Harsh verdict by eminent Nigerians:‘This confab was a monumental failure’

Stories by Chioma Anyagafu
Posted to the Web: Saturday, July 16, 2005

THE National Political Reforms Conference closed shop, Monday, without reaching a consensus on the issues of resource control and tenure for governors/president. The end of the confab recorded two adjournments when the South-South delegates walked out of the proceedings over disagreement on the issue of derivation percentage. That singular action marked the beginning of what would go down in history as, perhaps, the most controversial confab in Nigeria.
Although two issues were involved, one was more serious and more destabilising than the other. While the matter of the tenure of governors and the president sparked off some furore, the more contentious bordered on whether the oil-producing South-South region would get 17 per cent or 25% derivation from their God-given oil resources. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. And while the South-South delegates would not have anything less than 25 per cent, the North insisted that the 17 per cent given by the Elders Committee and adopted by the plenary session, would remain.
The National Political Reforms Conference kicked off in February this year with President Olusegun Obasanjo charging the delegates to talk and find ways of making Nigeria a more peaceful nation while telling them that the indivisibility of Nigeria was a no-go area. Delegates were drawn from the 36 states of the federation, political parties, pressure groups and professional bodies. Justice Niki Tobi was appointed chairman.
Each geo-political zone came with its position on key national issues that would be debated. Ab initio, the confab set off with promises as everything went smoothly until June 14 when delegates from the South-South, South-East and South-West staged a walk-out over allegations of irregularities in the adoption of the report of the Joe Irukwu-led Committee of Leaders of the Conference. The South-South had challenged the 17% derivation on oil, demanding for 50% and later settling for 25%. The North had argued that the 17% was even too much but for the purpose fo peaceful co-existence, that the status quo be maintained. And then the deadlock persisted. The South-South delegates gave conditions that would make them return to the conference, and also threatened that they would revert to the 50% demand if those opposed to 25 per cent would not drop their stance.
The deadline came and went. Yet, the issue was not resolved. The confab finally closed shop on July 11 without resolving the issue or pegging the tenure of governors and president after several attempts to broke truce failed.
Ever since, Nigerians have been left more confused now than before the conference started on these two issues. Thus, Saturday Vanguard took the matter to Nigerians as to whether the conference was a success or failure. Besides, what will Obasanjo’s government do concerning these two issues of derivation percentage and tenure of president/governors? Will the issues be swept under the carpet or are there going to be answers to them when the final reports are out? Is there still any need for the PRONACO conference? These Nigerians, including confab secretary, Rev. Fr. Hassan Kukah spoke to us.
I’m not surprised, says Shagaya
General John Shagaya was a Minister of Internal Affairs during
the administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. He is not surprised that the conference ended the way it did.
I wouldn’t say the confab was successful. If it were, it would have been to the extent of Nigeria being able to organise a forum that brought together delegates from all the geo-political zones to discuss in a round-table conference. But I knew from the onset that different ethnic groups coming with different agenda to the confab would pose a problem and I said it.
Now, the conference was not successful in the sense that the issue of resource control which is a major political issue was not resolved. This matter was more important that the issue of tenure for president and governors because the present crop of governors and president would not benefit from it. But the issues of resource control and derivation have been there for a long time and I knew it would create problems. It did.

