Civil Rights Activists Renew Call For National Conference

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The convocation of a Sovereign National Conference is now a challenge before civil and human rights  activists writes EROMOSELE EBHOMELE

The fifth Beko  Memorial Anniversary symposium, which was held last Thursday afforded the participants  to once again call for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference, a programme that the late  Beko Ransome Kuti lived part of his life pursuing.

While the event also allowed the participants to once again praise the man whose struggle for the  emancipation of the country would not be easily forgotten, it was also a time for the comrades to  reflect on how far they have carried on with the fight since the death of the medical doctor-turned  democracy activist and his colleagues in the struggle, Gani Fawehinmi, Aka Bashorun and Anthony  Enahoro. Some of them felt guilty that they have not done enough, others saw the challenges ahead if  they would come together in favour of the country’s future.

Dr. Abubakar Momoh of the Lagos State University (LASU) was the first to actually drive up the  emotions of those who attended the event when he told them that the amalgamation of the country in  1914 was an aberration. According to him, the amalgamation of the country by the British was done  without asking the people if they were prepared for it.

He said the colonial powers depended on the use of force to get the people to do their biddings and  when they were leaving, they left behind the instrument of force which included the police and the  military. “What happened in independence in Africa was that these instrument of violence were  inherited…Colonialism did not bring about the advancement of the people but was the development of  exploitation,” he said in his lecture, Beyond Elections, Building A Capable State. He added that  resources from Africa were used to sustain the First and Second World Wars. “We always believe that  elections would solve issues. That is why the anarchy we find ourselves today is contrived.”

Dr. Sule Kano of the Uthman Dan Fodio Universty, Sokoto corroborated Momoh in his speech when he  described as painful the fact that those in government used public funds for their private activities.  “Most times, leaders exploit our state of illiteracy and bamboozle us with various slogans.

“It has become so scandalous that in the Aso Rock Villa, there is no library. You can see why your  rulers are ruling you on the basis of ignorance. They do not read or have knowledge, but they can  oppress.

“Nigeria is a State that was created under the capitalist mode of production and the whole essence was  to build a society which on the basis of capitalism generate surplus for the British State. Today, we  have only three per cent of our youths in school and the government is deceiving the people that we  would be one of the top 20 economies by the year 2020.

“If the government could take one-third of the national budget while the house of the president is  furnished with N2billion, whereas the amount made available to educational training is not more than  N300million, then you can see that we are going nowhere,” he said.

Pa Alfred Ilere’s comments were more thought-provoking. He said: “What I see now in the country is so  frightening because the young people that are in the civil society have become terribly handicapped.  When we moved into this struggle between the 1950s and 1970s, many of us had lucrative jobs and cars  as journalists and students who had bursary awards and lecturers who were earning good pay and were  able to take care of their families.

“Today, graduates leave school and after 15 years, they have no jobs to do and there is no sign that a  solution would come soon.

“In those days when Beko was alive, we would meet with the progressive and radicals in Lagos and when  there are issues, we present the feelings of the masses with the hope that the government would look  into it. And actually in those days, they do set up panels just like the one of the Anglo-Nigerian  Defence Pact and issues with student demonstration. But these days, lecturers go on strike for five  months and the government would say ‘if they are tired, they will go back to work’. If doctors are on  strike, the government would say when they are hungry; they would go back to work.”

“There is only one group that is speaking the true language today and that is the organisation called  Boko Haram in Maiduguri. The language is being used to pass a vote of no confidence on Western  education. The language the group is speaking is spoken in every village in Nigeria. The educated  western elite in the country today is seen as a fraud. He takes a good job and all he does with the  job is taking care of himself and his family.

“He is so scared of his environment that he builds structures and put barricades. Of late, he had to  buy bullet-proof cars and wear bullet-proof vests to be able to live within his environment. Thus, you  could see that we are heading to nowhere except anarchy. Countries have fallen in recent times. The  Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, Yugoslavia collapsed, and Somalia became ungovernable.

“Are we actually a State? Did we prepare to be one people? This is one area that the Bekos of this  world took time to address —that the colonialists created a haphazard nation and to make it work,  there must be agreement between the different nationalities on how to work together and until that is  done we are not running any goal-driven country,” Pa Ilere said.

He continued: “We have recommendations from the PRONACO people’s conference. No country would remain  stable if you rely on the instruments of coercion to intimidate the people. There should be welfare  package for all Nigerians. There should be unemployment allowance. There should be free education, in  fact, there is actually nothing like free education because the people will pay when they start  working and that is exactly what we are saying here. Elections lead to nowhere but violence. We should  have a transitory sovereign national conference to determine how the country is to be run free of  corruption and oppression.”

