Former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha, has supported the call for national dialogue by southern governors to address the issue of insecurity and other challenges in the country.
Featuring as a guest on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, he stated that those who have faulted the action of the governors misunderstood their motive of making such a move.
“What I understand from this whole meeting is that things are not well and I like the name they use – national dialogue… that is a call for peace, not for war. That should not be taken out of context,” said Okorocha who now represents Imo West senatorial district in the National Assembly.
He added, “Since 1960, has there been any time the southern governors have met to say that they ban open grazing? The answer is no.
“Has there been any meeting where the southern governors have said the Fulanis or the herders are enemies? No! And I don’t think that is the intention of that meeting; if it is, then I don’t think I am part of it.”
State governors in the South met on Tuesday last week in Asaba, the Delta State capital where they resolved to ban open grazing and movement of cattle by foot in the region.
They put aside their political differences and called for a national dialogue, as well as restructuring of the country along with fiscal federalism, devolution of powers, and state policing, among other demands.
The governors had also asked President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation and convene a national dialogue to address the agitations by various groups in the region.
While Okorocha commended the call for a national dialogue, he was concerned about the timing of such a call.
According to him, President Muhammadu Buhari may not have the luxury of time to convene such a dialogue considering that he has about two years to complete his second term in office.
“Coming to other issues of this national dialogue, my only concern about their statement is the time factor; If you look at it now, President Muhammadu Buhari has spent 70 per cent of his tenure as president, he has barely two years to go.
“And if you start forming this dialogue thing, I am sure it will take you six months to compose it and to set up a secretariat and others, that will take you up to January and by then, politics would have taken a different dimension and when will Buhari have the time to complete this whole thing?” the former governor asked.
Governors of Southern states in Nigeria have called for national dialogue and placed a ban on the movement of cattle by foot into and within the South.
The governors said the ban on open grazing is imperative because the development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South.
They also recommended that in view of widespread agitations among various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements, the Federal Government should convoke a national dialogue.
These are part of the resolution made by the governors at their meeting in Asaba, the Delta State capital on Tuesday.
The governors’ demands were contained in a twelve-point communique read by the chairman of the group and governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu.
See the full communique below…
COMMUNIQUE ISSUED AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE MEETING OF THE GOVERNORS OF SOUTHERN NIGERIA IN GOVERNMENT HOUSE, ASABA, DELTA STATE, ON TUESDAY, 11TH MAY, 2021
At its meeting held today, 11th May, 2021, th e Southern Governors Forum reviewed the situation in the nation generally and focused on the current security situation, agitations/restructuring, prospect for inter-state collaboration and partnerships as well as on the incidence of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Rising from the meeting, the Forum: affirmed that the peoples of Southern Nigeria remain committed to the unity of Nigeria on the basis of justice, fairness, equity and oneness and peaceful co-existence between and among its peoples with a focus on the attainment of shared goals for economic development and prosperity; observed that the incursion of armed herders, criminals and bandits into the Southern part of the country has presented a severe security challenge such that citizens are not able to live their normal lives including pursuing various productive activities leading to a threat to food supply and general security.
Consequently, the meeting resolved that open grazing of cattle be banned across Southern Nigeria; noted that development and population growth has put pressure on available land and increased the prospects of conflict between migrating herders and local populations in the South. Given this scenario, it becomes imperative to enforce the ban on open grazing in the South (including cattle movement to the South by foot); recommended that the Federal Government should support WILLING States to develop alternative and modern livestock management systems; agreed that the progress of the nation requires that urgent and bold steps be taken to restructure the Nigerian Federation leading to the evolution of state police, review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism; recommended that in view of widespread agitations among our various peoples for greater inclusiveness in existing governance arrangements, the Federal Government should convoke a national dialogue as a matter of urgency; recommended that in deference to the sensitivities of our various peoples, there is need to review appointments into Federal Government Agencies (including Security Agencies) to reflect federal character as Nigeria’s overall population is heterogenous; resolved to foster cooperation among the Southern States and the nation at large; expressed concern on the continued gridlock on the Oshodi – Apapa Expressway and the chokehold it has exerted on the nation’s economy being the sole outlet from Apapa Wharf.
