'I Have No Anxiety On This Conference'
Rev. Fr Hassan Matthew Kukah spoke with MARTINS ONOJA on why he accepted to serve as Secretary of the National Political Reform Conference, his impression on the Nigerian Constitution and relationship with President Obasanjo.

Happy with the way Oputa Panel turns out

I THINK Oputa panel had ended up in a manner I could never have dreamt of, and I am more than happy the way it ended. More than happy; really happy because whereas it would have been subjected to the - I don't want to use the word caprices - but it would have been subjected to the decision of just one or two persons. As you might have listened to Tony Iredia and Jerry Gana last week on Point Blank, Jerry Gana made a point very well - that the President had actually handled the report. He and one or two other people were already working on the white paper of the Oputa Panel before the court injunction came. I mean before the court processes came to help the Supreme Court rule.

And it is evident that there are legal implications - a point that was very much glossed over by even some of the best newspapers in the land. People just kept saying the President ought to release the report. But what these people didn't tell us is that; how you could do that without being in breach of the law. I don't know what the law was but I tried to get the Supreme Court ruling and I went through it and I found that as a lay person, I thought the Supreme Court considered a lot of things that were being asked for. Because some of the things that were being talked about were not the things on the table.

But having said that, Oputa Panel has now come back in a much better shape in a much better form. Because now everything there will be discussed by people who may not have been happy with this government for setting up the Commission but do not have a choice. But it is now possible for 400 people representing 120 million Nigerians to collectively decide on how they want the white paper of the report to be...or they know what kind of white paper they would like to see. So to that extent, quite frankly, I thank God that things turned out the way they did because right now, the opponents of Oputa Panel report have exhausted their legal remedies. Now they have nowhere to go to. And I think I am happy. I didn't expect that but we can now have the last laugh. So it is just to make the point that you never know how it is all going to end up.

So if you asked me if I have any fears or anxiety about the outcome of this Conference my answer is no. I don't have any anxiety largely because if you ask me to do a job and I take up a job I believe in, I give it 120 per cent, and after I've done my best that's all I can ask for. There are certain things that are outside my personal control. And everything that you have to do once you introduce the human variable, it is an uncontrollable variable because you don't know what human beings are going to do.
But quite frankly, what is in my mind now is: I am not interested in what President Obasanjo is thinking about. I am not interested in what Nigerians are thinking about. I am interested in seeing how best I can do a job that has been assigned to me to do. And like I said in Oputa Panel, the last thing we need in this country is cynicism because along with nihilism, it leads us to a dead end. And things can only get progressively worse for the rest of us.

We have a process on ground. It didn't drop from heaven. And there will never be any perfect process. Nobody, I repeat, nobody has a superior argument; that is the truth of the matter. The best we can do is to be positive. Perhaps, if the President had said you are not allowed to discuss XYZ, then I would have had a problem. But he had said it openly in his speech; everything is part and parcel of the contestation. So unless Nigerians can order another agenda - and they are free to have other agenda - I don't see why we should not, as it were, take much more seriously the issues that are on the table.

Of course, I concede as always the right of Nigerians to be cynical. Why? Because for 30 years, we have been lied to. We have been cheated. We have had fraudulent regimes. All kinds of reports have been put together and never seen the light of the day. Like I said to somebody else, this is the first time that we have been asked to lift up carpet because we use this famous expression, "everything has been swept under the caret." We now have the chance to lift up the carpet and see what is under the carpet. It is a rare opportunity. Besides, this Conference is free to call for anything and any material that might be relevant to the kind of assignment that we have to do. But I just hope that we can take advantage of that.

