National conference will not disintegrate Nigeria, says Jonathan

PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan on Monday inaugurated a 13-member National Dialogue Advisory Committee with the re-assurance that the outcome of the assignment would lead to the disintegration of the country.
In an address at the ceremony held at the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Jonathan said the conference would not negotiate the integrity of the nation.
He assured that the outcome would further strengthen national unity and address inequalities and injustices, among others.
“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’’, he said.
Specifically, the President said that the discourse would bequeath a better and a greater Nigeria to the present and future generations.
He said the conference, a national project to be sincerely and fundamentally undertaken, aims at a realistic examination and resolution of longstanding impediments to national cohesion and harmonious development.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have wasted too much time and resources bickering over sectional versions of what define 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.
“Of course you will also agree with me that over the period, we have been wasting so much time putting wedges on our frontlines.
“This committee and the assignment is to rather put a strong mortar that will bind our appendages and make our nation stronger for our own interest and especially for the interest of our children yet unborn’’, he said.
The President said he was one of those who initially exhibited scepticism on the need for another conference or dialogue.
He said his scepticism was borne out of the name of such a conference, taking into consideration existing democratic structures that were products of the will of the people.
He said he had to bow to the consistent clamour by the majority of the people that Nigerians needed to sit down together and discuss.
“We are in a democracy, and in a democracy; elected leaders govern at the behest of the citizenry.
“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’’, he said.
The President also assured the pessimists that the administration would implement the outcome of the discourse.
He noted that recommendations from several dialogues of such nature had been put to use by the government
“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 benefited from reports and recommendations arising from the 1994/1995 constitutional conference’’, he said.
The President charged members of the committee to formulate an all-inclusive process that protects the people’s interest in carrying out the assignment.
“This conversation is a people’s conversation and I urge that the views of the sceptics and those of the enthusiasts must be accommodated as you formulate this all important framework’’, he said.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the committee was given six weeks to submit its report.
The President said that the extension of time was to accommodate the opinions of some Nigerians of Islam faith who had already travelled for pilgrimage.
He also gave the committee the latitude to determine the name to call the discourse.
Chairman of the Committee, Dr Femi Okurounmu, commended Jonathan for demonstrating courage to convene the national conference.
He noted that by the move, the President had shown that he was a listening leader willing to accede to the yearnings of the majority of Nigerians.
According to him, for more than two decades, there had been clamour from many sections for the convening of a national conference in one form or the other
“Advocates of such conference were prompted by what they perceived as the injustices and inequities prevalent in the polity, all of which they attributed to the inadequacies of the constitution foisted upon us by successive military regimes since 1966’’, he said.
Okurounmu promised that members would not let the President down or fail the nation in carrying out the assignment.
Other members of the committee present at the inauguration were the Secretary, Dr Akilu Indabawa, Prof George Obiozor, Senators Khairat Gwadabe, and Timothy Adudu, retired Col. Tony Nyiam and Prof. Funke Adebayo.
The members also included (Mrs) Mairo Amshi, Dr Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Mallam Bukhari Bello and Mr Tony Uranta.
NAN reports that a member of the committee, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN) was absent at the inauguration.
The Presidency explained that Nwabueze was absent because he was on a medical trip abroad and sent apology for his inability to be physically present at the event.
NAN recalled that the President had in his 53rd independence anniversary address to the nation, constituted the Advisory Committee to set up modalities for national dialogue or conference.
The committee, as part of its terms of reference, would consult with all stakeholders with a view to drawing up a feasible agenda for the proposed national dialogue/conference.
It is also to make recommendations to government on structure and modalities for the proposed national dialogue/conference.
The committee will also make recommendations to government on how various interest groups at the national dialogue/conference would be determined.
It will also advise on a timeline for the national dialogue/conference. (NAN)