The meeting therefore recommended the activation and establishment of ports in other States of the federation to create new jobs and promote socio-economic activities in the country; the meeting expressed concern on the economic implications of another lockdown on the country, and therefore suggested greater coordination and cooperation between Federal and State Governments in evolving strategies for dealing with the pandemic; expressed very grave concern on the security challenge currently plaguing the nation and strongly urged that Mr. President should address Nigerians on the challenges of insecurity and restore the confidence of our people; and expressed gratitude to our host, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for his generosity and hospitality.
Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN Governor, Ondo State
His Excellency Dr. Victor Okezie Ikpeazu Governor, Abia State Governor
His Excellency Chief Emmanuel Udom Akwa Ibom State
His Excellency Willie Obiano Governor, Anambra State
His Excellency Senator Diri Duoye Governor, Bayelsa State
His Excellency Prof. Ben Ayade Governor, Delta State
His Excellency Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa Governor, Cross Rivers State
His Excellency Engr. Dave Umahi Governor, Ebonyi State
His Excellency Godwin Obaseki Governor, Edo State
His Excellency John Olukayode Fayemi Governor, Ekiti State
His Excellency Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi Governor, Enugu State
His Excellency Senator Hope Uzodimma Governor, Imo State
His Excellency Babajide Sanwo-Olu Governor, Lagos State
His Excellency Dapo Abiodun Governor, Ogun State
His Excellency Isiaka Adegboyega Oyetola Governor, Osun State
His Excellency Oluwaseyi Abiodun Makinde Oyo State Governor
His Excellency Ezenwo Nyesom Wike Governor Rivers State
President Paul Biya on Thursday ordered the prosecution of people numbering over 300, linked to the separatist crisis in Cameroon’s anglophone regions to be dropped.
“The president today decided to halt prosecutions that are pending in military tribunals… for crimes committed in the context of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions,” a statement said.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute at a national “dialogue,” launched by Biya, on resolving the turmoil in the two English-speaking regions.
He said Biya sought “a measure to calm (the situation)… while we continue our work.”
The premier read it first in French, which said “333 people (were) concerned” by the measure.
This was followed by a statement in English, which said Biya had “already announced the release of over 330 persons who were in custody.”
Armed separatists in the Northwest and Southwest regions have launched a two-year-old campaign for independence from Cameroon, where French is the predominant language.
Biya’s government has responded with a crackdown that rights groups have fiercely condemned.
The International Crisis Group has estimated that nearly 3,000 people have been killed in violence committed by both sides and more than half a million people have fled their homes.
Biya’s “dialogue,” which opened on Monday and is scheduled to end on Friday, brings together political groups, civil society, and religious groups, as well as representatives of the armed forces.
But armed rebel groups have snubbed the forum, and analysts have questioned whether the initiative can achieve much while the main separatist leaders are behind bars.
In August, secessionist leader Julius Ayuk Tabe — the self-proclaimed president of “Ambazonia” — was sentenced to life in prison along with nine of his supporters.
English-speakers account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 24 million.
They are mainly concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest regions, which were folded into Cameroon after the colonial era in Africa wound down six decades ago.
Resentment has festered there for years among English-speakers who complain of discrimination and marginalisation, especially in education, the judiciary, and economic opportunities.
Biya, 86, who has been in power for nearly 37 years, repeatedly refused demands for decentralisation or a return to Senegal’s federal structure — a move blamed for radicalisation of the anglophone movement.
A lawyer, Dele Adesina, on Monday restated the Nigerian Bar Association’s refusal to take the single slot it was allotted at the on-going National Conference, insisting that the Association should be given five slots.
“For us, we believe that the business of constitution making or drafting or amendment is a very serious business and I do not know the platform that can be bigger and better than the platform of Nigerian Bar Association as a body(as an institution),” he said.
The President of the Nigerian Bar Association as well its National Executive Committee had rejected the single slot allotted to the Association prior to the commencement of the Conference. However, while appearing as a guest on Channels Television’s breakfast programme, Adesina confirmed that no one was at the meeting on behalf of the NBA.
Adesina countered arguments that there are some delegates at the Conference who are also lawyers in their individual capacities or representing groups, maintaining that the NBA is concerned with official representation and that five slots would be adequate.