President Obasanjo never gave us any 'no-go area'
The President did not list a 'no-go area', but if people remain cynical...okay. But don't forget that Moses and his Jewish people could have remained cynical and not attempted to cross the River Nile. Okay? They could have remained cynical and not attempted to cross the Red Sea even when the Rivers were parted. So really there is nothing you can do with a cynic because when the door is open, a cynic will tell you, there must be a reason why this door is open. When the door is closed, a cynic will tell you, if the door is closed, I can't get out. But when the door is open, a cynic will tell you the door is open because somebody wants to get me. So there is nothing you can do with a cynic. And if Nigerians don't cure themselves of cynicism, there is nothing you can do. I mean if you remain cynical about marriage, you would never get married. If you remain cynical about journalists, you will never become a journalist. If you remain cynical about life, you will do nothing in life except destroy yourself. So I don't think that Nigerians can continue to live in the past, because quite frankly, I am ready to bow to superior argument. And unless somebody has a superior argument, what I see now is: I believe we have an opportunity to mould our country in a particular direction and that is something I can address as a citizen of Nigeria.

The reason in the final analysis is: some of us have had the most wonderful opportunity. I could have been living elsewhere outside this country but I have never, I repeat, never wanted to stay to live my life elsewhere except in this country. And I need to be concerned about how it is governed.
My belief in Nigeria

I believe in the country because one, I believe in God. And two, I believe that God placed me here with a purpose and there is nobody, no creature that God created without providing for it. If all the animals that God has put in the temperate region, He has provided for them: the Eskimos He has provided for them. He has provided for you in a manner He has not provided for somebody living in the UK. So I don't believe for one moment that we don't have all it takes for us to realise what God wanted us to be. I believe we have made mistakes. I believe we will continue to make mistakes. But you know I believe with all my heart that Nigeria has a date with destiny and with history.
When you look at the responsibilities we have as blacks, you cannot help but become passionate about how this country is organised. I thank God, I don't want to sound immodest but I have had my own fair share of travels, and I can tell you that the more I travel around the world, the more passionate I become about Nigeria because believe me, I have not seen - when I say it people think I am joking - I have not seen very many places, the gathering of the kind of competent people that I see in my country. America has had to import all kinds of human beings including Nigerians to boost what it has. Europe has done it everywhere: they required slavery to get to where they are. Now here we are, we are not happy with all that God has done for us. We do not have to enslave anybody but we still have the opportunities.

So like I said, let's accept the fraud of the past. But let us realise that with the quality of men and women that we have now, we have a high moral responsibility and whenever opportunity provides itself for us to make our contribution, I will take it with two hands. I didn't come back to Nigeria to while away my time. I am about 50 years old. I don't know how long still I have to live. But I want to see that those coming behind us can walk very straight. There is no reason why they can't because if I tell people rather jokingly, I say if you go to America or anywhere in Europe, if you see a Blackman walking, you don't have to be told. Walk across, you will see he is a Nigerian. If you see anybody walking straight with confidence in the streets of Europe, you don't have to be told, be sure he is a Nigerian. So if we have so much confidence and belief in ourselves, why can we not make this system work?

The problem with Nigeria

Nigeria is severely under-led. It is under-led in all departments. And also because, we the intellectuals of Nigeria have abandoned our responsibilities. If you wanted to go to Ahmadu Bello University in the late 70s and early 80s, the only place to go to was the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences because that is where people debated or contested all kinds of issues. It was a lot of excitement. There is nowhere that civilisation has been based on just people with bags of money. It is intellectuals that build the world. Now, I think that is one thing that has been missing here. We put this down to the years of military rule. That is part of the tragedy of Nigeria now.

