Magazine article New African

Nigeria: Separate Conferences to Debate Future; Civil Liberties and Pro-Democracy Groupings in Nigeria Have Defied the Federal Government in Proclaiming Their Desire to Convene a Sovereign National Conference, Aimed at Working out the Future of the Country. Ironically, Just as the Government Announced the Modalities of Setting Up Its Own. Ola Sheyin Reports

Magazine article New African

Nigeria: Separate Conferences to Debate Future; Civil Liberties and Pro-Democracy Groupings in Nigeria Have Defied the Federal Government in Proclaiming Their Desire to Convene a Sovereign National Conference, Aimed at Working out the Future of the Country. Ironically, Just as the Government Announced the Modalities of Setting Up Its Own. Ola Sheyin Reports

Article excerpt

A group of 42 civil rights movements, under the aegis of Pro-National Conference Organisations (PRONACO), met for two days in Lagos, Nigeria, mid-January to fashion out the modality of convening a national conference to debate the future of the country.

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The delegates to the conference said the resolve to convoke the conference, which will be sovereign and produce a "People's Constitution", comes from the desire to draw Nigeria away from the brink of socio-political explosion; develop a platform where all aggrieved nationalities in Nigeria can sincerely and peacefully solve the issues affecting the federation; and address ethnic, religious, social, economic and other relevant matters.

They further stated that their aim and resolve is to build a new nation where no person or ethnic group is oppressed, and where justice, equity and rule of law prevail.

Led by Chief Anthony-Enahoro, the most visible surviving politician from the nation's struggle for independence, the group includes heavyweights of the Nigerian civil and democratic rights movement, notably Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka and Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, brother to the late musician Fela Kuti. In a statement released to the press and signed by Chief Enahoro, Dr. Ransome-Kuti and Dr. Keziah Awosika, PRONACO said there would be no restrictions in the agenda of the proposed sovereign national conference (SNC). It gave the list of issues to be addressed, which include: acceptable federation and the right to self-determination, allocation of sovereignty and values between the central government and the federation of nationalities; fiscal federalism, such as resource control and development; a viable system of government and constitution making; and decentralisation of the Armed Forces and the entire security services.

It also includes the rights of youths and children, the gender question, religious tolerance and secularity of the Nigerian state, socio-economic justice and good governance.

Other matters to be debated and settled as parts of the new constitution include: justifiability of social constitutional provisions; parliamentary democracy versus executive presidency; proportional representation; free and de-registered political parties; federating units to pay tax to sustain the union government; the region's own local government system; and the sharing of powers between the union and the regions.

PRONACO added that the decisions of the conference must be subjected to a referendum, and the deadline of June 2005 set, for the convocation of the proposed conference.

It said leaders of the initiative should conduct a tour of the Nigerian Federation so as to mobilise effectively for popular participation and also to allay the fears, especially of those forces, in the northern part of the country, which hold the erroneous view that the SNC is aimed at breaking up the country.

Other strategies the delegates hope to adopt include: "A plan of action detailing the strategies and activities towards the realisation of the SNC; a three-tier structure comprising the secretariat, the planning committee and the congresses, with due consideration given to mass participation and field work; and that there should be primary conferences among the ethnic nationalities, mass and popular organisations and within the geo-political zones to articulate their positions."

It was also agreed that "representation should cover ethnic associations, political parties and social and civil organisations, and that youths, students and women will be given adequate representation", and that delegates would be elected by people in their constituencies.

On the state of the nation, the delegates noted that "the people of Nigeria remain perpetually traumatised by socio-economic misrule, characterised by the misadventure of military rulers, unbridled corruption, perpetual ethnic conflict, bad governance, collapse of moral values, extreme poverty, high infant mortality rate, collapse of infrastructure, unparalleled misery and death, now coupled with the helplessness of the ruling political class". …

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