Discordant tunes for the National conference

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“The Nwabueze-led group has clearly gone beyond the bounds of decency and decorum by fabricating a report purely from their own imagination and leveling such scathing criticisms against it with a view to discrediting the real report, which it has obviously not yet seen…I can say very emphatically, however, that the…allegations are false. They are wild, mendacious, obfuscatory and ill-intentioned…” Dr. Femi Okurounmu, Chairman, (defunct) Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue.

AFTER a troubling lull, the dormant volcano of agitation for a National Conference, erupted again last week; and expectedly, the hot lava is burning through the land. Two of the most emblematic representatives of National Conference agitators, the gerontocrat, Professor Ben Nwabueze and the AFENIFERE chieftain, Dr. Femi Okurounmu, went at each other last week, over the so-far, unpublished report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue, which Okurounmu chaired.

Igbo Leaders of Thought, one of the groups that Nwabueze uses to canvas his “illusion that he is one Mr. Know-All for Nigeria”, according to Dr. Okurounmu, had threatened that anything short of a new constitution would be unacceptable to the Igbo. The threat was canvassed allegedly because Okurounmu’s Advisory Committee only recommended emendation of the existing constitution. This incensed the AFENIFERE man. It was “surely meat to be a setback for the conference by injecting a crisis of confidence between the committee, the people and the government”, according to Okurounmu.

Professor Nwabueze who rejected his nomination to serve in the Presidential Committee, because of a health challenge (with hindsight there was more to the rejection than reason canvassed!), has remained the most gung-ho advocate of the conference, in a particular direction (a conference of “tribes” or ethnic groups). At the same time he has surreptitiously attempted to impose his own constitutional views on the country.

HIS secret letter to President Jonathan, a few months ago, was leaked. He asked that an unrepresentative and secret committee named by himself and working under him in his private residence, and already writing a constitution, be given an official imprimatur.

The Igbo Leaders of Thought’s  statement followed a Nwabueze pattern: “It is either he is put in charge to do it and do it alone the way he wants or whoever does it is not doing it right, even if the person is doing it the same way he will have done it. It just has to be Prof. Nwabueze. He thinks he has the solutions to Nigeria’s problems and anything that is different from his solution is wrong”.

This problem with Nwabueze extends to even the submission of the Presidential Committee’s report. Last Wednesday, the Nigerian Bar Association faulted President Jonathan’s alleged refusal to accept a “minority report”, presented by Solomon Asemota (SAN), a Nwabueze sidekick, who served in the Committee at Nwabueze’s behest.

It turned out that the so-called “minority report” was included as an appendix to the final report, having been submitted just like hundreds of other reports from individuals and groups from around the country. What was not known to many, was that, again, it  came from one of the many front groups that Professor Nwabueze  uses to ram down his viewpoint about national conference and constitution making on Nigerians.

It is very troubling that a man over eighty years, and already close to the end of his life must be desperate to impose his prejudices as the grundnorm for the future governance of Nigeria. This is a country where the overwhelming majority of the population is under the age of 30. These young people do not share Nwabueze’s fixations with ‘tribes’ or ethnicity.

These young people are all over Nigeria, suffering the dire consequences of the socio-economic injustices which the ruling class has fostered. They are in need of good education; they need skills to be able to get the jobs in the world of the 21Century. But these are not the issues driving the obsessions of Prof. Ben Nwabueze.

He is stuck in the time warp of the early Twentieth Century and nurses grievances rooted in colonial experiences when he is not developing ultimately bizarre and fruitless schemes on destroying Northern Nigeria’s geographical and existential reality or how its peoples must willy-nilly, be turned against each other, because in the world that Ben Nwabueze resides, the whole concept of Northern Nigeria contradicts and endangers his “Mr. Know-All for Nigeria”, in the words of Dr. Femi Okurounmu!

Hurdles to clear

If Nwabueze’s has been the most discordant tune in National Conference land, its looking like the conference idea still has a whole lot of hurdles to clear. DAILY TRUST of Tuesday, January 14, 2014, exclusively revealed, and I confirmed from a Presidential Committee member, that there are legal stumbling blocks as well as insufficient time to conduct delegates’ election for the proposed conference.

The committee had recommended that conference candidates be elected on the basis of federal constituencies. But when INEC was asked to organise the election, Attahiru Jega pointed out that the election must be backed by law; and it cannot hold before April, at the earliest. Meanwhile, the Committee had recommended that the conference should last between three and six months and be held before preparations get underway for the 2015 election.

If such an election is held in April as INEC had pointed out, it meant that the national conference’s decisions cannot be incorporated into the constitution before the 2015 elections. Meanwhile, the National Assembly is also finalising plans to complete the constitutional amendment process, while members of the opposition APC say they will block the appropriation of funds for the conference. There is still enough time for more trading of punches between the national conference gladiators, before the conference finally sees the light of day; if at all!

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