President Goodluck Jonathan Monday set the stage for a national conversation on Nigeria’s future with the inauguration of the National Advisory Committee on National Conference. He seized the occasion to allay fears of critics of the committee, saying it would not negotiate the nation’s integrity. The 13-member committee, headed by a chieftain of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, was given six weeks to submit its report, an extension by two weeks from the original deadline set for the committee when the president announced its formation in his 53rd independence day anniversary speech. Jonathan said the extension of time was to accommodate the opinions of some Muslims who had already travelled for pilgrimage just as he gave the committee the latitude to determine the name to call the discourse.
However, when the conversation eventually begins, Jigawa State will not be part of it as its governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Monday announced that his people would not take part in the national dialogue. But the president got the backing of a former military Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd.), in holding the national conference, which the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) described as an exercise that has nothing to offer the nation. According to the president, contrary to the perception of critics on the exercise, the national dialogue is a concrete step to further strengthen understanding among the citizenry, expand the frontiers of inclusiveness and deepen their bond as one people under God.