BY DAPO AKINREFON
THE October 1, 2013 decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to convene a national conference was greeted with mixed reactions from both his critics and admirers.
While many saw the proposed conference as an opportunity to restructure the country, others maintain that the exercise would amount to a waste of resources and time.
In the South-West geo-political zone, staunch followers of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo received the news differently.
Some Awoists, as they are fondly called, commended what they described as the president’s bold step at restructuring the polity and putting the country on the right track.
Interestingly, the pan-Yoruba socio-Political Organisation, Afenifere, has been in the forefront of those clamouring for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC).
Since the advent of the Fourth Republic and the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the pan-Yoruba group had agitated for true federalism and a proper restructuring of the country.
The group, under the leadership of late Pa Abraham Adesanya, was consistent on the agitation for the convening of a sovereign national conference.
Now that the opportunity has come, Afenifere view opponents of the conference as enemies of the region.
On the other hand, the All Progressives Congress, APC, gave the dialogue a damning verdict, alleging that President Jonathan has a hidden agenda.
With the APC pointedly stating its stance on the conference, some staunch Awoists have lampooned the opposition party for declining to support the proposal.
APC’s position on the dialogue was taken at a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the party. It declared that the president had lost focus and the credibility required to organize that kind of conference.
Meaningful national confab
The party’s spokesperson, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had said: “What we see today is that this government has lost focus, it has lost credibility, it has lost control of the economy, security, corruption has attained uncontrollable proportion and at this point in time, this government lacks the credibility to organise a real meaningful national conference. “In any event, we see this thing as nothing but a diversion and what are we talking about a national conference for when even the President himself has said that the outcome of that conference would be subjected to the approval of the National Assembly?”
Averring that in effect, the aim of the proposed exercise is a constitutional amendment rather than a national conference, the APC said it would not be a party to it, stressing that it is not an issue of boycotting.
“I have put it clear to you: this is diversionary. If it is a clear, meaningful national dialogue, we will participate, but this isn’t. The President himself has said whatever is discussed there will be subjected to National Assembly. So, what you are having is constitutional amendment”, it stated.
Given the stance of the APC, which also harbours some Awoists, the enlarged political family of the late sage appears divided now.
To make the conference work, Vanguard gathered that the Presidency is partnering with those who have bought into the idea. Sources said Jonathan is ready to offer juicy appointments as well as patronages to those who throw their weight behind his initiative.
Perhaps, the outcome of the measure is the recent appointment of first grandchild of the late sage, Mr. Olusegun Awolowo as the Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of Nigerian Export Promotion Council, NEPC.
It was also gathered that prominent leaders and elders from the region have been invited to meet with President Jonathan where he is expected to assure them of his sincerity to organise a credible and meaningful conference.
Our grouse against Tinubu — Afenifere
On its part, the Afenifere has come out to defend its stance on why the conference should be supported by all and sundry just as it threw mud on the faces of opponents of the initiative. Afenifere’s Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, in a chat with Vanguard explained that its romance with the president was based on the need to ensure the South-West gets autonomy.
Odumakin said: “Afenifere produced Bola Tinubu. How can Afenifere be used against Bola Ahmed Tinubu when it was Afenifere that handed him the governorship ticket in 1999? The issue between Afenifere and Bola Tinubu is Tinubu turning coat against the national conference upon which Afenifere campaigned for election in 1999 before he became governor. “It was on the basis of the struggle of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) which he (Tinubu) identified with that Afenifere passed a resolution, which was endorsed by all the state houses of assembly in all the Alliance for Democracy states and the governors.”
Reiterating Afenifere’s resolve not back down on its decision, Odumakin said: “Now that his policies are against plans to liberate our people and get autonomy, do such people want Afenifere to follow Tinubu and sell the future of our people for their own immediate political gain? In 2011, when Tinubu went to cut a deal with Jonathan, was it Afenifere’s business? Afenifere is not interested in their 2015, what Afenifere is interested in is 2014 is that we must re-negotiate this country in 2014 at the national conference which Jonathan has put on the table and on the basis of which we support and we have no apology for supporting the national conference to get autonomy for our people and to put Nigeria back on track.
“So, anybody that says that Afenifere is being used against Tinubu needs to get checked. All we are asking for is autonomy for our people at the national conference and that is the basis for our relationship with Jonathan.”