Prominent Igbo think-tank group led by erudite constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought, yesterday faulted the modalities adopted by the Federal Government for the proposed national conference as released on Thursday.
The group, which has in the past insisted that the conference should produce a new constitution for the country, argued that the modalities were in sharp contrast to the yearnings of Nigerians especially the Igbo, as contained in their recent letter to President Goodluck Jonathan.
However, the group said that the Ndigbo are free to take part in the conference and articulate the position document which delegates from the South-East of the country would take to the talks.
The secretary of the group, Prof. Amaucheazi, Chief Chukwuemeka Onyesoh and Engr. Obi Thompson of the World Igbo Congress (WIC) respectively, also reiterated their earlier position that Nigerians wanted a conference where ethnic nationalities would play a significant role. They also expect that the outcome of the talks would be subjected to referendum as against endorsement by the National Assembly.
However the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex pan-Igbo socio-cultural organization, Chief Gary Igariwey applauded the modalities, saying that except for one aspect – the subjection of the recommendations of the talks to dictates of the National Assembly – the position of the federal government tallies with the position of Ohanaeze especially on equality of representation on zonal basis.
He said: “The position of the FG is partly in line with what we submitted because we talked about equal representation for all zones. We also said it should be conducted in time. We commend the template. We differ in the area of the outcome not going to National Assembly, but to referendum”.
On how delegates from the South East should be nominated to represent the Igbo interest at the conference, Igariwey said that Ohanaeze is not in contest with anyone or group, noting that very soon, the group will summon a meeting of all other organizations to decide how to choose delegates.
But rejecting the modalities, the Ben Nwabueze-led ILT said that they had severally made their positions known and would go ahead to encourage Ndigbo to participate in the conference with a position paper for the sake of posterity.
“We are concerned about repositioning the country, about re-negotiating the existence of this country among the peoples who were brought together in the first instance by the British buccaneers and the British government. Of course during negotiations some had to sign their freedom away. So it presupposes that when you are renegotiating you bring the people concerned.
“So that’s why in the constitution you say we the peoples of Nigeria; by people you are talking of ethnic nationalities. So we made our points clear to the president as you must have noticed by some reports you have in the papers. Many ethnic groups from various zones are in agreement with us.
“But yesterday (Thursday) we heard they rolled out government modalities on how the conference will be organized. Among the provisions is that the conference will now recommend to the government on how the outcome will be integrated in the Nigerian constitution. We had thought that we were going to have a new constitution. We have made our point; we will continue to remind the president that Nigerians are expecting a new constitution not a revised 1999 constitution.
“We the Leaders of Thought still feel that in spite of frustrations, so to say, we still want to complete our work and that is the content of the envisaged constitution, and make it available to Ndigbo and Nigerians. As I have always told you, we are not in competition with any person; we will make them available to those who want to go, those who will be appointed to go, those who will be elected in whatever means. That is the duty we owe ourselves, our children and our children’s children”, the Igbo leaders said.
The group also maintained its earlier stance that if President Jonathan gets the conference right, he would have written his name in gold as architect of modern Nigeria.