He defended his demand by referring to the number of slots allotted to the Trade Union Congress (6), the Nigeria Labour Congress (6), Civil Society Organisation (24) and stressed that the seeming exclusion of the NBA would cause the Conference to lack legal input and dynamics.
He also said that the Conference could have benefitted from a document containing the NBA’s review of the 1999 Constitution which had been submitted to the president. “The Conference would have benefitted from the pool of knowledge, which today is not there”, he said, hinting that the said document may not be released to lawyers who are at the Conference in their own individual capacity.
Mr Adesina, who said it would be unfair to assume the NBA was not concerned about the Conference for refusing to attend based on the slot allotted, agreed that the Association should have taken the slot and ensure that its representative worked with other lawyers at the Conference.
He however mentioned that “people are there for multi-dimensional interest purposes” and that there may be conflict of interests when a lawyer representing a particular group is expected to also advocate the position of the NBA.
“It is the position of most of us that uncountable number of amendments of an organic document like a Constitution is the best thing,” he said.
A member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue, Tony Uranta has asked Nigerians to give the upcoming National Conference a chance to start before criticizing its chances of serving the purpose for which it was convened.
He was speaking on Channels Television weekend programme, Sunrise, where he stated that the composition of the delegates to the conference had only 72 nominated by the Federal Government, which is less than 15% of the total number of the delegates and nullifies the chances of manipulation by the Government.
The programme focussed on the activities preceding the conference and the issue of older people making up majority of the delegates came to the fore, as many Nigerians have pointed out. A member of the Editorial Board of National Newspaper, Sanya Oni, agreed with the sentiments but believed that the issue showed the level of capacity of the Nigerian youth.
He added that the youths were doing well in business and in the corporate world on their own “so why is it in politics that they want to be helped?” He said that he didn’t believe things like leadership would fall on the laps of the youths as it was their responsibility to seize the initiative.
Uranta added that the Nigerian youth today was more knowledgeable especially in the digital age, and they have the responsibility to make themselves relevant in the politics of Nigeria.
Legal Practitioner, Malachy Ugwummadu also said that the youths lacked the kinds of robust activities that would position them for leadership. He refused to accept the claim that the present political configuration of the country shuts out the youth.
He cited the National Association of Nigerian Students as an example. He spoke about times in the country when serious national issues were mainly driven by the Students’ body; a situation which he said had degenerated into quest for self-gratification from the current young people.
Northern Elders’ Declaration
The Northern elders have expressed negatives views on the conference, claiming that the delegates were not representing the North, and Sanya feels that this was an unfortunate situation.
He preached that Nigerians really need to understand that there was dire need for the country to talk. He berated what he termed the off-the-curve discussions, the manner in which they dismissed the National Conference, and the provocative statements made during the Northern Elders’ Forum.
He singled out the claims of ownership of the Nigerian oil by the North as highly provocative.
Mr. Uranta, shared the view that the declaration of the Northern Elders’ Forum was a reaction to being left out of the main activities of the National Conference. He argued that they are just a faction of elders as the main elders of the North had warmly embraced the idea and also have delegates attending.
Mr. Ugwummad, however, believed that the Northern Elders’ reservations should not be totally condemned as many Nigerians including himself were also hard critics of the whole idea.
He asserted that the issues have moved on from agreeing with the idea into the issues of implementation of the resolutions, the large budgets being earmarked for the talks, and the controversies surrounding the subjection of the issues being discussed at the conference to the National Assembly.
Mr Sanya also added that there were too many problems in the country and accepting that reality was the best way forward for Nigerians. He asserted that the need to decentralise power and empower traditional authority were among the issues that needed to be addressed.
Finance And National Security
While explaining the importance restructuring the leadership of the country, Mr. Uranta said “You cannot but have federalism such that the different federating units will have coordinate powers.”
He added as an example that primary education should not be part of the job of a Federal Government as the primary education structures in Nigeria are different in different regions.
He said that the claims by some Nigerians that the groundnut pyramids in the North funded Nigeria would be among matters to sort out, as he argued that in the early 1960s and according to the constitution, each region in the country funded itself and had its own economy, its own flag, anthem, and ran its own affairs.
