By Lawrence Olaoye, Abuja & Edwin Olofu, Kano
The impending National Conference billed to commence Monday has continued to cause a split in the North with eminent citizens divided on whether or not the region should participate in the parley.
While the region’s apex socio-cultural organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) is determined to participate in the conference convened by President Jonathan, some other eminent citizens of the North are of the view that northerners have no basis partaking in the National Conference.
The ACF has already nominated its representatives to the National Conference, with its current Chairman, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, a retired Inspector General of Police, leading the group’s delegation to the forum.
But speaking yesterday at the Conference of Leaders and Elders of Northern Nigeria in Kano, some other sons and daughters of the region raised opposition to the North’s participation in the parley.
Speaking at the Kano conference, eminent northern citizen, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who was guest speaker at the forum, cautioned the northern elders who have agreed to take part in the confab to ensure that they shun the pecuniary gains by protecting the interests of the North at the parley, if they deem it imperative to be part of the confab.
Dr. Baba-Ahmed, who went down memory lane on how a united North determined the date of the nation’s independence in 1953, lamented that the region is no longer united but is now at its weakest point ever.
According to him, those northerners selected to participate at the parley would have no much influence on the outcome of the conference because they would be approaching the talk disunited.
He lamented that “In spite of major setbacks suffered by the National Conference idea, President Jonathan had insisted it had to go ahead. It suffered from the denunciation that it will not be a sovereign conference. It has been condemned for not accepting to end up with a brand new Constitution. It has been condemned for having its output submitted to the National Assembly, without a referendum. It has been condemned over its timing so close to an election. It has been condemned for lack of legitimacy by its nominated delegates, for its no-go areas and for ignoring basic indices historically used in determining participation quotas.
“The release of the delegates list has crippled this conference even more seriously. It is setting the North against the South, which may be a good one for President Jonathan if that is his plan. It is offending Nigerian Muslims with roughly 198 delegates, while Christians have 294. It is offending northern Christians in the North-west; Muslims in Plateau state and the North-central zone; Christian communities in the North-east; Ijaws, Ogonis and South-western Muslims,” he pointed out.
Insisting that the conference would be distracting the attention of northern leaders from their domestic challenges including insecurity, unemployment and comatose infrastructure, Baba-Ahmed said: “The conference will be engaged in quarrels over composition of committees, rules and agenda, while northerners ask who exactly is killing them in towns and villages in Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Kaduna states”.
He therefore warned that: “For the Northern delegates who are about to enter the ring with one hand tied behind your back, we can only appeal to your conscience to do the right thing. Do not attend if all the conference will give you is a few millions in allowances and three months in a comfortable hotel, away from all the problems of your people. If you have to attend, pay close attention to how the conference can redress its massive baggage. Insist that the offensive imbalance between Muslims and Christians are addressed; that Christians in some parts of North who are not represented are; Muslims who have been ignored find a voice in the conference; insist, before the conference takes off that its composition is balanced. If you cannot achieve this, work to prevent any discussion of any substance, because this conference is the least qualified of all conferences in the past, to discuss serious issues. If you cannot do any of these, walk out. Resist the temptation to believe that the North will be hurt more if it has no delegates at this conference. Every northerner who walks out robs the conference of more of the very little credibility it has. The more of you that walk out, the less likely it will be that they will claim that they held a National Conference”.
But, commenting on the need for unity in the North ahead of the confab in a BBC Hausa service interview monitored yesterday in Abuja, spokesman of the ACF, Alhaji Muhammad Ibrahim, said: “The (two-day northern leaders) conference holding in Kano was organized by our elders who have been part of the formative stage of the ACF.
“However we are not happy with the conference because we in ACF feel we should speak with one voice. Regrettably, the way we’re going, it will not be helpful to the region as a whole. People are free to form or join various political, religious or social groups. However, when it comes to matters concerning the North, we feel the region should speak with one voice,” he cautioned.
Although the ACF spokesman was not specific on what he meant by his suggestion that the region was not speaking with one voice, he was apparently alluding to the fervent call by Dr. Baba-Ahmed that the North should boycott the Jonathan staged conference, a position that gained wide acceptability among most participants.
Those in attendance at the Northern leaders conference include Dr. Yusuf Maitama Sule, the Dan Masanin Kano and Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), which convened the parley, his deputy, Dr. Paul Unongo, Professor Auwalu Yadudu, as well as eminent politicians from the region such as Mrs. Pauline Tallen and Fr. Solomon Dalung.
Read full text of Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed’s paper titled “The North: A past in the future” on the back page of today’s Peoples Daily.