Vanguard (Lagos)

3 February 2014

Nigeria: Lobby for Confab Delegates Intensifies

Abuja — FOLLOWING last Thursday's release of modalities for the proposed National Conference, an intense lobby by politicians and other people, who want to be nominated as delegates has ensued.

To be part of the 492 wise men and women to be saddled with the task of reshaping Nigeria, some serving commissioners are currently pressuring their state governors for a slot. According to the modalities, each of the 36 state governors is expected to nominate three delegates. The presidency, which is expected to nominate about 70 delegates is also being pressured, Vanguard gathered. Already, some ministers considered to be in President Goodluck Jonathan's good books are being bombarded with phone calls by people angling for a seat at the confab table.

The civil society organisations, political parties, ethnic nationalities and other stakeholders are not left out. Many of them will hold crucial meetings on the issue this week.

Leaders of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) will meet today to deliberate on whether or not to participate in the conference. APC is one of the five parties slated to nominate 10 delegates.

The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which is in support of the conference, said it would meet to nominate its two delegates, once it gets a letter from the Federal Government on the matter.

The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said last week that it would convene a meeting soon to pick its nominees just as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) urged all stakeholders to send their First Eleven to deepen deliberations at the conference. President of the South-East, South-South Professionals of Nigeria (SESSPN), Mr. Emeka Ugwu-Oju, who disclosed that the group will also meet this week, to take a position on the dialogue modalities, said "it will be sad if the governors nominate their houseboys as delegates because their states and geo-political zones will lose out. They must endeavour to nominate people who can represent their states well."

Meanwhile, to get the proposed dialogue going, the Presidency will, this week, write stakeholders, who are expected to nominate their delegates on or before February 20.

A presidency source told Vanguard, yesterday, that the Presidency will look at the issue today and start writing the letters to drive the process.

The disclosure came as the World Igbo Congress (WIC), the apex organization representing Ndigbo all over the world backed the stance of the Professor Ben Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought that the modalities released by the government did not meet the expectations of most Nigerians for convening a confab that will address the multifarious problems of the country.

Asked if APC would take part in the conference, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party's interim publicity scribe, said: "The party will meet tomorrow (today) to take a decision on it" and declined further comments.

Select your delegates, prepare agenda, FG tells Nigerians

The Federal Government advised the various interest groups in the country to prepare their agenda to be presented at the conference rather than dissipate energy on whether the President Jonathan administration had a hidden agenda.

Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Alhaji Ahmed Ali Gulak, said "we have to advise every interest group that has the interest of Nigeria as its agenda to go and do their home work and take it to the national conference. We have a feeling that those attacking the proposed conference are those who have nothing to offer and would be the first to jump up to claim that the other ethnic groups have outsmarted them."

According to Gulak, the Federal Government has no other agenda than "to secure the peace, stability and unity of the Nigerian state. As the government in power, the Federal Government, will not abdicate its responsibility and allow anarchists to take reins of the country. We are committed to the welfare of Nigerians, the President swore an oath to accomplish these things. It is an open agenda which is not the subject of the conference."

He continued: "We want people to do their home work and present their best team because when they fail to do so, they will not blame the President for their failure."

APGA 'll participate -Umeh

Speaking on the conference, APGA National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, okayed the modalities and assured that the party would participate in the exercise.

His words: "APGA will participate in the conference. We support the modalities released by the government. We cannot miss this opportunity of helping to save the country. The Nigerian situation is becoming very serious and the national conference has become imperative. Let people come together, let's dialogue, look at Nigeria and things that are making the country unstable and find solutions to them. We are happy with President Jonathan's commitment to the National Conference."

Asked when the party would nominate its delegates, he said: "We are waiting for the letter from the Federal Government. When we get the letter from the Federal Government, which is the official line of communication, we will meet and pick our nominees.

"We welcome the programme for the conference. We urge all Nigerians to participate. The Federal Government has made it a broad all-inclusive conference. All segments of the society are involved. Those opposing the national conference are not patriotic enough. We cannot pretend we can get our acts together without dialogue."

On whether the requirement of 75 per cent majority of delegates to resolve contentious issues would not undermine the exercise, Umeh said: "The conference will proceed with the unity of Nigeria as no-go area. Other things will be discussed. There are open wounds, which only the truth and good conscience will heal. There are issues that will be tabled and people will see the glaring injustice. If delegates at the conference fail to address such open wounds, it means clearly they want Nigeria to divide. Only unreasonable people will oppose good demands."

Youths seek more slots

Meantime, Nigerian Youths, weekend, protested 18 slots given to them, saying if truly the conference is to reposition the future of Nigeria, 18 delegates cannot represent over 60 percent of the country's population.

