National confab won’t break Nigeria –Jonathan
•Inaugurates Advisory Committee
•President committed, sincere, says Okurounmu
•OPC backs FG, Rotimi-Williams opposes conference
President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday inaugurated the Advisory Committee on National Dialogue at the State House, Abuja, where he described the imperatives of convening a national conference to strengthen Nigeria’s unity as “a child of necessity.”
The President allayed the fears of critics, saying the national dialogue will rather “strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of our inclusiveness and deepen our bond as one people.”
The Advisory Committee on National Dialogue which the President set up on October 1 is to work out the modalities for the convocation of a national conference.
At the inauguration ceremony, Jonathan gave the committee, headed by Afenifere chieftain, Femi Okurounmu, additional two weeks (in view of the ongoing Hajj exercise) to the original one month within which to complete its task.
The President also reminded the 13-member panel that it was at liberty to decide on the nomenclature or exact name to be given the proposed confab, dialogue or conversation.
He acknowledged criticisms in some quarters against the proposed dialogue, especially in view of similar conferences in the past but assured this will be different.
“Today, we are taking historic and concrete steps that will further strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of our inclusiveness and deepen our bond as one people under God.
“This is a National Project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united nation,” the President said.
Jonathan admitted that he also used to be skeptical of a national dialogue because of the nomenclature vis-a-vis the existence of democratic institutions, but “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.”
The President insisted that Nigeria came off better with each national or constitutional conference in the past, from the Constitutional Conference of 1957 in London, to the 2005 National Political Reform Conference, which had all produced key recommendations that shaped the country’s polity.
“Clearly, every dialogue adds something valuable to our evolving nation. The urgency of a National Conversation in the present therefore, needs not be over emphasised,” the President said.
While thanking the National Assembly for endorsing the national confab, he added 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.
“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.
“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.”
According to the President, “We have wasted too much time and resources bickering over sectional versions of what defines reality. This is an open-ended luxury we can no longer afford.
“Let us move forward, with honest conviction and patriotic courage, to strengthen this Republic, and get it to work better and brighter, for all of us, to the glory of God.”
Responding on behalf of the committee members, Okurounmu assured of a thorough job of the “sensitive” task ahead, especially given the expectations of the public.
He commended Jonathan for showing courage in convening a national conference.
“He (Jonathan) has by his present move, shown himself to be a listening President, a President willing to accede to the yearnings of a majority of Nigerians, a President with a strong commitment to sincere constitutional reform, as part of his on-going Transformation Agenda.
“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,” Okurounmu said.
In an interview with journalists after the inauguration, Okurounmu dismissed the reported criticism of the confab by leader of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu.
He said: “Tinubu must have been misquoted. Tinubu has been one of the financiers of the agitations for national conference.
“He funded the Pro-National Conference (PRONACO) conference which was held in Lagos.
“So, Tinubu has been at the forefront for the agitation for national conference. The press must have been misquoting him. That must be another Tinubu, not the Tinubu I know.”
Reacting, pan-Yoruba youth group, Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), threw its weight behind the decision of Jonathan to convene the national conference.
In a statement at the weekend by its National Coordinator, Gani Adams, the group said the President deserves praise for summoning the courage to do what is right to save the nation in spite of vehement opposition from some quarters.
“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.”
Adams charged members of the committee to discharge their duties selflessly and not allow themselves to be used by politicians to further their self-interest.
But a Lagos-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ladi Rotimi-Williams, disagreed, backing instead the claim of Tinubu that the proposed national dialogue was ill-timed.
Tinubu who returned to the country on Saturday after a knee operation in the United States of America had described the national conference as a “Greek gift and public deception.”
Rotimi-Williams told Daily Independent in an interview immediately after the inauguration of the advisory committee on Monday that though the President meant well for Nigeria by mooting the idea of the conference, the way he is going about it may not augur well for the country.
“I agree with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s position. He (Tinubu) may not be a lawyer but he is talking sense. And I am not surprised that Professor Ben Nwabueze has pulled out. It is a journey from nowhere to nowhere.
“I agree with Tinubu that the whole thing is bound to fail.
“Such a handful of people to come and advise the President. Advise how?
“That is not what we are talking about. It is just going to be another jamboree. They will make a report. It will gather dust and that will be the end of the story.
“How many committees have we had in the past and many of their recommendations were implemented?
“This is a government of the committee, by the committee and for the committee. Committee on Boko Haram, Committee on Amnesty, Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Committee on Bad Roads, the Nuhu Ribadu Committee on Petroleum etc. And what they do at these committees is to drink tea,” the lawyer noted.
Former Head of State, Abdusalami Abubakar, also on Monday expressed support for the national conference.
Abubakar, who is Chairman of the Board of the proposed Centenary City to mark Nigeria’s 100 years of nationhood, spoke to journalists after he made a presentation to the President on the city project.
His position came shortly after Jonathan inaugurated the National Advisory Committee on National Dialogue.
According to Abubakar, “It is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.”
He also insisted that contrary to the belief of some critics, Nigeria has reasons to celebrate its 100 years of amalgamation next year.