At least, 50 eminent southern and northern Nigerian leaders met in Abuja on Tuesday on the state of the nation.
During the closed-door meeting at the Yar’Adua Centre, they resolved to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the National Assembly.
The leaders met under the aegis of Project Nigeria, chaired by Prof. Ben Nwabueze. Organisers say Project Nigeria is a platform to canvass good governance and establish unity among the different interests in the country.
The leaders set up a committee, headed by a former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, to go round the country and interface with other Nigerians.
Those who attended the meeting included a former head of the Nigerian Security Organisation, Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi; ex Senate President, Iyorcha Ayu; and former Delta State Governor, Chief Felix Ibru.
Also in attendance were a former Education Minister, Senator Jubril Aminu; the spokesperson of the Ijaw Republican Assembly, Annkio Brigg; a former President of the Ijaw National Conference, Prof. Kimse Okoko; activist lawyer, Dr. Tunji Abayomi; and the Secretary of Project Nigeria, Wale Okunniyi.
A source who attended the meeting explained that the essence of the meeting was to build national unity and consensus.
“The country is fast declining, we must save this country from collapse. We must close ranks and ensure that things are done properly,” he said.
Investigations showed that participants at the meeting specifically faulted the ongoing constitution review, saying it would take the country to nowhere.
The PUNCH gathered that the meeting resolved that there was a need for a national conference on corruption and good governance.
Lawmakers recently completed public hearings on the review of the constitution at their constituencies and zones. Each zone is expected to decide on the changes it desires in the areas of the constitution listed for review.
Forty-three aspects of the 1999 constitution, including local government administration, state creation and the structure of the country have been listed for possible review.
But analysts have said that the public hearing are mere talk shows. In most cases, participants are made to merely chorused ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the affected aspects of the constitution as the lawmakers who convened the forums announced them one after the other.
But the Speaker of the House of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, had said that the public sessions in the 360 Federal Constituencies was a novel procedure meant to ensure a more participatory, inclusive and transparent review of the constitution.
When contacted on the Abuja meeting, Abayomi said, “I can confirm that there was a meeting of eminent Nigerians in Abuja on good governance, and the concerns of the people about corruption which is the consequence of poor governance.
“We are concerned about the rising frustration of the people, the high level of poverty and the gap between the governed and the leaders, between the people and government officials. Those are the issues that preoccupied the meeting. It was quite an interesting session about the desires of ordinary Nigerians.”
Alhaji Bashiru Dalhatu; Solomon Asemota (SAN); Prince Tony Momoh; Sen. Adamu Abdulahi; Hajia Nahatu Mohammed; Nkoyo Toyo; Sen. Ewa Henshaw; Alhaji Yayale Ahmed; Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) were also believed to have attended the meeting.
As the leaders met, three major socio-political groups in the country on Tuesday differed on President Goodluck Jonathan’s position on the Soverign National Conference.
While the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere faulted the President, the Arewa Consultative Forum, supported him.
The President, during the Presidential Media Chat on Sunday, had said that the SNC was not feasible.
He had said, “When you mention the word sovereign, people get frightened, but the basic thing I believe as the President, who has taken an oath to defend the constitution of Nigeria is that whatever we do, we should keep in line with the constitution.”
“If today we jettison the provision of the constitution, we will witness anarchy and the best option is to keep in line with the provision of the constitution.”
Faulting the President, Ohanaeze said there was need for the SNC. The group’s President General, Ralph Uwechue, said he could not dwell much on the issue as he was in a meeting, but he explained that a memorandum supporting a national conference had been submitted to the lawmakers, a long time ago.
However, a former national chairman, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Wing, Mr. Bismack Oji, said, “Our take on that is that there is need for a national conference. The word, sovereign, would then imply that the continued existence for the corporate entity of Nigeria would be discussed.”
He said, “There is need for a national conference because what the National Assembly is trying to do is not actually a national conference, rather they are embarking on a piecemeal review of some sections of the constitution.
“However, the issue at stake is beyond the National Assembly, because it has to do with the very structure of the Nigerian state which the National Assembly is a beneficiary and a component of. This is based on the popular maxim that you cannot be a judge in your own case.
“Therefore, it is pertinent that a national conference should hold so that the component nations that make up the Nigeria state can seat down amicably and agree upon the structure which shall become part of Nigeria.”
According to Oji, “One of the reasons why we believe that the National Assembly cannot handle the issue at stake is because of its lopsided nature, vis-à-vis the North having about 60 per cent of the population, which makes it practically impossible for any decision or outcome to be achieved that is against sectional interest of the North. It would just not be possible for the North to accept such outcome or decision, even if such is in the interest of Nigeria as a conglomerate entity.”
“A case study is the issue of creation of states. Presently, the South-East zone is obviously marginalised having five states against seven of the North-West and six of all the other zones.
“Actually, it ought to have been a matter of natural justice and equity to give the South-East at least one more state, and as agreed at the 2005 national conference.”
Also, Afenifere said a constitution that would be acceptable to Nigerians could only be produced through the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference.
The Secretary General of the group, Chief Seinde Arogbofa, stated this while reacting to Jonathan’s submission that the National Assembly was already doing what the SNC should have done.
Arogbofa said what the leadership of the National Assembly was doing on the review of the nation’s constitution, was different from what the Afenifere hoped to achieve with the SNC.
“Our idea of the SNC is that it should attract wider participation comprising every segment of the society who will gather in a conference where everybody would talk on what the constitution should look like,” he said.