When on October 1 last year, President Goodluck Jonathan announced his support for the convocation of a National Conference and constituted an advisory committee in that direction, there was stiff opposition from some partisan interests. Last Thursday’s unveiling of modalities for convening the actual conference has even generated more concern especially with the president’s decision to nominate 123 out of the 492 delegates to the conference.
Democracy is, no doubt, a game of numbers and hence one is not surprised at the manner in which politicians, especially in Nigeria, try to do everything in their power to manipulate human figures.
Having acquiesced to over a decade of demands by some pro-democracy groups for the convocation of a national conference, President Goodluck Jonathan perhaps in a bid to ensure that the outcome of the event is in his favour, is set to nominate at least 123 of the total 492 delegates to the proposed National Conference.
The president will thus have the highest number of delegates to the conference, indirectly lending credence to speculation that the conference may not be allowed a free hand to operate.
This however has not gone down well with some groups and individuals who contend that the president has made nonsense of the conference even before it started.
To Mr Jonathan, the national dialogue will strengthen Nigeria’s union and address issues that are often on the front-burner but too frequently ignored.
It is perhaps instructive to peep into how Mr Jonathan intends to nominate his 123 delegates or how he will arrive at that figure.
The nomination of delegates began last Thursday and will end on February 20, while the inauguration of the main conference will follow soon after the delegate list is received and collated by the government.
Unveiling the modalities for convening the National Conference, Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim had given a breakdown of the list of presidential delegates.
He said the list of nominees shall be submitted online to www.osgf.gov.ng or in hard copy to the Office of the Permanent Secretary (Special Duties Office) in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in Abuja.
According to Anyim, the president will nominate 37 elder statesmen, that is, one from each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
Mr Jonathan will also nominate six youths (outstanding youths and role models) representing the six geopolitical zones.
From the Judiciary, the president will nominate six eminent jurists who are not currently serving on the Bench even as he is expected to also appoint the Chairman, Deputy Chairman and the Secretary of the Conference.
As the Governor-General of the Federal Capital Territory FCT, the president will nominate a delegate for the territory through the Minister of the FCT.
However, the All Progressives Congress had earlier disclosed of its firm resolve to not partake in the proposed national dialogue announced by President Goodluck Jonathan on October 1.
According to the APC, the dialogue is nothing but a mere constitutional amendment process, which it said was already ongoing.
The decision to boycott the conference was taken at the party’s National Executive Committee, which was held just days after Mr Jonathan’s proclamation in October last year.
Interim National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had told journalists after the NEC meeting that the planned conference was diversionary and that the Federal Government lacked credibility to organise such a conference.
According to him, the conference is meant to divert the attention of Nigerians from several problems like insecurity, corruption and infrastructural decay facing the country, adding that the situation is even now worse with the reported decision of Mr Jonathan to send the outcome of the conference to the National Assembly for ratification
However, the Federal Government has said that state governments are expected to nominate three delegates with one from each senatorial zone.
Anyim said the federal government has not been officially communicated by the APC on its decision to boycott the conference.
According to him, where “the state governor fails to nominate, the president shall nominate the required number from the state.”
With the APC controlling 16 out of 36 states, and with its planned boycott of the conference, Mr Jonathan will now nominate 48 of his cronies from the APC states.
This can only be avoided if the APC recants and now decides to participate.
Equally, political parties that have representation in the National Assembly, namely, PDP, APC, APGA, Accord Party and Labour Party are to nominate two delegates each. Since APC will not be part of the conference, the president will also have the opportunity to nominate two more delegates.
While it is most likely that Mr Jonathan will nominate the two delegates for his party the PDP, his number of delegates could be further boosted by APGA and Labour Party who have shown open loyalty to his style of administration.
Also, Anyim said the “Federal Government of Nigeria” will again nominate 20 delegates, six of which would be at least, women. This will bring the president’s delegates to 123.
Aside this, the PDP currently holds sway in 18 states. At least, delegates from 10(if not all) of the PDP states would do Mr Jonathan’s bidding. Again, Peter Obi of Anambra state and Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo state have tied their political future to Mr Jonathan. Delegates from these two states will, no doubt, queue behind the president.
Other groups that will have the opportunity to nominate delegates include religious and professional bodies, women groups, socio-political or ethnic nationality groups, National Academies, former political office holders, ALGON, traditional rulers, retired military and security personnel.
Others are retired civil servants, Labour representatives, Organised Private Sector, Civil Society Organisations, Nigerians in Diaspora, People Living With Disabilities, Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, Nigeria Guild of Editors, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria among others.