Consequently, a group known as Re-Orientation Advocates of Nigeria (RAN) tasked the Federal Government on the nomination of more youths. The President of RAN, Mr. Charles Folayan in a statement in Abuja, said the reserving 18 slots for over 70 million youths was unacceptable.

According to him, "We agitated earlier for 30-50% representation in our communiqué at the National Youth Summit on Peace and Security held in November last year, we are also very much concerned on how the government is going about it even now that the youth council is in crisis as giving priority to any faction of the council will be out of place.

"The president had earlier said that the conference is meant for the younger generation, so the selection of the younger generation must not only be credible, but also significant, we are so much concerned that the number stipulated on the plan for the youth is insignificant. Youth group should be given up to 100 delegates not 18."

WIC backs Igbo Leaders of Thought's stance

Picking holes in the modalities, Engineer Obi Barth Oyibo Thompson, a member of WIC Board of Trustees, said: "Although there are defects in the modalities released by the Federal Government, the World Igbo Congress supports that Ndigbo should participate in the proposed National Conference."

He advised against Ndigbo boycotting the Confab, but rather should go there and insist on the terms of association of Ndigbo with other nationalities as articulated by the Prof Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought. "The Igbo predicament in Nigeria is a challenge to the conscience of all ethnic nationalities and geo-political zones or Regions in Nigeria. It is a moral wound, inflicted over a long time by injustice, that must be cured. What is important is the quality of Ndigbo representation and that is why Igbo Leaders of Thought are going ahead to complete the task of articulating the Igbo position. There is nothing absolutely sacrosanct as to how an existing Constitution may be replaced by a new one."

Obi Thompson advised that "although nobody should go to the conference to seek dissolution of Nigeria, it should be emphasized that the right of self determination is a fundamental sacred human right. The Conference should therefore be about discussing conditions whereby it is attractive for each stakeholder to happily and freely exercise this right within the framework of one sovereign Nigerian nation."

On selection of South-East delegates, Obi Thompson said "nobody is contesting the collectively cherished ideal of Ndigbo speaking with one voice through Ohanaeze" but since the issue of leadership of Ohanaeze appeared currently subjudice, a better approach might be a conciliatory process whereby all other socio-political cum cultural groups come together with all factions within Ohanaeze for the purpose of selecting their delegates.

On Igbo support for President Jonathan, he said: "If the Conference successfully gives birth to a new Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Jonathan would have built for himself a formidable and appreciative constituency across the length and breadth of Nigeria whose support will overwhelm the combined opposition of APC and PDP and sweep him into land slide second term victory. The President should note that our objective is to ensure that he succeeds in this undertaking. If he achieves this, he becomes the undisputed father of modern Nigeria, thus sharing the same spot of honour in our history as accorded to Sir Herbert Macauley and Rt. the Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe, as the genuine protagonists and patriots of a true and sincere One Nigeria."

This is another jamboree -Tsav

Speaking on the confab in Makurdi, the Benue State Capital, former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, said it is "another jamboree by the federal government that would serve no useful purpose."

According to him, the conference will serve as a conduit pipe for wastage and siphoning of the nation's scarce resources.

His words: "The proponents of the conference are only doing it to distract Nigerians from the avalanche of challenges that we face as a people. As far as I'm concerned, the conference is a misplaced priority. The critical problem facing the country and derailing its growth and development is nothing but corruption which is the reason why we are all lamenting and crying in this country.

"How can anyone suggest the convocation of another conference in Nigeria when the recommendations of previous ones that were held by past governments in this country have not been implemented. The bane of the development, peace and progress of this country is corruption, if this is tackled every other thing will fall into place.

"How can a government that encourages high level corruption convince Nigerians that it is sincere with its policies and programmes when we all know that people who have been declared wanted for corruption charges are being daily celebrated by this administration. As far as I am concerned, the Jonathan's conference will not be different from the previous ones, nothing new will come out of it. In fact, it will provide a basis for looting and another reason for wastage and drainage of the nation's scarce resources."

Ex-minister advocates six-year single term

Ahead of the conference, former Minister of Science and Technology, General Sam Momah, has advocated for a six-year single term in office for the president and governors.

Noting that after every four years the government spends huge sums of tax payers' money to conduct elections at the expense of the needed socio-economic development by the people, he said apart from huge costs of conducting the elections, the " four-year term does not give any executive enough room to complete or conclude any programme it starts. In Africa, no incumbent loses an election, even though it happens, it is difficult, because he makes sure he spends state money to win that election. So, if he knows he has a single term he does his best and leaves."

He further stated that issues the national conference would address had overtaken the constitution amendment by the National Assembly, since the constitution amendment was temporal, but he urged the National Assembly to continue with what they were doing as it was their assignment."

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