Some people keep saying Nigeria is so lucky, we have never had an earthquake. Like I have said it before and I will say it again, I probably would have preferred an earthquake to military rule, because the disaster of the rule of the military is worst than an earthquake. In terms of the breakdown of public morality, the breakdown of public order, economic order and the shattering of our collective microcosm, we have to go back to the starting block to re-define ourselves, where the debates about religion, about Christians, about Muslims, all the ethnic cleavages that emerged arose. Because the military itemised society and decided who they wanted to do business with; the politicisation of ethnic identities by the military was just basically what the English did. What the French did was what the Germans did. The saddest thing about this rule was that it was by our own kith and kin. The sad thing is that Nigerians are blaming themselves for something that somebody else did because we never rose up against the military. Okay, one military regime came, a few Idoma people felt they were well placed. It was enough for Idoma to celebrate against the Tiv people. So the Tiv people sat down and waited for somebody else to come. Or a military regime came and was favourable to Christians and then Christians said, this is our time. And so the Muslims said well, we will wait. You have this cyclical turn of events, which at the end of the day we ended up collectively being the losers because we kept thinking our day would come and our day never came.

So is the whole contestation around citizenship. Part of that conversation would have been closed by the 70s and 80s, but once the military came in and decided almost like the colonial state that it would succeed by dividing and ruling, it meant that all kinds of identities became tools of war. And this is why this process that has been put in place, the only way we can deal with it is that we go back to the starting block and figure out how best we can begin to negotiate as Nigerians.

So all these nonsense that people are talking about, I heard some people were saying oh, Justice Niki Tobi is a Christian and he is minority. Father Kukah is a Christian and he is a minority. I don't know... but I come from the same state as Umaru Dikko. I went to the same primary school with Emmanuel Toro. And now for somebody to tell me that because though I come from the same place as Umaru Dikko and I have known Umaru Dikko much longer than I have ever known Niki Tobi, that I will suddenly meet Justice Niki Tobi here and start something. I don't know which Church he goes to, but suddenly simply because he is a Christian he and I are supposed to have the same agenda. It doesn't make sense.
And you can reduce this nonsense to anything, whether it is gender or whatever and my position is that, unless we merge our country to a point in which you can contest what you can contest on the basis that you are a citizen of Nigeria, not because you are a Muslim, not because you belong to this ethnic group and then somebody denies you a job, you don't just go up sulking you can actually sue. The only basis for doing that has to be a constitutional framework for defining what are the rights of citizens. It is in the absence of that, that we have what we have here today.

That is why Americans also put it in their Constitution. In fact, to many Americans it's even dearer to them than - I mean to some secular Americans - it is dearer to them than the Bible, because that is the Church that they have and that is why Martin Luther King (Jnr) said the problem that the Black people have with the American-State is that you issue us a cheque, we went to the bank, we discovered the cheque had bounced. So in the same way, the Nigerian-State has issued us a cheque, but if it issues you a cheque as a citizen and the cheque bounces, you can now come back and say this is what you seek. So that is why if I support a process like this, it is because without the rule of law, we are stuck with the rule of men. And the rule of men comes with all the excesses that come with being a human being.

So I feel that citizenship is just so fundamental to democracy, to growth. Amatya Sen has argued in his wonderful book about development, that, there is a correlation between freedom and development. (Amatya Sen, the economist, won the Nobel Prize. He used to be an Oxford Professor, he is now in Harvard.) But he argued that there's a correlation between freedom and development. That if people don't have freedom, they cannot develop. Unless we are free, we can't develop, we might be rich but never be wealthy. And there are disputes on this: a rich man is not necessarily a wealthy person. A rich nation is not necessarily a wealthy nation. And Nigeria cannot transit from riches to wealth. You only become wealthy when you invest in values, when you invest in human beings. But right now, because Nigerians are rich, and because such riches are sometimes ill-gotten, that's why they are investing in all kinds of funny secular and material structures. It's the kind of car you drive, it's the kind of house you have and so forth. And unless a country more or less invests in its people, it cannot be said to be rich. It cannot be said to be a wealthy country, because riches don't necessarily make you wealthy.