He stated that discussing such structural issues would determine how well the other matters like fiscal federalism and national security would be treated. He added, “Let that be decided by the people.”
Why Should Anybody Get Paid?
Sanya had to contend with the question asked via social media by a Channels Television viewer. Although he admitted that there was need to cater to the needs of the delegates as they were not expected to be exposed to risks in Abuja, but added that the figures being mentioned as the delegates’ allowances and the total budget of the project were indeed outrageous.
Mr. Uranta, however, shared the view that the budget could be justifiable.
He explained “You don’t expect a Chief Olu Falae to come to Abuja and stay in a Motel or a drive by hotel”
He said “I stay in the Hilton and a room can go for like 58,000 Naira” and Nigerians have to think of all these things as many of the delegates are also retired and old; while some of them would have to come with their wives for the 3 months exercise. He added, “We cannot deny them their conjugal rights”
Mr Ugwummadu added that he hoped that the conference would not ending looking like nothing had been done.
The Cross-River State Governor, Liyel Imoke, has identified loss of territorial boundary without due compensation to victims of Bakassi Local Government Area of the state, as a major challenge facing his state and that should be discussed during the national dialogue.
Ahead of the proposed National Conference, he also said that lack of maintenance of federal roads across the state by the Federal Government was a major challenge facing the state, and it should be addressed at the forum.
He was speaking to a cross-section of Cross-River State citizens drawn from all classes at the Governor’s Lodge in Calabar, the State Capital on the need for them to be fully involved in the exercise and serve as true representatives of the state.
He noted that the many challenges of the state, if addressed, would give residents of the state a sense of belonging and enhance the transformation agenda of his administration before the end of his tenure come 2015.
According to Imoke, the state was in full support of the national dialogue, considering the many challenges threatening the unity of Nigeria as a country.
He expressed belief that, the forum would serve as an avenue to dialogue and discuss on the federation, the unity of Nigeria and its development as intended by its founding fathers.
Contrary to some beliefs that similar exercise had in the past not achieved positive results, Imoke averred that the last one held during the administration of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, led to the amendment of the Nigerian Constitution.
Leaders from the middle belt region including minority group representatives from the North East have gathered to articulate the region’s position in the forthcoming National Conference.
Opinion leaders from the middle belt states of Plateau, Kwara, Kogi, Benue, and Nassarawa as well as representatives from minority groups of North East states of Gombe, Taraba, Yobe, Borno and Adamawa gathered in Jos, North Central Nigeria to discuss the region’s position and presentation with the theme, ‘Strategic Partnerships for the National Conference’.
Chairman of the Middle Belt Forum, Professor Jerry Gana, stressed the importance of the national dialogue and challenged the delegates to be critical in the deliberations on issues ranging from insecurity, economic downturn, poor leadership and poor governance among others.
Setting the tone for deliberations, he urged the delegates to consider the various topics for discussions with all seriousness for onward presentation to the conference.
Former Secretary to The Government of the Federation, Chief Olu Falae and former Governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, in their contributions at the meeting noted that the proposed National Conference should be taken seriously for a better country.
Addressing the gathering, the Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang also reinstated the non-negotiable unity of the country at the proposed national dialogue.
The delegates were in different syndicate groups with topical issues on fiscal federalism, creation of states and local governments, systems of government, legislative powers, citizenship, citizenship rights and social safety nets for minorities, electoral systems and political party systems among others.
The conference was attended by prominent sons and daughters of the region including retired military officers, technocrats, as well as politicians and the academia.
A Nigerian lawyer, Mr Bisi Adegbuyi, has stressed the need for patriotic individuals to be delegated to represent ethnic nationalities at the proposed national conference to ensure that the conference achieves its aim.
The conference, scheduled to begin in March, will have delegates from different ethnic groups in Nigeria, but there have been questions about how these ethnic nationalities would be determined, considering the country’s huge diversity in ethnicity.
He lauded the Presidential Committee on National Conference for the composition of the representation, which he said was broad based.
“It is quite a representation of the critical stakeholders,” he said.
