The pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, its counterpart in the South-East, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Arewa Consultative Forum as well as the South-South Peoples Assembly have expressed different opinions on the mode that the conference of ethnic nationalities in the country being suggested by Senate President David Mark should take.
Although all the groups agreed that there was a need for a conference that would help in addressing the myriad of problems facing the country, they were divided on whether such conference should just be a national conference or a sovereign national conference.
In separate interviews with SATURDAY PUNCH, at various locations on Thursday, each of the groups demanded the convocation of the conference without delay. Mark declared support for a national conference on Tuesday.
While Afenifere and Ohanaeze N’digbo want a sovereign conference, the Arewa Consultative Forum and the South-South Peoples Assembly, think otherwise.
To underscore its urgency, the Afenifere enjoined the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council to set in motion a machinery to ensure the convocation of a sovereign conference without further delay.
Afenifere Secretary, Chief Seinde Arogbofa, told one of our correspondents in Akure on Thursday that the recognition of the need for a conference of ethnic nationalities by Mark was a welcome development.
The Afenifere chieftain noted that his group and its counterparts across the nation had made similar calls over the years.
Arogbofa, however, warned that, “This should not just be a mere national conference which will just end as a talk shop. We want a sovereign national conference. The National Assembly and the executive should put the machinery in place to ensure that this becomes a reality.
“Democracy is you talk, I talk. If we embark on a sovereign national conference, we will talk and iron out our differences. We are not saying we are not going to disagree, but we will disagree to agree.
“It is not too late to start the process. All the representatives of all the groups, the Arewa group, the Ohanaeze and other groups in the country will meet and talk about our country and how to move ahead.”
He observed that so many things, which had gone wrong in the country needed to be addressed for the nation to move forward.
On its part, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo agreed with Afenifere that a Sovereign National Conference was inevitable.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural body said a sovereign national conference was the only way to address the security, economic and socio-political problems facing the nation.
The National Organising Secretary of its youth wing, Mr. Okechukwu Isiguzoro, who spoke on behalf of the group, said the N’digbo was agitating for nothing short of a sovereign national conference and, as such, would not rest on its oars until it attained its objective.
Isiguzoro said the organisation craved for an opportunity where all the ethnic nationalities would sit down and decide exactly how the country should be governed.
He said, “The Igbo are the victims of the way Nigeria is being structured. We need a sovereign national conference to address the anomaly. We have the least local government areas, the least infrastructural development, the least number of states, and the least federal presence in the country.
“These are the issues that should be discussed at the sovereign national conference, not national conference, and it should hold by 2014 when we would have been 100 years. At that point, we shall then determine whether we shall continue to live together in one country or not.”
However, the National Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Mr. Anthony Sani, said while the ACF was not opposed to a national dialogue, it had issues with the demand that such a conference should be sovereign.
Sani said, “Nobody or any group has ever opposed national dialogue by way of National Conference. People are only opposed to Sovereign National Conference which amounts to a vote of no confidence in our democracy and its institutions.”
Lending its voice to the debate, the South-South Peoples Assembly, like ACF, rejected the call that such a conference be made sovereign. This, the SSPA said, was to safeguard the unity of the country.
The National Secretary of the SSPA, Chief Anyakeme Whiskey, in an interview with one of our correspondents, noted that tagging such conference ‘sovereign’ would be unbearable.
Whiskey maintained that Nigeria should embrace a national conference that would allow the citizens to hold a referendum on the resolution of such a forum.
He stated, “Anybody who supports a national conference is my friend. Mark’s support of a national conference is a welcome development and I hail him for his courage.
“But the conference should not be sovereign. A sovereign national conference can say that we don’t want a National Assembly. It (SNC) can say let’s split the country and the country remains split.
“I want a conference based on mutual dialogue and we subject our resolution to referendum where Nigerians will fully decide. The conference is necessary because whether anybody likes it or not, Nigeria is standing on a foundation of structural defect.
“The Ijaw put together are the largest oil producing ethnic nationality, but because we have been balkanised into six different states, our strength has been weakened,” he said.
Whiskey also advised that the national conference should be held in the early part of 2014 before the next general election, suggesting that the conference should be an integral part of Nigeria’s centenary celebration.
He added that true federalism that would make the states autonomous on issues of economic development and the maintenance of law and order should be among the subjects that should be discussed in such a conference.
Speaking in a similar vein, prominent Nigerians under the aegis of Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly expressed their support for the convocation of a national conference.
They expressed support for the call by the President of the Senate, who said it was important that nationalities should be given space to discuss Nigeria’s future.
The group said the convocation of the conference if done on time, would be the most rewarding centenary gift that President Goodluck Jonathan could give to Nigerians.
The group, in a statement signed by a former Vice President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme (Leader of South-East), a former Minister of Information, Chief Edwin Clark (for South-South) and Rev. Bolanle Gbonigi (Leader of South-West), called on President Goodluck Jonathan to set up a committee to work out strategies and modalities for the convocation of a national conference not later than December 2013.
It read in part, “We call on President Goodluck Jonathan to set up a committee to work out strategies and modalities for the convocation of a national conference by not later than December2013.
“Giving the ethnic nationalities of Nigeria an opportunity to discuss their collective future after a ‘forced’ marriage of 100 years remains the most rewarding centenary gift President Jonathan can give.”