Wealth is defined by the kind of values that you hold on to and therefore if freedom places a high premium on human being for just being human, you are reduced to placing values on human being because they are related to you. That is why it then helps you to understand Hutus-Tutsi thing. It also helps you to understand the nonsense about people calling themselves Christians or Muslims killing one another, people calling themselves people of one ethnic group or the other. I think that this is where the bottom line is because progressively the world is moving to a particular level of humanity and humanness. And we ought to be part of the conversation but we cannot continue unless we have structures on ground that can guarantee peace, justice because if you don't have justice it is inconceivable that you can talk about peace. The most peaceful place to be is the graveyard. The graveyard is what it is because nobody there can talk.
So I see the convulsions that we are going through at this stage of our lives I see the disenchantment, I see the dissatisfaction. It's a natural outcome. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt but after Exodus God did some very spectacular thing that only Him can do: people were looking for water in the desert. There are no rocks in the desert but certainly, God should have simply said to Moses that listen, just tell the men to start digging, they will find water. But He said strike a rock, and water comes out, but still people were saying they were hungry and all of a sudden bread began to fall from heaven. But the same people got tired of it and said, 'we are tired of all this nonsense: we need to go back to Egypt.' So constantly the transition from possibility to promise is always characterised by these uncertainties.

The downtrodden people are saying things like: may be during Abacha's time, things were not too bad. So it's not new. The conversation is not new. The lead question is: how do you continue to nudge people on in hope that this is just a transit camp? Prophecy is about what is possible, not necessarily about what is today. We may not be having the most wonderful election. We may be having fraudulent elections. But fraud is all a part and parcel of this package. And as the system goes on and on, we will continue to correct and correct until we get somewhere. We will never attain perfection. America has been trying for the last 200 years. George Bush won a questionable election, breaks all the rules of electoral democracy but he sits down as the President. The Americans kept on with their business and said we could do it again. The real question is whether we can develop the capacity to go beyond just thinking that failing to win an election is the end of democracy. That is what we did in 1966. One would think that by now we would have learnt our lesson, because 1966 to 1999 were years of misery, largely because we simply took advantage believing that if we brought the soldiers in, they would rectify the electoral fraud because every election we have had, has always been their problem.
On the Constitution and the role of National Assembly

To my mind, since this is where everybody's attention is and so much premium is being placed on the Constitution, to the extent that Nigerians believe that there is never a perfect Constitution; a point of view that is largely an illusion. To that extent, they will continue to believe that somehow they must keep correcting this through whatever process. But now despite having a National Assembly on the ground, the argument didn't go away. And unfortunately for us, Nigeria has never really managed to establish a rapport between themselves and the members of the National Assembly. And I think one of the great tragedies in this country is the obsession with the ideal, and many of us place burdens on others that we ourselves don't have the capacity to meet up. So you look at the National Assembly and everybody is just saying that everybody in National Assembly is a thief. Or he just thinks everybody in National Assembly has just come there to make money. I am sure there are people in the National Assembly who left decent businesses in order to be where they are. And I am not unaware of the fact that there are those who were more or less on a gravy train, fine. But that process exists everywhere. Unfortunately for us, we do not sufficiently engage that process. Because of this lack of trust, Nigerians continue to agitate for something better. Now the truth of how something better is going to look, nobody knows. But somehow, I think that a lot of these problems are going to dissolve, as Nigerians become progressively literate. Let me use that expression, because some of the contradictions that dog the system are not unconnected with the existing baggage of poverty and illiteracy that we carry.

You tell a man who is in Abuja not to try and make money then you forget how Abuja resonates. When you tell anybody in the remotest part of Nigeria you are going to Abuja, it confers awe on you. If you tell anybody you have just come back from Abuja, there's how they will look at you. It's better than coming back from London. It's necessarily to put an electoral officer on his toes or threatening anybody with Abuja, so when you live in that kind of environment, you can't come from Abuja empty-handed.

