Jonathan: National Conference Won’t Negotiate Nigeria’s Integrity •Abdulsalami backs conversation • Jigawa to boycott national dialogue •Agbakoba seeks no restrictions on discussions

President Goodluck Jonathan Monday set the stage for a national conversation on Nigeria’s future with the inauguration of the National Advisory Committee on National Conference.
He seized the occasion to allay fears of critics of the committee, saying it would not negotiate the nation’s integrity.
The 13-member committee, headed by a chieftain of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, was given six weeks to submit its report, an extension by two weeks from the original deadline set for the committee when the president announced its formation in his 53rd independence day anniversary speech.
Jonathan said the extension of time was to accommodate the opinions of some Muslims who had already travelled for pilgrimage just as he gave the committee the latitude to determine the name to call the discourse.
However, when the conversation eventually begins, Jigawa State will not be part of it as its governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Monday announced that his people would not take part in the national dialogue.
But the president got the backing of a former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd.), in holding the national conference, which the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) described as an exercise that has nothing to offer the nation.
According to the president, contrary to the perception of critics on the exercise, the national dialogue is a concrete step to further strengthen understanding among the citizenry, expand the frontiers of inclusiveness and deepen their bond as one people under God.
He allayed the fears of those who think the conference will call the integrity of Nigeria into question, saying a national discourse would strengthen the nation’s union and address issues that are often on the front burner, and are too frequently ignored.
He also noted that the dialogue was a perfect way to calm tension, and channel misgivings, grievances and suggestions into positive use for the country.
Jonathan, in his speech, defended his administration’s change of stance to embrace a national conference as a way for the constituent parts of the country to examine and find solutions to the thorny issues that have impaired national cohesion.
He said the terms of reference of the committee were to facilitate a most acceptable process that would bring the aspirations of the people to fruition.
He said: “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 front lines.
“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.”
In response to criticisms that have trailed his decision to set up the committee, the president said: “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 cognisance 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. 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.”
The president explained that in the march to nationhood, it has become imperative for Nigerians  to be dynamic in their approach and response to the problems, even as solutions are being sought.
He said the gains of conference and dialogue to shape a nation were enormous, pointing out that conferences that were held before 1960 were designed to produce a political system and a roadmap to Nigeria’s independence.
While saying the conference is a people’s conversation, Jonathan also urged members of the committee to formulate an all-inclusive process that protects the people’s interest.
The president charged the committee not only to be alive to the expectations of the people, bearing in mind, “that what we desire is what can work for the good of our people and country”.
Jonathan assured pessimists that his administration would implement the outcome of the discourse, adding that recommendations from several dialogues of such nature had been put to use by the government.
In his remarks, Chairman, National Advisory Committee on the National Conference/Dialogue,  Okurounmu thanked Jonathan for the confidence reposed in the committee.
He said for over two decades, there had been calls from many sections of Nigeria for a national conference in one form or the other, adding that advocates of such a conference were prompted by what they perceived as the injustices and inequities prevalent in the polity.
“To this clamour for a national conference, there has also always been a strong resistance from other sections of the public who, while they may not have been as loud and numerous as the advocates of a conference, nevertheless have much political clout. These two conflicting pressures have always put our leaders in a very precarious position, making them reluctant to endorse the convening of a national conference or dialogue.
“This is why President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, having decided to convene such a conference, must be commended for showing courage. He 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 ongoing transformation agenda,” he said.
According to him, the president’s sincerity and commitment are further buttressed by the fact that he has not established any so-called “no go” areas for the committee.
He promised that the committee would live up to the expectations of the president and the people by carrying out its assignment with all sense of responsibility.
Besides Okurounmu, other members of the committee at the inauguration were the Secretary, Dr Akilu Indabawa, a former Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, Prof George Obiozor, Senators Khairat Gwadabe and Timothy Adudu, retired Col. Tony Nyiam and Prof. Funke Adebayo.
