Friday, May 28 2004   

National conference, a must –Ojukwu, Falae, others Adeniyi Bamigbade and Soriwei Fidelis  

LEADING politicians from different geopolitical zones of the country on Thursday in Lagos inisted that a sovereign national conference must be organised to discuss the country's problems.  

The politicians, including acting Leader of Afenifere, Chief Reuben Fasoranti; presidential candidate of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu; and former presidential candidate of the All Peoples Party in the 1999 general elections, Chief Olu Falae, prescribed SNC as the only panacea for Nigeria's social, economic and political problems.

The politicians who also included Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN), representing ethnic minorities, and APGA National Chairman, Chief Chekwas Okorie, who met under the aegis of Ethnic Nationalities Forum, "resolved to mobilise Nigerians to exercise their sovereignty, take their future into their own hands and convene the national conference."

In an address he jointly signed with Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Asemota, Fasoranti, who chaired the occasion, listed the problems facing the nation under the current administration.  

He lamented that the nation had reached a crisis point where true patriots should begin to express their views on the state of the nation, to save the country from collapse.  

Pointing out that democratic structures had been subverted, the Afenifere leader said, "The current attempt at democratic governance has clearly hit the rocks. The much-dreaded military dictatorship has merely yielded place to an equally dreadful civilian autocracy emasculated from providing effective checks and balances on the executive.  

"The judiciary has made valiant efforts to resist executive interference but several of its members have succumbed and thus eroded public confidence in its neutrality."

He added that there was anarchy everywhere in the country as illegal acquisition of arms by politicians and political thugs had aggravated the incidence of breakdown of law and order.  

Commenting on the recent bloody ethno-religious crises in Plateau and Kano states, the forum's spokesman said the development was "the result of cumulative failure on the part of the Federal Government to take a decisive action in the countless numbers of earlier clashes," as the governors lacked constitutional powers to take action as real chief security officers of their respective states.  

Fasoranti said the nation must tackle the irony of being abundantly endowed, yet remaining an underdeveloped nation.

The Federal Government, he added, should also ensure that it restored peace, equity and justice to the polity.  

"We, of the Ethnic National Forum, for the convocation of a National Conference of Ethnic Nationalities, fervently believe that if the above conditions are to be brought about, the nation can no longer avoid the convocation of a national conference whose decisions will be sovereign in the sense that they will form the basis of a new constitution."

Odumegu-Ojukwu, in his contribution, said in a time of crisis such as the nation found itself now, the fate of the masses was in their hands.

He said the ENF was set up to create a true federation for the people and lamented that the masses had been denied their true position and power in the current democratic dispensation.

"Arrogance of power is one big problem Nigerians face. The common people are the masses, the representatives are the servants," he added.  

Asemota, who expatiated on the motive of the ENF, pointed out that the forum had put aside the past wrangling among ethnic nationalities and had decided to come together to forge a better nation.  

"We have come to say let bygones be bygones. We are looking up to the future of a better Nigeria and at the end of it all, Nigerians will have a better alternative," he said.

Former minister of finance, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, who corroborated Fasoranti's and Asemota's views, expressed the belief that the outcome of the conference of ethnic nationalities would automatically form the basis of future governance, citing the race for the 2007 presidency as an instance.

Among other politicians at the forum were: Prof. J. Okoko, who represented the Ijaw National Congress; Mr. Ayo Adebanjo, Mr. Nkem Okonkwo, Chief J.E. Nkweku, Mr. J.O. Daodu, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Senator Femi Okurounmu, Chief E.O. Akeju and Chief Olanihun Ajayi.

The Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Diocese, Rt. Rev. Anthony Obinna, also on Thursday joined the growing list of those demanding the convocation of a national conference to address the issue of unity in the Nigeria.

Obinna, at a news conference in Owerri, said that a national conference had become imperative to solidify the unity of the Nigerian federation.

He argued that the conference would ensure the creation of a greater sense of family belonging and reduce the spate of internecine clashes among ethnic nationalities.

Obinna also called for the holistic implementation of the present six zonal arrangement in the polity, describing it as a better avenue for the fortification of the nation's unity.

The Punch, Friday May 28, 2004