Expand composition of conference – Dopkesi



—Wants imbalance in Christian, Muslim representations corrected
— Angry over unfair treatment of journalists
— Advocates inclusion of marginalized groups

In this interview with the Chairman, Daar Communications Group, owners of the African Independent Television (AIT) and Raypower, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, says deliberations so far at the ongoing national conference have been satisfactory  as he looks forward to the correction of certain agitations/anomalies thrown up during discussions on the president’s speech. Excerpts:

How would you assess the media coverage of the conference so far?
I think the media has played the role that is expected of it. The Nigerian media has always in every circumstance, where the need arises, made utmost sacrifices to ensure full coverage, cutting all the sizes all the time. I can only say that the media has been exemplary in this country.
Are you happy with the attempt by delegates to introduce an executive session so that some issues can be kept away from the media?

No, I don’t think that the intension is to cut the media from essential issues. Like you observed, during the discussion, there were minor issues that did not portend well for our own image and the image of the nation as a whole. Take AIT for instance, it is at the present moment transmitting signals across the world. If at the sessions or the proceedings mundane issues as tissue paper , bathrooms and food become the subject and object of discussion, you will appreciate that it is not only rubbing negatively  on the delegates themselves but on the nation. So those are the issues, administrative issues, they said should be kept away from the press, not major issues. Major issues will be treated in the public glare.

Generally, are you satisfied with the quality of debates?
I do not think that the debates have started as yet. What we have so far is the expression of their mood, expression of their acceptance of the president’s speech which like I said is quite exemplary. That shows a man that understands issues and the problems and the mood of the nation and to be able to intervene in the interest of all. But now it is when we get into the committee level that the fireworks will really start , people would come out in their true colours to discuss the nation and I want to be able to appeal and urge the media to cover all the sessions, all the twenty committees that will be sitting so as to be able to see the type of document that will eventually come out of it. So far the delegates have shown a lot of responsibility, a lot of maturity, a lot of vision, and they have been very open.

People have enumerated the challenges they have from various parts of the country and it is becoming very clear that poverty is not a regional issue, that hunger is not regionally pushed, that we all have challenges across the country, of unemployment, of poverty that needs to be addressed and this we must be able to do principally at the committee levels.

Are these issues what the conference can decide upon?  
Whichever way you want to look at it, this is supposed to be more or less a constitutional conference; it is supposed to be a conference that is reviewing our journey in the last 100 years and setting the stage for the next 100 years and beyond. Therefore, I will not be surprised even if the presidency decides to increase it a little bit, in order to make it more inclusive and much more representative so that the groups that feel a little bit marginalised right now are properly represented. This will make the conference to come out with something formidable to take the country to the next level.

You are canvassing the expansion of the delegates. Which area would you want? Is it the youth, the women or any other group?      
I am very positive that you must have seen that during the cause of discussions there have been different agitations. What the president had in mind was to put up an all inclusive, all representative and decisions driven by consensus as much as possible and the Moslim groups have definitely raised the issue of imbalance; that there appear to be more predominantly Christians and I think that looking at it statistically, they may be a little bit correct because most of the representatives are from the Middle Belt, the representatives from Southern Borno, from Adamawa, the greater majority of them are actually Christians but we also have to recognise that these are also people who have not been given an opportunity in the past; they have not had the privilege of coming out to express their views and their opinion. This has given them an ample opportunity but in the spirit of give and take, I want to call on the authorities, the decision makers to allow us to balance along those lines. There are some ethnic groups, major ethnic groups who have complained very strongly that they have not been represented and that they have not had a chance, I think that we can bring them in, in view of the fact that we want to find an all embracing, an all satisfying resolutions to the challenges that we have so that it won’t be said by any group that we had no opportunity, we had no representations, we were marginalised and so on.

Talking about representation, you are one of the representatives of the media in this conference; is it deliberate that you have not discussed issues bordering on the welfare of media practitioners?
The issue of media practitioners is not a subject of discussion. The subject of discussion is the role the media should play which is secured in section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as it is. Freedom of expression and the freedom of speech are rights guaranteed. The issue of the welfare and wellbeing of the media will be taken up at a separate committee when that comes up. We should learn to go by the rules of the game and understand the way and manner these things go. And what we are supposed to be discussing actually is our response, our appreciation of the president’s speech and whether it is sufficient or full enough to be the working guide of the deliberations that are coming on. But you discover that the issue of media is put on a separate committee and that is where the fireworks on the wellbeing and the welfare of the media are supposed to be taken.

There is no gainsaying it that the media is the most neglected, most ill-treated, most unfairly cheated by all strata of the society. Look at the contributions; without the coverage of the media of the conference, the greater majority of Nigerians won’t have known what is going on and yet the members of the media are being treated as if they are not wanted. There is no provision for their feeding, there is no provision for their welfare, and there is nothing that is being done but this not the avenue to raise these issues.

Talking about fireworks at committee level, where do you stand on the issue of restructuring Nigeria?
Well, all I can say at this point in time is that I strongly believe and I share in the sentiment of those who believe that Nigeria needs to be restructured.

There are quite a lot of things that are wrong. There is too much power concentrated at the centre. There is the need to devolve powers to the federating units and the federating units must be such a size and quantity that must be able to shoulder those powers that are devolved to them. The 36 states plus the FCT are a little bit unwieldy; they are not able to support themselves but we can draw from the economies of scale, bring them together and go smaller units. People have spoken about six zonal structure, some have spoken about the Gen Babangida two-party structure, or 12-state structure which is what they have played up on the floor of the conference, but whichever, as the federating units they should be strong enough and deal with the issues. As far as I am concerned, there has been a lot of hue and cry about unemployment but it is the elite who have never believed that there is the need to create employment in this country; they have been driven by their personal interests, by their personal motives, personal goals in maximizing profits to the detriment of the ordinary people.

For instance why will we leave Abakaliki rice, leave Agenebode rice, rice that is available, that only needs to be polished, that is heavy and better and prefer to import with several billions of naira the rice that we are eating? If you look at me, from my cap to my shoes, they are all imported materials. There is no textile mill; if Nigerians are not involved in making textile materials where will we employ them? Look at the vehicles that we have around; none of them is manufactured in this country. All these are avenues to create employment. Unless we go back to the basics and support our own there is no way we can get ourselves out of the doldrums.

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