A pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, on Friday told President Goodluck Jonathan that they believed the proposed National Conference is more important for Nigeria than the 2015 general elections.
The group stated this when a delegation of its leaders visited the president at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The delegation commended the president for his decision to commence the conference early next year; and urged him not to be distracted by critics.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, a member of the Afenifere delegation, Yinka Odumakin, said the group was in support of the conference.
"Things are not running smoothly ahead of 2015 and unless we sit down and discuss we are not going nowhere," Mr. Odumakin said.
During the meeting, Mr. Odumakin told President Jonathan that Afenifere commends his "initiative on a National Dialogue to bring together the peoples of Nigeria to discuss their union.
"This is a bold move that will earn you a good place in history if faithfully implemented. Any leader who is able to get us out of this structural quagmire will never be forgotten."
Mr. Odumakin claimed there were forces who had been against a better Nigerian structure since 1960, and that they were the ones against the proposed conference.
"Mr. President, some forces that have benefited from the imbalance and inequity of decades would not fold their arms and watch Nigeria restructured into an entity that works for all its component units," he told Mr. Jonathan during the meeting.
"This is why all manners of 'letters' were posted to you with impeachment calls. Expect more of that as the process moves on by those who want the National Dialogue aborted," Mr. Odumakin said in apparent reference to the letter by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who had criticised the conference.
Mr. Odumakin, who is also the spokesperson for the group, said, "Afenifere considers the National Conference as the soul of a new Nigeria and as such much more important than anything in the polity, 2015 election inclusive.
"That is why we are strongly advising that the conference be concluded early so that the 2015 elections can be conducted on the basis of the new constitution.
"Finally we urge you to be more vigilant and rest assured of Afenifere's support in the days ahead for as long as you are committed to give Nigeria a proper National Conference which you re-emphasised when you received the report of the Advisory Committee two days ago. We believe the time has come for us to sit and find lasting solutions from the stakeholders across Nigeria to our challenges as against temporary reliefs that bring greater and long-lasting sorrows which some letter writers and their group have given us since 1966″.
The Yoruba group leaders commended the president for personally visiting to commence the repairs of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway; and urged the federal government to fix other major South-West roads. They also appealed to the president to review the status of privatised companies in the South West including the Machine Tools, and Steel Rolling Mills in Osogbo. They appealed to Mr. Jonathan to ensure that the NIPP plants that have been sold to private companies become operational in the provision of power supply to the zone.
The Ondo State governor, Olusegun Mimiko, who accompanied the delegation, urged Nigerians to allow the courts decide on the fate of governors and federal lawmakers who recently defected from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the All Progressives Congress, APC.
Five ex-PDP governors and 37 lawmakers recently decamped to the APC, making the APC the party with the majority in the House of Representatives. The opposition party also now has 16 governors to the PDP's 18.
Though Mr. Mimiko is of the Labour Party, he is an ally of President Goodluck Jonathan amidst allegations, including by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that Mr. Jonathan jettisoned the PDP candidate to support Mr. Mimiko in last year's governorship election in Ondo State.
Mr. Mimiko is also believed to be a major financier of the Afenifere faction that visited Mr. Jonathan and is opposed to the APC, which has declared its opposition to the National Conference.
While speaking to the visitors, Mr. Jonathan said he would not interfere in the forthcoming National Conference, but will abide by the outcome no matter what it is.
He also said he had no personal interest in the outcome of the confab and will not influence the course or eventual decisions reached. He asked eventual participants at the conference to consider the national interest first.