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Negotiation’ll be based on mutual respect—Nnamani

Posted to the Web: Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Chief Host, Governor Chimaroke Nnamani made out time after the conference to field questions from the newsmen who covered the conference. Excerpts:

I SUSPECT you are one of the  moving spirits that drove  the event. What is the driving force and where are we going?

You said it was unthinkable a few months or a few years ago, it is all part of globalization; Nigeria is joining the global community, joining the comity of nations, watching CNN, BBC, CHANNEL-0. With democracy, people are becoming more assertive, more independent. You know that the decades of military rule were associated with wanton degradation and erosion of the dignity of our people. With democracy, six years now, I believe the dignity is being restored to some extent. They are becoming more assertive . They are becoming independent, they are becoming more aware of their rights, because what can you do essentially? For example with democracy, if you detain people, you need to get them out within 24 hours if it is bailable. So people are becoming more assertive, more independent. And you can see from the response today, despite the problem with people, despite the short notice, you can see the passion of the discussion, the energy is palpable. I believe it is just a natural response to what is going on; it is a genuine attempt for people to restore their position in the Nigerian concept, respect not just for themselves but for their children and for posterity. I think that is what is going on.

This is a follow-up question, please elaborate on what is going on?

The Nigeria project, if you listened and watched my address, you will find out that finally, there is a self-realisation that the Nigeria project is not a forced project, it is a voluntary project. I  Our forefathers, our fathers, met together and discussed. The Nigerian nation was not forced on us, the various regions, the Eastern Region, Western and Northern Regions.

They were somehow independent. They had pacts with foreign nations and we agreed to come together in 1958/1959. Each of those regions could have gone on their own, either the East, the West to the Northern Nigeria. So, our fathers agreed, even with the Mid-west Region. They agreed, but because of what I choose to describe as some form of neo-colonialism, new African nationalism, the tragedy that those who essentially sought for independence were not the people in control post-independence.

So, you now have a group of new Africans, new colonialists, if I may call it that. A polity that maybe was not functionally ready in terms of capacity building, to handle the responsibilities of a newly independent African state, and of course, you had the alternative and many years of military dictatorship without debate. There was no debate. So, somehow, it appears as if the Nigeria Project is a forced project, forced in the sense that the parameters are carved on stone. They are not carved on stone. Like any union, like any partnership. there is the need for a continuous discussion to fine-tune it, to keep it viable. I believe there is a sudden realization, especially by the people in the south, that it is a continuous negotiation. The Nigeria project is a project under a true democracy that needs continuous negotiation and re-negotiation, unlike a military rule or arbitrary rule where it is carved on stone.

One thing I want to find out is that, everybody agreed that power should shift to the south/East or South/South, why not decide on the zone, why not say South/East or South/South?

 I must make it very clear that the highlight of the meeting had nothing to do with power shift, had nothing to do with presidency. The history of who gets the presidency is almost personal, personal when you consider the level of maturity of the polity where the two actors and actresses at the scene, as it were, are not true leaders or true politicians. We have artisans, we have pedestrians in the corridors of power, they are without ideology, moving from party to party, administration to administration. So, that is not the issue, the big issue is not who gets the presidency. The big issue is restructuring, the big issue is about the Nigeria project; how do we live together? How do we govern ourselves? How do we protect ourselves? How do we share our resources? True fiscal and physical federalism, devolution of powers. If these are done, whoever gets the presidency is immaterial.

So the highlight of today’s meeting is not who gets the presidency. It’’s about constitutionalism, how do we review our constitution to reflect the true Nigeria project, to answer the national question? Then our census, how do we plan, how do we get viable statistics; it’s about state creation, undeveloped Nigerian polity, largely undeveloped. I don’t believe the issue is essentially who gets the presidency, it’s about poverty, it’s about hunger, it’s about gender empowerment, it’s about Universal Basic Education (UBE) it’s about infant/maternal mortality, it’s about the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). So, let the base not be who gets the presidency, that is not the highlight of our meeting today because if the problems are correctly addressed, whoever gets the presidency becomes immaterial. The struggle for power in the polity is because of a contracted middle class with little or nothing to do, an aggressive search by many who are poor for little available resources, that is why everybody targets the presidency. The presidency is important, but for me, it’s almost ephemeral if the main issues are addressed - that is my personal opinion.

Congratulations on the success of today’s meeting.

Your speech was very good,  but the allegation is that Obasanjo sponsored this, all part of his plans for a third term. Can you please level with us on this?

 Sometimes, I wonder if you journalists realize the level of responsibility you have. Few years ago, journalists would not be allowed into that meeting. You come in, take the  picture and go, but I must acknowledge that some of us realized the importance of communication and transparency, that was why you were there all through. So, I will ask you the question, from what you saw, was it likely Obasanjo sponsored it? Was it likely something that will end in a stalemate and then third term was what we came for? I should ask you that question. So Obasanjo sponsored Falae to that place, sponsored Ebitu Ukiwe to that place, sponsored Senator Okurunmu to sign the communiqué? It doesn’t mean anything, it’s totally meaningless. We have a true democracy that guarantees two terms, eight years. So, do you do a third term, you review the constitution and say go and do a third term, with or without election?

