Senate, Reps disagree over funding of national conference

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By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, OKEY NDIRIBE, SIMON EBEGBULEM & LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU

Proposals to hold a National Conference next month were yesterday in danger of derailing following disagreements between the two houses of the National Assembly over funding for the conference.

The disagreements between the two chambers came as eminent statesman, Professor Ben Nwabueze took the chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue/Conference, Senator Femi Okurounmu, to task on the panel’s report, saying it was obvious that he, Okurounmu had neither read it nor understood it.

Professor Nwabueze’s comment came as a member of the Okurounmu panel, Mr. Solomon Asemota, SAN, dismissed the majority report as preconceived and deliberately skewed to promote interests contrary to the genuine interests of Nigerians.

Asemota’s submissions were contained in a letter made available to The Patriots, a group of elder-statesmen.

N-Assembly

*National Assembly complex

Disagreements between the two chambers of the National Assembly came in separate comments by the presumptive Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila and Senate spokesman, Senator Enyinnanya Abaribe.

Gbajabiamila said the new All Progressives Congress, APC, leadership in the House would cut off funding for the conference and flayed the administration’s intentions on the national conference, saying it was meant to serve the interest of one party or one man as against the general interest of Nigerians.

He said: “Some of us in our party have asked for what appellation you want to give: National Dialogue, Sovereign National Dialogue. I think it is the normal thing that we need in this country. But because we asked for it, the timing also has to work.

“How do you organise a national dialogue with an election, with the primaries that are coming within the year? How do you do two major events that also have the capacity of breaking up the country? We said that it should be done immediately after an election so that nobody has the stake that will manipulate the election.

“You don’t do it towards the end of your tenure. Something is not quite right about that picture. So, yes, we support the national dialogue but we don’t support the national dialogue at this time. And I heard that they are asking for, I cannot remember, N11 billion or something like that. For a country that cannot pay salaries of civil servants, cannot pay ASUU, cannot pay workers left, right and centre, yet you are asking to appropriate N11 billion for a national dialogue that the timing is not right? This is where I think the legislature must come in.”

Reps ‘ll not appropriate fund for confab — Gbajabiamila

Gbajabiamila who is set to take over as the Majority Leader of the House following the defection of 37 members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the APC said:

“I will personally lead that charge that we will not appropriate money for that dialogue unless the President wants to do something illegal in which case, we will have to cross the bridge when we get there. But I will in my own personal opinion encourage our members, at least, in terms of appropriation, not to support a wasteful exercise that it appears to serve the purpose of one party or one man.”

Senate endorses funding

Senator Abaribe on his part in endorsing the conference said: “I am sure that if the President presents a budget proposal for the confab in 2014 Budget estimates, it would surely sail through.”

Throwing more light on why the request for a pre-conference legal backing may get the endorsement of the National Assembly, he said the 1999 Constitution as amended which the federal legislature relies on to carry out its functions remains the only document which could guide its activities.

Professor Nwabueze’s assertions follow Senator Okurounmu’s denunciations of Nwabueze’s criticism of the majority report at a press conference last week.

Nwabueze who flayed what he described as Okurounmu’s attack on his person in a riposte made available to the media said: “The impression one gets from the senator’s outpourings is that either he has not read the report of his committee or he read it without fully understanding it. The report was obviously not written by him but by someone else, by the secretary of his committee apparently, and he as chairman looked it over without fully digesting it.”

Noting what he said were attempts to shut-out Asemota from making contributions to the panel, Nwabueze said: “Report from Chief Asemota, SAN, his colleague in the Presidential Committee indicated that he was deliberately refused a copy of the report while other members were given copies. The report will also be kept away, concealed, from the public until government sees it fit to publish it. But we were nevertheless able to get hold of a copy. After all, the report is not a classified secret document.”

Flaying Okuruonmu’s assertion that he (Nwabueze) and the Igbo Leaders of Thought were wrong to have criticized the report, Nwabueze said: “If criticising the committee’s report without having seen or read it, as the senator alleged, is “unethical and unprofessional conduct”, is commenting on a letter which he had “neither seen nor read” not equally “unethical and unprofessional?” The country’s problems are indeed more serious than we appreciate when holders of public positions descend to using this kind of language.

“Okurounmu’s denigration of me as a person is particularly unsavoury,” Nwabueze said as he pledged not to respond to the panel chairman in same words.

“I want to repeat what I said to pressmen who met me this morning at Enugu for my reactions to Okunrounmu’s denigration of me. It is against my principle to make public statements impugning the character of people I do not know. Okurounmu and I have never met. He does not know me.

I do not know him. I had not heard of him before his appointment as Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee. I cannot, therefore, in keeping with my principles, make public imputations on his character by way of a resort to his denigration of me. I would be glad if you can also publish this as my response to him.”

Asemota in his letter to members of The Patriots explaining why he had to write a minority report, said that he found out during the proceedings of the committee that “some of us were invited to promote viewpoints that are contrary to my conscience and learning.”

He said as a member of The Patriot and National Co-ordinator of the Ethnic Nationalities Movement, he would not betray Nigerians just to please any establishment, just as he urged President Goodluck Jonathan to look into the Minority Report so that Nigerians would have a conference free from manipulations.

Jonathan should look into the minority report — Asemota

Asemota in his letter to The Patriots said he decided to present the Minority Report because “experts were invited from outside including two SANs and all my attempts to ask members of the committee to listen to my viewpoint failed. The impression I got was that the opinion of members are irrelevant if they are different from those of the experts.

“All attempts to get members to look at my draft bill failed and the chairman never raised it. I was informed that because I handed the draft bill as my personal contribution, the committee refused to table it for discussion. On Thursday November 28, 2013 a member, Professor Funke Adeboye informed the committee that she had changed her position with respect to representation at the conference. She wanted to support the view that delegates should be elected from the senatorial districts but she was shouted down by some members and disallowed from doing so.

“In my case, I also informed the committee that I have changed my position from representation on zonal basis in support of representation from the senatorial districts but was ignored. As a result of these developments, I came to the conclusion that some of us were invited to promote views that are contrary to my conscience and learning. For these reasons, I have written a Minority Report notwithstanding the plea of the chairman that I should not do so.

“When the experts list was being compiled, my nominee Professor Onigu Otite was dropped. I insisted that he must be invited and volunteered to bear the cost. He was subsequently invited at no cost to me, but when he appeared some members tried to downplay his research by asking ridiculous questions such as the number of publications he has to his credit. Otite was Professor of Sociology at our premier University of Ibadan.”

The letter further said that “My insistence to submit a Minority Report has two objectives. To present to the President an alternative view point; to ensure that those who represent or speak for Ethnic Nationalities are true representatives and not agents of any godfather; to stop the violence of the invisible power bloc that asserts authority recklessly without corresponding accountability. We must make invisible, visible.

“To satisfy my conscience and promote the struggle over the years by both the true patriots and the Ethnic Nationalities Movement, any member of these organisations, I want to believe would have reacted the same way had they been in my position.”

“As a member of The Patriots and the National Co-ordinator of the Ethnic Nationalities Movement, it will be unfair to members of the two organizations scattered throughout the country for me to abandon all we have worked for in the last 20 years to please an establishment with a philosophy different from our own.

“The British who are our colonial masters are not proud of colonialism and one therefore wonders why elites in Nigeria want to be proud successors to colonialism. Our traditional rulers have done great things in the past and could do more in the future but like the British Crown, they must fit into the aspirations of their people,” it said.

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