According to the SGF, the Okunronmu-led advisory committee has met its target and even exceeded all expectations. He said the federal government is satisfied with the work of the committee, saying the government gave the most expeditious consideration to its report.
He added that the official name of the conference shall be, “The National Conference” and it shall hold in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
The conference will also last for three months and shall discuss any subject matter, “except the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a nation”, adding that the unity of Nigeria is therefore non-negotiable.
Also, a Conference Management Secretariat shall be established to manage, administer and run the affairs of the conference, while decisions taken at the National Conference shall be by consensus. “But where it is not achievable, it shall be by 75 per cent majority”, said Anyim.
While he stated that the conference is being funded from this year’s budget, Anyim said it is also expected to advise the Government on the legal framework, legal procedures and options for integrating the decisions and outcomes of the national conference into the Constitution and laws of the country.
According to him, the National Conference shall have a Chairperson and a Deputy Chairperson of unimpeachable integrity.
Ndigbo again divided
The newly-unveiled modalities has however caused ripples among the Igbo of the South-East of Nigeria.
One of the strong proponents of a national conference who was himself appointed as a member of the Femi Okunrounmu committee but who opted out on health grounds, Prof. Ben Nwabueze said the Igbos are not satisfied with the modalities for the conference.
Speaking under the aegis of Igbo Leaders of Thought, the elder statesman expressed reservations over the modalities for the proposed conference, noting that the frame-work was completely at variance with the kind of conference Nigerians desired.
“We are concerned about repositioning the country; renegotiating the continued existence of the people of this country who were brought together by the British government. We made it clear to the president that what we want is a conference of ethnic nationalities not a conference of interest groups as they have recommended. We also told the government that we want a conference that will produce an entirely new constitution but today, they are telling us that the conference will now recommend to the government how the outcome will be integrated into the existing constitution. “The frame-work we saw is quite different from what we demanded but it has dawned on us that this is what the government wants. “We however cannot expressly say the conference is dead on arrival. We are only but a think-tank, we will also not ask anybody not to attend. If you are nominated, we will give you our position papers”, Nwabueze had said.
However, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, led by Chief Gary Igariwey, however commended the modalities as released. He said outside the need to subject the outcome of the conference to a referendum, the modalities was in tandem with the group’s presentation to the Okurounmu-led Presidential Advisory Committee.
“In the document we submitted, we talked about equal representation of the zones and that is what the modalities said. Also, we recommended that it should be concluded early enough so that it doesn’t conflict with the next election. In fact we commend the template they have released. We also hope that later on, the outcome of the conference will be subjected to a referendum for it to be incorporated into the constitution,” said Igariwey.
NBA protests, writes FG
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) has on its part written the federal government to protest the composition of the proposed national conference which required it to nominate only one delegate into the confab.
It described the composition as warped, “particularly, when put against representations from some other organisations and bodies.”
In the letter, the NBA President, Mr Okey Wali, said: “We hold it in your favour, that this may very well be an oversight, and that the federal government will have no difficulty in revisiting the issue.”
He added: “We received with utmost disappointment the statement credited to you on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria, requesting the Nigerian Bar Association to nominate one delegate to the upcoming national conference.
“We write to place on record our dissatisfaction with the list of conference delegates, particularly, when put against representations from some other organisations and bodies.
“The Nigerian Bar Association is a membership based professional and legal organisation of all lawyers in Nigeria with 104 branches across the 36 states and Abuja, organised into various practice sections, fora, institutes and committees”, said Wali.
He added that the Nigerian Bar Association speaks for the legal profession, that is, the Bar and Bench, adding that over the years, a national conference of this nature has been one of the imperatives that define the priorities of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Also, apex northern socio-political organisation, the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, has expressed doubts over the credibility of the outcome of the proposed national conference by President Goodluck Jonathan within three months.
In a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Anthony Sani, the group said the conference would not solve Nigeria problems.
“Though ACF does not believe the solution to our national malaise lies with the national conference. As long as they say it is possible for the national conference to further the cause of a united Nigeria, there should be no qualm. Let the deliberations in the conference calm people’s nerves”, said the ACF.
The Forum also wondered how the conference would be held in just three months.
“We wonder whether the three months will be enough for thorough and robust deliberations needed for the desired result.
“In any case, let the nominees be Nigeria’s first eleven who are endowed with not only public intelligence but also with patriotic courage,” the group said.
In the coming days, more groups would still come up to castigate some aspects of the modalities. He needs to stamp his feet and ensure that the conference is not another leeway to provide jobs for the guys. How the president will convince Nigerians and these groups to fully buy into the conference remains to be seen.
OMEIZA AJAYI is an Abuja-based Journalist. (O805 056 2095) email@example.com