A summit and shrill echoes of restructuring
Monday, February 20, 2012

• Balarabe

Worried by the level of insecurity that has been threatening the unity of Nigeria, eminent personalities across various ethnic nationalities in the country, for two days recently, precisely Monday 6th and Tuesday 7th of February , converged on Lagos to fashion a way out of the problem. RAZAQ BAMIDELE reports:

The agenda
A day before the summit proper, a group of eminent Nigerians, under the umbrella of the National Action Council (NACO), led by a renowned lawyer and elder stateman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, had called a world press conference to reveal the objective of the all-important summit.
Braithwaite disclosed to the crowded press conference that the summit was aimed at restructuring the polity that would lead to a workable people’s constitution in the country.

The eminent lawyer, as well as other leaders of the group, were of the belief that “nobody in Nigeria is in doubt that there is dire need to discuss the national question, asserting that the situation in the country now calls for a national dialogue. Braithwaite and other speakers at the press conference unanimously admitted that with the level of national insecurity, high level corruption and faulty resource-sharing formula, there was the need for dialogue to redress the glaring injustices that have pervaded the country’s polity for so long.

The summit, according to them, is a process that would develop into a movement to create a stable prosperous country where justice, equity, fair play and equality would be the order of the day.
According to them, the summit would also lead to having “a constitution that will reflect the views of all the heterogeneous people of Nigeria,” saying everybody should buy into the summit so as to achieve its aim of creating a country that everybody would be considered his.

Summit proper
Truly, on Monday, February 6, the two-day summit where eminent National leaders of thought dialogued on the state of the nation kicked off, expectedly with calls for Sovereign National Conference (SNC).
All the discussants at the summit that took place at the Sheraton Hotel, Ikeja unanimously agreed that the conference was long overdue just as they labelled antagonists to the confab as “enemies of Nigeria.”

While declaring the summit open, Executive Secretary of the National Summit Group, Chief Tony I. Uranta debunked the insinuations that the summit was government initiative, explaining that “the initiative is borne out of long desire to move Nigeria towards restructuring of the polity to foster true federalism.”

Also, in his welcome address, the moderator of the summit, Prof. Pat Utomi expressed sadness that the country was at the brink of collapse, just as he insisted that something must be urgently done to arrest the dangerous trend like that of 1966-67 that eventually led to the civil war. He was of the belief that if a country that was blessed with resources like Nigeria was wallowing in abject poverty, something drastic should be done for the country described as bastion of economic growth in Africa.

Setting the ball of discussion rolling, former Kaduna state governor, Balarabe Musa regretted that “the country is moving towards becoming a failed state in every respect due to a lot of contradictions in the polity inspite of her huge resources.” The solution, according to him, is to reverse the trend through restructuring the polity by convocation of SNC, saying “anybody who holds a contrary view is deceiving himself.”

Speaking in the same vein, former finance minister, Olu Falae, called for a return to the pre-independence constitution of 1958, which he said was a political covenant that gave the country true federalism.
He tasked the audience to “look for the 1960 genuine constitution thrown away where every region had its own constitution and own envoy abroad.” Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN) added in his own contribution that “the purpose of the summit is how to save Nigeria and not to discuss disintegration,” asserting, however, that “the only solution to our problem is SNC to ensure we remain one.”

He said we need to sit down and talk, explaining that “we all wear the shoe and we know where it pinches.”
The 82-year-old lawyer emphatically said: “Whoever wants to prevent this is an enemy of Nigeria,” just as he declared that the decission of the SNC would be taken to Abuja to deliver it to Mr. President and the National Assembly without minding being tear gassed by the security agents. “Anybody who wants to stop us should be prepared to kill all of us,” Nwabueze concluded. Chief Audu Ogbe who concurred with earlier speakers wondered “why Nigerians that are supposed to be each other’s keepers become each other’s killers.”

Ogbe also admitted that the only solution is SNC where the mode of living together would be discussed.
Chief Edwin Clark in his submission also advocated for “a constitution for genuine federalism where everybody must be equal and resources shared equitably.” According to him, all Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities must sit down round a table to discuss the basis of how to live together saying “the stage we are now is for solution and not lamentations.” Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, in addition to SNC, allayed the fears of those fearing that the process would break the country.

