Decision-making at the National Conference

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In our Friday edition, we published the strategies adopted by the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue in the execution of its assignment. Today we publish the fourth installment.

b. 2 Representatives from each Geo-Political Zone;

c.  The Executive Secretary and other members shall be appointed by the President;

d. The Conference Management Secretariat shall run the affairs of the Conference and supervise the elections to the Conference using the INEC Register. It shall manage all activities and processes of the Conference at all levels.

The size and structure of the National Conference should be in accordance with option ‘C’  although Government may also  consider ‘Option D’ as a possible alternative;

ToR3: To make recommendations to Government on how representation of various interest groups at the National Conference/Dialogue will be determined

Nigeria is a plural society which is characterized by interplay of many contending forces: cultural, social, economic and others. One way in which this plurality is manifested is the ethnic, regional, religious and cultural diversity in the country. Each of the contending forces make common claims from the Nigerian state.

President Goodluck Jonathan flanked by Vice President Namadi Sambo (4th right) and the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the National Conference, Dr. Femi Okurounmu while other committee members watched shortly after the inauguration of the Committee at the State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida.

File Photo: President Goodluck Jonathan flanked by Vice President Namadi Sambo (4th right) and the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on the National Conference, Dr. Femi Okurounmu while other committee members watched shortly after the inauguration of the Committee at the State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida.

Sense of belonging

Thus the contending ethnic, religious, regional and economic forces take the forms of interest groups in Nigeria. As is usually the case with all multi-cultural societies, these contending forces have to be aggregated, and their demands on the state streamlined within reasonable limits in order to foster a sense of belonging and national unity.

The Committee had, in the course oi its engagement with Nigerians been confronted with demands for inclusion, recognition and often, the need to redress certain imbalances in the Nigerian state. Many interest groups have staked their claims. These interest groups included, traditional rulers, ethnic nationalities, faith-based groups, civil society organizations, socio-cultural and regional organizations, women, youth, the physically-challenged, professional bodies.

The various interest groups had demanded for inclusion at the National Conference through their representatives. Some have suggested for example, that all ethnic nationality groups should have equal number of representatives at the Conference. Others have suggested that, ethnic nationality groups and other interest groups need to be simply accommodated in the main body of the National Conference.

Observations: The Committee examined the issue of how the various contending interest groups in the country may be represented at the National Conference. Members observed that, every Nigerian has a right to be involved in the process, and this must be duly protected.

The Committee believed that there is need to proceed with caution so that the main objective is to foster national unity and strengthen the Nigerian union in ways that will ensure justice, peace and progress. Members observe that all interest groups must be carried along through the representatives chosen by them. Recommendations: After a careful appraisal of the issues involved as wet! as their apparent complexities for national harmony, the Committee recommends as follows:

That the structure of the National Conference as recommended in Chapter Six shall make provisions for representatives of interest groups through nomination, so their total number compliments the number of the Delegates to be directly elected through universal adult suffrage.

The President should nominate the representatives from the identified key interest groups in active consultation with them such that, the interest groups themselves do the actual presentation of the names of those the groups want the President to nominate as Delegates to the National Conference.

In addition to the interest groups listed earlier namely, Women, Youth, Traditional Rulers, Physically-Challenged, Professional Bodies, Organized Private sector, Faith-Based Organizations, the Diaspora, Executive, legislative and Judicial arms of Government, Armed Forces and the Police, the credibility of the Conference will be enriched by nominating representatives of the main regional socio-political organizations such as the Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Middle-Belt Forum, South-South Peoples Assembly, etc.

Every State Government shall nominate one Delegate and the President through the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory shall nominate one Delegate for the Federal Capital Territory Abuja. In the event that any State fails to nominate a Delegate, the President shall nominate a Delegate for the said State.

The Committee recommends that the total number of Delegates from the socio-political groups should not exceed 36 at six per Geo-Political Zone. The socio-political groups invited to nominate the Delegates should decide for themselves who their respective representatives should be.

ToR4: To advise Government on a time-frame for the National Dialogue/Conference

As Mr. President clearly put it in his address during the inauguration of this Committee, Nigerians are desirous of a platform to talk to one another as members of one family in order to strengthen their union. This Committee’s engagement with Nigerians had revealed their enthusiasm on the need to hold the National Conference as soon as possible.

Myopic partisan interests

Many proposals for the timing of the National Conference have been put before the Committee. While some suggested that, the National Conference should hold in 2014 before the electioneering for 2015 General Elections begin, others wanted the Conference to hold after the 2015 General Elections.

Proponents of the convocation and holding of the Conference before the 2015 General Elections, believe that, it will be better to get it done as fast as possible so that, the momentum among Nigerians to move their country forward over and above myopic partisan interests occasioned by electoral politics, is sustained.

They also argued that, the outcomes of an early, pre-election Conference may assist in even correcting the inadequacies of the many pre-requisites for credible, acceptable elections. They also believed that, the outcomes may determine the forms that the 2015 General Elections may take,

Proponents of convening and holding the National Conference after the 2015 General Elections argued that, what is worth doing is worth doing well. They believed that, Nigeria does not, as at the moment, have strong institutions that can manage two landmark processes of holding a National Conference and General Elections in almost the same time, They held that, the weak institutions that will be brought to bear on the two important processes may end up messing up both the National Conference and the General Elections, and this may possibly lead to chaos with unpredictable consequences. As for the time-frame for the National Conference, the Committee had received many suggestions ranging from one month to one year. Some have even gone ahead to propose the actual work plan for the National Conference within the time-frame that they suggested.

Observations: The Committee observed that, the issue of timing and time-frame for the National Conference is contingent upon certain important variables. Some of these include the prevailing social atmosphere and political climate of the nation, the disposition of the key political institutions whose support and action is of essence in the project, the quantum of resources that may be made available for the conduct of the National Conference, length and complexities of the issues on the Conference’s agenda, among others.    :

With respect to the specific time-frame for the Conference, the Committee observed that, duration of three – six months seemed to feature in most of the proposals presented in memoranda submitted to it.

Recommendations: In view of the above, this Committee now recommends as follows:

The National Conference should hold for duration of not less than three months and not more than six months.

The convening of the National Conference in the year 2014 possibly between the months of February and July, thus concluding the exercise before the onset of the 2015 electioneering campaigns.

ToR5: To advise Government on a Legal framework for the National Dialogue/Conference

Large sections of Nigerians who participated in the Interactive Sessions, the Retreat and through the Memoranda that they sent to this Committee, have proposed that, there is the need for an enabling Act to give the National Conference legal backing. The common proposal on this matter expressed by Nigerians across the country is that, the President should send a bill to the National Assembly which shall then enact an enabling law to legitimize the National Conference.

The Committee understands that, Nigerians want the enabling law enacted as soon as possible.

Observations: The Committee observes that, although there appears to be a near-consensus on the need to have an enabling act to give legal backing to the Conference as well as guide its conduct, some experts have suggested that the President can rely on the provisions of Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to convene the National Conference.

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