BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, BEN AGANDE & DAPO AKINREFON
LAGOS — PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan has assured Nigerians that the proposed National Conference will firm up the country’s unity and not threaten its corporate existence.
“I will, therefore, like to allay the fears of those who think the Conference will call the integrity of Nigeria into question. This National Discourse will strengthen our union and address issues that are often on the front burner, and are too frequently ignored,” he said while inaugurating the 13-man Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday.
Chairman of the committee, Dr Femi Okurounmu however commended President Jonathan for not establishing any ‘no go’ areas for the committee, thus opening up for discourse all aspects of our present constitution and national life”.
Declaring that the conference will aggregate opinions of all Nigerians in order to make the country a better place, he charged members of the Okurounmu-led panel to “consult widely before sitting down to develop the framework that will guide and guard the proceedings of the discussions.
“In the task before you, no voice is too small and no opinion is irrelevant. Thus, the views of the sceptics and those of the enthusiasts must be accommodated as you formulate this all important framework. This conversation is a people’s conversation and I urge you to formulate an all-inclusive process that protects the people’s interests,” President Jonathan added.
He spoke as more eminent Nigerians hailed the dialogue move. Among those who threw their weight behind the effort yesterday included former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd); former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and governorship aspirant in Gombe State in 2011, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali; and National Co-ordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams.
We’ll meet expectation of Nigerians
This came as Dr. Okurounmu assured that the exercise will not be another case of failed expectations and doubted media reports of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu opposing the confab.
Justifying the need for the conference, President Jonathan said each problem must be confronted as they evolve, noting that yesterday’s solutions cannot be applied to today’s problems.
His words: “As challenges emerge, season after season, leaders must respond with best available strategies to ensure that the ship of state remains undeterred in its voyage.
“Nations rise to the challenges that each epoch presents. It is imperative therefore, that in our march to nationhood, we have to be dynamic in our approach and response to the problems, even as we seek solutions to them. We cannot proffer yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems”.
He said the decision to hold the conference was a “historic and concrete step that will further strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of our inclusiveness and deepen our bond as one people under God.
“First, let me emphasize that this is a National Project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, long-standing impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united nation.”
The President said though some people in the country are sceptical about the dialogue, democracy entails that leaders must listen to the aspirations of the people who elected them.
“There is a view by some of our people that we do not need to sit together to dialogue over the socio-political challenges facing our country. Some believe that because we have held several conferences in the past, we do not need to hold another one. I was one of those who exhibited scepticism on the need for another conference or dialogue. My scepticism was borne out of the nomenclature of such a conference, taking into cognizance existing democratic structures that were products of the will of the people. However, we are in a democracy, and in a democracy, elected leaders govern at the behest of the citizenry”. We’ve gained from Conferences — Jonathan
He said our recent history indicates that the country has gained a lot from conferences, adding that every dialogue adds something valuable to our evolving nation.
He continued: “The urgency of a National Conversation in the present, therefore, needs not be over emphasized. The conferences that were held before 1960 were designed to produce a political system and a roadmap to Nigeria’s independence.
“The Constitutional Conference of 1957 in London, for example, effectively prepared Nigeria for Independence. The Eastern and Western regions were granted self-government in 1957, while the Northern region got its own in 1959. The Office of the Prime Minister was created and it was also decided that the Federal Legislature would be Bi-cameral.
“Furthermore, the Constituent Assembly of 1978 gave us the 1979 Constitution and also created the current Presidential System with its attendant checks and balances and Fundamental Human Rights provisions. The 1999 Constitution we operate today, is a successor to the 1979 Constitution and records show that the 1999 Constitution also benefitted from reports and recommendations arising from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference.
“Although not enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, the idea of the current six geo-political zones that have become one of the avenues for equitable distribution of projects and public offices in Nigeria was also a product of dialogue that emerged from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference.
“The 2005 National Political Reform Conference produced a number of key recommendations that were sent to the 5th Assembly, which were however not perfected. In 2010, I reasoned that the outstanding recommendations from the 2005 Conference be revisited,” he said.
While calling on the committee to find an appropriate name by which the committee would be called, President Jonathan said they must proffer solutions that would make the country stronger and more united.
“As we continue to strive to build a strong and virile nation, especially in the midst of agitations and tensions, we cannot deny the fact that sitting down to talk is one right step in calming down tensions and channeling our grievances, misgivings and suggestions into more positive use for the good of our country”.
