Rt. Reverend Paul Udogu is the Bishop of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) Afikpo Diocese, Ebonyi State. In this interview the cleric bares his mind on key national issues in the country especially the proposed national dialogue, saying that ethnic nationalities must answer the question as to whether they still want to continue as a nation. EXCERPTS:
What is your reaction to the initiative by President Jonathan for a National conference?
It is a welcome development that is long overdue. We salute the initiatives of Mr. President at inaugurating the advisory committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Femi Okurounmu that will work out the modalities for the national dialogues or conference.
We are aware that the advisory committee is busy visiting the six geopolitical zones and collecting memoranda from the general public on what should be the modalities of the national dialogue.
What should be the structure of the conference?
The space called Nigeria was negotiated by the colonialists with the various ethnic nationalities that inhabit the space. Each of these ethnic nationalities has a position with respect to their interest and expectations from the entity called Nigeria. They must therefore form the key groups in any discussion about Nigeria. Participation on basis such as local government, state, geopolitical zones should be de-emphasized.
However, to accommodate contemporary realities, the structure of any discourse should transcend an assembly of nationalities to cater for other interest groups from government MDA’s (Ministries, departments and agencies) to professional and trade associations, religious bodies, to activists on human rights, self-determination, gender sensitivity and pro democracy.
In addition, credible international organizations such as the UN (United Nations) should be invited to sit as observers.
We are of the opinion that each identified ethnic nationality should have five representatives while other interest groups have two representatives each.
Does the national dialogue require any legal frame for it to be operational?
Yes, the process must be conducted in tandem with the operating manual of the entity called Nigeria. For now that document is the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In this regard, an act of parliament is required to give the conference (the necessity for it) and its modality (representation, scope, duration, implementation) the force of law. It should also be subject to the United Nations Charter of Equity.
What about the duration of the conference?
With elections due in early 2015, discussions should not last beyond June 2014 (six months). To this end, a recourse to credible information must form the basis for discussion. A collation of reports of all previous National conference reports (the first was in 1966 under Gen. Gowon) must be made available to all participants prior to commencement of actual discussions.
The rationale is that most of the strongly held view points of the different interest groups are already well enunciated in previous confab reports.
What do you think should be the key issues to be discussed at the national conference?
In 1920, barely six years after the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorates of the entity called Nigeria, Sir Hugh Clifford who was then Governor General of Nigeria under the British colonial administration described Nigeria as a collection of “independent native states, separated from one another by great distances, by differences of history and traditions and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social, and religious barriers”.
This supports the argument that the space called Nigeria is a negotiated arrangement between the colonialist and separate groups of widely different peoples and tribes with clear disparities, divisions and sometimes hatreds.
These diverse entities were lumped together to advance British economic interest and subsequently amalgamated for administrative convenience.
This suggests a faulty foundation for the entity called Nigeria and so makes it imperative that to capture the true position of every ethnic nationality and other interest groups, nothing should be considered off limits.
The original partners in this unintended marriage of sorts must first agree on the terms of their continued co-habitation. In fact, these ethnic nationalities, must answer the question whether they want to continue as a nation.
Frank discussions will engender trust and foster mutual agreements amongst the groups on what constitutes political justice, social justice, economic justice cultural justice and religious justice.
What do you suggest should be the legal procedure of the conference?
Agreed positions from the discussions by representatives of interest groups should be subjected to a referendum to ascertain general will. hereafter, it should be sent as a “People’s bill” to the National Assembly for passage and incorporation into the constitution.
Source: Radio Biafra.