The legal practitioner, however, pointed out that there were 250 to 300 ethnic nationality groups in Nigeria and that he would have preferred more representation for ethnic nationality groups.
Right Political Structure
Going by the conference modalities, Mr Adegbuyi pointed out that there were 15 delegates per ethnic nationality with additional six for the purpose of administration.
“We have six geo-political zones and the ethnic groups are divided within these zones. We also have some sub ethnic nationalities. The challenge for us is to get a constitution that would build on this diversity and let us have a very strong union.
“The success of the conference depends on the type of delegates you are sending to the conference. It stands a chance to succeed. But it does not hold the solution to all the problems of the country. It is just to ensure that we get our political structure right. If you don’t get your political structure right, you cannot get your economy right,”
He also stressed that more slots should have been given to the Nigerian bar Association, insisting that one slop was inadequate.
“Lawyers have special training for matters concerning constitution making.
“By way of analogy, the 1787 Philadelphia convention that brought prosperity to America, half of the delegates were lawyers.
“However, we may be lucky that among some other delegates to be appointed by stakeholders, state government, you may be lucky to have lawyers there.
“It will be largely a political conference but it would have been better to have lawyers as delegates who will brainstorm and come up with political decision that will be put together in form of a draft constitution,” Mr Adegbuyi explained.
According to him, the issue of national unity is of huge importance, as the ethnic groups were parties to the contract of the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914.
“Nigeria requires harmonious unity amongst the ethnic nationality groups,” he stressed.
The lawyer, who is also a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a political party, pointed out that as much as majority of Nigerians do not want the country to disintegrate, it was also “necessary for the terms upon which Nigerians live together to be just, fair, equitable and guaranty the welfare of the people”.
“When you benefit from an association you want to ensure that the association do not break but if your wishes and your aspirations are not met you become centrifugal,” he said.
Some governors of the APC have kicked against the national conference, saying that “what Nigerians need is good governance and not a new constitution.
They also called for the agenda of the conference to be well defined if at all it will hold.
But Mr Adegbuyi said that all members of the APC were not opposed to the national conference.
Decentralisation Of Power
He also lauded the committee for the window in the modalities that specified that the delegates in the conference would be expected to come up with a legal framework, procedure and options that would lead to the integration of the outcome and the decisions of the conference into the constitution.
“There is a window also to subject whatever the representatives of the people decide, to a referendum. That is what is done in all jurisdictions that I know,” he said.
Mr Adegbuyi further stressed the need for the decentralisation of power in Nigeria, saying that the country, as presently constituted, is unwieldy and standing in the way of progress.
He insisted that if there were cities that could replicate the development of infrastructure as seen in Lagos State, the country would record speedy infrastructural development.
“The Federal government is just an abstract and belongs to nobody and as such should not have much power.
“There should be a weak centre that will allow other states to have more power and develop at their own pace. You will have development from the fringes if that is done.
“If you have a local government that has much money at their disposal, there will be development from the fringes.
“Decentralisation of police in the system would also help change the security situation in Nigeria,” he emphasised.
Representatives of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups have commended the Federal Government for the planned National Conference, but not without some clamouring that resolutions at the conference be subjected to a referendum by the people and not the National Assembly.
Politics Today on Channels Television played host to the President of Igbo socio-political group, Aka-Ikenga, Mr, Goddy Uwazuruike; the President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima and the Spokesperson for Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin.
Odumakin commended the Federal Government for the structure of the modalities for the conference as he referred to it as “a big improvement from the initial recommendation” by the presidential committee.
He noted that if the government had followed the recommendations of the Presidential Committee, the essence of the National Conference would have been lost. He said that the panel’s recommendation was faulty. “Asking that representation at the conference should be by Federal Constituencies is a blunder, as the make-up of these Federal Constituencies is one of the reasons why the country needs the conference in the first place,” he stressed.
Mr. Uwazuruike, while agreeing with Odumakin, also said that the basis for the conference was the dissatisfaction of various people who are seeking to know where they stand in the state of affairs insisting that the beauty of the National Conference, as planned by the Government, was that what the Executive and Legislature believed would be of no impact but what the people want.
