Enahoro interview only court stop us

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Guardian

February 19, 2005

‘Only The Court Can Stop Us’

Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro has been in the
forefront of agitation for good governance in Nigeria before the country
attained her independence in 1960. A First Republic member of parliament and one
time minister, the septuagenarian is one of the arrow-heads of the call for a
Sovereign National Conference (SNC) which began 12 years ago.

He is currently chairman of the Pro-National Conference Organizations (PRONACO),
a coalition of several groups proposing to organize a conference of ethnic
nationalities parallel to that of the government later in the year, despite his
nomination as a delegate.

The Uromi, Edo State chief Spoke to MUYIWA ADEYEMI and GODWIN IJEDIOGOR on
sundry issues, especially those relating to both the PRONACO conference and the
government-organized National Dialogue.

WHY are you not in favour of the government-organized
dialogue?

Well, we are not necessarily against the government-organized conference because
we actually started the agitation about 12 years ago. We had sent out pamphlets
to that effect about 10 years ago. But successive governments, one after
another, were not interested in having a proper national conference as we saw
it. As time went on and nothing was happening from any quarters, we decided to
hold one by ourselves. So we began to negotiate with various interest groups
until we got enough response and fixed one.

You started the agitation, now government seems to have
listened by organizing one. Why are you boycotting it?

Not merely that; we also have various other ideas. First is that we want a
democratic process for the selection of delegates, to represent interests of
those who elected them to the conference. If somebody is representing the Edos,
for example, the Edo people must have a say on who it should be. You can’t just
have some people appointed by somebody with no relationship with the Edos. If it
is somebody representing your union, say the newspapers, how can somebody
appoint some people on your behalf. You must have a say on who should truly
represent your interest.

Secondly, we didn’t want any no-go areas. We said so; that
everything goes on the table for discussion and that it is the true
representatives of the Nigerian people that would determine what to discuss and
what not to discuss. As a matter of fact, I can recall the president saying that
he doesn’t believe in that conference holding at all. But eventually, he changed
his mind and said, you can have the conference. But we call it a dialogue, not a
conference. As far as we are concerned, we didn’t mind too much. What difference
does it make what it is called? Then he came out with various other conditions;
no-go areas, you mustn’t discuss the issue of federation, this and that.

Above all, that he or the government must appoint
virtually all the delegates. Then it becomes a private affair of one party, with
the leaders of one party. That is what it is now. So, given all these
conditions, we didn’t think that this was something with which we could
co-operate. If, under our concept, I am to represent any group, that group will
have to choose me. They must elect me and I must represent their views. They
must be sure of what I am going to negotiate there. But that is not what we have
now. So, we thought it wise to carry on with our own arrangements.

Is it not possible that something good can come out of
this National Dialogue?

Yes, why not. We haven’t said they shouldn’t meet and have their own conference.
They are free to have theirs; so can any other group of Nigerians go ahead and
have their own. We are holding one now; we are going through the list of 68
organizations that we will present at our meeting on Tuesday. And this is merely
the committee. You can imagine how large the proportion of the population whose
views will be represented.

And we do not have everybody on board yet. This seems to
be the voice of the people, the people’s conference, as we call it.

Is it not possible for the progressives on the
government list to hijack the government-sponsored conference and pursue your
agenda there instead of holding a different one?
 

No, no! It is not possible for us to hijack the
conference, because we need numbers to do that. We don’t need just a couple of
speakers where there are overwhelming number on the government side. How do you
hijack such a conference? With what? Yes, some people may share your view, but
that may not be so.

In any case, we are discussing hypothetical issues. Up
till now (Wednesday evening) I have not received any invitation to be there. So
it is a haphazard thing. My organization – I am merely the chairman – has taken
a decision that unless A, B, C, D are there, we don’t believe in what they are
doing. If I receive an invitation to that conference, my duty will be to report
to the organization.

We will sit down, discuss it and decided on what to do,
which will be binding on me. It is either I accept their decision, whichever way
it goes, or resign and let somebody else lead the organization. I have ceased to
be me as a Chief Anthony Enahoro; I am the chairman of an organization agitating
for a democratic process. So, within ourselves, we must be democratic.

How do you feel getting to know of your nomination on
the pages of the newspapers?

I didn’t feel anything particular. How many offices have I held in life? I
didn’t feel anything.

There are speculations of possible thwarting of your
parallel conference. In the event of that, what happens?

It is theirs that is parallel. We started before them. So theirs is the parallel
one. Ours is the original conference.

I take it that we are all going to behave within the laws
of the land. Well, as far as our lawyers tell us, we are within the law. If you
are going to have a meeting in an open place, then you know what to do. You
must, maybe seek police permit or something like that. But if you are having a
private meeting, indoors, in a private quarters, as we are meeting now, whether
there are 1,000 people or not, it is our business. We don’t need to beg anybody
for the right to do so; it is our inherent right. That is what the lawyers tell
us. So, in order to prevent us from having our conference, most probably they
will have to go to court.

What then happens to the outcome of your own
conference?

 

What happens to the outcome of any conference?
 

Government may present the outcome of its own
conference to the National Assembly for ratification.

Yes, that may be right. Our view is that it is the
people’s right to establish how we shall be ruled, by who, etc.

How would it be made to become law?

You mean the peoples’ view will exist and somebody will refuse to incorporate it
into law? If the people stand for that, then they are not ready to rule
themselves. That is what I will say. People reached a decision, a popular
decision and somebody or some group now refused to rule the people as they
preferred to be ruled, and the people accepted it? Then they deserve what they
get.

Most of the groups or people in your organization
appear to be southerners?

