Southern leaders setting the tone for national discourse
Ebenezer Adurokiya reports the fourth general conference of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA), held on Wednesday in Asaba, Delta State.
It was tagged the most attended of the four conferences held since its inception. There were no fewer than 200 delegates representing the three geopolitical zones that constitute southern Nigeria. The occasion was the opening of the fourth general conference of the Southern Nigeria Peoples Assembly (SNPA).
Participants had arrived in Asaba, Delta State, venue of the conference, as of Tuesday. Given the roll call of dignitaries at the event, leaders from the southern part of the country may be showing more resolve to blaze the trail in pertinent national discourse and decisions that will shape the coming national conference and the 2015 general elections.
Elder statesman and chairman of the assembly, Chief Edwin Clark, led other eminent personalities to the conference. They included the co-chairmen, former vice president, Dr Alex Ekweme from the South East, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, South-West, and president-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Gary Enwo Igariwey, South East.
Others included former governor of old Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Dr Okwesileze Nwodo from Enugu State; former governor of Ogun State, Chief Gbenga Daniel; former deputy governor of Lagos State, Chief (Mrs) Kofo Bucknor-Akerele; former Secretary to the Federal Government and chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Olu Falae and Chief Ebenezer Babatope, all from the South West.
Delegates from the South East zone also included wife of first Nigeria’s president, Mrs Uche Azikiwe; former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara; Honourable Agenda Anaekwe, among senators and House of Representatives members from the zone.
Also at the conference were Professor Tunde Adeniran; founder of Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), Dr Frederick Fasehun; leader of OPC, Chief Gani Adams, Senator Lee Meaba from Rivers East Senatorial district and a former special adviser to president and present board chairman of PDP, Cairo Ojougbo.
Traditional rulers from the three zones were also represented. Among them were the Asagba of Asaba, Professor Chike Edozien; Chairman, South South Traditional Rulers Forum, Edmund Daukoru; Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu, the Obong of Calabar, Dandisom Jaja; Amanayanbo of Opobo, Jeki, Felix Mujakperuo; the Orodje of Okpe and Obong Victor Noah, Umoh of Akwa Ibom State.
The major thrust of the fourth general conference was basically to articulate a common position for southern Nigeria preparatory to the coming national conference.
The conference, which began at 10.00 a.m., was declared open by the host, governor of Delta State, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan. The governor, among other issues, reassured Nigerians that the unity of the country was non-negotiable and should, therefore, not be part of discussions at the national conference. Uduaghan commended the people of Southern Nigeria for “talking,” noting that those who give room for jaw jaw hardly go war war.
“President Jonathan is providing a platform for us to discuss with the national conference and we are free to say anything in this world except the disintegration of Nigeria and when we discuss, issues are resolved,” the governor said, adding that the people of Southern Nigeria should be prepared to make their points known during the conference.
Governor Uduaghan, who acknowledged that the governors of South-South and South-East geopolitical zones had been meeting regularly, hinted that plans were on for governors of the South-West geopolitical zone to join the forum so that it could become Southern Nigeria Governors Forum to engender common ground to address economic and social issues affecting the region.
On his part, the chairman of the SNPA and leader of the South-South delegation to the meeting, Chief Edwin Clark, in his opening remarks, underscored the essence of the conference as a veritable room for people of the three zones to speak and project a common ground on germane issues concerning the region and the country at large, especially as the national conference approaches.
The Ijaw leader expressed appreciation to President Goodlcuk Jonathan for treading the paths hitherto dreaded by his predecessors, adding that where past presidents failed, Jonathan had shown courage and sense of purpose enough to humble pessimists that he was equal to the task of governing the nation.
Clark, however, challenged the president to go headlong against corruption in a manner he had fought the electricity cabal to dismantle the then Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).
The former Minister of Information, while making a reference to the last communique issued at the third general conference SNPA in Lagos, asked the president to declare a state of emergency on corruption by setting up an anti-corruption tribunal, in addition to strengthening the existing anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Like Uduaghan, the Ijaw leader appealed to the 17 governors of the Southern Nigeria to, like their counterparts in the North, collaborate regardless of political differences. This, he said, would foster unity of purpose and economic development.
“Nigeria belongs to all of us. We must show respect for all of us. We are part of this country. We have equal right in this country. Fight for your right, protect your right.”
On the ongoing defections by members of the National Assembly, the elder statesman described the situation as unhealthy for the country’s democratic experiment, calling on the legislators to be more circumspect so that democracy in the country could be nurtured to maturity.
Meanwhile, there seemed to be a subtle endorsement of President Jonathan for the 2015 presidential election. Before the communique was issued at about 8.00 p.m., comments from speakers at the conference tilted in that direction. Chief Clark contended that Jonathan, as a bona fide Nigerian, was entitled to second term in office if he wishes.
Echoing this stand was the guest lecturer of the conference, Chief Francis Williams, who stated that “President Jonathan has the right to contest for the presidential position in 2015.”
Another issue mentioned at the conference bordered on a return to regional government where each region can develop at its own pace. Hence, Chief Williams, on his part, called for regional cooperation.
Bishop Gbonigi, Chief Ezeife, Chief Adams, among others, said the issue of presenting a common front on the adoption of regional government could not be ruled out, after all, it was not part of the no-go area. They told Saturday Tribune that there were other germane issues that were arrived at but which were not for public consumption.
Such issues that may be proposed at the national conference, it was gathered, might include 50 per cent allocation formula in favour of states and the need for the establishment of state police to effectively tackle security challenges in the country.
However, in its final communique, the conference commended the president for his courage and patriotism in convoking the national conference at the country’s centenary. It also agreed, among other things, that:
“The national conference rather than lead to disintegration of the country will, in fact, strengthen the unity of Nigeria. Therefore, the Southern Assembly resolves to not only participate in the national conference, but also enjoins all patriotic Nigerians to support the conference with the sole objective of contributing to the development of the country.
“In line with global practices the 75 per cent consensus clause in the modalities for the national conference needs to be revisited/reviewed for ease of decision.
“All governors of the 17 states of southern Nigeria, irrespective of their political affiliations, to meet regularly to discuss matters of common interest.
We crave that the inaugural meeting of the governors should be held as soon as possible.
“In furtherance of the SNPA decision in our Lagos conference, the Southern Assembly reaffirms its support for the exercise of the constitutional right of President Goodluck Jonathan to seek reelection in 2015.”
The conference, while commending Governor Uduaghan and the people of Delta State for their hospitality and magnanimity in hosting the conference, resolved that the national conference constitutes an opportunity for patriotic Nigerians to deliberate on issues of common interest that will further engender a more united and formidable Nigeria.
The conference was adjourned to June to be held in the South-East.
Southern leaders setting the tone for national discourse