Representatives of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups have commended the Federal Government for the planned National Conference, but not without some clamouring that resolutions at the conference be subjected to a referendum by the people and not the National Assembly.
Politics Today on Channels Television played host to the President of Igbo socio-political group, Aka-Ikenga, Mr, Goddy Uwazuruike; the President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima and the Spokesperson for Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin.
Odumakin commended the Federal Government for the structure of the modalities for the conference as he referred to it as “a big improvement from the initial recommendation” by the presidential committee.
He noted that if the government had followed the recommendations of the Presidential Committee, the essence of the National Conference would have been lost. He said that the panel’s recommendation was faulty. “Asking that representation at the conference should be by Federal Constituencies is a blunder, as the make-up of these Federal Constituencies is one of the reasons why the country needs the conference in the first place,” he stressed.
Mr. Uwazuruike, while agreeing with Odumakin, also said that the basis for the conference was the dissatisfaction of various people who are seeking to know where they stand in the state of affairs insisting that the beauty of the National Conference, as planned by the Government, was that what the Executive and Legislature believed would be of no impact but what the people want.
No Go Area
Mr Shettima, while also commending the Federal Government for accepting that there was need for Nigerians to discuss, also supported the clause that the indivisibility of Nigeria would not be discussed; acknowledging that the Government had a right to determine how they want the conference to go.
Although, Odumakin also agreed that it was a good idea that the Federal Government wants to protect the unity of Nigeria, he however frowned at the statement credited to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, that the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable.
He said: “That is not right.” He argued that Nigeria had been together for so long and that the people must be able to negotiate the terms of their unity. According to him, “Discussing our differences will not break us. We should not be afraid”.
Odumakin warned that what could lead to the breakup was “when we do not discuss the terms of our unity.” He added: “Pretending that we are united is like postponing the evil day.”
Mr Uwazuruike, who is also a lawyer, provided the legal framework for the decision of the Presidency. He explained that according to the Nigerian Constitution, “a President swears an oath to not initiate the divisibility of Nigeria, and President Jonathan is bound by his oath of office to ensure the continued unity of the country.
“Initiating a gathering to discuss the matter, therefore, will be going against the Nigerian Constitution and his oath of office.
“Also, it will mean asking for a revolution and when that happens, it is his office and the parliament that will first have to go,” the lawyer said.
He submitted that Mr. President was on the right track and that if anyone wanted a revolution, it would not be the President that should instigate it.
Shettima called on Nigerians to take advantage of the whole conference even if it was not the solution to all of Nigerians’ problems, as he was sure that the country would move forward from where it was.
There are questions about the criteria for the selection of representatives at the National Conference expected to have 492 representatives from different parts of the country.
Mr Shettima said that the makeup of the representation cannot be perfect since the whole idea was for it to be all inclusive, adding that the inclusion of the civil society makes it good enough.
He however noted that asides the issues of composition, there were more important problems that needed to be fixed one of which was the legitimacy of the 1999 Constitution. He said that the National Conference must be seen as an exercise towards building a brand new constitution for Nigeria.
Barrister Uwazuruike also added that the 1999 constitution truly tells a lie and offered an explanation on how the resolution of the constitution can be changed
The SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim, in an earlier interview with Channels Television, had said that only the National Assembly had the powers to amend the Constitution and there was nothing that could be done about it.
Mr Odumakin further berated Mr Anyim as being ignorant. He stressed that the referendum is the key thing in the forthcoming conference, going down history lane to validate his argument.
Shettima also stressed that “as long as Nigeria retains the Constitution that gives all the power to President, with everything centralized in Abuja, things will not be better in Nigeria”. He said that all resolution at the conference must be subjected to a referendum.
“We are not asking for an amendment of the constitution, what we need is a totally new constitution,” he stressed.
In further response to Mr Anyim’s interview, Mr Odumakin assured that there could not be chaos, as Nigerians had been together for too long that there was need to discuss. He said: “We cannot put our faith in the hands of those who created that same 1999 constitution for us after all they have done to us since.
“They have been serving themselves and now it is time for them to do what we want.” He said, adding that sovereignty lies in the people and not the National Assembly.
Uwazuruike however warned that the same 1999 Constitution was the basis for convening the conference and that it gave the details of what should be discussed and there was no referendum in its recommendation.
He added that indeed, sovereignty was in the people as earlier argued by Odumakin, but stressed that it was to be executed on their behalf through the National Assembly. He concluded with an advice to the National Assembly to pay attention to discussions at the conference and use them according to the will of the people.
Mr Odumakin said: “What is worth doing is worth doing well.”He urged Nigerians to go into the conference with the realization that “it is not to constitute us.”
Shettima warned that if the National Conference would not be subjected to a referendum, then it would have been a waste of tax payers’ money.