No! May be you are talking of the leadership. There are people from all parts of
the country, even their leadership. As to the participants or delegates to the
conference, it is not true that they are mostly from the south. Most will be
from the northern part in terms of sheer numbers, because all the ethnic groups
are to be represented. At the last count, we have a list of 107 groups.

What happens should some of your members decide to
attend the government-sponsored dialogue?

 

They have the right to do so. We are not going to prevent
them, they have the right to.

You have been in the forefront of political agitation
even before independence. Are you not tired?

I am not tired. I don’t feel tired. With age, I have more knowledge and know
ways of getting round things that I didn’t know before, which I must put at the
disposal of the people; not just pocket it or keep it to myself.

Some people say you progressives never see anything
good in what the government does?

Well, there is no way that could be true of people like me, because I have been
in government twice. So nobody can accuse me of that.

 

Going through the list of nominees, they are the same
people we are familiar with. Do you think they will come out with anything new?

Well, I was once asked the same question. My answer is: ‘Who were the main
supporters of late General Sani Abacha? Were they not distinguished Nigerians?’

 

They were not the masses, but distinguished Nigerians who
backed the dictatorship until providence came to everybody’s rescue. So the fact
that somebody is distinguished doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is right. You
may be distinguished, but wrong.

Some youths believe that the list is made up of the old
breed, and that they should be given a chance?

 

Well, that seems to support our position that the people
should choose who represents them. If they are the ones the people want, then so
be it.

Has your organization presented any position to the
government on how to go about the national conference?

 

No. We made no suggestions to the government. We haven’t
been invited. We have made suggestions to the organization we all belong to and
we are working on them. We announced it publicly, you know. We don’t have any
obligation to the government, but to the people.

Apart from the issues of no-go areas and election of
delegates, on which other area do you differ with the government?

What else is there? Those are the basic things – what you are going to discuss
and who is going to discuss them. We have to discuss the structure of the
country. We have to decide whether we should have regions, and whether we should
have a parliamentary system. All issues on which nobody was given an opportunity
to decide after Abacha’s death, before they rushed everybody back into this.
Nobody saw the constitution before the elections of 1999. How do you rule a
people who don’t know under what laws they are going to be ruled, and expect
people to accepted it.

I said once that Nigerians are such people that if today,
there is a law that, henceforth, everybody must not walk on their feet but on
their heads, you will see Nigerians practicing on the streets how to walk
perfectly on their heads. They are such an obedient people.

This is a conference, which the president had been
against, and suddenly he changes his mind. What do you think could have informed
his u-turn?

Well, it is anybody’s guess. I don’t know whether he is reacting to the
pressure, which is growing wider and wider. He may have said yes, may be it is
in order. I don’t bother myself to ask why.

Could your position against the dialogue be in tandem
with the position of the National Assembly?

From what I have read so far, the National Assembly is only saying it will not
provide the funds for it. It is going to be interesting to know where the funds
will come from.

Assuming you get the nod from your organization, would
you go even without a law backing the dialogue? Won’t it be like the Oputa
Panel?

Are you suggesting that if the president had wanted to enforce the Oputa Panel
reports, that he couldn’t have done it?
 

What do you advice the government about the dialogue?
 

For example, if it adopts our view as to the assemblage,
that the people should elect their own representatives and withdraw the out of
bound thing, both of which are key to the conference, then it would be for us to
negotiate.

Does your security bother you?

Not really. We assume that everybody will act within the law. Of course, it
could be dangerous sometimes. We have done it in the past. We just hope that we
can get used to them.

If it becomes too hot, would you go into exile again?

No, no. At that time, we thought it could do us more good outside than inside.
And, indeed, if we hadn’t been outside, we may not have been able to get rid of
military rule for God knows how many years. So it wasn’t just for one’s safety,
but it was to take the struggle out.

Will this democracy take us far if certain fundamental
issues are not allowed to be discussed at the dialogue?
 

I don’t think it will take us far. That is our position.
Those fundamental issues must be discussed. For example, what has been the
source of the crises in the country, down to the coast, up to the north, be it
ethnic or religious? Why can’t these things be discussed? What then are we going
to discuss?
 

You can’t have accountability in this present presidential
system of government. As you watch your television, you see the rigour through
which the British parliament put Tony Blair to account for his deeds.

Do you still feel that the parliamentary system is most
suitable for Nigeria?

 

Yes, very much so. I think it must be the starting point.
You cannot be president of Nigeria under the present dispensation if you haven’t
got billions of Naira to spend for election. That is why there is no
accountability.

Under the current electoral process, do you think a
Chief Anthony Enahoro will make it as a delegate from Edo State, for example?

 

It depends on whom I am representing. We have two
participating groups. One is made up of the ethnic groups, which will arrange
whatever way their delegates will be elected. You cannot prescribe how they
should elect their representatives. But there must be an elective process. And,
if I am representing, let’s say the Bar Association, then there must be a
process by which I will be picked. What we don’t want is the chairman of any
organization to send some names of his friends to the conference. We want the
elective process.

We have heard that the President is disposed to the
parliamentary system like you. Does that mean, at least, a meeting point between
your views?

 

That is not the point we are going to discuss. Although
you hear what you hear and I hear something else. Let’s wait and see.

Your advise to Nigerians regarding both conferences?

I don’t know what advice I can give other than for them to do what they think is
the right thing to do – to have a free-for-all conference, with all the ethnic
groups in the country represented. What is a federation after all? Is it not
made up of human beings who should elect their own delegates?
 

The question is how are we going to meet together
peacefully. Yes, some may say they want leave this country.

But I don’t know of any people who ever wanted to break
away from one country and decided that a conference is the best place to do it.
They just buy arms and fight their way through. So I don’t believe the
conference is in any way going to represent a danger to the unity of Nigeria.
Those who want to go away don’t need to go to the conference table. They just do
their own thing.

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