So, the confab ending the way it did was not a surprise. I knew it was going to end that way. I had my reservation from the onset. I’ve always said it that a constitutional amendment will take a long process. It is not something that should be hurried because it requires so much job to be done at the various levels of government, from the federal level to the local governments. So, it was not something to be hurried and it’s something different levels of legislators would need to tackle over a period of time.
It’s a huge failure — Ume Ezeoke
Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke was the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic and a former presidential aspirant of the All Nigeria People’s Party, ANPP. He says it loud and clear that the conference failed.
The only achievement of the confab was that Nigerians met to discuss. The ability to come together was an achievement but that was where it ended. In terms of issues discussed, Nigerians were disappointed. The entire thing was messed up. Issues of rotational presidency and tenure of governors/president were not properly debated. Resource control just caused more problems than we had before the conference. It just messed up everything.
Now, we have more bad blood over the issue than we had before the conference. It was a big failure. And many notable Nigerians foresaw it. I feel bad that a conference that ought to have united all parts of Nigeria may have helped to create more bad blood among us. It is unfortunate, but it is a challenge to leaders from all parts of the country to make sure that we put the distraction that was the conference behind us and relate with each other as we did before the exercise.
It’s unfair to condemn the confab when its report has not been made public — Kukah
REV. Father Matthew Hassan Kukah was a secretary of the National Political Reforms Conference that just ended in Abuja. He insists that it is premature to pass verdicts as to whether the conference was a success or otherwise because, according to him, the report was yet to be made public. Thus, nobody can say authoritatively what the report would say on any given issue.
What do you want me to say? I was a secretary of the confab. We had a conference. We concluded the conference. We have not submitted our report to the presidency. Our report on the proceedings, the debates, the resolutions are not made public yet. And the media has drawn conclusions before seeing the reports. Is it fair?
Anybody who says the conference was not successful is not saying the truth. We had a statement we drafted in agreement with the two groups that disagreed on resource control. The conference was not set up to resolve the issue of resource control. We debated so many issues including the issue of resource control.
We sat down, took a vote and afterwards, the minority that did not have their way walked out. If you follow the sequence of what happened, we did what we should do. There was a vote and afterwards they walked out when votes cast favoured 17 per cent whereas they (South-South delegates) wanted 25%.
Ordinarily, the proceedings would have continued and they would shut themselves out of making a meaningful contribution But we accommodated them. We accommodated their protests and allowed them time to calm down. We still included their protests in the report we are yet to submit.
If you assess the calibre of the people at the conference, I can tell you that the fact that a minority walked out was not enough to halt the proceedings of the confab. How many people walked out? In 1978, people walked out of the Constituent Assembly but the proceedings went on and its resolutions were used in the 1979 constitution.
Or would you say because Nigeria, for instance, decides to walk out of the World Cup, therefore, the championship becomes a failure? Different groups of Nigerians were at the confab and different issues were debated. Resource control was just one of such issues.
Have you guys forgotten that it’s not everybody from the South-South that walked out of the proceedings. Why is the media not talking to those that stayed back? Those that walked out said they want 25% derivation. Is it the confab that would give them the 25%. We have included all these issues in our report because we must align all the views in the report we would submit to the presidency. It is when we do not align all these views that people can say our report is not well documented.But it is unfair to judge the confab without seeing its report because that has not been made public. It’s very unfair.

Balarabe: Obasanjo can’t fool us
ALHAJI Balarable Musa, former governor of old Kaduna State and the chairman of Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, is emphatic that the National political Reforms Conference was designed to produce a pre-determined result.
Well, as expected, the confab was a failure and it takes this failure to know Obasanjo’s plans. Perhaps, he is going to use the failure to say that Nigeria cannot do without him and that without him, Nigeria will disintegrate. That was what he wanted to prove. He wanted an opportunity to stretch his stay in office.
He wanted a six-year single tenure and he didn’t get it. Even his men at the confab could not project that. So, he would now want to prove that Nigeria needs him and cannot succeed without him. But he must not forget that he got it wrong and will get it wrong again if he doesn’t move in 2007.
We did say that the confab was going to end in chaos and it did. It was a massive failure. It was meant to be so from the very beginning.
A sheer waste of time and money, by Yakassai
ALHAJI Tanko Yakassai was a First Republic politician who does not shy away from making his views known no matter whose ox is gored.
From the onset, I knew there were problem areas in the confab and I pointed them out. I knew the end would be this controversial and unhelpful to us as a nation. In the first place, there were disagreements on some key issues. Although one cannot say that these issues were not resolved, but then they were not accepted by many.
I also said that the confab was a mere advisory committee because it had no power under the constitution. It’s deliberations could not be passed as law but the public had so much expectations from it and hoped it would answer some of the Nigerian questions. Well, it didn’t.
The great expectations of Nigerians are dashed, and they are genuinely disappointed at the way things went. I said earlier it was going to be a waste of resources. And that was exactly what it was. The resources expended on its convention could have been used to better the lot of Nigerians in other ways. For instance, issues like infrastructural repairs. Or it could have been used to spearhead the campaign against HIV/AIDS.
If you ask me, I think the truth of the matter is that Nigeria was better off before the confab than after. Now, the key issues that were disagreed on would only succeed in polluting the polity and creating problems that did not exist before the conference. That is what this conference has achieved. It was not successful. It did not solve Nigeria’s problems. It created more problems and generated more bad blood in the polity.
I was at the Constituent Assembly and the Constitutional Conference of the past. The deliberations of that later conference formed part of the 1999 constitution. I don’t know how far the report of this confab would go.
Our governors betrayed us, by Evah
Joseph Evah, co-ordinator,Ijaw Monitoring Group is angry with the South-South governors.
Our governors disgraced us by not insisting on the 25% derivation. They allowed the Northern governors to trybto dictate things. After the meeting they had in Calabar, they asked the South-South delegates to accept 17% but out delegates were true representatives of the people who went ahead to project the people’s views despite the governors’ attempts to make them do otherwise. We are proud of the delegates. But the youths from the Niger-Delta are not letting things lie low. We have taken our position. We’ll see how it goes.
Kimse Okoko, a Professor of Political Science, National President of Ijaw National Congress and one of the Bayelsa State delegates to the just-concluded National Political Reforms Conference (NPRC), in this interview with Soni Daniel, says that the action of the South-South is to prove that the zone is fed up with the antics of the North and that they are can no longer be taken for a ride by what he called the oligarchial North. Excerpts:

With the confusion that set into the conference, leading to an unceremonious end, how do you feel?

Well, from the point of view of the South-South, we are satisfied that the conference ended the way it did, because we were determined not to be used in legitimising the conspiracy on the part of the Northern Oligarchy. We did not want that to happen and we are happy that we succeeded in stopping their conspiratorial efforts.

But you did not succeed in bringing back home anything of benefit to the people of the South-South?

No, there were other issues that were unanimously accepted by the entire delegates, including those from the North. One of the issues is the consensus that Nigeria should be returned to true federalism and it was on the basis of that, that power will be devolved to the states and local governments from the centre. If we had adhered to that strictly, then it would have been a very successful conference, but the paradox of it is that, whereas the Northerners supported the idea of going back to a true federal system and devolving power, when it came to the actual implementation, they began to withdraw in a very uninformed and mischievous manner. This is unfortunate because one of the cardinal principles of true federalism is that the federating units own and control their resources and pay appropriate taxes to the centre. That is the universal package and the oligarchial North understands that, but because of their greed and parasitic nature over the years, they refused to accept that reality. The North want easy money and they have been siphoning our money to certain influential persons to the detriment of their masses in the North.

They realised that if Nigeria was to go the path of true federalism, the few parasitic, oligarchic elements could no longer benefit from the system. That was why they were resolutely opposed to any increase in derivation principle.

But we stood our grounds and insisted that we must return to true federalism. But in doing so, we said, give us 50% in five years based on the 1963 constitution, but starting with 25% and graduating, in five years, to 50%. As far as we are concerned, the South-South is very, very magnanimous in conceding to that in the overall interest of the country, not in the interest of the oligarchy called the North. They have now been consigned to the back-book of history. Never again will we allow them to have their hands on the easy money that they used to take from the South-South. Never again will we allow the parasites to manipulate, exploit and extort monies that belong to other parts of this country. Those days are gone.

There is this claim by the leader of the Northern delegation, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, that the South-South delegates are cowardly by fearing that they could be attacked if they returned home without a higher percentage of derivation.

You know that I feel sorry for people like Umaru Dikko of the old mould - he does not belong to this digital age. Dikko is of the old race. I want to remind the likes of Umaru Dikko that on several occasions, the North had threatened to boycott the conference. Does it mean that the Northern delegates were also cowards?

We want to state the position again that certainly, we are not cowards. We are proud of what we did and we have the overwhelming support of the people of the South-South. We did not walk out because we were afraid for our lives. We believe in what we were doing and are truly committed to the cause of the South-South. We are simply saying that we do not want to be used to legitimise the aristocratic, feudal manipulation of this country anymore. If we had gone back to the conference, they would have, because of their majority strength, bulldozed the conference with their decision and we would be there as accomplices to decisions we never supported. So, we said, look, we must leave the conference. We said, let us not remain there to legitimise this fraudulent conspiracy. We have no apologies to offer to anyone and we will repeat it again. It was not based on any fear for our lives. It is not people like Umaru Dikko who can ever conjure us. Never!

Dikko is also of the view that the South-South should be very grateful to the North for providing the first £1million pounds which was used for oil exploration in the Niger Delta.

