BY OUR REPORTERS
ABUJA — President Goodluck Jonathan, bowed to pressure, yesterday, from a section of Nigerians that have persistently agitated for a national conference as the way forward for the country. He announced the setting up of an Advisory Committee to establish modalities for a national conference aimed at resolving issues that currently cause friction in the polity.

In a nationwide broadcast to mark the nation’s 53rd independence anniversary, President Jonathan said that the committee which will be headed by Dr. Femi Okurounmu and Dr. Akilu Indabawa as its secretary, is expected to complete its assignment within one month. The committee has 11 other members.

Members are 1.Prof. George Obiozor 2.Prof. Ben Nwabueze 3.Sen. Khairat Gwadabe 4.Sen. Timothy Adudu  5.Col. Tony Nyiam (Rtd) 6.Prof. Funke Adebayo  7.Mrs Mairo Ahmed Amshi 8.Dr. Abubakar Sadiq 9.Alh. Dauda Birma
10.Mallam Buhari Bello 11. Mr. Tony Uranta

The announcement by the President generated immediate reactions from the generality of Nigerians. While many Nigerians hailed the President for his decision to hold national conference, others argued that it was a ploy to hoodwink citizens and afford President Jonathan an opportunity to strike a bargain towards 2015 presidential elections.

INDEPENDENCE—President Goodluck Jonathan signs the 53rd Anniversary Register behind him are the  Service Chiefs at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

 

Jonathan is deceiving Nigerians—Balarabe Musa

Faulting the President’s decision to set up a committee for a national conference, former governor of old KadunaState, Alhaji Balarabe Musa said the president was out to deceive Nigerians.

In a telephone chat with Vanguard, Musa said:  “It means the President wants to deceive Nigerians about the national conference the way his predecessor deceived Nigerians.

See photos of Jonathan others  at  the 53rd Independence Anniversary

His predecessor established a national conference, named those who would conduct the national conference and gave an agenda for the national conference. It means Jonathan is going to continue with this public deception. That is not the national conference we have called for. The national conference we want will not be conducted by the President, the President will be a  participant just like the legislature, the judiciary and the sovereign people of Nigeria. It is going to involve all the stakeholders”.

It’s a fraud —Junaid Mohammed

Kano-based politician, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, described the decision by Jonathan to inaugurate an advisory committee on the dialogue as a waste of time since there was no need in the first place to set up such a body when the National Assembly is still in operation. Mohammed wondered what the dialogue was bound to achieve and who will implement its decisions when the decisions of similar bodies were not implemented by the government in the past.

The Second Republic Federal lawmaker noted that anything short of a Sovereign National Conference that has the force of law would not change anything in Nigeria, adding that what the President had proposed would not satisfy the proponents of a SNC.

His words: “What the President is planning to do has no place whatsoever in the Nigerian Constitution and is bound to fail woefully. As far as I am concerned the President’s intention to set up a National Dialogue committee is nothing but an attempt to buy time and prepare for his re-election in 2015. When his ploy to deceive and manipulate Nigerians in the direction of his choice fails, he should be ready for the consequences.”

Jonathan has saved Nigeria — Ohanaeze

The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said by commencing the process of a national dialogue President Goodluck Jonathan has pulled Nigeria back from the brink.

Secretary-General of the organisation, Dr Joe Nwaorgu, who stated this while reacting to the president”s 53rd Independence Anniversary speech, said “all truthful and patriotic Nigerians must commend Mr. President for this singular act of statesmanship. Nigerians can now kick-start the process of nation building where equity, justice and fair-play for all Nigerians will be our core pursuit. It is better to jaw-jaw than war-war, that is why Ohanaeze has always stood for the convening of a national conference. So the conference is very welcome. Ohanaeze will partake in it,” he said.

Jonathan should be commended—Afenifere

In its reaction, Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, said the President should be commended for setting up the committee.

