A leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Lagos State governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu yesterday restated his reservations about the proposed national conference, saying it is difficult to dissociate the president's sudden change of mind to convene the national dialogue from his 2015 presidential ambition.
Tinubu had upon his return to the country from a medical trip a week ago rejected the national conference proposed by the current administration, just as he asked Nigerians to beware of the "Greek gift and public deception".
In a statement he personally signed and issued on Sunday, Tinubu noted that he had no other choice than to join other well-meaning Nigerians to welcome the sudden change of mind by the president, noting, however, that Jonathan's government was too flip-flopping on critical issues to be trusted with a national dialogue.
He said the president's latest action was "an admission, at last, that the wide cracks in the national fabric can no longer be papered over, and that the time has come for fresh thinking on fundamental problems, the existence of which has for too long been denied.
"Yet, President Jonathan's epiphany -- if epiphany it is and not an expedient move calculated to enhance his 2015 re-election bid -- should be subjected to searching questions. It is difficult to lay aside the suspicion that his sudden conversion is all about 2015. Otherwise, why the sudden endorsement of a national conference, not merely in principle but with a rush toward some form of implementation? What has happened that was not already in play in all those years during which the authorities rejected demands for a national conference?" he queried.
Describing the proposed national dialogue as a sham, he said, "This is an administration that has been known to have flip-flopped on so many critical issues of national importance. President Jonathan was part of two issues of national importance in the recent past: Amnesty and the Uwais Panel on electoral reform. We all know what has happened to these two issues.
"The Amnesty conceived from inception has been corrupted and hijacked by the president's clique. It is one of Nigeria's drain pipes. A slush fund for political expeditions and a conduit to siphon money to the boys".
Tinubu, who pointed out that it was "also difficult to lay aside the suspicion that the government is now embracing the idea with a view to watering it down, if not smothering it altogether, said: "What its proponents have been canvassing is a sovereign national conference organized by the sovereign people of Nigeria, not one staged by the government. Government will figure in that conference only as a facilitator, not as organizer. "
Maintaining his ground that the arrangement by the president was a "Greek" gift and public deception, Tinubu said, "Since I first made known my initial reaction to President Jonathan's proposed national dialogue/conference, the daggers have been out against me. The paid public relations gangs of the administration and some sympathizers have gone into overdrive in the media and public fora to denounce me for the position I have taken.
"I thought I ought to enjoy the same right they have exercised by supporting Jonathan's conference to also reject it and make my reaction known. Unfortunately it does not seem so. But I have news for them. I will not take anything I have said back on the proposed national dialougue by this present administration. I insist that the planned national dialogue is a 'Greek' gift and public deception. I say beware of the Greek gift; let us, first of all, ask a series of questions.
"The government's proposal is a walk down a back alley that leads only to a dead end. It has the same empty taste as sitting down to dine after all the food has been eaten and the table cleared".
Tinubu further observed that President Jonathan did not indicate whether the conference will be sovereign or exercise constituent powers.
That omission, he argued, "is not reassuring", even as he said "what Nigerians have been demanding is a sovereign national conference whose decisions can only be ratified or rejected by the people in a national referendum.
"There is no room for a government White Paper of Blue Paper or Paper of any colour whatsoever in such a scheme.
"Fourth, it must be asked whether this is an opportune moment for the conference, when the ruling party is in disarray, a large portion of the country is convulsed by Boko Haram violence and killings, and permutations over a general election have already taken centre stage in the affairs of the nation two years ahead of schedule".
He added that, while staging a national conference in such a setting would overheat the polity, it would be better to defer the conference until after the general elections, as "there is still so much to do to ensure that the election is free and fair, conforms to the best practices, and represents the true will of the people".
Challenging the elegibility of President Jonathan to convene a national conference, Tinubu further queried: "The core questions to ask here is: how credible, reliable and capable is the current president to be able to midwife a critical conference such as this? Will this president be sincere enough to let all the issues that are on the agenda be exhaustively discussed at the conference? Will this president have the guts to implement fully all final resolutions of the conference without fear or favour or any pandering?
"The Uwais Panel report gathers dust and suffers from constant cherry picking. What about the much-publicized SURE-P initiative of this administration? Another ill-conceived and fraudulently implemented programme of this administration. Billions of naira have so far disappeared into private pockets and the treasury still bleeds.
"I can go on and on. Is this the leader we want to trust with organizing a national dialogue or is it conference they call it? Where is the capability? Where is the sincerity? Where is the presence of mind?"
Raising suspicion on the manner in which Jonathan and Senate president David Mark unanimously came out in support of the proposed national conference, Tinubu said, "Now, we are about to embark on a similar futile exercise. And here is why. Until some two to three months back, our demands for a sovereign national conference found little sympathy in the Executive and Legislative branches of government, until some three weeks ago when Senate president David Mark issued a qualified endorsement, Tinubu said.