By Benjamin Nworie Governor Martin Elechi of Ebonyi State, Friday in a sudden twist seen as a big surprise, dismissed the planned national dialogue being promoted by President Goodluck Jonathan as "a big joke and waste of time."
He further said the planned dialogue was a distraction to Jonathan as the general elections approaches, adding that he would not participate in the exercise.
Elechi, who is seen as one of President Jonathan's main backers in the South East, made his position known in Ikwo when founding fathers of the state paid him Christmas homage.
The Ebonyi governor had earlier in October lauded the planned dialogue when Jonathan announced it and urged Nigerians to avail themselves of the opportunity of contributing meaningfully during the dialogue "so that all grievances would be addressed."
The founding fathers of the state who visited him yesterday wanted to know the modalities for selecting delegates from states and issues that should form their collective stand during the dialogue.
But they were shocked by the governor's dramatic change of mind, when he wrote off the planned dialogue and stated further that he would not participate.
Elechi said he was sceptical about the dialogue as it would not achieve anything "since the constitution has conferred on the National Assembly the power to make laws for the country."
The governor noted that the dialogue could not supersede the deliberations of the National Assembly and referred its advocates to revisit the colloquium by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. "We should revisit that colloquium and the recommendations reached," he suggested.
Elechi noted that at the colloquium, far- reaching decisions were reached "but the National Assembly overrode it because of the third term ambition of Obasanjo."
Though Elechi said he would still consult his constituency to deliberate on whether or not to participate in the planned national diologue, he noted that if they eventually chose to participate, he would distance himself and be an onlooker.
"The National conference to me is a big joke, waste of time and a distraction to Goodluck Jonathan. I'm sceptical about it. It will not achieve anything.
I will still consult my people but if at the end of the day, they decide to participate, I will not stop anybody but I will distance myself," he said.
President Jonathan inaugurated a 13-man Advisory Committee for the planned dialogue on October 7, after approving the membership and terms of reference of the committee.
The Committee has Dr. Femi Okurunmu as Chairman while Dr. Akilu Indabawa will act as Secretary.
The committee's terms of reference include: To consult expeditiously with all relevant stakeholders with a view to drawing up a feasible agenda for the proposed national dialogue and to make recommendations to government on structure and modalities of the proposed national dialogue.
It was also directed to make recommendations to government on how representation of various interest groups at the national dialogue/conference will be determined.