Afenifere’s national publicity secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin told Vanguard on telephone that “the President has done what is required in a country that is in a hurry at the moment. I commend him because when I listened to his broadcast, he did not say he has tarred any road, but he admitted that these are not the best times for our country. He has put his finger on the right thing that should be done. We need to discuss Nigeria at this moment and his setting up of this committee is a practical demonstration given the time-lines. It is clear that he knows the urgency of the moment. Nigeria cannot continue like this. Nigeria is clearly heading to the road of Yugoslavia at the moment and it is only a conference like this that can put Nigeria on the right track.”

This could be Nigeria’s last chance—Yakassai

The Alhaji Tanko Yakassai-led Nigerian National Summit Group (NNSG) commended President Jonathan’s decision to convene an all-inclusive Nigerian National Conference saying this could be Nigeria’s last chance.

A statement by its executive secretary, Mr Tony Uranta, said that if Nigerians fail to “present and pursue common good positions (beginning now); but, rather, delight ourselves in our often vain and bitter debates as to whether or not the National Conference should hold, we shall have none other to blame when the Transformed Nigeria (restructured through candid national dialogue) shall emerge, without our people having been best represented by the fractiously-selfish political class, the ‘not-so-focused-on-the-Common-Good’ ethnic nationalities, and the mostly money-led civil society.”

It’s a chance to make progress—Falae

On his part, former Minister of Finance, Chief Olu Falae said if the conference is allowed to hold, then Nigeria has a chance to make progress.

In a telephone chat with Vanguard, Falae said “”I think it is a most welcome development. As you know, some of us have been unrelenting advocates of sovereign national conference for over 20 years. I am happy that the President has finally set up a committee. I am also happy that my very good friend and colleague, Senator Femi Okurounmu is a member of the committee, he is an advocate of a sovereign national conference. When he was in the Senate, he moved a motion on sovereign national conference, of course the preponderance of opinion in the National Assembly, at that time, was against the motion. I am happy that it is he who is going to play a prominent role in the process. If the conference does take place and it achieves the minimum requirements, then maybe Nigeria has a chance of surviving, reviving and making progress.”

There should be no restriction— ARG

Also, Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG, commended President Jonathan but advised that there should not be any form of restriction in the committee’s terms of reference. According to its publicity secretary, Kunle Famoriyo, the group promised to cooperate with and support the Advisory Council set up by President Jonathan, where necessary.

He said ARG also believes that the committee’s chairman, Senator Femi Okurounmu, who has spent a significant part of his life in the struggle for democracy and true federalism, will work to produce a guideline that we can all be proud of, provided the government has not dictated a “No Go Area” to the committee.

It said “we however urge President Jonathan to ensure this latest move comes from a pure motive of ending the country’s many problems. We recall many conferences had been constituted in the past that never yielded any dividend for the people of Nigeria. We also urge him not to place any restriction on the committee’s term of reference and the proposed conference should have no prohibition clause like Senate President David Mark suggested.”

It is diversionary, expensive—NUTGWN

The National Union of Textile Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, NUTGWN, however opposed President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposal for a National Dialogue, saying it was diversionary and expensive.

General Secretary, of the union and Vice President, Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Mr Issa Aremu said in Kaduna yesterday that ‘’Nigeria has over 10 written constitutions from 1954. America still retains the same constitution as proclaimed in 1788 (with few amendments in 1791). Nigeria has certainly had its fair share of constitutions and debates. Another Sovereign National Conference is one debate too many, too diversionary and too wasteful.

‘’It’s time Nigeria had its share of good governance. The founding fathers did not agonize debating the imperfections of the inherited federation. They moved into action to build a fast growing nation ahead of China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia in the sixties and seventies. The best of Nigerians must come out for public office and reclaim the politics from the existing largely unfocused acrimonious self serving ruling class just as the best fought for independence.’’

National conference in order — ACF

The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, yesterday said it would support any dialogue that would bring about the strengthening of the Nigeria Project. ACF’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Anthony Sani told Vanguard yesterday that the setting up of an advisory committee on National Conference was in order.