He thanked the Senate President, and the leadership and members of the National Assembly for the support they have given to the project, saying that “the concept of participatory democracy is such that even after the people have given their representatives the mandate to make laws and act on their behalf, there is also a space for the governed to make further input into the political processes, without undermining the authority of the statutory bodies.
“Sovereignty continues to be with the people even as the people evolve strategies and tactics to strengthen its foundation for the benefit of successor generations. It is this sort of collaboration between the people and established institutions of government, that will allow for a robust outcome that leads to greater understanding and a more cohesive and inclusive Union. For me, there is no alternative to inclusivity, equity and justice in a modern democratic state,” he said.
We won’t fail the nation –Okurounmu
Speaking on behalf of the committee, Senator Okurounmu promised that “we shall not fail the nation. We shall not be another case of failed expectations. We shall not betray the confidence which the President and over 160 million Nigerians have reposed in us”.
He commended the President for showing courage, adding that “the President’s sincerity and commitment are further buttressed by the fact that he has not established any so-called ‘no go’ areas for this committee, thus opening up for discourse all aspects of our present constitution and national life”.
…Tinubu must have been misquoted
Commenting on Tinubu’s reported opposition to the conference in a chat with State House correspondents, he said the Tinubu that he knew could not have said what he was quoted as saying.
Upon his return from medical treatment abroad, Asiwaju Tinubu was quoted as saying that there was no need for the conference because it was a distraction and a ‘Greek gift’ from President Jonathan.
“Tinubu must have been misquoted. Tinubu has been one of the financiers of the agitations for national conference. He funded the PRONACO conference which was held in Lagos. So Tinubu has been at the forefront of the agitation for national conference so the press must have been misquoting him. That must be another Tinubu, not the Tinubu I know,” Okurunomu said.
Jaw-jaw better than war-war —Abubakar
Meanwhile, General Abdulsalami Abubakar expressed support for the dialogue, saying that it is better to dialogue than to fight.
Speaking with State House correspondents shortly after making a presentation on the proposed CentenaryCity in Abuja, Abubakar, who is the chairman of the CentenaryCity board, said the country deserves to celebrate 100 years of amalgamation.
Though the former Head of State was reluctant to speak on any issue outside the centenary celebration, he said: “It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.”
Jonathan has demonstrated he is a leader – Alkali
In like manner, Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali applauded President Jonathan for his initiative to organize a national dialogue, adding that he has again demonstrated that he is a leader that is sensitive and responsive to the yearnings of his people.
“President Jonathan has exhibited the qualities of a democrat and a leader by acceding to the demands of Nigerians for a national dialogue. This decision can only come from a leader who feels he owes the people that gave him their mandate through the ballot box in a transparent election,” he said, and advised Nigerians to seize this rare opportunity to ventilate their position on how to strengthen the bond of unity and deepen democracy in the country.
Professor Alkali, however, warned ethnic chauvinists and irredentists not to use anything to undermine this noble objective or to threaten the future of Nigeria.
It’s a step in the right direction –Gani Adams
Also, Otunba Gani Adams has said that the convening of a national conference is a step in solving the problems facing the country.
Otunba Adams, in a statement, commended President Jonathan for setting up an advisory committee to discuss some of the issues facing the country.
He said: “I want to commend the action of President Goodluck Jonathan over his decision to convene a National Conference to discuss the issues that have combined to stunt the growth of our country. I think we should praise President Jonathan for setting up a committee for a National Conference. I sincerely believe that the conference will proffer solution to most of the problems that have prevented the country from developing. I am also convinced that most of the problems that we are going through as a nation can be addressed by the conference.”
He, however expressed optimism that the conference would go a long way to address most of the problems besetting the country adding that “at the conference, issues like the Boko Haram, how we would live together and how to move our nation forward would come up for discussion.
“For instance, the conference would avail all the component units that make up Nigeria the opportunity to state their cases, why they are angry, their demands and how to actualize the dreams of our founding fathers.”
He noted that bulk of the problems besetting “us have their roots in the mistrust among the ethnic nationalities. So, these ethnic nationalities will have the opportunity to state their cases, hoping that the problems would be addressed.”
He, however advised members of the committee to be very careful with the job they have been given saying “ they should see this as a national service and a call to serve the fatherland. More importantly, I want to advise the committee to learn from the mistakes of the National Political Reforms conference set up by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. The failure of that reform effort can be traced to some of the mistakes made, either intentionally or unintentionally by the committee.”