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Sovereignty Belongs To The People As National Confab Begins

The much-awaited National Conference started on Monday with most of the 492 delegates drawn from all the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory of Abuja attending the inaugural session.

This is not the first national dialogue since return to civilian rule in 1999 after a long spell of military administration which began in January 15, 1966 when the democratic government under a parliamentary system headed by Prime minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was toppled and Major General Thomas Aguiyi Ironsi became first military Head of State. Then came the civil war which was successfully fought by General Yakubu Gowon with no foe no vanguished.

Subsequently, due to coups and counter coups, there had been series of military rulers culminating in the hand over on May 29, 1999 by erstwhile military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo of the PDP. There was an earlier national conference convoked by President Obasanjo which did not yield any positive result in resolving the national question: kept the country with a skewed federation and imbalance federalism.

Before now, there had been demands for a national or sovereign conference to address issues threatening the unity, peace and stability of the country which the leaders were unwilling to initiate until this change of heart of President Goodluck Jonathan who agreed to hold this conference – probably against all odds. Declaring the conference open in Abuja last Monday, he said he had no personal agenda or any hidden motive. Among other things, Jonathan had declared: “The power we hold is without question, in trust for the people. Sovereignty belongs to the people. Their voices must be heard and factored into every decision we take on their behalf. This national conference is a very important avenue for the voices of our people to be heard.

“Our people have yearnings and desires that need to be discussed. Their representatives at the conference are neither usurping the role of the National Assembly nor the Executive. They are complementing us in our march towards a greater and stronger union.”

The delegates are expected to sit for four days in a week – Monday to Thursday, while Friday is meant for administrative purposes. Conference operation would be conducted by the rules of proceedings when adopted.

Its Chairman is Justice Idris Kutigi (rtd), deputy is Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, a former Foreign Affairs Minister while the Secretary was named Dr. Valerie Janette Azinge.

The conference gets underway next Monday with deliberations on the speech of President Goodluck Jonathan delivered at the inauguration, after which other issues will be discussed.

According to Saturday Vanguard investigation, the conference will last for three months (12 weeks) with the first two weeks earmarked for general discussions, after which issues will be taken up and assigned to different committees for fuller deliberations. These committees will report back to the general house or plenary for final resolutions. Only views of the majority would be accepted or carried.

For now, there is no agreed sitting arrangement. Some delegates who spoke preferred either free sitting in which delegates can set anywhere inside the conference hall as far as one arrives on time. Others wanted seats to be tagged and names attached to seats according to states, while others suggested that delegates can sit in alphabetical order and to see themselves purely as Nigerians without sectionalism.

Initial problems delegates are contending with presently include accommodation, transportation and feeding as many of them do not have house in Abuja to stay.

Many favoured cash payment in lieu of accommodation, transportation and feeding. Checks showed that over N7 billion had been set aside for the conference and delegates are expected to furnish the conference secretariat with details of bank accounts as everything has been monitised. Each delegate will receive between N4 million and N5 million monthly to cover expenses incurred during the conference.

Some people argued that the conference was mere waste of resources and time as nothing worthwhile would be achieved at the end. A major political party and some groups have boycotted the national conference, while some are complaining of marginalisation and inadequate representation.

However, most Nigerians are optimistic moreso as President Jonathan hinted that all decisions and resolutions will be subjected to referendum of the people and become valid.

The fear of a lack of enabling law to back up the conference could render the exercise a nullity still hangs on the conference which many believed Jonathan is using to buy time for his presidency. Time will surely tell if the conference can re-invent Nigeria and find lasting solutions to the various problems – socio, economic, fiscal, security, corruption, unemployment and others confronting the nation.

Source:  Vanguard

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