the conference. Our position is that if the conference is not sovereign, it is just going to be a mere talk-shop”, CACOL said. Setting its own agenda for the national conference, the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, urged that the conference should look at the issue of true federalism, parliamentary system of government and state police, among others. Speaking through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin , Afenifere stated, “Processes will start across our region and we will collaborate with other regions that think like us so that we can harmonise our positions and ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, we do not miss it, to give this country a good constitution. So consultations have started. “Our agenda is very clear. We believe through this conference, we should save Nigeria from crash-landing and give Nigeria a soft-landing. We can forge an agenda for us to live in peace and harmony and our own response to the issue is that all delegates to the conference must first answer the question: Do we still want to live together as a people? If the answer is yes, then on what terms? “For us in Afenifere, ours should be on the basis of federalism and once we agree that Nigeria should be a true Federal Republic of Nigeria, then the next thing to do is to draft a constitution that will spell out whether we want to continue to live together in harmony. “As we speak now, all universities in Nigeria are under lock and key. If we have the six existing structures as regions and they manage the universities in their regions, there is no way ASUU will go on strike in the six regions at the same time.” “Let everybody develop at their own pace and within their areas, let the federal be lean and the regions be strong. We also believe in Afenifere that this federal structure is too costly, it promotes a lot of corruption, we should go parliamentary. For us, federalism, parliamentary, state police, devolution of powers and derivation principles are the key issues that we believe that the national conference must address so that this country can regain its lost glory,” Afenifere averred.