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AGAIN, DEMAND FOR NATIONAL CONFERENCE TAKES CENTRE STAGE

By NBF News

The 14th Annual Convention of the Igbo Youth Movement, IYM, provided yet another veritable platform for some eminent Nigerians to demand the organization of a national conference to discuss the contentious issue of restructuring the country, reports MIKE UBANI.

As the 2015 general elections draw nearer, prominent Nigerians from diverse ethnic groups are still united over the need to organize a national conference to sort out issues that could in future, militate against the unity and progress of the country. At the 14th Annual Convention of Igbo Youth Movement, IYM, held at the Nike Lake Resort, Enugu, on February 16, 2013, some eminent Nigerians spoke glowingly about the imperative of convening such a conference ahead of the forthcoming general elections.

The theme of the convention was 'National Conference Before 2015 General Elections - the only Road Map to Nigeria's Progress.

Almost all the speakers laid emphasis on the need for leaders of the various ethnic nationalities to sit down around a conference table to streamline the country ahead of the next general elections.

Many of them painted a depressing picture of the country, and concluded that it was on the verge of becoming one of the failed states in Africa.

This gloomy report card is coming few days after President Goodluck Jonathan kick-started ceremonies to mark the one hundred years of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates of Nigeria.

Chairman of the occasion and renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof Ben Nwabueze, set the ball rolling, when he strenuously called for the convening of a national conference before 2015, to stop the country from sliding into the ignoble status of a failed state.

Nwabueze described the problems besetting the country as 'deep' and wondered aloud whether the yet-to-be registered All Progressives Congress, APC, (an amalgam of major opposition parties), can wrestle power from the ruling People's Democratic Party, PDP, and get things in their right perspectives.

He said the country has already manifested all the attributes of a failed state, and passionately appealed to other elder statesmen to support the demand for the organization of a national conference to reverse the trend.

'This country is on the verge of becoming a failed state… there are so many failed states in Africa and Nigeria is on the verge of getting that status of a failed state.

'Before now, we didn't know about kidnapping, but it has become a way of life. Did we know about bombings before now? But today, churches, schools, offices are being bombed on a daily basis.  The worst is that the bombers are not coming from outside the country … we are bombing ourselves', he lamented.

Former Secretary-General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Col. Joe Achuzia, (rtd), described as a failed state, a country that is unable to conduct credible elections, as well as secure socio-economic rights for her citizens.

'In 2003 and 2011, we had no credible elections, yet we talk about democracy… A country that cannot secure social and economic rights for her people is a failed state.

'Go and read Chapter 2 of Nigeria's constitution, and you will understand what I am talking about…We do not have leaders, but looters', he opined.

He described the level of corruption in the country as alarming, adding that 'any state that allows for this kind of unbridled corruption is a failed state.

He regretted a situation where majority of the citizens live in abject poverty, while members of the National Assembly are paid 'all kinds of allowances running into millions of naira.'

He asked: 'Tell me if Nigeria is not on the verge of becoming a failed state in the midst of all these anomalies?

Achuzia advised Nigerian leaders not to view the demand for a national conference from the perspective of destabilizing the country, but rather as a mechanism to build a system that derives its authority and power from the people.

He said the existence of many nations within the country has become a major threat to the country's continued existence as one nation, adding that the national conference would assist address this challenge.

'Unless we go back and convene a national conference where all the ethnic nationalities will say how they will co-exist, then there will be no moving forward… Something must be done to rescue the situation,' he noted.

Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of Anambra state, described the call by the IYM for a national conference as faultless, adding that for Nigerians to live peacefully, they need to understand each other. He said this could only be achieved through a national conference.

The former Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alanni Akinrinade (rtd), attributed the problems bedeviling the country to the type of constitution the military bequeathed to it. He called for a new constitution that would be workable and acceptable to Nigerians.

Similarly, an erudite lawyer, Mr. Solomon Asemota, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, described the present constitution as defective and therefore, expressed satisfaction over the ongoing efforts by the National Assembly to amend some sections of the constitution.

He described as valid, the demand for a national conference before the next general elections, saying that the conference would provide a platform to chart a new course for the unity, growth and development of the country.

Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Inter-Party Affairs, Senator Ben Obi, advised agitators for a national conference to organize themselves and hold a meeting with both the president and the leaders of the National Assembly on the need to hold such a conference.

He said:  'We should be able to go beyond calling for a national conference, and initiate action towards realizing same.

'We need the right calibre of men and women to go to Abuja and demand from both the president who is head of the executive, and Senator David Mark, who is head of the legislature, the need to convene a national conference.

'We must move towards solving the problem. Let it be said that there is an eminent delegation demanding for the conference. By then, the ball would have been firmly played into the court of the executive and the legislature, who of course are the proper authorities to convene such a conference.'

He told the audience that President Jonathan has put in place, machinery that would help in the conduct of credible elections in the country and expressed satisfaction over the outcome of recent elections in Ondo and states.

'We tried it in Edo, it worked; we tried it in Ondo, it worked. It will be tried in Ekiti and Osun where elections will come up in a matter of months. It is now left for you, the youths to equally team up with the president and ensure that your tomorrow is guaranteed', he said.

He advised the youths to resist any attempt by politicians to use them as thugs during elections, just as he urged them to ensure that only people with credible and verifiable integrity are elected into positions of authority in the next general elections.

In a paper entitled 'Ndigbo: Identity Crisis Has Ended', Prof. Mark Odu, urged the Igbo race to take advantage of their relatively large population to steer the country to the path of progress and unity. He, however, regretted that Ndigbo were short-changed in a country they contributed so much to build.

Evangelist Eliot Uko, national president IYM, described the theme of the convention as apt, given the numerous socio-economic and political problems facing the country.  He said the Igbo youths wholeheartedly believe in the corporate existence of Nigeria as one indivisible nation, and urged for the organization of a national conference before the next general elections to restructure the country.

'I want to make it very clear that we believe in one Nigeria, but what we are saying is that the country must be restructured.  For such restructuring to be done, we believe that a national conference is inevitable. I don't know why they are delaying it', Uko said.

The reason for the delay is not difficult to locate. A participant at the convention Mr. Okechukwu Ekugo, said that 'once you bring the ethnic nationalities together in the name of national conference to discuss the structure and future of the country, you may end up balkanizing the country'.

This probably explains why the National Assembly has adopted a less risky approach to re-organizing the country.  And that is the on-going efforts to amend certain provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Nevertheless, by organizing the convention, the IYM created a platform for some eminent Nigerians to once again bring to the fore, the contentious issue of national conference.

The one day conference was attended by other eminent Nigerians including Ambassador Joseph Ayalogu, Col. Ben Gbulie, Chief Dipo, Chief Ayo Afolabi, Famakinwa, Chief Michael Orabator, Prince Emeka Onyesoh, Rev. Ukandu Ucheya, Chief Kunle Famoriyo. Chief Toke Benson Awoyinka, and Mazi Obinna Obi.