List gains of planned summit
NIGERIAN leaders, rooting for the convocation of a national conference, met in Lagos yesterday to draw attention to the obvious threats to the country’s stability.
They were unanimous on the critical need for the people to come together and agree on the ways they should be governed and live as a united nation.
The leaders, who were led by Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN); Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) leader, Chief Audu Ogbe; former Finance Minister, Chief Olu Falae; Alhaji Balarabe Abdulkadir Musa; Olorogun Felix Ibru; Prof. Pat Utomi; Tony Uranta, and former President of the Institute of Directors (IoD), Dr. Chike Nwanze, asserted that running away from the national parley, amounts to “postponing the evil day.”
One after the other, the leaders highlighted the benefits of the dialogue, insisting that its convocation would not lead to the break up of Nigeria but strengthen its unity.
From the mass turn up for the summit yesterday, it was clear that the organisers of the National Summit Group (NSG) may have miscalculated in using the small hall at Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Ikeja, Lagos, as the venue.
As photographers and television cameramen elbowed one another for space, the hall looked cringed further, despite the fact that everyone was seated.
Outside, the presence of anti-bomb and anti-terrorism squad of the Nigeria Police highlighted the fact that something unusual was happening in the premises.
Although, there was no banner at the hotel’s gate announcing the event, the anti-bomb squad was enough signpost as security men screened all vehicles while some plain-clothes officials frisked invitees and searched their bags before they were allowed in.
The models of cars at the parks were too attractive to be unnoticed. The car parks, which were adorned with varying sizes and colours of sleek and imposing vehicles, hosted chauffeurs, who chatted away in groups while their bosses jaw-jawed inside the hall.
Scores of policemen lined the walkways prying at all vehicular and human movements. At the hotel lobby, another group of security men loitered, searching and screening everybody coming into the building. At the entrance of the conference hall, another group of security men mounted vigilance, querying and searching the participants.
Yet, another group of armed men with modern security gadgets manned the final door into the venue, conducting a more profound identification exercise. Interestingly, no voice of protest was raised at any of the security points.
As everyone settled for the business of the day, the unvoiced question was whether the organisers underestimated the turnout. The audience including journalists obviously stretched the capacity of the hall.
Besides the elder statesmen like Nwabueze, Chief Edwin Clark and others, who sat close to the moderator (Utomi), it was more of “make yourself comfortable any where you find space.”
As the central air-conditioners wheezed and cooled the hall, the urgency of the issues obviously overwhelmed any complaint.
The attendance conferred the toga of a mini-national conference on the gathering. All geo-political zones, ethnic nationalities, religious affiliations were represented
The roll call also included Oba Aderemi Adedapo; leader of the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Dr. Federick Fasehun; activist lawyer, Femi Falana; former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode; and Mrs. Ganiyat Fawehinmi.
There were also Dr. John Nwodo, former Governor of old Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Dr. Authur Nwankwo; former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah; Mike Ozekhome (SAN); Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Yakubu Alkali; former Chairman of the National Economic Summit Group (NESG), Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa; Ralph Obioha, Prof. Akin Oyebode, Tonye Graham-Douglas, representative of the Secretary-General of the National Council for Islamic Affairs, Akintola Is-haq, Joy Okunnu, Ireti Doyle, Prof. Sulaiman Bojoro, Brig.-Gen. Sam Odiawe, environmental activist Annkio Briggs, Ambassador Grace Eke, Senator Ewa-Henshaw Bassey, Olukayode Salako, Miss Biola Ige, and Shettima Yerima.
The meeting touched on issues that Nigerians raised when they trooped out to protest the removal of petrol subsidy on January 1, 2012, poor security, corruption, high cost of governance, and the perennial call for SNC. This time, the demands were made in a stronger voice.
The NSG stressed the need “to save the threatened oneness of Nigeria,” and present “a platform for a national dialogue on the state of the nation.”
In his address, Uranta, the NSG Secretary, stated that the summit should be seen as a “seed that will lead to a national convention and an initiative borne out of the passion of Nigerians to create a new nation.”
The conference addressed the practice of true federalism, resolution of the country’s socio-economic and security challenges, and how to form a stronger entity called Nigeria.
Utomi, the convener of the NSG, dispelled claims in some quarters that a sovereign conference would lead to the break up of Nigeria. Rather, it would save Nigeria from “the brink of collapse, a little like 1966-67 era,” he said.
Balarabe Musa added that Nigeria is on the verge of becoming a failed state, stressing that its corporate existence is being threatened by conflicts of interest.
He noted that Nigeria is in the present state despite its abundant resources due to “nationalistic and dignified character” of earlier leaders, who are “now missing in the present politicians.”
Falae reminisced that military incursion into politics in 1966 disrupted the genuine federal structure and constitutionalism from 1958. With the old system, Falae noted that every region had a constitution, kept 50 per cent of internal revenue generated for its development and had ambassadorial representative overseas.
Nwabueze, 82, said there is no denying the fact that conveners and participants are true patriots and lovers of the country.
He said: “It is a prelude to having an SNC, to have a people’s constitution and agree on how this country is to live together as one. Anyone against SNC is an enemy of the people. The efforts have been thwarted for so long. We are now working on modalities to have one and to be presented to groups in a referendum.
“We all will match to Abuja to present a copy of our resolution. And whoever likes should tier-gas us and kill all of us,” he said.
Ogbe on his part, reiterated that the SNC would avail an opportunity for Nigerians to redress issues of federalism and address economic challenges that had taken the country backward.
He said every Nigerian should ask the critical questions of how the country got to the state where “we are killing one another instead of protecting ourselves,” and why manufacturing now contributes 2.5 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP)?
Edwin Clark, who also picked holes in the current political structure, said it is worrisome that 36-state structure, which replaced the old system exists “just to collect allocation, pay salaries and share the balance.”
To Alkali, Nigeria’s developmental crisis is a national shame. “It is a shame for us as a nation that China is now leading in the world. Security is about telling our children the truth about life. A country begets a type of institution and structures it desires.”
Ibru expressed optimism that the authorities would set up a national conference at the end of the summit, whether sovereign conference or not.
Without such conference, he stated, there would be no avenue for discussions. “One of our major problems is the type of set up we have, which people are operating our system? We must ensure that the right people operate the system because if the wrong people continue to operate the system, that would be devastating.”
Ohuabunwa said Nigerians have become a group of insincere people, who address issues according to how it affects them. He stated that political leaders must make policies that encourage private enterprise to develop the economy, adding that it is the primary responsibility of the federal and state governments to provide security for citizens and regretted that a lot of South Easterners were being killed in the North while some other sections of the country stand aloof.
Nwanze said “our 36 states are no longer viable.” According to him, “we need to restructure, not just the Executive arm of government, but also the Legislature.
“We spend all our money in recurrent expenditure. We can’t create jobs that way. We have to go back to the Regional level,” he said.
Nwodo said the 1999 Constitution had failed. “We should synergise with the National Assembly and the Executive on the need to organise SNC.”