So the reality then is: the kind of demand we ought to make on our National Assembly is more or less a learning process. Right now if you are a Member of Parliament in the UK, people will complain about their taxes but nobody will come to you saying they want you to give them money to marry a new wife, to pay their school fees or to pay hospital bills. Because if a member of National Assembly here goes to his constituency office to sit down, he is not likely to hear people telling you anything other than; 'my pikin wan job,' 'we want money for school fees; we want money for hospital bills'; bills that somebody practically inherits. What are you going to tell them?
But I thought that somehow this conversation could easily have been still put together. We could still have pushed on, if we collectively embrace the process, and for the problem is that so many people, so many deeply gifted people who ought to be engaging this process. And as long as that happens, we are going to continue to have this kind of a sea-saw, so you have a Constitution today and tomorrow Nigerians tell you they want something different. But the first thing, of course, is to get people to put their faith in the Constitution. But over and above that if you have a population that is so illiterate you still ask the question: how many people's lives are regulated by what the Constitution says? What is it in the Constitution that is justiciable? And I think that even for us to incorporate in that kind of conversation, there has to be a level of justiciability of certain issues.

The question may be asked: can I be living in a country like Nigeria with so much money and still not have an education? What am I entitled to as a citizen of Nigeria? Can I be living in a country like Nigeria and not be entitled to, as a woman, a certain level of state support when I am pregnant and carrying a baby that is going to be a citizen of Nigeria? There is a range of issues, and once you begin to unpack some of these issues, whether you make constitutional provisions for them or whether you just take notice of them, it is important, because they are important and they are part and parcel of the conversation of governance. Right now, what we have is: because of the living under the military, Nigerians believe collectively that if you get water to drink in our village, you just sit down and thank God but that you don't have the right to ask the governor, or the local government chairman to give you water. We still believe that no citizen has got the right to ask the local government chairman or a governor.

By the way, how much is our state receiving? I might think that now the office of the Accountant-General has a website that you can go through and see how much money is being paid to your local government? What is it that is wrong that it's impossible for us given the best economist, that we cannot go there and take all these records and go to the local government chairman and say that we hear that this money has been given to us, where is the money going to? Instead, people are talking about what Obasanjo is doing and what Obasanjo is not doing. And this obsession with the centre is not getting to the heart of what some of these issues are. So even if you have constitutional provisions, people have to be sufficiently interested in knowing very clearly what rights they have, so as to be able to protect those rights. So to me, that is the only reason why this conversation is important.

My relationship with President Obasanjo

I don't believe in Obasanjo. I believe in God first of all. I don't believe in any human being. But I have known Obasanjo for quite some time and I am humbled. Let me put it that way: That he considers me a friend of his. But one good thing is that he knows my mind about a lot of things. Let me tell you that he would ask me to come and serve on this Commission at all is a risk that he took. Let me put it that way. He knew that himself after Oputa Panel, and he knew my mind because I told him my mind.

But beyond that, I believe him on a range of issues. I have read quite a number of things that Obasanjo has said. I have read the things that he said 20 years ago. But I also appreciate his passion for wanting a particular kind of Nigeria, a particular kind of society and a particular kind of Africa. I don't envy him that. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't have the kind of charisma - like I was saying to you - that is necessary for politics, because politics is about charisma; charisma is about drama. And with charisma you can get away with a thousand and one things.
Unfortunately for President Obasanjo, he is one plain human being. What you see is what you get. And what he says in a market place is likely to be the same thing he is going to say at the World Bank. It is likely to be the same thing he is going to say in the presence of anybody. Now as I said, those kinds of personalities are just very easy as it were. To create a kind of drama that you require especially, as I said, when you are coming from a post-authoritarian regime, such as the one we came through. You see South Africa after Mandela, you see Mandela at the Rugby match between South Africa and Australia or New Zealand. You see Mandela at the stadium the day Bafana Bafana won the Africa Cup of Nations. You see Mandela who is not a good dancer, but you can see that he is moving the crowd. In contrast, an Obasanjo with the Eagles coming with a Cup and you say, all we have to do is they just get a handshake. Now, it is a question of style. And there are times in people's lives that what you need is not reason; it's just emotions. That depends on how you respond to those emotions.
I believe that God has his own plans for Nigeria. That's my own belief as a Christian. But I also believe that He uses human instruments not because these instruments are acceptable to the rest of us. And I believe that to the extent Obasanjo has got the experience of having been there before; there are a thousand and one things that he has done that I am sure other people could have done differently.
But I believe that a lot of the problems we have today are largely some of the problems of the old order. In fact, one of the things that I said to Obasanjo was: "Look, there is a problem with the message. People don't know what exactly you are trying to do. Now, the problem with the message is that, using this imagery, I remember saying you could easily have told Nigerians look, we came here, I assembled all these ministers with brooms because we wanted to clean up these cobwebs. But we arrived and found that it was actually an earthquake, so we can't use broom to clear the debris; we will use something different and it's going to take us a much longer time." And I think that if the government had been able to sufficiently and very clearly define the nature of the depth of corruption; the dept of the problems we inherited, and how long it was going to take beyond the first year or even ten years of this regime, a clear communication of that massage would have helped to moderate our expectations.

