The embarrassing behaviour of retired Colonel Tony Nyiam, a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue at the South-South public sitting in Benin, has put a big dent on the committee’s image
| By Olu Ojewale | Nov. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
THE Presidential Advisory Committee on national conference appears to be running into troubled waters. Since its formation a lot of Nigerians have either expressed support or reservations about the genuineness of the proposed conference. But the matter took a different dimension at the South-South pre-national conference deliberations, held in Benin City, Edo State, on Monday, October 28, when Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State, in his speech, called the exercise as a waste of resources and time. The speech did not go down well with Tony Nyiam, a member of the Committee, who shouted down the governor.
The meeting was abruptly terminated shortly after as thugs started to make trouble, heckling as the governor was explaining his stance. Some ethnic nationalities who had planned to present their cases before the advisory committee had to leave disappointed as they were unable to do so. Trouble started when the governor said he objected to wasting huge public funds on a fruitless venture like the proposed conference. He reminded his audience that during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo, millions of Naira was spent on a similar venture, but nothing came out of the conference. While the governor was still making his speech, Nyiam stood up to challenge him and while the governor would not budge, he shouted him down. The retired military officer had to be restrained by other members who were apparently shocked by his behaviour.
Oshiomhole insisted that his views about the conference might not be in consonant with the people of the state but “my personal views,” must also be allowed to be aired publicly. “I will be surprised if anything changes. Sincerely, I have no business to deceive or mislead anyone. I believe that the outcome of this conference will not be different from that of other conferences we have had in the past.”
However, the governor had, during a courtesy visit to his office by members of the committee led by Femi Okurounmu, it chairman, said he had no faith in the whole process. Oshiomhole said: “All I owe Nigeria now is to speak my mind. It could be the error of my head but certainly not of my heart. As much as I wish you well, I just want to say that I have no faith in this process and I do not think it was necessary at all. I am unable to find any basis to give me some illusion that this exercise will not be different from the others. And I honestly think that in terms of the private sector, when a country keeps debating how we can live together that cannot be one of the basis on which the outside community will invest in Nigeria. They may well wait until we know how we want to live in Nigeria.”
He lamented that 53 years after independence, Nigerians still preferred to look at themselves from their ethnic origin rather than being Nigerians. “I think Nigeria needs to address very serious issues. When I see eminent Nigerians discussing this issue, I am sure they know that Nigeria’s problem is not this politics of sharing which the national dialogue is all about, who is getting what, who has this natural endowment, who should do this or not do this? For me this is the act of perfecting poverty. The real challenge is getting Nigeria back to production. The real challenge is creating industrial base and this cannot be resolved through conferences. We have moved from parliamentary system in our own wisdom to the presidential system. We have test-run it and it was aborted by the military and it has re-incarnated in the present form.”
Okurounmu said the committee was in Benin as part of its tour of the six geopolitical zones to get their input into the content of the agenda, the duration, choice of delegation and legal framework of the proposed dialogue. “Nigerians have accepted the need to have this conference. We have been to four centres Minna, Akure, Jos and Calabar, and the turnout has been impressive and overwhelming. In all the centres, Nigerians came from the rural areas, even from the remotest villages to make presentations to us and there are “no-go areas at all. We are to listen to all Nigerians and I am happy that the turnout has been encouraging to the extent that we requested for bigger halls,’’ Okurounmu said, adding: “We have been listening to different groups and views, but no single group who threatens to dismember Nigeria has come before us. Nigerians all over the world are entitled to submit their views, but they must not be in the committee to air their views.”
Unconfirmed report said that Nyiam had been forced to resign from the committee over his action. However, in his defence, Nyiam said in an interview on Tuesday, October 29, that he was offended by “sarcastic remarks” of Oshiomhole against the proposed national dialogue and how the governor had talked down on people. Nyiam said he felt insulted by Oshiomhole’s “lecture” at the venue of the meeting after he had told the presidential advisory committee on his reasons for opposing the conference, during the committee’s visit to the governor’s office. He came to the venue and started the same lecture. “Governors who have a penchant for insulting the President or making sarcastic remarks against the sense of judgment of the president of Nigeria should be ready to tolerate response from Nigerian citizens to tell them no. The committee’s role is advisory, we need to consult with the people to advise us and we will then synthesise the people’s opinion and use that to advise the president because we believe that we need to work towards a people’s-driven constitution which we never had in our history.