Others included Mrs Mairo Amshi, Dr Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Mallam Bukhari Bello and Mr Tony Uranta.
However, a member of the committee, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), did not attend the inauguration.
The Presidency explained that Nwabueze was absent because he was on a medical trip abroad and sent his apology for his inability to be physically present at the event.
Former head of state, Abdulsalami, drummed up support for the presidential initiative, saying it is better to “jaw jaw than to war war”.
He told State House correspondents shortly after making a presentation as the board chairman of the proposed nation’s Centenary City that the country would lose nothing by discussing its problems.
He said contrary to the belief of some Nigerians, the country had reasons to celebrate its 100 years of amalgamation.
But a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), urged Jonathan not to restrict issues Nigerians could discuss under the auspices of the conference.
He said in a statement signed by him yesterday that such a rare opportunity as the conference offered Nigerians the opportunity to agree on some major issues.
He also suggested that to compensate for the non-sovereign nature of the conference, it is vital that it would come with some important elements, which are; inclusion, authority, validity and legitimacy.
“By inclusion,  I mean every Nigerian must be allowed to freely speak his mind. By authority, I mean that we have to accept that the president and the National Assembly are the convening authorities. By validity, the government has to accept that we, the people shall validate the constitution by referendum. By legitimacy I mean that our discussions shall not be altered by the government, but shall be final and binding and validated by Nigerians,” he stated.
Agbakoba also underscored the challenges associated with selecting participants for the conference, saying they could be drawn from ethnic nationalities with at least the six basic estates of the realm, namely the executive, legislature, judiciary, media, civil society and organised business being fully represented.
On the day the president was inaugurating the national conference committee, Jigawa State governor and MEND criticised it.
Lamido, in an interview with a Dutse-based radio station monitored by THISDAY, said his state would not participate in the conference.
According to him, the proposed dialogue lacks constitutional backing and is a flagrant abuse of democratic institutions.
He said: “The only solution to the country’s problems is good governance and also leaders should abide by due process, rule of law and ethics of leadership.
“Such a conference is a fruitless effort and could not make any positive impact on the country. It is a flagrant abuse of democracy, when we have the Senate and members of the House of Representatives that are legally and democratically elected to represent any constituency in  discussing any national issue.
“Are you going to ask Jega (INEC chairman) to organise an election for those that would participate in the dialogue, which I am sure he would not accept to do.  Or are you going to select them through nomination to go and take over the responsibility of the elected ones?
“So the idea for the dialogue lacks any formula in our democratic society, and embarking on such a worthless venture is not ideal.”
MEND also expressed the same sentiment over the proposed national conference like Lamido, saying the exercise has nothing to offer Nigeria.
The group in an online statement yesterday by Jomo Gbomo said: “MEND considers the proposed national dialogue as another deceit, a distraction, waste of public funds and time. Aside from the therapeutic benefits of letting off steam from a political perspective, it has absolutely nothing else to offer.
“The National Assembly members should rise up to their responsibilities and justify their huge salaries and fringe benefits. Reversing the injustice meted out, especially from the General Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo military regimes on the people of the Niger Delta, is one of such responsibilities.
“Instead of wasting time to rant over what can be expressed in the opinion columns of newspapers, or radio and television talk shows at a reduced cost, our national dialogue should focus on corruption: the mother of all terrors which is tantamount to this government.”

Ibori to be released for a day in Dec 2014 • Asset hearing proceedings end abruptly • Court awaits witnesses

THERE was shock and disbelief all around Southward Crown Court’s Courtroom 14, London Monday as the confiscation of assets hearing proceedings of jailed former Delta State Governor, Chief James Ibori came to an abrupt end.
The hearing, which was about a day or two to close, was halted when Ibori’s team disputed the quantity of benefits he obtained out of the £89 million assets the Crown prosecutors want him to forfeit.
Meanwhile, Krolick revealed in court that Ibori will be entitled to a day release – when he can be electronically tagged and allowed to go and spend the weekend with his family at a UK address – in December 2014 and early release on March 26, 2016, and that “Mr. Ibori cannot be categorised a criminal.”
