Lawyer and elder statesman Prof. Ben Nwabueze kicked yesterday against the exclusion of the discussion on
the country’s unity by the national conference.
He said the Igbo will insist on self-determination at the conference.
The octogenarian, who insists that the conference should write a new constitution for the country, said President Goodluck Jonathan had no right to decide Nigeria’s existence.
Speaking at the Conference of Ethnic Nationalities organised in Abuja by the Ethnic Nationalities Movement (ENM), he said: “Nigerians should have the right to self-determination.
“Now we have a conference that says that the divisibility of Nigeria is a no-go area. Does that mean that we cannot even talk about the inherent right of the ethnic nationalities to secede, we have no right to self-determination; is that what it means?”
The theme of the conference was: “Towards a truly representative National Conference.
Describing the right to self-determination as an inherent right of the citizenry, Nwabueze said his own nationality – the Igbo – had already resolved to insist on the inclusion of the subject as part of the agenda for the forthcoming national conference.
Nwabueze, who is the first academic Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), however, called on Hausa, Yoruba, Edo, Itsekiri and other ethnic groups to insist on their right to self-determination.
The jurist said: “If we can’t even discuss it, that excludes the right of the delegates to talk about self-determination. This is a burning issue. We, the Ndigbo, have already decided to insist that that right of self-determination must be there.
“I use this opportunity to invite other ethnic nationalities – the Yoruba, the Hausa, the Edo people, the Itekiri, the Ijaws the representatives of the Ijaw are already demanding it. We must all come together to discuss it.”
He noted that the fear that the discussion could culminate in the country’s disintegration should not stop the delegates from exercising their right to discussing self-determination.
Nwabueze explained that the representation of ethnic nationalities in the constitution would help to contain the government from oppressing others to create a state of instability.
He recalled that as the adviser to the drafting of the Ethiopia 1995 constitution, he insisted that ethnic nationalities should be included.
The legal luminary urged Nigeria to borrow a leaf from that.
Nwabueze, who noted that some critics had held the opinion that the United States and Europe no longer discuss ethnicity and tribe, asked whether those countries and continents had tribes in the first place.
According to him, all the ethnic groups in Nigeria predate the amalgamation of the country and their importance must not be trivialised.
He also expressed surprise that various religious organisations, trade unions and interest groups were considered for the conference while the nationalities that own them are left out.
The chairman of the occasion, Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN), said the union of Nigeria could not be said to have produced useful results.
Asemota, a member of the national conference advisory body, who submitted a minority report, explained that the union’s failure accounts for the fear that the topic could result in the call for the dissolution of Nigeria at the national conference.
Asemota maintained that Nigeria cannot be said to have been constant with Indirect Rule, civil war and the Boko Haram insurgency.
The chairman said: “The marriage of 1914 cannot be said to have been fruitful,or have produced many useful results. This explains why the dissolution of the Nigerian Union cannot be discussed at the National Conference for fear of its actualisation.
“We cannot also say that Nigeria has been constant, not with Indirect Rule, insecurity, the civil war and now Boko Haram as well as other issues that have plagued her for more than 50 years.
“There is evidence that Nigeria is not designed as a great “Trust”, because the Southern Lady of means who provides for the upkeep is being taken for granted. She is treated as a woman married under customary law and treated as a mere chattel and this has made the marriage difficult.”
In his presentation, titled “A Summary and Matter Arising for Nigeria’s National Conference”, a professor of sociology, Onigu Otite, advised that whenever it is required that conference delegates be selected from a region, state, or category of Nigerians, efforts should be made not only to represent ethnic minorities or combination of them, but also to avoid double nominations.
He suggested that the Federal Government should undertake an ethnic balancing and weighting exercise after collating the names of all the delegates to the conference.
This, according to him, would help to ensure equity and appropriateness in the choice of delegates for a balanced national conference.
Otite said: “Our president should be given the privilege of nominating some attendees to national conference. This will hopefully promote the representativeness of people from all the ethnic groups of Nigeria at the conference.”