by Oge Okonkwo
Legal activist Itse Sagay said former President Olusegun Obasanjo deceived Nigerians in 2005 when he organised a national conference as he was a member of the committee for that conference.
This statement was made on Tuesday, October 15 at a lecture organised by the Centre for Change at the Sheraton Hotels, Ikeja, Lagos.
Sagay spoke against the background of the criticisms of the national dialogue being proposed by President Goodlcuk Jonathan. The President has set up the Femi Okurounmu committee to plan the conference.
The Nation Newspapers reports:
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Others who spoke at the event were former Pastor Tunde Bakare and Prof. Pius Adesanmi, who delivered the keynote lecture.
Sagay said: “Obasanjo called for a national conference and we agreed to work with him thinking he was sincere, but unknown to us, it was a vehicle for the amendment of the constitution to enthrone his third term bid.
“When we got to realise that some of his people were working and having late night meetings for his third term, that was when some of us opted out.”
He however said Nigerians need to talk hence his admonition on Nigerians to support Dr. Jonathan’s planned national dialogue. “We should go with our own motives irrespective of theirs.”
Sagay who said the nation was down and bleeding, noted that there was no better time for dialogue than now, insisting that a national conference was more important than the 2015 general elections.
“Regardless of their motive and intention, we should seize the opportunity presented by the call for this national conference to make this country great.
“We have to embrace the national conference because we have two basic problems bedeviling this country. He listed them as a disastrous geo-political structure and bad leadership.
“Although the problem of bad leadership cannot be solved at the conference, the issue of the geo-political structure, we can address.
“The conference is necessary because Nigeria is currently run under a unitary constitution that pretends to be federal.
“We have an over-bloated and constipated federal government that treats the states like beggarly civil servants.
“The states which no longer compete and lack productivity, go cap in hand to collect salaries at the end of the month from the federal government.
“There is a dependence mentality and an addiction to oil and gas proceeds. This is not supposed to be in a federation. The states should generate their income from their resources and contribute to the running of the centre government and not the other way round,” he said.
Sagay recommended that issues such as local government, establishment of police, federation account, among others be removed from the constitution and the exclusive legislative list.
“Local government should not be seen in our constitution at all. States should create and fund local governments exclusively.
“Federation account should be expunged from the constitution and every state should be productive and fund the federal government.
“Everything happening in Nigeria today is against nature, that is why there is instability. States should own their resources; pay certain percentage for the running of the centre government and another percentage to help less buoyant states.
“Police, railway should not be in exclusive legislative lists, even labour and trade union issues should be removed from that list because the current situation creates conflict and confusion.
“States should be able to conduct census because it is needed for their development planning and what we currently have is not reliable. Census should also be removed as a basis for revenue allocation and sending people to parliament.
“We want a return to fiscal federalism and we must not give up. We should take our ideas to the national conference. We should enthusiastically participate so that our aims and objectives will be articulated,” Sagay said.
Bakare, chair of the Board of Trustees of the Centre for Change, said both the proponents and critics of the Jonathan conference are insincere.
He said: “I see shortage of sincerity on both sides. Fear of who owns sovereignty on the part of the government and insincerity on the side of critics who have themselves clamoured for national conference.
“Let us be careful that the national conference does not become our albatross.
“Nigeria is confined to an intensive care unit of the universe as many doubt her chances of survival. The values upon which the nation was founded has been broken down. A rebuilding process must visit the foundation.
“We must return to true federalism. We have wept, prayed and protested but now is time to take our destiny in our hands.
“The national conference presents an opportunity to reason together and talk. We must restructure and reconstruct until the whole nation is returned to its past glory.”
Delivering a lecture on the theme “Nigeria at 53, retrieving the soul of a country in ruins”, guest speaker, Prof. Adesanmi said there was need for a national soul.
Titled: “Boda Nigeria, Bros Naija and Soul things”, Adesanmi’s lecture mirrored the many problems that have befallen the nation, adding that the country has lived without purpose for 53 years.
“Nigeria is physically and spiritually in ruins and have ruined itself continuously and uninterrupted.
“Patriotism does not mobilse citizens but the soul of a nation does. It speaks only the language of collective good, which is Pentecost and not babble,” he said.
Adesanmi said: “Because Nigeria lacks ideal, it is easy for politicians to steal budget and wreck infrastructure. The first error the nation committed was to go for the material. We did not appreciate the fact that it was not the business of the colonialist to give us a soul.
“A national soul can only be achieved by constantly negotiating seeds of an idea that can become an ideal.
“Message and personal capital must work hand-in-hand. There should be recalibration of the message “Naija no dey carry last,” to form a national ideal for excellence and this should be done by people out of government,” he said.
President of the group, Mrs. Josephine Okei-Odumakin, said she was optimistic change is possible in Nigeria.
She said Nigerians must insist that the conference should not go the way of others, insisting that the decisions of the conference must be subjected to a referendum.
At the lecture were activist Mr. Femi Aborishade; Mr. Henry Boyo; Chief Segun Ojo; Mrs. Shade Benbateum-Young; Mr. Gbenga Fatile and Mr. Monday Ubani, among others