I'm glad you raised the issue. One thing that amazes me about this country is the realisation that people you thought were honourable men, are, most of the time, unwilling to speak the truth. And they keep conjuring figures that are completely nonsensical. And this Umaru Dikko's £1million theory is a figment of his imagination and it is nonsensical, to the extent that it never occurred. It's a pure lie and Dikko knows it. He knows that he is lying, as usual, to make a case that cannot stand the test of time. And I don't think that I should waste my time to comment on a fraudulent figure of that kind. No, I don't want to.

In other words, are you saying that the figure is news to you?

Yes, because I have never heard anything like that. What happened was that during the post-colonial federal regionalism, each region kept its resources and used the proceeds for development purposes. That is what gave rise to free education in the West and brought about certain development programmes in other parts of the country. So, one wonders where Dikko got the £1 million they gave to the South-South for oil exploration. Maybe, he got it from the individual safes they had in their mansions, maybe.

Dikko said also that you people showed immaturity by pulling out of the conference.

Well, he does not understand the meaning of ‘maturity.’ In fact, the South-South is not the first set of Nigerians to pull out of a conference. It happens nationally and internationally. The North has dragged us back for many, many years. They were the ones that stalled the development of this country. They wanted to postpone the date of independence and they were the last to get regional government and so on.

You are aware of all these things. Even the most sophisticated political elements of the Western nation have boycotted conferences and elections. And doing so is not a sign of immaturity. Clearly, Umaru Dikko does not understand the meaning of ‘maturity’ and I sympathise with him for that lack of understanding.

Now, where do we go from here?

Well, let me start from the South-South. As far as we are concerned, the struggle continues. There is no way the South-South will ever again be dictated to over the use of our resources. Never again will we accept any form of dictation. That has a far-reaching implication for the country because we will stubbornly defend our position. If the country wants to continue to operate an unjust system, then, there will be no peace and progress. And we'll all pay the price for that action. Until the country is ready to come to terms with the question of injustice in Nigeria, we cannot go far. The likes of Umaru Dikko must be made to understand that position. In fact, one of the most ridiculous, uninformed and mischievous positions of the North is that the oil does not belong to the South-South and that it came from the River Nile. You know, I feel sad and sorry for them for sitting down to propagate such a lame and illiterate opinion on who owns the oil. How more illiterate can one be to think like that? If such people are not illiterate, then they are clearly mischievous.

The North also raised the issue of the South-South governors being unable to account for the billions so far received on account of the 13% derivation formula.

That is also an infantile question because when they are asking the South-South governors to account for 13%, who is taking account of the remaining 87%? Have they ever asked the Federal Government how it is spending the money? What of the spending pattern of the Northern governors? How many governors have been investigated and indicted by the EFCC? Are they from the South-South? We know the antics of the parasitic North and the likes of Umaru Dikko. They have always sat on top of easy money. Nobody asked them to account for it when they were doing it, nobody asked them to explain how they came about their mansions scattered all over the country. Where did they get the money to build the mansions? Are we asking the Northern governors to account for what they have, which is all from the South-South oil money?

These are some of the most uninformed reasons the North has ever advanced. And I think we should pity them rather than taking them seriously. I want it to be stated like that, please don't edit it. I really feel sorry for them. It is either the North is very mischievous or this parasitic group has a problem of understanding anything. We can no longer tolerate this noisy arrogance of the North.
Sunday Punch, July 17, 2005

Second Republic Transport Minister and Leader of the Northern delegates to the just concluded National Political Reform Conference (NPRC), Alhaji Umaru Dikko, in this interview with BUKOLA OJEME and MUSIKILU MOJEED accuses South-South delegates to the conference of being cowardly in their attitude to the contentious resource control issue. Excerpts:

The conference ended two days ago, after about five months of sitting, what is your impression of the conference?
First of all, my impression of the conference is that, it has gone like any big, major conference. When you come to a conference, it doesn't mean that you come there to agree on every item. It is a place where ideas crisscross, ideas are exchanged, debates carried out or sort of brought about and every item is debated.

So, anybody who is thinking that we must agree on every issue, then they have no idea what conferences are all about.

To me, the conference went very well, in that nobody was slapped, nobody was prevented from airing his or her view by anything at all.

