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MITEE: Govt, Political Parties Need Pressure To Implement Confab Report

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Former President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and a delegate to the National Conference, Ledum Mitee, in this interview with KELVIN EBIRI, wants Nigerians to exert pressure on government, to implement the report of the 2014 Conference.

Former President, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and a delegate to the National Conference, Ledum Mitee, in this interview with KELVIN EBIRI, wants Nigerians to exert pressure on government, to implement the report of the 2014 Conference.

Are you concerned that the National Conference report has not been a relevant issue in this electioneering campaign?
I am bothered because the report contains, in my view, some salient recommendations, which I believe could help change the direction of the country. For the parties to ignore it and not make it a focus is quite worrying. Such exercise should not just be in vain. Apart from the President who made pronouncement on this, I am worried that the other parties just pretend as if nothing happened.
What are these salient issues you think might change the country?

Ideologically, there is not just any difference between political parties, because for over 10 years, some people were in Peoples Democratic Party, and just yesterday, they are in All Progressives Congress (APC). What is the difference? So, any person who is voted on a particular platform today, the next day, he jumps to another without looking at the mandate. Some recommendations of that conference dealt with issues, like carpet crossing. If you look at the whole section on anti-corruption, there are some vital recommendations, some of which introduce the whistle blowers legislation, which has been before the National Assembly since 2012 and nothing has happened. If you are going to fight corruption, you must protect those who are also going to give you evidence because they will need protection. Those are some of issues that I think are quite germane, apart from the issues of restructuring of the polity. There are loads of recommendations in every sphere of the report and I believe they will be able to deal with some of the challenges we have had with nation building.
President Jonathan received this report in August 2014. Why hasn’t he submitted it to the National Assembly?

Well, that is the question you should ask the President. But my own view is that if you look at some of the background noise that were being made at that time, there were suspicions that the President, maybe, wanted to use the conference to elongate his tenure or shift the goal post in the middle of the game. Without speaking for them, some of those things may have affected this. I think the President came up, at a time, to say, ‘Wait a minute. These things are not true’. I also agree that it would have been difficult to find that happening between last year and now when the election is about to happen, to pass it through the National Assembly. I am also worried that the National Assembly itself did not feel it necessary even to pick up some of the issues that have been raised. I am aware that the conference apparently sent copies to them. They should have, on their own, looked at some of the salient issues and taken them up. One of the issues that I am fond of is the one that seeks to create a code of ethics for people, to codify some of the things that used to be, like road services, vehicular regulations, and make it a law for which people can be sanctioned. Mind you, recommendations were not just at federal levels; there are recommendations for states, local governments, religious organizations and civil society groups. So, it is not just recommendations for the federal government alone. I am worried that almost all the stakeholders have left that document just as it is.

President Jonathan has severally displayed a proclivity for non-implementation of reports. He has promised to implement the confab report, if reelected. Can he be trusted?

My own attitude is that every government anywhere will not do a lot of things unless there is that societal pressure. The President, the National Assembly, state governments, communities or local governments, I have never seen any pressure by the society on them. Every government responds to public pressure. And if you go to sleep and assume government will do things, I do not think history, not only in this country but also the whole world, justifies such approach.
What should be done to ensure this report does not gather dust like others in government shelves?

I think every Nigerian, particularly the media, needs to put this on the front burner all the time. Unfortunately, the whole issue has been left as if it didn’t happen. I saw the Afenifere when they met the President. They made the point clear that we want these recommendations implemented. The President has gone round this country. Assuming everywhere he goes, the people put this issue to him; anywhere General Muhammadu Buhari goes, it is put to him, then we can get commitment, which we will then use against them. But if society keeps quiet, as if it didn’t happen, then they will also pretend it didn’t happen. All of us need to keep the pressure on them. Now, we have heard from the President that he will implement the report, what is the APC’s reaction to that? Questions should be asked pointedly at them. And let them come out to say we are not clear on the outcome of the report, or we are not going to implement it or we will do it; whatever. We need to put the pressure on.
Someone, like the APC’s national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, is known to be a proponent of federalism. Are you surprised that the APC has been silent on the implementation of this report?

I should say so. This is not just about a person; the position of the party has been that they didn’t support the conference. They refused to participate as a political party because political parties were to send representation. I think it is quite disappointing, to say the least, especially when you find within the ranks of the party many people who have done tremendous work in the past to advocate for this sort of conference, and in fact, restructuring of this country.
Perhaps the APC doesn’t have confidence in the Jonathan-led government.