The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Edo State, Osagie Obayuwana, who was in the  struggle with the Beko, said until the country decides to come together and discuss if the people want  to continue to live together, we all might just be deceiving themselves.

Comrade Obayuwana decried the impunity with which those in government operated anti-people policies  without remorse. “At the beginning of the year, budgets are made, projects are outlined but at the end  of the year, we are told the Ministries were only able to implement the budget to the tune of between  25 and 30 per cent,” he said maintaining that it was the function of the kind of state the people had  allowed exist, which had turned Nigeria into a source of raw materials and a market for finished  goods.

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“The National Assembly claimed to have amended the constitution but did not touch the part which is  most vital to the people. There should be health services to all on the basis of need and not ability  to pay, right to housing and most importantly the right to a job fully justifiable in the sense that  every youth can ask the government to provide him a job,” he added.

He described Beko as an enigma and that keeping his company was a most pleasant experience.

Reverend Tunji Adebiyi, a chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition, used his time to reflect on  some activities of Beko and the other activists of his time in the country. According to him, the late  Beko was a doctor who had time to mingle with Nigerians and fight against oppression of people by the  military. He added that most of the reasons why Beko was imprisoned by the governments of the day were  related to fighting for the people he did not know.

He said: “In the regional government, every region through cash crops and the revenue generated was  able to cater to the needs of its people. Then the military came in and set up states which now rely  on the centre for revenue.

“I remember in 1996, Beko and Sylvester Odion Akhaine were in prison and the Campaign for Democracy  (CD) had to be organised by Frederick Fasehun.

“When the military, during the Armed Forces Remembrance Day, said they wanted to celebrate unknown  soldiers, we said we wanted to celebrate known soldiers. We advertised the event and behold, on that  day, soldiers were everywhere with armoured tanks at the Ojuelegba venue of our event to arrest us.

That day, we did not use our vehicles because they were looking for us. But we entered a danfo, got to  Ojuelegba and the soldiers were there and did not recognise us. We passed by, signalled to the  pressmen who were there waiting for us and they got us and we relocated to Masha area of Surulere.

Within 10 minutes, the comrades were there and Dr. Fasehun asked me to pray. I was praying with my  eyes open, looking all around and decreeing that the freedom will come. After that, Fasehun gave his  speech and Joe Okei, who was not Odumakin then, was the acting secretary. She gave her speech.

“When she was getting too long, I dragged her to round off. And immediately, we finished, we were  moving inside the next available bus when we heard gun shots. The newspapers carried it the next day  that despite all the armoured tanks, the CD was able to beat them to it.”

He agreed that civil society groups have not done enough now as according to him, there are no more  armoured tanks on the streets and the people were now free to publicly express their opinions and  protest against any move by the government to derail. He also tasked them to continue the move for a  Sovereign National Conference as this was the only solution to the country’s challenges. “We must not  forget the efforts of Beko, Gani Fawehinmi, Aka Bashorun and Enahoro in identifying how we could build  a capable state. They gave their voice in favour of a Sovereign National Conference.”

The President of the Arewa  Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Shettima Yerima, told P.M.NEWS, that the  country was heading towards anarchy if it fails to convoke a Sovereign National Conference where the  need for true federalism would be discussed. He agreed with Adebiyi that the civil society groups had  not done enough, adding that it was because some of those in the struggle are more interested in what  they would get.

“The situation has become so bastardised that some of us are now guilty of abandoning the legacies of  our past leaders. Today, there is no Gani Fawehinmi, Beko and Enahoro are no longer there and we don’t  have a replacement for any of them. As I speak with you now, some of us who have found our ways into  government these days have now pocketed the institutions that produced some of us.

“Some of us actually came into the struggle for selfish interests and because of this, there is  confusion as against the ideals these people (the national leaders) fought for, which includes a  society where there is justice, fairness, equity and justice.

“I subscribe to the fact that we are moving towards anarchy because the stage is getting set daily and  the people have become aware that those vested with authority in the country are daily becoming  careless with it.

“The people are now getting tired and my worry is that those who do not understand the system are now  carrying arms. The Boko Haram is there in the north as a threat to national security, the militants  are in South-South. So, you can imagine what would happen if we begin to have their likes in the  South-West. It would become obvious that the end of the country has come,” he said.

He maintained that the country’s politicians are scared of a Sovereign National Conference because it  is clear that once it holds, they would not be able to come back to their positions again. “They would  not be relevant in the polity and they would lose power. This is why they pretend that all is well and  when you call for it, they would tell you it is not necessary, but it is very germane to the  continuous existence of this country,” he emphasised.

Now that the comrades know they have not done enough to keep the legacies of the past leaders alive,  Nigerians may be waiting to see how they would unite to redirect the course of their destinies  positively.

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