BY OLA AJAYI, OLASUNKANMI AKONI & MONSOOR OLOWOOPEJO
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference/Dialogue, Dr Femi Okurounmu has said reports on previous National conferences could not be relied on because members of such conferences were handpicked by the government.
Okurounmu who spoke when the committee paid a visit to Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos said, “no previous conference had the features of the present committee. I remember the 2005 conference organised by the Obasanjo administration, which I was privileged to attend as a delegate of the Afenifere, and I can say that from my state, I was the only one who wasn’t nominated by the government. All others were nominated by the Federal or state governments. So we cannot compare that with this.
“The past reports were not product of Nigerians. It was the product of people who were handpicked by government and they were restricted. They were not free to discuss several issues. If those conferences were right, there wouldn’t be any need for Nigerians to start agitating for another conference.”
He said the members were committed to conducting a conference with an exception as they are poised to make it a conference of the people and by the people with the agenda being determined by the people and not the government.
He reiterated that the conference would not have “no-go areas” and “for those who are not very comfortable and impressed with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the present exercise is an opportunity to right the wrongs.”
During the visit, Fashola, had urged the committee to consider the report submitted by the committee on the 2005 National Political Reform Conference but should remove the tenure elongation.
Meanwhile, Oyo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has said it would be a disservice to future generations of Yoruba for any political party or group to call for the boycott of the national conference as this will automatically shut out people of the South West when critical issues of how to structure the federation are being discussed by various other ethnic groups that make up the Nigerian state.
The party through its Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lukman Agboluaje commended some of the stakeholders in the South West for expressing support and demonstrating willingness to make meaningful contribution to the proposed national conference in Lagos last Friday.
While asking interest groups like traditional rulers, opinion leaders, civil society organisations, labour union and other stakeholders in the zone to join in presenting agenda for the South West as it affects its continued existence in the Nigerian union, the party stated that it was in the best interest of the entire region to take active part and make its feelings known by submitting memoranda to the Senator Femi Okunrounmu-led National Conference Committee to state the demands and interests of the Yoruba nation on issues that may be slated for discussion at the conference.
The party, therefore, called on the people of the South West to ignore calls by the All Progressives Congress and its leaders for the boycott of the conference as this contradicts the political beliefs and philosophy of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo who never shunned any opportunity for dialogue with Nigerians of other ethnic groups or interests on ways of restructuring the country.
The party recalled that individuals and groups including those claiming to be progressives had always advocated national conference as a precondition for addressing the various challenges that confront the Nigerian state, now that President Jonathan has set machinery in motion for dialogue, it is amazing that these same previous advocates of national dialogue are now fighting hard to thwart efforts to bring Nigerians together to a roundtable to discuss and find solutions to their problems.