Discontentment and disenchantment soon set in, because Nigerians naturally expected that the end of military rule was going to be the beginning of democracy, was going to be the beginning of jobs, and was the beginning of all kinds of things. But we forgot that the old order never ever surrender its ways. It doesn't happen that way. So I believe that there are quite a lot of policies that are on the ground I was saying to somebody yesterday... I listened to some of the ministers, when I listen to some of the people, talking, I talk to people in National Assembly, and I see a lot of very passionate and committed men and women, and the obsession of some Nigerians always demonising an entire people and our inability to even isolate some of the areas of excellence. You cannot fail an examination until you know somebody has passed. So if you don't have the mechanism for measuring and regarding success, then it will be impossible for us to figure out whether we are actually growing or not growing.
I have never and I shouldn't think that I would believe Obasanjo all the way because there are a thousand and one things that he has done that I may not have agreed with, but he is President. I am not President. And sometimes, I am privy to the kind of information that a President has at his disposal. But I can tell you from roaming a small carriage, as a priest where I speak on the altar and nobody can answer me back; where we are only talking about going to heaven, not about giving jobs and so on and so forth. I can tell you after doing that, I don't envy anybody who has the responsibility of ruling Nigeria. As I often hear people say Obasanjo doesn't listen. Maybe it is true. But I often ask myself, if I were a President I get every minister advising me on one single issue, every traditional ruler advising me, everybody that cares advising me, but at the end of the day, whose advice are you going to take?

I think all of us need to be critically engaged in this process because the issue of supporting Obasanjo is totally out of the question. I have no business supporting Obasanjo. I have a business supporting Nigeria. And anybody including Obasanjo who deviates from the principle that I believe ought to uphold this country, I will fight them. Let me use that expression. And I think all of us need that spirit. That kind of engagement so that it gets beyond just the instrumentality or the agents of human beings, because you would get a President that you like simply because he is an Idoma man, an Igala man or he is our old classmate or we went to the same school. But we are never going to get a President that all of us would like. It doesn't just happen. Even the apostles of Jesus Christ how many were they? They were only 12 but at the end what happened? And they were not fighting over contracts. They were not fighting over anything. This thing should make us understand that those who hold power, sometimes those who are critical of you may be those you may require. And those who are praise-singers may not necessarily be. But I just believe that all of us need to engage the process.

My own no-go area

Fascism. Fatalism. Indolence. But then, I don't think anybody will come to this event or will agree to come to this event and not be committed to making a contribution. And I think everybody who is coming here is coming with his own package. Most of the people coming to this conference, I believe everybody has a family, they have got a career. They have got a profession. Some have excelled in their profession. If I had a choice, I may not have chosen some of the people, I may not even have chosen myself. But in the way God does His things, everybody is here for a purpose. And I think if I were an outsider, I would want to give people a chance.

