President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday set up a 13-member committee to come up with modalities of convening a national dialogue/conference to resolve what he called issues that currently cause friction in the polity.
The president made the announcement in a special national broadcast to mark the nation's 53rd independence anniversary.
The advisory committee has Dr. Femi Okurounmu as chairman and Dr. Akilu Indabawa as secretary, and is expected to complete its assignment within a month.
Others members of the committee are Prof George Obiozo, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Senator Khairat Gwadabe, Senator Timothy Aduda, retired Col. Tony Nyiam, Prof. Funke Adebayo, Mrs Mairo Ahmed Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Malam Buhari Bello and Mr Tony Uranta.
Jonathan will inaugurate the panel on Monday, said a statement last night by Secretary to the Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim.
The committee's terms of reference are to consult with stakeholders with a view to drawing up agenda for the conference, as well as recommend its structure, modalities, representation, timeframe and legal framework.
Also, the committee is to advise on the legal procedures for integrating the conference's decisions and outcomes into the constitution and other laws.
Earlier speaking during his broadcast, President Jonathan explained his decision to convene a national conference.
"When there are issues that constantly stoke tension and bring about friction, it makes perfect sense for the interested parties to come together to discuss," he said. Jonathan did not say if the conference would be "sovereign", which is what the national conference agitators want.
He said "the nation will be briefed on the nomenclature, structure and modalities of the dialogue" after the committee would have submitted its report.
Jonathan's decision to convene a national conference is coming eight years after the National Political Reform Conference called by then-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. Obasanjo was accused of convening the conference to try to achieve his tenure elongation bid through the backdoor, which failed as the conference recommended the retention of the four-year two terms for the president.
He submitted the report to the National Assembly which dumped it, as the lawmakers had opposed convening the conference ab initio.
In his reaction yesterday, one of the advocates of a sovereign national conference, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, said Jonathan was the wrong person to call a dialogue "because he is part and parcel of Nigeria's problems. He is jointly responsible for problems affecting the country."
"What we need now is independent national conference to be jointly organised by the civil society organisations, legislature, executive, judiciary, traditional rulers, religious bodies and various ethnic groups. Even the aggrieved insurgents should have representation in the conference," Musa told Daily Trust in Kaduna yesterday.
He said advisory committee "should be disbanded immediately otherwise the President is going to do what former Presidents Babangida and Abacha did, which we rejected."
The former Kaduna governor, however, said he supported idea of a national conference as it was the only solution to Nigeria's problems.
"If Nigeria cannot have a national conference to discuss its problems, it will disintegrate and go back to pre-historic period where lands and leadership were acquired by force," he said.
But Professor Auwalu Yadudu, who was a delegate at the 2005 conference, described Jonathan's moves to convene another dialogue as an attempt to divert the attention of Nigerians.
"It looks diversionary because we have had many fora where our problems were discussed and addressed. The conference is not well considered or intended, it is diversionary; they want to take people's attention, I don't think it's a worthy effort," he told Daily Trust.
Elder statesman Alhaji Magaji Dambatta, who also participated in the 2005 conference, urged Northern leaders to get ready for this dialogue.
But he told Daily Trust that solutions to Nigeria's problems are already in the report of the 2005 National Political Reform Conference.
"There is nothing to fear about rubbing minds about the future of Nigeria by all segment of people, but what is to be feared is the machinations to undermining the basis of democracy which gave every segment of the society a voice in the affairs of the Nation. Everybody has a say but majority at end have their way," he said.
Dambatta said the 2005 conference came up with a report that could have served the country well but Obasanjo "dumped it and left it to rot away" because his third term agenda failed.
"I call on governors and politicians in the North to wake up to this clarion call and mobilise ourselves to chart the course we want, face our compatriots from all parts of the country thoroughly, sincerely and frankly," he added.
Meanwhile, the Senate said it was in support of convocation of a national dialogue by President Jonathan.
Spokesman Eyinnaya Abaribe said the move was in line with the stance of the Senate as espoused by Senate President David Mark on September 17.
Mark had said they were in support of a national conference but which would not be sovereign since the parliament and other democratic structures exist.
"This initiative is in sync with the senate position articulated by Senate President in his address on 17th September advocated for a conference of nationalities to discuss the Nigerian question," Abaribe said. But House of Representatives spokesman Zakari Mohammed told Daily Trust the House was yet to take a position on the issue until it resumes from a break today.
"If the House wants to have any position, it is when we resume from the oversight break tomorrow (today).... The House will resume and take a position," he said.
Some National Assembly members, however, expressed divergent views on the national dialogue/conference announced by President Jonathan.
While some lawmakers from the North opposed the conference, others from the South-West said it was a welcome development.
Rep Aliyu Sani Madaki (PDP, Kano) said the issue of any national conference does not arise since democracy is in place.
"This is something that isn't welcome at all. By this, it means all the powers will now be vested on conference and whatever the delegates decide must come to stay. What if they say they don't want him to be president any longer?
"In a country where you have the president and the National Assembly, how will you begin to talk of any national conference? Those clamouring for this are not sincere," he said.
Rep Ibrahim Babangida Mahuta (APC, Katsina) said: "The issue of national conference usually arises where there are no representatives of the people. In the House of Representatives, we have 360 members with each representing a particular constituency."
But a member from Lagos State, James Abiodun Faleke, said the conference was a welcome development as long as there would not be external influence on its members.
"It is indeed a welcome development if it is going to be free. But if it is not going to be sovereign, it makes no sense to me," he said.
Senator Olufemi Lanlehin (APC-Oyo South) also described Jonathan's move as a welcome development needed to move the nation forward. But Lanlehin told the News Agency of Nigeria the conference could not be sovereign as this would be unrealistic.
"Sovereignty is all about the freedom of the people to take decisions. There is no way the government would surrender its powers and sovereignty given to it by the people to a collection of people to decide how it operates," he said.