No Go Area
Mr Shettima, while also commending the Federal Government for accepting that there was need for Nigerians to discuss, also supported the clause that the indivisibility of Nigeria would not be discussed; acknowledging that the Government had a right to determine how they want the conference to go.
Although, Odumakin also agreed that it was a good idea that the Federal Government wants to protect the unity of Nigeria, he however frowned at the statement credited to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, that the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable.
He said: “That is not right.” He argued that Nigeria had been together for so long and that the people must be able to negotiate the terms of their unity. According to him, “Discussing our differences will not break us. We should not be afraid”.
Odumakin warned that what could lead to the breakup was “when we do not discuss the terms of our unity.” He added: “Pretending that we are united is like postponing the evil day.”
Mr Uwazuruike, who is also a lawyer, provided the legal framework for the decision of the Presidency. He explained that according to the Nigerian Constitution, “a President swears an oath to not initiate the divisibility of Nigeria, and President Jonathan is bound by his oath of office to ensure the continued unity of the country.
“Initiating a gathering to discuss the matter, therefore, will be going against the Nigerian Constitution and his oath of office.
“Also, it will mean asking for a revolution and when that happens, it is his office and the parliament that will first have to go,” the lawyer said.
He submitted that Mr. President was on the right track and that if anyone wanted a revolution, it would not be the President that should instigate it.
Shettima called on Nigerians to take advantage of the whole conference even if it was not the solution to all of Nigerians’ problems, as he was sure that the country would move forward from where it was.
There are questions about the criteria for the selection of representatives at the National Conference expected to have 492 representatives from different parts of the country.
Mr Shettima said that the makeup of the representation cannot be perfect since the whole idea was for it to be all inclusive, adding that the inclusion of the civil society makes it good enough.
He however noted that asides the issues of composition, there were more important problems that needed to be fixed one of which was the legitimacy of the 1999 Constitution. He said that the National Conference must be seen as an exercise towards building a brand new constitution for Nigeria.
Barrister Uwazuruike also added that the 1999 constitution truly tells a lie and offered an explanation on how the resolution of the constitution can be changed
The SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim, in an earlier interview with Channels Television, had said that only the National Assembly had the powers to amend the Constitution and there was nothing that could be done about it.
Mr Odumakin further berated Mr Anyim as being ignorant. He stressed that the referendum is the key thing in the forthcoming conference, going down history lane to validate his argument.
Shettima also stressed that “as long as Nigeria retains the Constitution that gives all the power to President, with everything centralized in Abuja, things will not be better in Nigeria”. He said that all resolution at the conference must be subjected to a referendum.
“We are not asking for an amendment of the constitution, what we need is a totally new constitution,” he stressed.
In further response to Mr Anyim’s interview, Mr Odumakin assured that there could not be chaos, as Nigerians had been together for too long that there was need to discuss. He said: “We cannot put our faith in the hands of those who created that same 1999 constitution for us after all they have done to us since.
“They have been serving themselves and now it is time for them to do what we want.” He said, adding that sovereignty lies in the people and not the National Assembly.
Uwazuruike however warned that the same 1999 Constitution was the basis for convening the conference and that it gave the details of what should be discussed and there was no referendum in its recommendation.
He added that indeed, sovereignty was in the people as earlier argued by Odumakin, but stressed that it was to be executed on their behalf through the National Assembly. He concluded with an advice to the National Assembly to pay attention to discussions at the conference and use them according to the will of the people.
Mr Odumakin said: “What is worth doing is worth doing well.”He urged Nigerians to go into the conference with the realization that “it is not to constitute us.”
Shettima warned that if the National Conference would not be subjected to a referendum, then it would have been a waste of tax payers’ money.
Since the Nigerian government made public the modalities of the proposed national conference on Thursday, groups and individuals have raised concerns over the three-month period allocated to the proposed conference.
The AREWA consultative forum is sceptical about the time frame, saying it will not give room for robust deliberations.
In a statement signed by its National Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, the forum noted that the “solution to the nation’s problems does not lie with the national conference”.
The group, however, supported the dialogue as long as it would help to ensure a united Nigeria.
A Lagos State based lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, also insisted that the three-month duration was not practicable.
