By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
AS President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurates the 13-man National Dialogue Advisory Committee, tomorrow, the Senator Femi Okurounmu-led panel has a number of tough questions to answer.
While raising the panel, last Tuesday, Jonathan handed the members a four-point terms of reference they are expected to work on and submit their report on or before November 7, 2013.
The terms of reference are:
*To consult expeditiously with all relevant stakeholders with a view to drawing up a feasible agenda for the proposed National Dialogue/Conference;
*To make recommendations to government on structure and modalities for the proposed National Dialogue/Conference;
*To make recommendations to government on how representation of various interest groups at the National Dialogue/Conference will be determined; and
*To advise on a timeframe for the National Dialogue/Conference.
Given the heated debates that have hallmarked the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), which has now be whittled down to National Conference or National Dialogue, the Okurounmu team is expected to crack some hard kernels in order to come up with time-tested and acceptable roadmap for the talk.
The nagging questions include:
* How will Conference delegates emerge?
* Will the 389 ethnic nationalities in the country be represented?
* How will nominees of the ethnic nationalities emerge?
* Will interest and pressure groups like Ohanaeze, Afenifere, Arewa, OPC, MASSOB, NGOs, people living with disability, etc be represented?
* Will delegates be elected, nominated or both?
* If by election, will it be based on wards, local councils, states, geo-political zones?
* How long will confab last: Three months, six months or longer?
* Will there be restrictions (no-go-areas)?
* Can confab deliberate on divisibility and dissolubility of Nigeria?
* How will the outcome of conference become law?
* Will outcome be subjected to referendum, ratification by National Assembly or both?
* Will it be subject to review by another panel?
* How large will the conference be in terms of number of delegates?
* How will the Chairman and officers of the Conference emerge: through presidential appointment or election by the delegates?
Commenting on the kind of conference Nigeria needs at this critical time, Third Republic Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said the most important ingredient the Conference should have is producing “a Constitution about which, for the first time, Nigerians can truly say, ‘we, the people of Nigeria, make and give unto ourselves, this Constitution.’
He continued: “Among the decisions we need to make is whether to have unicamera or bicamera legislature. How do members of the National Assembly deal with the conflict of interests involved? The National Assembly has no role in Constitution making. A referendum shall confirm the people’s Constitution.”
Also, environmental and human rights activist, Ms Ankio Briggs, who is one of those agitating for National Conference, said every ethnic nationality must be represented at the confab for it to be fully representative.
Gbonigi, YUF hail move, pledge support
Reacting to the raising of the panel, the Yoruba Unity Forum (YUF) commended Jonathan “for the bold and courageous initiative to convene a National Dialogue by setting up an Advisory Committee to advise government on the modalities for organizing the National Dialogue.”
In a statement by Rt Reverend Emmanuel Bolanle Gbonigi, the YUF said, “This action has demonstrated that Mr. President is a listening leader and a champion of democracy.
“Many of the crises plaguing the country are better addressed in a National Dialogue. The forum therefore supports the setting up of the advisory body to create the framework for convening a National Dialogue and shall work with all patriotic Nigerians to ensure that the goals of the National Dialogue remain to strengthen existing democratic structures and institutions, negotiate understanding, mutual respect, mutual love, mutual cooperation and trust and install true federalism in our dear country.”