Yes, there wasn't sufficient time. It will take about a year or even more before everybody can say I have said everything I would have wanted to say. So to me, the conference is a very nice thing. And the conference has ended. We didn't hear anybody shooting anybody else. Sometimes, the words were hot. Where you have over 400 people sitting, naturally ideas must differ.

But so long as those ideas, no matter how much they differ, so long as in the end, the majority opinion got its way and minority opinion goes that way, then we should be satisfied, that is the whole essence of a conference.

And what is more important is that, we made many friends, and some of us have renewed friendship with people we haven't seen for years. This conference has brought us together and we are able to renew the relationship, the brotherliness and so on.

From the way the conference ended with the South/South delegation pulling out, do you think the outcome of this conference will still have any impact on the polity?
Very much so. You see, the South/South walked out on only one issue and that was one issue out of so many. If they walked out on only one issue, then the conference must have been extremely successful. Also, people walking out of a conference is nothing new, it is nothing unique, it is something that takes place pretty often in conferences.

Sometimes, you feel so adamant about your own view and it is not accepted, you feel that you as a person have been rejected; so that is the position, but there is nothing to worry anybody about it at all. And even tomorrow or any day, when we meet, we embrace each other. So, it is nothing. Only that you disagree with my view, so what? Other views will come. You were there, did you see anybody fighting anybody? Even those with walking stick, did you see them hitting anybody with it?

And what is more? You talk of walk out, the walkout was not hundred percent. One walk out would have been very damaging, it would have been extremely damaging if the Chairman had walked out, it would have been something to worry about because he is also from the South-South.

But the Chairman did not walk out. Even among the members from the South-South, it was not hundred per cent, some of them remained in their seats till the very end. They were there till the very end. So those who walked out, walked out of emotion maybe. So, it was not a hundred per cent walkout.

The Chairman said during the last session that the procedure he adopted, which became an object of controversy, was because of the information he got from the committee of elders, of which you are Deputy Chairman, that consensus was arrived at on all issues. Why did you give that kind of information to the Chairman?
We did not give that kind of information to the Chairman. Whoever went and gave that information to the Chairman, I don't know. We brought the report before the entire session. We brought our report in writing, it wasn't verbal. So, there was nothing in our report, which said that we reached consensus on everything. We did not say so. We reached consensus on almost everything, except the question of tenure and that was why the Chairman put that particular question to vote, because if we had reached consensus on every subject, there would have been no need to move any motion at all on any item. Now, the one and single item on which vote was called for was the question of tenure, so if somebody went and told the Chairman verbally here and there, well that could have been where we are misleading.

May be, somebody is of the view that if out of 11 items, it was only one on which we could not reach consensus, then you will say all. But generally speaking, according to the views of that committee, it was 24 against 21, it was very close. Twenty-four out of the members of the committee favoured a four-year term, followed by another possible four-year term and that was the recommendation also of the committee on the executive.

Now, the committee that brought the question of six-year term and so on and so forth, they were doing it ultra-vires, because it was not part of the subject given to them to consider, so they went and discussed it and put it in their report. So, if your committee is not supposed to discuss a subject and you go and discuss it and then bring it to the plenary, that is what you call ultra-vires, out of mandated range. But the committee that was to deal with the issue on the executive recommended four years, followed by a possible four years. And that is the recommendation that should be appropriately placed before the plenary.

You said you reached consensus on everything except tenure, but if you reached agreement on all issues, including resource control or derivation formula, why the trouble?
Now, in the Committee of Elders, we are the leaders of all the delegations, plus other personalities that were invited as well. We discussed those issues on resource control, it was the first item on the agenda.

In fact, some of us wanted to suggest: let us start with the simpler items then later come to the most difficult ones, but the resource control delegation said no, as the items had been arranged, so would they be taken.

So resource control, was the first item on the contentious list we took. We spent hours and hours. And the leaders of all the states in the oil-producing area, were all present, so, there was nothing that was done behind their back. They didn't even go to toilet, I suppose during the meeting, all through the hours the meeting lasted.

Many percentages were suggested. Initially, the view of many of us was that the conference was not competent to set a figure, because the committee did not have the correct tools to deal with revenue allocation or the question of derivation, which was the real truth because we are not financial experts.

So, our general view at one stage was that we would agree on the principle that they would need an increase. That, we generally agreed. I'm talking about the conference generally, but leave the question of technicalities to the technical experts.

