17th February, 2012
The call by some South-West and South-South leaders for the convocation of a National Conference has generated a chain of mixed reactions amongst a cross-section of Nigerians.
Some of them who spoke with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos on Thursday, agreed that it would be a good platform to discuss issues that would move the nation forward, others argued it was unrealistic.
NAN reports that the leaders from both geo-political zones met with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja on Wednesday demanding the convening of a National Conference.
They argued that the National Conference would afford the various components of the country the opportunity to reach a consensus on the terms of their union in an indivisible Nigeria.
The delegations were led by Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi and Chief Edwin Clark of South-West and South-South, respectively.
Gbonigi told newsmen at the end of the meeting that the vast majority of Nigerians were demanding for a new constitution which made a national dialogue imperative.
He noted that the Transformation Agenda of the administration could not succeed unless it was predicated on a stable and secure polity, with happy and contented citizens.
However, Jonathan said the Justice Alfa Belgore-led Presidential Committee on Outstanding Constitutional Issues, would bring up areas of national consensus from the 2006 National Political Reform Conference for the National Assembly’s consideration.
He noted that a larger body could meet in future should there be other controversial issues to resolve.
NAN reports that the Senate had on Tuesday rejected the call for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), saying the National Assembly remained the only platform for any national discuss.
The Chairman, Movement for the Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD), Mallam Danjuma Mohammed, told NAN that the SNC would mean taking over the functions of the National Assembly.
“The call for a national sovereign conference actually negates the authority of the elected National Assembly.
“That nullifies it totally. It cannot run side by side with an elected National Assembly except one must go for the other. If you are saying this, you are dissolving an arm of democratic government.
“Beside this, to make matters worse, it’s even a convocation of a sovereign national conference of ethnic nationalities of Nigeria and what they are virtually calling for is a return to 1914. And by so doing, what you are saying is that our national unity for now has to be vitiated, it has to be destroyed.”
Mohammed, however, said if the conference was to be organised, there was the need to do so on the basis of equity given the number of ethnic groups in the country.
“If these people that are making this call really love this country, what they need do is to respect the constitution of this country and respect the elected National Assembly; make your decision and go in there.
“There are windows of opportunity. Mr President just presented opportunity for constitutional review; they can make input in it, if its accepted by the National Assembly fine; if it’s not accepted then they end up a minority view; and they should take it – that is democracy.”
Also reacting, the National Chairman of the African Liberation Party (ALP), Chief Emmanuel Okereke, agreed with Mohammed’s views, saying the country already has in place an elected National Assembly.
“I know there is a need for a national conference, but we have elected people on seat who should look into that matter,” he stated.
Okereke, however, called for consultation and proper dialogue prior to the conference to forestall an unforeseen breakdown of law and order.
However, the Executive Director of an NGO, the CLEEN Foundation, Mr Innocent Chukwuma, argued that the National Assembly as presently constituted was not capable of handling issues that affect Nigerians.
“If you look at it objectively and the way democracy has worked in this country over the past 12 to 13 years, you begin to understand why people are calling for a platform where Nigerian people could have opportunity to discuss in very detailed form, how we want to go forward in this country.
“If you look at the latest statistics on poverty level in Nigeria it is actually alarming and this is produced by the National Bureau of Statistics, where as we speak, over 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below poverty level; and this is within a period where Nigeria has made much more money than we have ever made in our history; and you ask where are these monies going to.
“So I am actually supportive of a discussion platform where we could sit down, look each other in the face and address our issues.”