You do not sit down and say anything that this government does is bad because you are in the opposition. That is not statesmanship. That is not what happens anywhere in the world. If there is an issue that pertains to nation building, you bring your idea, and those ideas are what the government is to be guided by. That is the attitude. I don’t think that it makes sense when the government says we should breath oxygen and you say no, ‘We must take carbon dioxide’, because it is a government you are opposed to. That is not my view of statesmanship.
Should the APC form the next national government, what will be fate of the report?

There were many APC people who were at the conference. APC, as a political party, said they would not participate. But, there are persons who are members of APC who were at the conference. And so, I think that it will be a disservice to the country if they ignore the report. Nigerians should hold government at all levels accountable on this document.
What is the relevance of this report to the survival of the Nigerian State?

Any democracy must always think that they must at every time build on national consensus through some conversation of sort. I do not want to imagine the opposite; that people do not want to sit down and talk. We all say there are certain things wrong with the country and there was an opportunity for us to sit down and talk. And the spectrum of those who went there, I must confess that I was impressed with some of the conversations and arguments that came out of there. Some national consensus, like it or not, were built on some key national issues that will help us. And to ignore that consensus, to me, is not the best way to build a nation.
Should the report be rectified by a referendum or through the National Assembly?

There are many issues in the recommendations. Each and everyone will be suitable for referendum, because in the referendum, people are supposed to vote yes or no. And you don’t put many questions like that for referendum. There are also policy issues, there are legal issues, there are constitutional issues and there are laws that need to be made. There are recommendations on what local governments and states should do. There are recommendations for the federal government executive arm and for the legislative arm. If it is to compartmentalize all these things and identify if they are for amendment, in that case, it should be in the agenda of the National Assembly. If it is policy that concerns the state, then the state should take it up. If it is one for the federal, of course, the federal executive council should take it up. And that is how I feel these recommendations should be implemented. We can look at every area that the conference dealt with, pick the germane issues, and you can then isolate the ones that require referendum and put it to the people, if they are contentious issues.

Should the recommendations form a basis for a new constitution?

Of course, I subscribe to that based on fact that there are recommendations on constitutional amendment. So, if you look at those constitutional amendments, and if you feel that these are issues that are germane, you then introduce those issues in the constitution. And that constitution, as amended, is a new constitution. In my view, those sort of issues are what should be put to a referendum. But people are so frightened when you talk about a new constitution, as if it is something that will turn the country upside down.
Why should some people feel frightened about a new constitution?

Some people have fixed positions, some things against each other. If you come from the north and you make some point, sometimes you find that people don’t even care to look at the strength of the argument. Probably, a southerner will feel that by making that submission, you are doing it to favour people in the north. Or if someone from the west makes a suggestion, then northerners will assume you have a different motive. These are the sorts of suspicions, which I find quite unnecessary. And one of the good things I saw in that conference is that we proceeded from that point where the suspicion was very deep and frightening. And I think that with time, people started to know each other and interacted, and it wore down as the conference proceeded.

What will be the likely consequence of non-implementation of the confab report?

I think an opportunity would have been lost for Nigeria to get itself to take decision, make adjustment that would have given us a better nation and deepened our democracy in a manner that suits our peculiar circumstances. If you have an opportunity that you have formed a national consensus about issues, about conservations, why throw it away? People have always said we have never had opportunity to talk as a people. You have the youths, I mean a spectrum of society from all over this country, sitting down and conversing on how they feel this country should be governed. And then, you ignore it. That is a lost opportunity.

Should the report be left to the incoming National Assembly to deal with or it should be subjected to a referendum?

I don’t see any time for this current National Assembly to do anything. But, I think that the next National Assembly should be able to pick it as one of their main tasks to deal with. And if there are constitutional amendments that are supposed to be involved, they should act on it. I am worried that this National Assembly just went ahead with their constitutional amendment process in a manner that seems to ignore all the work that this conference had done. At least, they should be able to acknowledge that something has happened. There has been some national consensus by Nigerians that certain constitutional issues needed amendment. I think the next National Assembly should be able to put on hold whatever these have done and incorporate the views that were held by the national conference in a more holistic constitutional amendment process.



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