Therefore, it was suggested that even the committee that looked at that subject, we agree with the principle, let us ask the Federal Government to set up a commission, which will look into the real details, so that once a recommendation is made, it will be like President Obasanjo would say I dey Kampe, so that if it is a recommendation by people who are expects in the field, who have the necessary tools and who are given the necessary facilities and time to recommend, then, this issue will be behind us once and for all. That was the general view of members.

But the South/South insisted that they wouldn't go back with that kind of promise. They thought it was a kind of gimmick, so a figure must be agreed on. So they forced us, they forced us to agree to give a figure, even though we knew that we were not the correct people to give that kind of figure. So, we went on and on at the committee of leaders, until we came to the figure of 17%. That is an additional 4% on what they are getting now, on the 13% derivation formula.

So, whenever a figure was mentioned and they showed disagreement with that figure, the debate continued. When we came to 17% as compromise, they kept quiet. Now, if they have been arguing against every figure and we come to a figure where we all say, okay, let us agree on this figure and even that figure was in the interim. We didn't say it was permanent. First of all, they forced us to mention a figure. And later on, when we mentioned this figure, they say no, until we came to 17%.

In fact, at one stage, one of them mentioned 18%. He suggested that the committee of leaders should accept 18%. At one stage, some of us said 15%, that will give you another 2%. Now, when you talk of 2%, it is no small money. You are talking of billions. So, we came to 17% as a compromise figure. All other figures were eliminated. 18% and 16% were the candidates. Somebody now said let’s leave it at 17%, and then everybody said okay, and they kept quiet. Now, if they kept quiet, that means they have accepted. That was our own interpretation at the end of that meeting. We went home for some few hours’ sleep and to come back and receive the report as it is typed out, by the committee’s secretary.

When we came back to see if comas were being placed properly and so on and so forth, then we had a different story. No no, it is something else. We were there to correct grammatical errors, typographical errors, if any, we were not here for any other thing, because we spent the whole day and night on this issue and we had come to a situation where you, your self kept quiet in agreement, now you come in the morning. Whom did you consult in the night? Is it Satan? So, we said no, the main conference is waiting for us!

That is why I will say even as far as the resource control issue is concerned, we reached a consensus, I know they will argue. But their argument came only later in the morning, after we had dispersed, had some sleep and came back to proofread the report, it was at that stage that they were saying no, no! How do you go forward and backward?

The picture we got was that you were insisting on 16% and that Gamaliel Onosode mentioned 18%, that General David Jemibewon now said, okay let’s take 17%, was that the true picture?
Correct. But then, Jemibewon was part of the meeting. So if he made that suggestion, it was like anybody's suggestion. He was contributing to the meeting. And I told you 16% and 18% were the candidates among other figures enumerated, so we agreed on either 16% or 18%; so like you said correctly, somebody suggested, why not agree on something in between? And they kept quiet, but if they had said never, then we would know that consensus was not reached. But they kept quiet. When they kept quiet, what would you think? It means agreement had been reached.

It was only in the morning, when we were correcting the typographical errors that they came and said no. Now, let me tell you one thing, I think, and this is what Dikko said, I’m not afraid to speak, even when I was under sedation during my kidnap, I was speaking and if you see any of the kidnappers, they would tell you.

I think they have made a mistake. I think they have missed the boat, because the package given to them was the best they could have had. Number one, the figure offered to them was interim, it was not final. They forced us to quote a figure, not because we wanted to, because we knew we were not in a position to do that, but just to appease you, we agreed to talk about percentage. Secondly, we discussed and debated this thing with you and we came to a point where you yourself kept quiet in agreement, only later to come back in the morning. If you are running Nigeria like this, do you think Nigeria will last this long? Now, if you are a leader, you are a leader, this is what I told them. I said if you are a leader only looking for popularity, forget it. I won't follow any leader, who is looking for popularity, because he will not take the right decision.

When you are a leader just looking for love, you are wasting your time; that is called prostitution leadership. When you are a leader, you weigh everything, consult everything or everybody, take a decision and once you take a decision, stand by it. So, I said to them in our separate meeting with them, look, don't say you fear for your lives, because of youngsters. I said can't you control your youngsters? A father who cannot control his son, you can be a father, certainly not a disciplined father; because when you discipline your young ones, it means that the correct things are accepted and done; not when the leaders are afraid, he should go and be at the last queue of followers. He is not even a good follower.