Ivan Krolick, the leading defence barrister had started the first half of his closing submission on Friday and should have rounded off and pave the way for the prosecution to make their closing submission. However, the defence not only argued robustly against the quantity of benefits, which the former governor had obtained, but were also claiming that the prosecution had not really proved their client was guilty of some of his money laundering charges for which he was jailed for 13 years last year.
Krolick had been disputing the quantity of Ibori’s benefits and also questioning the guilty pleas on some of the charges Ibori entered under the guidance of his former barrister, Nicholas Purnell.
Upon listening to the arguments of Krolick, not only did the prosecution see that as a window of opportunity to prove the case, the Judge, Anthony Pitts, confessed that he couldn’t do a good job without giving thought to seeing all the necessary evidence for the case.
Krolick even wanted to backpedal, and even went on and said: “Your Honour, we’re not even suggesting that witnesses are required,” and that he wasn’t actually saying:” that Mr. Ibori was not guilty, but that Mr. Ibori did not obtain what the Crown said he obtained.”
Speaking further, Krolick added,” we don’t ask for further evidence,” and neither have we “ambushed the Crown. My respectful submission is that this is a case where the evidence has closed.”
Pitts continued: “I need a better grip on evidence,” and admitted that it is a regret that: “We didn’t get a trial, because Mr. James Ibori offered a guilty plea.”
Amidst the deafening silence that gripped the courtroom, Pitts spoke further and admitted that “the case requires a decision from me,” and that could only happen “with proper understanding and details of evidence. Moreover, I need to have some evidence put before me, so as to be in a position, to make an informed decision.”
In view of this, Pitts ruled that: “I’m going to adjourn these proceedings and to be brought back before me as early as possible, early next year.”
Krolick, however, protested against halting the proceedings, saying, “we do not say the conviction should go, we do not attack the conviction, we are only asking what Mr. Ibori obtained.”
Crown prosecutor, Sasha Wass, then told the court that the Crown had always wanted to call evidence, anyway and that if the case goes back to square one, “it will include getting witnesses here from Nigeria.” As a result, she told the Judge, “we would ask that these proceedings are brought to a halt and the case be listed to when we get our witnesses here.”
After open consultation between both the defence team and Crown prosecutors, a new date, December 9, was fixed for preliminary hearing and it is only then that both parties will know whether there will be a fresh trial or not.

Abortion Vote Exposes Rift at a Catholic University

LOS ANGELES — Not three weeks have passed since Pope Francis said the church had grown “obsessed” with abortion, declaring, “We have to find a new balance.” But on the campus of Loyola Marymount University, overlooking this city’s west side, a fight over abortion now threatens to rip the school asunder.
Trustees of the Jesuit university will decide on Monday whether to remove coverage for elective abortions from the faculty and staff health care plans. The coming vote has exposed a deep rift over just how Catholic a Catholic university should be in the 21st century — and how to maintain that distinctive Catholic identity amid growing diversity on campus.
Religiously conservative professors and alumni argue that as the proportion of Catholics on campus — in the student body and on the faculty — has fallen in recent years, the university has lost touch with its Catholic identity. They have leaned hard on university officials to re-establish a more prominent role for Catholic doctrine at the university, starting with eliminating insurance coverage for abortions.
But the potential end of abortion coverage has sent a collective shiver through much of the faculty, who fear that it could also signal the end of an era in which non-Catholics have been wholeheartedly welcomed by the university and professors have enjoyed the academic freedom to teach theories that do not necessarily accord with Catholic doctrine. Both sides, however, have come to view Monday’s vote as symbolic of a battle for the university’s soul.
“Loyola Marymount has always represented tolerance, diversity and a welcoming atmosphere where we can exchange ideas openly,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at the law school. “If this represents a shift in what it means for Loyola to be a Catholic university, and being a Catholic university now means exclusion, I think Loyola would lose something very special. It could dramatically change who’s attracted to the university and what faculty want to be involved.”