“You would note that ACF has made it clear that it is not opposed to national dialogue so long as the aim is to strengthen the unity in diversity of this country, since the concept of nationhood presupposes that the people can come together and unleash their synergy by living up collective challenges for public good, provided such dialogue is not in the form of Sovereign National Conference, SNC, that amounts to vote of no confidence on our democracy and its institutions, which no group has the right to do. So national dialogue through national conference, yes; through sovereign national conference, no. ‘There is therefore nothing wrong in setting up a committee by the Federal Government to work out the form or modality of the proposed national dialogue,’’ he said. Sani, however said that the ACF would take a final stand, when the “the form and content’’ of the committee was unveiled to Nigerians by the federal government.

It’s in sync with Senate position — Abaribe

Sen. Enyinnaya Abaribe, Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, has said that President Goodluck Jonathan’s initiative on national conference is in sync with the Senate position.

Abaribe told the News Agency of Nigeria, in Abuja that the initiative was a welcome development, as the Senate had earlier advocated for a national conference too.

“This initiative is in sync with the Senate’s position, as articulated by the Senate President in his address on Sept. 17. The Senate President had advocated for a conference of nationalities to discuss the Nigerian question,” Abaribe said.

Enugu monarchs hail Jonathan

Enugu State Council of Traditional Rulers has commended President Goodluck Jonathan for setting up a committee on National Dialogue, saying that the country would be more united and stronger after the conference. Chairman of the council, Igwe Simeon Osisi Itodo in his reaction said that the President’s position was in line with agitation of southeasters in the last 30 years.

“We welcome the President’s decision on the issue. This has been the position of the South-east leaders. We believe that there is need to discuss some burning issues which had been drawing us back as a nation. National Dialogue is not about dismemberment or splitting the country. We will not support such issues.”

It must not be another jamboree — Ali

Legal luminary, Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN, expressed support for the National Dialogue Advisory Committee,”as long as it is not going to be another jamboree” According to him, “members of the same family at a point in their lives do critical review of their relationship. So there is nothing wrong in it as long as it will not turn to another jamboree, “he said.

Jonathan has disappointed the opposition  — PDP

National leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in its reaction hailed President Goodluck Jonathan for accepting to put in place a process that will lead to  the convocation of a  National Conference, stressing that the action was an indication that he listens to the people of Nigeria. According to PDP, President Jonathan has disappointed the opposition who had thought that he would use the occasion to score political points.

A statement by PDP National  Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh read, “the Peoples Democratic Party says the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to  anchor  the theme of his Independence  Day broadcast on the road map to a secured future for the nation is not only unique  but  an eloquent expression of his determination to bequeath a transformed Nigeria.

“Nigerians listened to their President as he humbly relegated accomplishments and beating of the chest. We saw the President assuming the place of an ordinary Nigerian, in his pains, fears and uncertainty about the future. This is very commendable.”

Olisa Metuh said that by taking a definite stand on the issue of a national dialogue and setting up a committee led by Dr. Femi Okurounmu to fashion out the structure and modalities for the conference, President Jonathan “ has again demonstrated that his mandate derives entirely from the wishes of Nigerians.”

According to him, “We are pleased that the President listens and leaves Nigerians in no doubt that their opinions matter. We recall that he bowed to the wishes of Nigerians on the deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry and we also recall that the wishes of Nigerians have been his compass in crucial measures so far taken to contain terrorism in  parts of the country.”

A waste of time and resources — Abubakar Malami, SAN

A legal practitioner, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, however dismissed the proposal by Jonathan to set up a national dialogue as a ruse, arguing that there was no provision for that under a democratic regime, with the members of the National Assembly in place. Malami pointed out that the outcome of such a deliberation would not change anything in Nigeria, since it would not have any legal weight. The Kebbi state-born lawyer said: “As far as I know, the whole exercise is one in futility and it amounts to a waste of time and resources because as long as Nigeria practices democratic governance, the only institution vested with the power to make laws that are binding on the nation, is the National Assembly and no one else,” Malami said.

