Abuja — AHEAD of the review of the 1999 Constitution, President Goodluck Jonathan vowed, yesterday, that he will abide by the wishes and desires of the people of Nigeria.
Speaking during the celebration of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme's 80th birthday at an international colloquium organised in his honour, Jonathan noted that the challenge before the nation was for Nigerians to agree to commit themselves to the development, growth and survival of Nigeria.
The event which had as its theme, "Nigerian Federalism: Building on the Ekwueme Legacy," took place at the Thisday Dome, Abuja.
The President who spoke through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, however, described Ekwueme as a bridge-builder, adding that he was the architect of Nigeria's democracy, father of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and a great star of our time.
Jonathan who also said Ekwueme was a clean personality that couldnot be stained by politicians, stressed that he came out of office poorer than he was before he became the nation's number two citizen from 1979-1983.
The president urged Nigerians to be patriotic and support the country, adding: "I have no personal opinion on how Nigeria will be structured, but I will abide by what Nigerians want.
Gowon calls for national confab
Chairman of the occasion and former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, who poured encomiums on Ekwueme, however, called for a national conference where the issues affecting Nigeria could be discussed rather than a sovereign conference.
Six political zones split politicians
Meanwhile, the issue of six political zones and devolution of powers to the states and regions came into focus during the colloquium with politicians, leaders, elders and stakeholders holding divergent views ranging from the need to amend the constitution and expansion of the amendment committee.
Value change more important for law and order --Fashola
Setting the tone for the discussions, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, who noted his disagreement that constitution amendment was sine qua non to development, stressed that value change was more important for law and order, economic, political, social development than constitution amendment.
Fashola said: "What is under consideration is whether a constitution amendment is really what we want. What lies at the heart of the clamour is the desire for a better life, not really a better document. Nigerians want to pay school fees, feed themselves and work. The Constitution is just an agreement on how we relate to one another.
"Its effectiveness depends on our sincerity to honour agreement. We don't have electoral malpractices, because the constitution is bad; our roads are bad for motorists not because the constitution is bad. The crash of the stock exchange isn't because the constitution is bad. Those things that frustrate our people cannot be put at the doorstep of the Constitution. They lie in our diminishing values."
Also speaking, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State who described the agreement for geo- political zones as faulty, especially on the area of marginalization, said if there must be equity, all the entities must be treated equally.
Abolish 36 states --Clark
Also speaking, former Federal Commissioner for Information and Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, who advised that the present 36 states must be abolished and replaced with six geo-political zones, said they would serve as federating units.
He said: "We need a national conference to discuss. Our constitution is a military instrument given to us by the military. I disagree with the Lagos State governor on the constitution amendment. We need a document that would make Nigerians equal. The six zones suggested by Alex Ekwueme should be the federating zones of this country. No region should hold another region down."
Also in his contribution, former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, who opposed including geo-political zones in the constitution, stressed that since the states were not working, having the zones will also not work, just as he stressed that there was the need for the devolution of powers from the federal level to the states.
Former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Solomon Lar, described the centre as too powerful, calling for the devolution of powers to the states, even as he urged Nigerians to be patriotic. He said the Federal Government had made the states look like local government councils.
On his part, former Minister of Police Affairs, General David Jemibewon, stressed the need for Nigeria to start the process from somewhere.
In his contribution, former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, who disagreed with Governor Peter Obi on the role on National Assembly on the constitution amendment, however urged the lawmakers to hands off constitution amendment as that was not what they were voted in office to do. He said the amendment of the constitution was the responsibility of Nigerians and not that of the National Assembly.
The Colloquium was attended by crème de la crème in the political and economic circle.
Among those who were there were the former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Sen. Anyim Pius Anyim, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Tambuwal; Deputy Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Minister of Labour, Chief Emeka Wogu, Peoples Democratic Party National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, Federal Road Safety Commission Corps Marshal, Osita Chidoka, Senator Andy Uba, former PDP National chairman, Sen. Ahmadu Ali, former Board of Trustees chairman of PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, Deputy governor of Kano state, the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Amd. Raph Uwueache, Chief Edwin Clark, Obong Victor Attah.
Others were: Dr. Okwesilize Nwodo, Dr. Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, Gen. David Jemibewon (rtd.), former Minister of Information, Prof. Dora Akunyili, National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Chief Olisa Metuh, former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, former Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas, former Transport Minister, Umaru Dikko, Chief Dubim Onyia; Professor Osita Ogbu: Maduka Cosmos, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Sen. Joy Emordi