Dr Tony Uranta
Calls for national dialogue rather than Sovereign National Conference are now being advocated as the best for a people’s constitution. In an interview with Zacheaus Somorin, Executive Secretary, National Summit Group, Dr Tony Uranta, posits that youths must be involved in all the process. Excerpts:
What are the roles you think the youth can play in the ongoing constitution amendment alongside your proposal for national dialogue?
This really should be their fight. The youths of Nigeria will be carried along more than ever before. We want to say we find it appalling that in the whole of the constitution, youths are only mentioned in the issue of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and there is nowhere that there is provision for the elderly or the handicap. I am getting to be if I am not already a senior citizen and there will be a period when I will not be productive. How am I sure that I am going to live a reasonably comfortable life without having to beg or become a dependant. We are no longer living in our villages and hamlets where the extended families institution could comfortably accommodate the elderly and we are having a burgeoning population of young people whose parents have starved to put through school not to mention the millions who are uneducated and unemployable and even millions of graduates who are all over our villages, our creeks unemployed.
They have an idle voice because tomorrow is today. We kept calling them leaders of tomorrow and they themselves bought the foolery. They are leaders of today. If they don't join in fashioning tomorrow, it will be lost to them and they will all join us in sitting either in anarchy or in woe. Finally, on that subject, I like to digress and say that if we do not convoke the national conference and resolve the few differences that are trying to break and emphasise the commonality that binds us together, ours will not be an Arab spring and I laughed when I heard the civil societies talk of starting another spring.
With the current situation, how close are we to a national conference?
I think we are very close. When the PRONACO existed, to my knowledge, PRONACO became comatose and all its principal officers except a few pretenders and they have not met even before the passage of the late sage, Pa Anthony Enahoro. Even at that time, there wasn't consensus. It was more of a sovereign proboscis with a few Northern interests.
Now, with the National Summit Group (NSG) coming into being, when it took off publicly in February, there were few protests that it was not representative of the nation and those protests were backed with claims that certain groups were not present or were not invited or did not make a relevant input. Since that period, the NSG has been consulting all over the nation with different groups like the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Arewa, Middle Belt Union, Eastern Mandate, OPC, Niger Delta Youths, IYC, different ethnic groups, NBA and other civil societies even diplomatic missions. And by the meeting, we had before this last one, everybody had bought into it. What I am trying to say is that we are carrying along nearly everybody.
We believe that it is now more consensually agreed that the nation needs a dialogue and a national dialogue and you will note that even the president in his last media chat with the nation said he is in support of a dialogue and that what he will not support is what used to be the battle cry of those of us who were at the frontline during the war against the military, a Sovereign National Conference.
There have been disillusionment about the way forward on national conference and effort towards a true peoples’ constitution, do you think this latest move will have any impact?
I was part of a presidential retreat for civil societies where papers were presented by Justice Belgore, the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Speaker of the House, Emeka Ihedioha and even an address which was very cogent was made by the president both at the opening and at the end.
At this retreat, very prominent civil society leaders, professional association leaders including the president of the Nigerian Medical Association, Nigerian Bar Association, National Council of Women Society, the youths and different groups made presentations and it was virtually consensually understood that we all were in favour of not of a constitutional review per se but a national conference or dialogue at which the peoples of Nigeria will sit down, discuss the modus vivendi and the process by which they want to live together and through that we’ll fashion out a people's constitution that could be seen and known to the people and will now be ratified at the end of the day by a referendum.
What do you think about the input by different organisations at the retreat held in Abuja recently?
Two fundamental issues came up at the retreat that the legislature should do, and from the submissions at the hearings, I know that the NBA and others emphasised it. They are: one, make chapter 2 of the constitution of even this 1999 Constitution justiceable so that I can take somebody to court if a public officer does not live up to his billing. With that, I will now have the right to take them to court whenever I notice an anomaly. Two, enact a law that will make any future constitution subjectable to a referendum of the people before it can become a constitution. I am not saying that the reviews or whatever is gathered now should be subjected into a referendum, no, that will be unconstitutional because there is no space for referendum in our constitution but we are asking them to amend this constitution including at the very least those two items