Christopher Kaczor, a philosophy professor who described himself as a “faithful Catholic,” agreed that it was potentially a turning point in the university’s history.
“Part of the university’s mission is to promote justice,” Professor Kaczor said. “And in the Catholic tradition, abortion is considered a justice issue. So to say the university supports justice and then also pay for abortions is a contradiction.”
Loyola Marymount is hardly the only Catholic university wrestling with questions about its religious identity.
Across the country, the percentage of faculty members who are Catholic has been dropping for years, as nearly a third of Americans raised Catholic have left the church, prompting some colleges to aggressively recruit Catholic professors.
At Notre Dame in 2009, protests over President Obama’s appearance on campus because of his support for abortion rights led to more than a dozen arrests. Boston College, meanwhile, tried to ban students from distributing free condoms in dorms this year.
While Catholics still make up at least 70 percent of the student bodies at Boston College and Notre Dame, only about half of incoming freshmen at Loyola Marymount identified themselves as Catholic this year. The percentage of Catholics on the faculty here has fallen well below 50 percent, according to university officials’ estimates. Students said there were few reminders that they attended a Catholic university at all, aside from the glistening white church at the center of campus or the occasional cross on a classroom wall.
And in 2010, David W. Burcham, a Presbyterian, was appointed president of Loyola Marymount — the first non-Catholic president of any Jesuit university in the country, according to school officials.
David Luke, an alumnus, said Loyola Marymount’s drift away from its Catholic roots has reached a crisis point.
This year, Mr. Luke helped found an organization called “Renew LMU,” which has pushed the administration to enroll more Catholic students and hire more Catholic faculty members (in 1990, Pope John Paul II issued a directive that at least half the faculty members at Catholic universities should be Catholic). Mr. Luke said that support for human life was central to Catholic teachings and that only professors who are against abortion should be allowed to hold certain posts on campus, like director of the Bioethics Institute.
“We are concerned about the overall Catholic character,” Mr. Luke said. “Secular faculty are welcome on a Catholic campus, but it’s incumbent on those faculty to inform themselves of Catholic teaching and show some amount of respect.”
In August, Mr. Burcham sent a letter to faculty and staff members saying that since 1988, the school had repeatedly inquired with its health insurance companies about whether it would be possible to drop coverage for elective abortions from the faculty health plan. Until this year, the answer had always been no. But this summer, the letter said, the insurance companies agreed to drop the coverage, and the trustees would vote on it in October.

An uproar soon followed.
Last week, dozens of faculty members signed a full-page advertisement in the student newspaper, The Los Angeles Loyolan, urging the trustees to maintain abortion coverage. Privately, professors without tenure expressed concern that they could scuttle their careers if they spoke up; some have started looking for other jobs.
“For a lot of us, it looks like some of our worst fears about teaching at a Catholic university are coming true,” said Anna Harrison, a tenured professor of Christian history.
Like other Jesuit schools, Loyola Marymount has welcomed scholars of all faiths. Condoms are not distributed on campus, but professors have been free to post stickers advocating abortion rights on their office doors. A performance of “8,” a play about the fight for same-sex marriage in California, was held on campus last year, over objections from religious conservatives.
Professor Harrison feared that Monday’s vote could mean the end of that free intellectual exploration.
“If teachers are going to become more cautious and less creative in the classroom, then it’s the students who will lose out,” she said. “We don’t want faculty who are afraid to embrace the complexity and richness of the subjects they’re teaching.”
Though Mr. Burcham has refused to comment publicly before the vote, his administration has also steadfastly insisted that whatever the result, academic freedom at the university will not be jeopardized.
“Faculty and staff have, and will continue to have, the right to express their strongly held beliefs and principles, and to pursue their scholarship wherever it may lead them,” said one statement from the president’s office. “Our commitment to academic freedom is at the very heart of what we do at Loyola Marymount University.”