We welcome the development — G7 Governors, Baraje led PDP

The Abubakar Kawu Baraje-led Peoples Democratic Party, PDP yesterday hailed the planned convocation of Sovereign National Conference, SNC by President Goodluck Jonathan, just as it warned that it should not be made to serve cosmetic purpose like the previous ones  at the end of the day. In an SMS to Vanguard, the new PDP national Publicity Secretary, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze said,  “we see the clamour for a national dialogue as timely and appropriate as there is an urgent need for Nigerians to come together and discuss matters affecting them as well as the way forward. We, therefore, welcome Mr. President’s announcement in his Independence Day broadcast about the establishment of a committee to advise him on the modalities for the holding of the conference. We, however, wish to warn that the proposed conference should not serve the same cosmetics  purpose served by previous efforts; it should be empowered to discuss all issues agitating the minds of Nigerians – there should not be any no-go areas except the unity and oneness of Nigeria, which is not debatable. “

Sagay wants The Patriots included in advisory c’ttee

Renowned Lagos based constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, has lauded the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan on a national conference. Sagay in a brief chat said: “It is a welcome development. It is what we have been clamouring for. And in setting up the advisory committee, I think the patriots should be included in the committee because most of the work has been done by the Patriots.  Members from the Patriots should be contacted and be included in the advisory committee. And at the end of the day there should be a referendum that will lead into drafting of a new constitution that will be binding on all Nigerians.”

Reps express divergent views

Members of the House of Representatives yesterday expressed divergent views on the call for a National Dialogue  by the President,  Goodluck Jonathan during his anniversary speech to mark Nigeria’s 53d Independence. Some Reps who spoke to Vanguard described it as diversionary tool to enable him have a bargaining chip against the break away Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Others argued that if it is going to be another talk shop like the previous ones and another  source to milk the treasury they should be counted out of it. But generally all the Reps who spoke to Vanguard saw it as a welcome development provided the Federal coffers would not be emptied on the ground of convening a national dialogue. They also questioned the process of nominating those to represent the various ethnic groups in Nigeria.

Deputy Minority Whip of the House, Rep Ahmed Datti, APC, Kano said “though it is a welcome development, who are those that are going to convene it for us? We have more than 400 ethnic nationalities in this country,  are you going to nominate one from each ethnic group?”

“Take Taraba for instance, there are 104 tribes while in Oyo state that has far more population than Taraba, they have just one tribe, do you expect them to send just one representative?”

“To me, this conference is just a diversionary tool to enable Mr President have a bargaining chip against the G-7 Governors and capture 2015. If I may also ask, what happened to the resolutions of the 1995 conference and that of Obasanjo?”, Datti wondered.

“There are other issues that Mr President should focus on such as the more than three months old ASUU strike, the health sector is in comatose, the power sector and other issues that require urgent fixing.”

Spokesman of the House, Rep Zakari Mohammed, PDP, representing Baruten/Kaiama Federal Constituency in KwaraState  described it  as a “welcome development, but my question is what happened to the resolutions of past national dialogues.”

“In 1995 we had that of Abacha and the one Obasanjo convened, what happened to the resolutions that emanated from both conferences. Well, if it is going to be another talk shop then most of us must have a rethink about it.”

The Minority Leader of the House, Rep Femi Gbajabiamila, APC, representing Surulere Federal Constituency, Lagos had this to say:

“Many of us have been calling for a round table discussion on how we want to or  should live together as a nation. If that is what his national conference is all about and with the objective of addressing questions that are fundamental to our well being as a nation of diverse people, it is welcome but long overdue.”

But countering other Reps, Chairman House Committee on Niger Delta Ministry and Amnesty Programme, Rep Warman Ogoriba, PDP declared that there is need to discuss the unity of Nigeria and forge ahead. His words:

“It is a welcome development, there is need for all the ethnic nationalities to discuss the unity of this country. As far as I’m concerned the president has taken the right step in the right direction we all should support him.”

Disclaimer

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