I told them, go back and tell them, we went to Abuja not to dictate to anybody. We went to Abuja as part and parcel of Nigeria. We went to Abuja to dialogue to discuss with fellow Nigerians from other parts of Nigeria, with equal rights in Nigeria. So we put our case, we fought as hard as we could, but in the end, our fellow country men and women said this is what they are going to give us; and also to plead with you, that you do not disgrace us by not accepting it. You see the percentage given by the committee of leaders, was a very good percentage.

If you have a son, who is becoming so stubborn and you, as a father, you are afraid to even talk to him, you are not a good father. You people are afraid, afraid of what? Afraid of your young ones? So, you are saying that they behaved like cowards. They did. In their face, I said, what I am telling you now, I told them to their face. I said go back and tell them, if you are leader, if you are not leaders, you are afraid of what?

In the same way in every part of Nigeria, there are problems. There is no one part of Nigeria that can say, we have got everything. So if we are Nigerians, then the problem of everybody should be our concern.

In the last hours to the end of the conference, you held marathon sessions of meetings and Nigerians were hopeful that a deal would come of out it, so what were the meetings for then?
For goodness’ sake, won't you praise us a little bit, given that out of so many issues in this world, only one you could say we couldn't reach real agreement? Like the Chairman of the conference has been saying, if you score 99.99%, in any examination will any examiner fail you? If any examiner fails you, then he should have himself examined.

So, out of all the issues, only one remained contentious in the end, just because some people went back on what we agreed. Just because some people wouldn't accept what their leaders had accepted; some boasting in their homes that they would blow Nigeria and so on and so forth. So if you have a child, don't spoil him. If you spoil your child, you think you are doing him any favour, because on the day, you are not there, he cannot stand.

So the South-South should know that we gave them the best percentage; we have bent over backward to accommodate them and if they think they can tell all of us off, I am sorry.

Why didn't the conference consider the derivation principle on the basis of the fact that almost every part of the country is endowed with one mineral resource or the other, rather than just focus on resource control with regard to the Niger Delta?

You don't cross the bridge before you come to it. If you try to cross a bridge before you come to it, people will think you are mad.

So at the moment, every part of the country, maybe, has potential, but oil has not been discovered in other parts yet. Even if it has, we must arrange our things in such a way that no one part of the country is a super state or super rich area and others are super poor. Somebody made that statement, I think Bola Ajibola.

A situation where the lopsidedness is such that a state in the South-South can get up to N10 billion, which some of them are receiving, when a state in the north is getting N1billion. You have to collect about seven states before they can get about what one government in the South-South is receiving. Is that Nigeria?
Therefore at the moment, this formula is the one that we think is fair. And even then, we are trying to please them to carry them along with us. We agreed, and said, all right, call it interim, even if you want to go to the United Nations and bring people, go and bring them.

Even if you want to bring some NGOs that are in charge of oil affair, in Gods Kingdom, if those are the people you want to bring, invite them. The point is, we cannot accept a situation where some people are living in abject poverty, while others are swimming in money, so much so that, they don't even know what to do with it. And at the same time, look at all the organizations set up, NDDC, OMPADEC, and these were set up and money was pumped there, so that they will take care of the problem, which these people have been crying about.

So we just give money for some elites to chop. We just make money available to some few people to squander and take it and invest abroad, when their people are dying of poverty. We are Nigerians, we also have a right. If you are a Nigeria, no matter where you are and we see that you are not being governed properly, it is our business to talk. And they say, that is arrogance.

The South-South delegates in one of their replies to your statement had said that you are actually the problem, that you are carrying the usual arrogance of the north too far?
If their complaint was that, they didn't have enough time to have their say, for God's sake, give them all the time. If we need to spend three days sitting to listen to them, nobody else will talk, we will listen. Let them say and say and say; so that their people will see that they sent great people to the conference; so that will convince their people that, my God, when they spoke, everybody was afraid.

And in any case, when the conference opened, they talked and talked, some of us would just get up and alter a few words, that is the humility of the north, but those few words are words that have been weighed. So, I said if that was their problem, we must accept that democracy gives them a chance to speak and we did. And when they were talking, nobody interrupted. So what is the problem? After all the talking, they talked to a point where they kept quiet.

Some of them said, when they were about to resolve some issues, that you in particular made sure that the issues were not resolved.