“We thought we should start a bottom-up approach from the grassroots to the top. The attitude was that there should be no talking down on the people; we are supposed to engage the people not to talk down on them. Based on this principle, the key feature of our consultation was to meet with the people but out of courtesy we pay courtesy, calls on the governors or the king in the city.”
He added: “So, when people started booing the governor, I went to the chairman to remind him about the rules of our committee. The chairman said we should give him a chance to continue. He carried on with his derogatory remarks and it was at that point I then said ‘no, not again.’ When I said that, by this time, his aides tried to come at me, but when I suspected that one was at my back, I stood up. I sat down throughout.
“Not long after, a group of thugs came towards the table. It was then that the State Security Service, SSS, people advised that my life was not safe and I was taken away for safety. The director of the state SSS raised security around us; the commissioner of police came to see me and they brought security. The police drove us all out of Edo State because of the fear of attack. So, contrary to what they said, that I mobilised thugs, it is not true, it is the Edo people that protected me.”
The committee has, however, apologised to the state governor over the behaviour of Nyiam. In a letter signed by Okurounmu, the committee acknowledged the sad and unruly behaviour of one of its members. The letter said in part: “The Committee wishes to state its unequivocal commitment and that of its members to the principles of democratic discourse. Although we take special exception to the unruly conduct of one of our members who joined the crowd in shouting down the Comrade Governor of Edo State, Adams Aliyu Oshiomhole, while he was giving his remarks, the session continued and ended peacefully.” Nevertheless, the committee promised to continue to “listen to all shades of opinion in the areas of its mandate and will not henceforth condone the kind of unacceptable behaviour we witnessed in Benin City.”
In the same vein, the Edo State caucus of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in the House of Representatives, on Tuesday, condemned Nyiam’s behaviour. Addressing a press conference, Samson Osagie, minority whip of the House, said the behaviour of the retired colonel showed that the conference was bound to fail. Osagie said: “We are miffed that at a meeting convened to listen to the views of Nigerians on the necessity or otherwise of a national conference, a governor could be disallowed from airing his personal views simply because it was unpalatable to some members of the advisory committee, which is supposed to be an umpire and their uninformed tribal jingoists. We wish to condemn in strong terms, the action of Colonel Nyiam and his co-travellers at the said meeting and to restate the position that their action has betrayed the motive behind the proposed dialogue.” While commending Okurounmu, for calling Nyiam to order, he urged Nigerians to be vigilant at all times as some persons were determined to coerce others to accept their views and thereby compromise the basic tenets of democracy.
Also, the youths of Edo State under the aegis of Ariababho Youth Association, have declared Nyiam a persona non grata in Edo State, for his outburst. The group called on the president to urgently replace him if he was yet to resign his position, saying “he has shown that he is unfit for this job given to him by the president.”
David Edebiri, the Esogban of Benin Kingdom, said: ‘’I want to call on the president to remove Nyiam because he almost set the whole place on fire. He misbehaved and we advise the president, if he wants to succeed, to replace such a person. If, because he is a member of the committee one cannot air his views, people cannot express their views freely due to his arrogance, it means he is not fit to partake in the business of this nature.”
The All Progressives Congress, APC, has, in statement, condemned the sponsored disruption of the conference which it said targeted at Oshiomhole’s presentation. It said the despicable action had vindicated the party’s decision not to be part of the proposed conference.
The statement issued by Lai Muhammed, interim national publicity secretary of the party, said the committee must thoroughly be ashamed of itself that one of its members led the show of shame against the governor in Benin on Monday. It, therefore, demanded an unreserved apology from the committee to Oshiomhole, while it asked that Nyiam be publicly cautioned at the least or be excused from the committee. “Worse still is that a member of the committee led the thugs who so rudely and irresponsibly shouted down a Governor. What a contradiction that a member of a panel set up to help forge national discourse does not even believe in the plurality of opinions. Does anyone need any further evidence that the committee has already made up its mind on the direction its so-called assignment will take? How can you sincerely hope to midwife a dialogue with Nigerians when you cannot even oversee a dialogue in a town hall meeting?” it queried. The APC commended Oshiomhole for his maturity and decency shown in handling the situation despite the indignity meted out to him.
Analysts said it was naive of Nyiam to have expected the cooperation of Oshiomhole whose party had earlier promised not to send representation to the proposed conference. Besides, Ahmed Tinubu, leader of the APC, said on his return from his vacation in the United States last month that President Goodluck Jonathan was only going to use the conference to distract the electorate to get a second term in office. With the behaviour of Nyiam in Benin, a lot of Nigerians have become sceptical about the sincerity of the committee to discharge its duty creditably.