Daily Trust (Abuja)

11 March 2014

Nigeria: National Conference - Northern Elders Allege Secret Agenda

The chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr Maitama Sule, has urged all northerners to come together, be united, speak with one voice and ... ( Resource: Northern Leaders Conference: Maitama Sule Asks Nigerians To Unite

Kano — Northern elders yesterday said President Goodluck Jonathan is convening the National Conference with hidden motives, among them to whip up sectional sentiments, divert attention and blackmail the North.

The leaders held a meeting in Kano yesterday, to chart a course for the region at the National Conference which is scheduled for inauguration Monday.

Those who spoke at the gathering accused Jonathan of harbouring an anti-North secret agenda for organising the conference.

In a keynote address, former Federal permanent secretary Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed said the National Conference has been "deliberately designed to cause havoc to northern unity and deepen its problems."

"This will make it easier for President Jonathan to exploit the fallout for his re-election campaigns," he added.

Baba-Ahmed called for an outright boycott, or, in the alternative, northerners should withdraw participation whenever the conference begins to take an anti-North dimension.

"This conference will not find answers to the decaying infrastructure in the North, or solutions to the millions of young uneducated, unskilled and unemployment citizens, or solutions to the dangerous trend which sheds so much northern blood every time elections come. The North will participate at this conference at best at a spectator or at worst a helpless victim of a conspiracy to exploit its weakness," he said.

"[Therefore] every northerner who walks out robs the conference of more of the very little credibility it has. The more of you (delegates) that walk out, the less likely it will be that they will claim that they held a national conference,"

Baba-Ahmed said the president is convening the National Conference in a context in which the North is experiencing its greatest weakness as a result of an insurgency and the decay of its economy.

He noted that the list of delegates for the conference has been deliberately skewed against northern interests by setting the North against the South, all calculated to favour Jonathan.

Also speaking, Professor Awwalu Yadudu of the Bayero University Kano described the conference as a futile exercise that may not produce any substantial results different from those of past conferences.

"The outcome of this conference will be similar to Obasanjo's even though his own was not as skewed as the one to be witnessed. And it will be convened using the same templates but only that Obasanjo was smarter," he said.

Yadudu said this conference risks the same fate as Obasanjo's, and advocated for a sovereign national conference that would be able to address all the issues in the country, including its indivisibility.

In his submission, spokesman for the Northern Elders Forum, Professor Ango Abdullahi, alleged that President Jonathan wants to use the National Conference to blackmail the North.

"The conference is targeted at two or three areas. One, it is being organised to blackmail the North because it is going to be an instrument of political blackmail. The short term reward of it is 2105," he said.

"It will also be used to create a climate of division by bringing about issues that tend to divide us in the country and the North in particular. The crisis on ground should not have started if politics is not involved.

"The aim is to portray the North as anti-South, anti-Christianity and anti-President Jonathan who took power from the North. If we go there fine, but to me it is a waste of time."

But politician Buba Galadima warned against boycotting the conference, saying this could deny northerners the opportunity to discuss their problems and press their demands.

He said northerners should be wary of discussing the composition of delegates selected for the conference and concentrate on issues that would improve the welfare of the region.

"So we have to articulate our own agenda because for us our numbers are our assets since we can use them to determine the country's president. We must advocate for one man one vote as well as demand for action on the killings in the North-East, the answers on the offshore oil which constitutes 70 percent of Nigeria's oil resources as well as the federal character," he said.

Barrister Solomon Dalung of the University of Jos, for his part, suggested that President Jonathan should step aside before the commencement of the National Conference or suspend it until his tenure ends in May 2015.

"We have organised nine conferences in the country before and this is the 10th. We agree that the conference is necessary but the President should sacrifice the remaining days in his tenure so that we can organise a sovereign national conference," he said.

"If the president cannot sacrifice the remaining days of his administration, he should then suspend till after May 29th, 2015 so that we can organise SNC where we can discuss all our grey areas. Religion is manipulated to sustain corruption in the polity. If the fowl is the Chief Judge, the cockroach cannot get justice."

The Kano meeting, which was tagged "Conference of Leaders and Elders of Northern Nigeria," drew participants from across the region and from various associations.

A communiqué is expected to be issued today.

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