“I do hope that the government, the state government and other interest groups are going to take cognisance of the interest of minority groups in the country. Not ethnic minorities’ alone. There are other minority groups in the country. People are economically disadvantaged and physically disabled. But you expect a conference where people are meeting themselves for the first time, who have had no previous discussions, to come together and within three months, 90 days, arrive at decisions by consensus. It is not practicable. It is not realisable and I do hope that this is the decision of the government,” the Senior Advocate of Nigeria stressed.
He also pointed out that previous committees set up by the current government had always asked for extension of time.
“I am sure this will not be an exception,” Mr Falana said.
The Chairman of the Board of the Leadership newspaper, Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah, who was of a different view, stressed that “Nigeria is deeply divided across many lines that a national conference alone may not be able to cure”.
He suggested an effective Federal System of Government where the states would be allowed to compete against each another.
During a courtesy visit to Channels Television, Mr Nda-Isaiah said that every government was expected to sincerely and deliberately make efforts to unite its people.
“If any president wants to unite his people it is very easy. He just has to be sincere. To do that, you must be fare, there must be justice and you must punish all crimes.
“If you are fair to all and you are just and you mean it, it is possible to unite the people.
“Most of the people talking about restructuring the country are indirectly calling for a proper Federal System, which we are not practicing at the moment,” he said.
However, spokesperson for the Yoruba socio-political group Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, gave credit to the Federal Government over the nature of the conference’s representation.
He pointed out that few attempts had been made to give fair representation, saying that the nationalities are now to have equal number of delegates from the six zones.
“The various interest groups have been taken care of, emphasising spread for this conference.
“When you consider what President Olusegun Obasanjo did in 2005, when they carry on as if the nationalities do not exist. The governors and president just picked delegates. This time around, the stakeholders are being asked to indirectly elect their own delegates, which is part of making the people to own the whole process of the national conference.
“The only area which we think the government should rethink is for the government to say that the issue of Nigeria is not negotiable. It is negotiable and we should negotiate it. The only thing we should emphasise is that the negotiation should not be toward the breakup of the country,” he cautioned.
The Inter-Party Advisory Council of Nigeria, IPAC, has described the composition, structure and membership of the planned National Dialogue, as recommended by the Presidential Advisory Committee as lopsided.
Addressing journalists in Abuja, Chairman of the council, Mr. Yunusa Tanko, said that the exclusion of political parties from the dialogue is an aberration that should not be allowed to stand.
“The political parties are going to talk about how they feel the country should be governed, especially as it concerns their own political agenda, but by the time you alienate them out of that particular process, you make a decision without their own input, they will only come and juxtapose whatever position you must have taken”, he said.
He added that political parties are the major drivers and custodians of any democratic process and should therefore be part of the process of a National Dialogue.
“When right from the beginning they are part of the agreement, and they sign to that particular document, it makes it more binding on Nigerians and those who are intended to execute the document”, he concluded.
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has asked President Goodluck Jonathan to call for and receive the minority report on the proposed National Dialogue and remove doubts over the inclusiveness of the process.
Inaugurating a committee on National Conference and Constitutional Review for the NBA, the president, Mr Okey Wali said the minority must be allowed to have a say even if the majority is to have its way.
He said pertinent issues need be addressed including representation, political structure and federalism noting that the bar will only support a conference whose report shall not be altered by government and which is also final, binding and validated by Nigerians through a referendum.
It was reported that a minority was to be submitted by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Solomon Asemota.
His disagreement, according to a local newspaper, with the committee is noted in his separate letters to President Goodluck Jonathan and Professor Ben Nwabueze.
The local newspaper reported that in his letter, dated 6 December, 2013, Asemota told Jonathan that he had to forward the report to him because it was rejected by the committee and was not intended to be included in the report.
“I am not in any doubt that the committee’s jurisdiction does not extend to rejection of a minority report and the issue would not have arisen if the Chairman was willing to take the opinion of a senior lawyer in the committee into consideration”, he wrote.
Furthermore, in his letter dated 2 December to Nwabueze, Asemota complained that all his attempts to make the Committee listen to his viewpoints failed and only some some experts ideas were accepted.
“As a result of these developments, I came to the conclusion that some of us were invited to promote viewpoints that are contrary to my conscience and learning,” Asemota complained.