It’s not possible, there is nothing like that. If you need help and you want people to help you define it, I can help define it but how do I define it for you?. How do you do third term when you have the constitution saying two terms of four years each? So you now amend the constitution and add a third term? We had a meeting, everybody was there, so how do we end up in a stalemate for the president to do a third term? What kind of stalemate is that, why would you even believe that the president of Nigeria would convince governors to come to Enugu and come out with such communiqué?. Sponsored? Did he give us money? How did he get Falae down there, sponsored Ebitu Ukiwe? The gathering we had today has never happened in  the history of this country, not even  UAPGA Alliance could pull that through, so it calls for celebration, not undue speculation because if the south is strong, the North will also be strong. It’s not going to end up with the south because the South will now reach out to the North. It will now be a negotiation based on mutual respect. So it does not arise at all, there won’t be any stalemate. There is nothing like third term.

Still on third term and constitutional review, please expand on that?

 What we tried to say all day is that we cannot allow the issue of third term or no third term to affect constitutional review. Why not now? If it wasn’t done last year or two years ago, why not now? In Igbo, we say “Taa bu gbo”. I don’t think you understand the level of the problem in this country. Maybe I don’t get too graphic because I don’t want to be misquoted. Do you realize we are in 2005, and you can’t find a plane to get into Enugu Airport? Do you realize that, you see how life changes. When Enugu Airport was there, how many airports were in Nigeria? If not for historical revisionism, if not for a discussion of Nigeria debate, if not for a misplacement of the values of Nigerians. When this country started, by the time Okpara and Zik, by the time they were building an airport in Enugu, how many airports were in Nigeria?

It is man’s inhumanity to man, it is because of man shirking his responsibility, man’s refusal to attack the crux of the debate that is why we are looking for a plane to land in Enugu Airport and you are telling me third term.You are looking for a plane to land in Enugu Airport. Do you know how we started this country, do know how this country started, our fathers started the debate of Nigeria whether you like it or not. The Igbos ran the engine of Nigerian economy. We brought dignity to Nigeria. So we are not talking about third term I have not come all this way to this place to talk about third term I have come a long way. Remember, I have a lot on the plate, am not a professional politician, am a professional like most of you.

I didn’t come down here to talk about third term, that is not the issue, it is confusion; it’s elite deceit, pure elite deceit. It is about constitutionalism, it’s about true fiscal and physical federalism; it’s about the problems that are causing restiveness all over the country, it’s about sharing resources. Are you following me? It’s about self respect, it’s about dignity, it’s about self-determination, it is not third term. I have told you that the polity is not mature enough. It is not based on ideology, it’s not based on right or wrong. The system is incapable of even producing the best - what is the literacy rate, how many people watch your television or read newspapers? We have a society where over 90 per cent live on the periphery, even more than 90 per cent. Their wives die routinely from child labour, their kids die from diarrhea. A society where hunger is the norm, you can’t even find planes to fly.

The issue is not third term, the issues are much more better than that. So you have a responsibility to help shape the debate. I have told you that political office in Nigeria, quote me, is personal to the holder. It’s is not based on ideology. How many people come out and say I want to be governor? Is it not when you contest for the office of the governor, you didn’t win, you now say, can they compensate you with senate, Is that not what is going on. You become a local government chairman, you finish it, can I go to House of representatives? No vision! Pure artisans, those who come into the system who otherwise, under a level- playing field, cannot even have a say, but because of decades of arbitrary rule that fostered mediocrity. Are you following me? Commissioned agents, contractors were profited from the system.

We are at the right place at the right time. Is that what you call politicians, leaders? That is not the issue. The issue is, why some of us are involved in this business is, because of our belief in what is right. The reason why you are having third term debate, the reason why you are not debating hunger. You are not even talking about the aviation crisis, apart from the sympathies, what else, no real debate of the issue! There is a disconnect, disconnect by fostered the elite, it is ignorance. If you were in the developed world, and you are talking about third term, I can understand, but not Nigeria. There is an elite deceit in this country, quote me. About 98 per cent of people in office have no idea.

They just got there because the system got them there. When you go to America, they have professionals, they have been in their profession, and they want to play politics or they inherited wealth or they were injured socially; the guy went to war on an insurance scam or something happened. He now wants to go to congress to correct it. That is why Americans go to congress but that’s not the case here.

Amendment of the constitution

So the issue is not third term, the issue is about going back to where our fathers started so we can achieve our dignity and self-respect, dignity and self respect are very important, I don’t discuss in terms of third term. If there is an amendment of the constitution and you say four years, of how many terms? If you say four years of three tenure, it is twelve years; if you say five years of two tenure, it’s ten years. So where do you get this third term from, why third term, third term? The so-called third term campaign is a distraction, a total distraction, an elite deceit, there is nothing like that. You are not going to do a constitution for one man.

Today’s communiqué was far-reaching. And you have told us that democracy is negotiable, so all that were  raised in the communiqué are  negotiable, or do you think there are those that are not subject to debate?
As at now, they are all irreducible, it is not negotiation. What was agreed was that the southern states will now reach out to other geopolitical zones. The Southern States are made up of three geo-political zones, and I believe they are three out there, we now reach out to see whether there are regions or zones that have similar aspirations and we go from there.
What practical steps are you the leaders of Southern area putting in place  to ensure that all you had discussed did not end up as mere rhetoric?

Well, today is just the beginning. Today, we have set up the secretariat. We have set up a committee that has a Chairman, Deputy Chairman, Secretary and I am sure you know that the committee membership ran into some problems because some people wanted to produce their members. We are talking about chairman, deputy chairman and secretary and I believe that some consultations are going on, so that all the interested parties will produce committee membership. It is now left for the committee to drive the process. That process is going to be self driving. You just have to be praying that nobody loses control of it. It is not something that you worry about whether it is going to go ahead or not.


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