Even before it begins, the National Conference is generating acrimony – the very ailment it is expected to tackle.
The talk shop to which 492 delegates have been invited is to be inaugurated by President Goodluck Jonathan next Monday. It will be chaired by a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Lagbo Kutigi.
But the Ogoni in Rivers State, the Itsekiri of Delta State and Pensioners, among others, rejected the list yesterday. They are angry that they have been “sidelined”.
The coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOS) in the Northeast has also rejected the delegates’ list.
Besides, a top official of the All Progressives Congress (APC) said the opposition party might not be keen on filling the two slots allotted it at the conference.
But a former President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said the conference should be given the benefit of the doubt to succeed.
He urged President Jonathan not to reduce its outcome and concessions to “mere advisory significances”.
The APC chief, who is a member of the Interim National Executive Committee (NEC), doubted the Federal Government’s sincerity.
He said: “If they are still waiting for the list of delegates from the APC, they may have to wait till eternity. If they are waiting for our list before they start it, then, the conference will not hold. Our opinion and disposition are known. They need to understand where we stand.”
Asked to comment on the participation in the conference of some APC chieftains nominated by state governments and other bodies, he said they are not representing the interest of the opposition party.
“There is no evidence that the conference will solve Nigeria’s problems. As at today, we have no delegates’ list. The people expecting us to send a list are not blind and they are not deaf. Our position is clear,” the official said.
The Nigeria Union of Pensioners (NUP) at the weekend wrote the Presidency through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, protesting it exclusion.
The union said: “We are strongly protesting the exclusion of our Union from the National conference, which, if not quickly redressed, would lead to mass protest by pensioners all over Nigeria.
“We humbly call on Your Excellency, to use your good offices to rectify this ugly situation as soon as possible. This issue has been referred to the Nigeria Labour Congress for quick intervention as well.”
In the letter dated March 7, titled: “National Conference Nomination: Letter of Protest”, the NUP National President, Dr. Abel Afolayan, said the six slots that were allotted to retired civil servants were all for the Council of Retired Permanent Secretaries (CORFEPS).
According to the the letter, the NUP should have been consulted as the major stakeholders representing the interest of the entire civil service retirees/ pensioners.
Afolayan added: “Ironically, other related retirees’ associations, such as the military, the police, State Security Service, were all given slots to represent the interests of their members with the exception of the Nigeria Union of Pensioners.
“Regrettably, the presence of the National President of the union at the office of the SGF on the 5th of March, 2014 to protest this oversight was rebuffed by the Permanent Secretary (Special Duties) of the office of the SGF.
“I am writing on behalf of over 1 million pensioners in Nigeria who are members of our union.
We consider it necessary to direct our complaint to the office of the SGF because it is the office charged with the responsibility of compiling the list of the delegates to the National Conference.
“It is on this note that we wish to draw your attention to the Federal Government’s announcement in the media on the release of the list of delegates to the National Conference, which indicated that retired civil servants were given six slots to the National Conference.
“As the only union registered and approved by the Ministry of Labour and Productivity for Nigerian civil pensioners/retirees, it was expected that our union, rather than the association of the retired Federal Permanent Secretaries should nominate delegates to the conference. But to our greatest dismay, we discovered that the union was sidelined.
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) has written to President Jonathan to protest the exclusion of Ogoni from the national conference.
MOSOP, through its President, Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, in the letter to the President accused the Federal Government of marginalising Ogoni people.
It reiterated that the national conference was set up to address lingering imbalances, injustice and instability occasioned by marginalisation and violation of people’s rights, among other issues.
The umbrella organisation of Ogoni people said: “We have reviewed the published list of delegates (to the national conference) and are shocked that while some ethnic groups in the country are represented by over 40 delegates in some instances, others have no representation whatsoever.
“For us (Ogoni) specifically, in spite of the huge sacrifices we have made in our pioneering struggle for justice in the Niger Delta and democracy in the country as a whole, we are appalled that even out of the list of 15 delegates from the Southsouth, while some ethnic groups in the zone were represented by upwards of five delegates, not even one of our people was considered for inclusion.
“We had thought that the Federal Government’s nominations would help address cases of such obvious omissions, but surprisingly, we found that it suffered the same fate.
“Given the internationally-acknowledged contributions and huge sacrifices of the Ogoni people, under the leadership of MOSOP, to the struggle for democracy, justice, human rights, including indigenous people’s and minority rights, environmental justice and true federalism, we see the exclusion of Ogoni people as another major step in the continuing government policy to malign and oppress the Ogoni people and diminish their huge contributions to nation building.