I don't think it gets to the argument for people to say you have a gathering of old men. In the same society, where Mandela is a legend, but the same Nigerians who still revere Mandela, whatever Mandela says, they are ready to stand and listen. But their own 70-year-old men talk and they say they are too old to talk. The same Nigerians who will bow. 

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Confab: Omoruyi defends Obasanjo's 'no go areas'
BENIN CITY - FORMER    Director of the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS), Professor Omo Omoruyi, weekend rose in defence of the decision of President Olusegun Obasanjo in handing delegates to the on-going National Conference on Political Reforms a 'No-Go-Area' clause. He warns the delegates against allowing pressures from some groups to influence them into converting the conference into a sovereign one as it would amount to an unconstitutional attempt at a civilian coup.
Speaking at the weekend in Benin City during the mini summit organised by the Edo State Government for state delegates to the conference and other stakeholders, Professor Omoruyi said any attempts by PRONACO and other groups agitating for a sovereign conference to infiltrate the midst of delegates and influence a deliberation on the areas cited by government and sovereignty of the conference would amount to a treasonable act.
According to him,"the concept of sovereign in the sovereign National Conference could be used and it must be known that it is not applicable to Nigeria under democractically elected rulers. One, if the national conference such as ours declares itself sovereign that would amount to a civilian coup. This means that the act should be made applicable in order levels of government. Two, if the president bestows the power that he has in section 5 of the constitution on the national conference that would mean that the president is abdicating the power meant only of the executive. It is unthinkable and amounts to volountary resignation by the president if he allows a sovereign conference and deliberations on the no-go-areas. Abdicating such powers is not provided for in the constitution."
"It is unthinkable that President Obasanjo short of impeachment, death or resignation would abdicate office for other reasons. The president cannot surrender the power that he does not have and that rightly belongs to the National Assembly and the Judiciary in Section 4 and Section 6 respectively under the constitution. The president cannot surrender to anybody the power that he does not have that the constitution rightly gives to states and local government."
 Confab's principal officers biased-Owie
BENIN CITY- FORMER Senate Chief Whip, Senator Rowland Owie, has described the composition of the principal officers in the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) as "biased." He, therefore, urges  President Olusegun Obasanjo to reconstitute it so that muslims can be adequately represented.
He also joined other well meaning Nigerians in condemning the "no go" areas as stipulated by the president during the inauguration of members of the conference, saying that if the president is really sincere by setting up the conference as he claims, he should equally have the courage to allow people express their views no matter whose ox is gored.
Speaking to Vanguard in Benin City, the former senate chief whip who, however, stated that he has never believed in the conference because it is not a sovereign conference, stated that the composition of the principal officers in the confab as it is now is one sided because the chairman and secretary are all christians, adding that the president should balance it by giving a muslim one of the positions in order to give the conference a nationalist look. He added that if allowed as it is presently constituted, it is capable of destablising delebrations because of lack of sincerity of purpose.
According to him "though I do know that the work of members of the confab would be manipulated by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led government, and I as a person, I do not believe in that jamboree. But for the sake of unity of this nation, it is unfair to have the two principal officers of the confab being all christians. The president should balance the membership because he is sending wrong signals as it is presently".
"The chairman of the conference, Justice Tobi and his secretary, Reverend Father Kukar are all christians. Obasanjo should have appointed one muslim and a christian for it to be balanced. After all the conference is not a legal body backed by law with specific number of membership. So the president can increase or decrease the membership as he likes. The president should not try to destablise the country with such appointments except if he wants to destabilise the conference which I know he set up for a purpose" Senator Owie stated.
Calling on the president to remove the "no go areas" so that delegates would be able to discuss every issue concerning the nation, Senator Owie asserted that "he should remove that aspect, that was why I never trusted him when he was rushing this conference as if he just came in as a president yesterday. If he is sincere and he said he has nothing to hide then why saying that there are no go areas. He should remove it so that the people will freely amuse themselves at the conference."