I tell you why, I have been in politics, you see, it is one of the tricks of politics, that you isolate and put all the blame on one particular person, so that you can concentrate and kill him; when I say kill, I don't mean physical killing. I have been long enough in politics to know that this is one of the tricks.

In our rules of the conference, it is stated that once an issue has been discussed and agreed upon, that agreement, whether by consensus or through voting, but once a position has been taken by the conference, then nobody can re-open the issue, otherwise, the conference can never finish.

That is a standing order. So that became the constitution of our conference and any breach of that constitution is a breach. Once the committees come with their reports, the Chairman set up a committee and said go and consider all these contentious areas, debate them until you come to a situation where you are in agreement and report back. Where you fail to agree, report back. The whole conference will deal with it.

If they complained, you see in any conference, if it is a democracy, the majority will have its way and minority must be given the chance to have their say; that is democracy. Minority view must be reflected.

So, when we came back and reported and then a motion was moved for the report to be laid before the conference for general debate, then, somebody moved a counter-motion, which is correct. The counter motion was defeated; therefore, it can never be re-opened.

The motion to accept the report of the leaders of delegations was passed. But the one contentious issue, which the committee reported there was no majority was the vote or 24/21, there was no clear majority on the issue of tenure, then that issue cannot be reopened. It is simply our own law, it is not Dikko.

Look the north is not arrogant. We are a humble people. Though we are senior partners in Nigeria, we have remained humble. We have carried ourselves with the posture of a leader. We have been long in this game of ruling. You may love us, you may hate us, but you cannot ignore us.

On the banning of past heads of State; even some delegates from the north had expressed surprise that people from that part of the country on the elders committee had agreed with that suggestion?
You see, you did not put it correctly. The way many people understand it is not quite the way it is meant. Initially, the people who suggested that it is a contentious issue said all former heads of state should be banned. So, we at the committee said no, I think we are sophisticated enough, we should use a refined language. Not crude language like ban all former heads of state.

And also, if you do that, that would be discriminatory. It is not your duty to say certain people that you know and say they should be banned. It is a wrong logic. We said, okay, let’s talk in a civilized language. And I am moved to say that I wrote that sentence.

I said, ‘Any person who has taken over power by force or through unconstitutional means, shall be disqualified from contesting elections.’ So, we didn't talk of any head of state, we didn't talk of any military, we didn't talk of any particular person. That is what we are saying, that if you take power by force, it is criminal. Is any Nigerian quarrelling with that? But because some people have got some godfathers who will probably fall into that kind of pit, they said no, no, that is not right.

But what people are saying is that people that will suffer more from this ban are the ex-military officers?
Don't mention any name. This is the law, which applies, whether you are my father, my uncle or my friends or my enemy, that doesn't even arise. And that kind of situation should apply, even for the future.

It has been suggested that, you agreed to that recommendation because of your ordeal in the hands of the military?
No, not at all. I am too insignificant, with the population of Nigeria, to make my thoughts to depend on my personal difference with anybody. I could die tomorrow, or even today, so Nigeria can go on.

Let’s go back to the issue of derivation. Some people have said that you have refused to see their side of the argument knowing full well that even the money with which your state was developed came from oil?

Do you know or don't you know that it was the north that gave the first £1million, as at that time, to develop oil in the South? When the East are asked to contribute, they said they had no money. When the West were asked to contribute, they said, they had no money. £1 million at that time was a lot of money. But they have forgotten that, today, if you ask them to bring that £1million and take derivation, how much will that cost? It is more than what they are asking for.
So the north, as I have said, and this is not arrogance, we have always been senior partners in the Nigeria federation. And we have behaved in a way that shows correct leadership. That means sacrifice; you deny yourself to allow your junior brothers to have. And that dignified behaviour is what people perceive as arrogance. It is not arrogance.

Do you, therefore, consider the current resource control agitation an act of ingratitude to the north?
Most of them didn't know and even those few that know, they are not willing to say it because they are afraid, that their area boys will kill them. I don't know what you call them there, so, you see when mature people choose to behave like area boys that is what I call area elders.

So those from the South-South, who backed down on the 17% derivation increment are area boys, is that what you are saying?
All I have said is that where an elder behaves like an area boy, then he will be an area elder.

Sunday Punch, July 17, 2005