“This our protest is predicated on our firm belief that any dialogue process to address the injustice of marginalisation cannot succeed, if erected on the shallow foundation of exclusion and that the best way of perpetrating injustice is to exclude those most afflicted by it from discussions aimed at addressing it.
“Our people and others like us have been the barometer by which injustice in Nigeria has over the years been measured and that explains why we have been in the forefront with others to advocate national discourse to address the national question. Our exclusion not only sends a dangerous, even if inadvertent message, but asks important questions about the credibility of the process.”
It declared that Ogoni people and other indigenous/minority communities would not consider themselves bound by whatever decisions that would be reached at the national conference, should the organisation’s protest not be considered.
The Volunteers for Protection of Itsekiri Rights accused Jonathan of “rigging” the list of delegates to achieve a predetermined agenda in favour of his Ijaw kinsmen.
VPIR, in a statement by Robinson Ariyo, Leleji Augustine and Okpeyeghan Toju, National Coordinator, Secretary and Public Relations Officer, said the exclusion of the Itsekiri ethnic group from the original list of delegates was suspicious.
It also faulted the explanation of “anomaly” proffered by the state government for the exclusion of Chief Isaac Jemide, the Itsekiri delegate, saying, “We suggest that it is because in this instance, the selection criteria for the delegates were rigged from inception to favour one ethnic group above every other ethnic group in Nigeria.”
It said the assertion was buttressed by The Presidency’s presentation of an delegate in each of the categories, stressing that other ethnic groups must also vet the list properly to ensure that the agenda of a group is not imposed on Nigerians.
“With the conspiracy to exclude the Itsekiris from participating in this conference and the fact that over 20 delegates of Ijaw ethnic extraction are on board, Nigerians need to revisit the set of criteria finally chosen by the Presidency to make this possible,” the statement added.
The Itsekiri group said the hoopla generated by the exclusion of their kinsmen and other ethnic groups from the list of delegates justified initial calls that selection of delegates be done along the lines of ethnic nationalities as suggested by constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze.
They claimed that the decision not to make selection on ethnic line was to “guarantee that Ijaw have the well over 20 slots which they now have. While the Itsekiris have none, Isokos and Urhobos have only about three jointly.
“Now that the Presidency has gone ahead to execute its strategy of lopsided representation of delegates to suit the President’s ethnic group, we call on all other ethnic groups in Nigeria to peruse the list of delegates against the alleged criteria and determine how much each has been cheated in this scheme before we proceed any further with the conference.
Secretary of the Coalition of the Northeast Civil Societies, Alhaji Baba Shehu told reporters in Damaturu yesterday that the conference is a jamboree of fraudulent and selfish government agents without the full representation of the people at the local level.
Alhaji Shehu noted that 25 CSOs in the region met and nominated four delegates but the list was thrown into the dust bin by the Federal Government.
“We the Civil Society Organisations in the Northeast receive the news of the delegates of the CSOs in our region with a rude shock.
“The list as released by the Federal Government is completely strange from the criteria and procedure of selection of the delegates as earlier directed.
“Apart from our complete ignorance of the names of delegates on the list, we are also noticed that the region has been short-changed by two delegates. Instead of the four names that we forwarded after our meeting on the 12/02/2014, none of the names came out only for us to see just two strange names on the list.
“We make bold to say that the Northeast more than any other region in this country at the moment needs a more true representation at this conference to discussion its problems. It is rather unfortunate that some people would sit in Abuja and make a decision on such a sensitive matter of this nature.”
Olanipekun said no constitution disallows President Jonathan from organising a National Conference, noting that “sovereignty resides in and with the people.”
The former chair of the University of Ibadan Governing council explained that the NBA had long been in the struggle for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) since the 1980s under the leadership of Chief Alao Aka-Bashorun.
“Whether it is National Conference or Sovereign National Conference, Nigerians must start from somewhere. We have to cross-fertilise ideas on how best to run the country, whether the Presidential system should continue or not. We have to go there and listen to discussion”.
He said: “Are we saying the maiming and killing of innocent Nigerians presently in some parts of the country should not be discussed? Are we saying these human lives have no meaning to us?, he queried”.
“It is the conference that would determine the type of constitution and system of government that would be operated in Nigeria. It is the conference that will give us a groundrum and not to advise Mr President”, Olanipekun said.
Source: Radio Biafra.