The Federal Government pressed further yesterday its attempt to convoke a national dialogue by inaugurating in Abuja its appointed panel of planners. President Goodluck Jonathan told those who contend that Nigeria’s integrity would be compromised by such a conference that it would not lead to the nation’s disintegration. He said although he was opposed to a national conference, a new reality changed his position, adding that he pandered to the yearnings of the people. The conference, the President said, will “review the foundational principles that drive our action, and also address a few matters arising.
“This is a national project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, long-standing impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united nation.” He faulted those claiming that there was no need for another conference after many conferences had been convened. Dr. Jonathan said each era and season had its own challenges and that leaders in a democracy must respond with the best available strategies to ensure that the ship of state remains focused in its voyage.
“I was one of those who exhibited scepticism on the need for another Conference or Dialogue. My scepticism was borne out of the nomenclature of such a conference, taking into cognisance existing democratic structures that were products of the will of the people,” the President said, adding: “However, we are in a democracy and in a democracy, elected leaders govern at the behest of the citizenry. As challenges emerge, season after season, leaders must respond with best available strategies to ensure that the ship of state remains undeterred in its voyage.”
Reviewing the past attempts, he said: “Let us remind ourselves of the gains from previous conferences and dialogues. The conferences that were held before 1960 were designed to produce a political system and a roadmap to Nigeria’s independence. “The Constitutional Conference of 1957 in London, for example, effectively prepared Nigeria for Independence. The Eastern and Western regions were granted self-government in 1957 while the Northern region got its own in 1959. “The Office of the Prime Minister was created and it was also decided that the Federal Legislature would be Bi-cameral.
“Furthermore, the Constituent Assembly of 1978 gave us the 1979 Constitution and also created the current Presidential System with its attendant checks and balances and Fundamental Human Rights provisions. “The 1999 Constitution we operate today, is a successor to the 1979 Constitution and records show that the 1999 Constitution also benefited from reports and recommendations arising from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference. Even though the current six geo-political zones for equitable distribution of projects and public offices in Nigeria was not enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, he noted that it was a product of Dialogue that emerged from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference.
Jonathan continued: “The 2005 National Political Reform Conference produced a number of key recommendations that were sent to the 5th Assembly, which were however not perfected. In 2010, I reasoned that the outstanding recommendations from the 2005 Conference be revisited.” “It was my view that government is a continuum and that we must find ways to strengthen the foundation of our Union. I proceeded to set up the Justice Alpha Belgore Committee with a mandate to review the report for possible implementation, especially the areas where there was a common agreement. The committee worked hard and came out with its report that included a number of Bills, which were forwarded to the National Assembly.
“The urgency of a National Conversation in the present therefore, need not be over emphasised.” Apparently explaining why the conference is necessary, the President said: “As we continue to strive to build a strong and virile Nation, especially in the midst of agitations and tensions, we cannot deny the fact that sitting down to talk is one right step in calming down tensions and channelling our grievances, misgivings and suggestions into more positive use for the good of our Country.”