He pointed out that it was through that process that justice that would lead to peace and security would be guaranteed. Former aviation minister, Femi Fani-Kayode expressed fears that without SNC, Nigeria could go the way of India and Sudan that broke into three and two respectively. According to him, the colonial masters deliberately amalgamated some nations so that they would start to fight and kill themselves after independence, saying India, Sudan and Nigeria that were so amalgamated have similar problems.

Former information minister, John Nwodo, who described Nigeria’s situation as “critical,” regretted that gone were the days when being a great country made things easy saying the issue of insecurity has led Nigeria to a grave situation. Nwodo, who was later elected the as communiqué drafting committee chairman, therefore, recommended that “dialogue of this nature should be a continued phenomenon so that those against it would be contaminated to catch the bug.” Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, described the summit as God ordained, suspecting that Jonathan’s emergence as President might be God hands in his life to transform the country.

Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana enthused that “since those who unleashed the police on us in 1990 are here today, it is a testimony that the time has come for the much desired SNC.” The National Chairman of the Northern Friends of the South-South (NFSS), Alhaji Sulaiman Yerima in his own contribution however warned that “no dialogue should lead to the disintegration of the country,” reasoning that “our unity is in the interest of Nigeria and of the world at large.” According to him, five decades of political existence and the metamorphosing of states into borderless entities as a result of ideological and systemic changes in global politics, has further necessitated the need for Nigeria to remain indivisible and united in all ramifications.

The NFSS boss was of the belief that “as a radical believer in a progressive Nigerian nation, those, whom I believe to be in the minority, calling for the disintegration of the country, are rather short-sighted by making use of ethnicity and religion, to incite or provoke national dissatisfaction in favour of sectarian proclivities.”
Speaking in the same vein, President of Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Mallam Yerima Usman Shettima expressed displeasure with the way some speakers were referring to some natural resources in the country as “our wealth,” reminding that “before oil, there had been other natural resources that were collectively enjoyed and utilised.”

He therefore urged the participants to desist from any phrase that could threaten the unity and peaceful co-existence in the country asserting that “nobody here, I am sure, wants this country disintegrated.”
Both Dr.Fredrick Fasehun of the OPC and Chief Missioner of Ansarud-Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheikh Abdurahan Ahmad also affirmed that SNC would go a long way to bring social justice to the country.

Middle Belt fear
People from the Middle Belt like Chief Audu Ogbe, expressed apprehension as per where they would belong in a situation where Nigeria disintegrates, warning that everything humanly possible must be done to sustain the country’s unity in diversity.

At the end of the two-day dialogue, modalities on how the exercise could lead to convocation of the Sovereign National Conference (SNC), were recommended. The communiqué issued and signed by the Executive Secretary of the NSG, Tony I. Uranta and read by John Nwodo resolved that “the dialogue should be continued and held in all the six geo-political zones of Nigeria to ensure the total mobilisation of all Nigerians and state institutions, including the legislature within the shortest possible time.”

The National Summit Group was also mandated to ensure wider attendance at future dialogues, reminding that “the ultimate goal of dialogue should be the convocation of a national conference of the constituent units of the country that will give birth to a truly people’s constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
A Steering Committee was therefore recommended to be established “to ensure that no interest is excluded,” adding that “the Steering Committee is to come up with a work plan within 30 days of its constitution.”
The Summit further stressed the need to have the SNG and true people’s constitution within the tenure of the present Jonathan administration, emphasising that “Nigeria, presently, is a collapsing edifice that requires immediate rehabilitation and reconstruction.”

It observed with regret that “the Nigerian nation is currently facing serious challenges that if not urgently addressed are capable of leading the country to total disintegration,” enumerating issues constraining development as a nation to include systemic corruption, insecurity of lives and property, infrastructural deficiencies, lack of credible electoral process, clueless leadership and defective structure of the Nigerian Federalism.”

The summit also condemned the “senseless killing of defenceless Nigerians in different parts of the country,” and at this juncture, a minute silence was observed for all Nigerians who lost their lives across the country recently.
Uranta, for the umpteenth times debunked the insinuations that the summit was a government initiative, explaining that “it is a private initiative, borne out of long desire to move Nigeria towards restructuring of the polity to foster true federalism.

About 150 delegates/participants including eminent Nigerians, representatives of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC), several civil organisations representing special interests of youths, women ethnic nationalities were in attendance.

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