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Diatribe over the Report on Proposed National Confab

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Nigerians have criticised the recommendations of the Femi Okurounmu-led committee on the proposed national confab, saying that it does not reflect the peoples choice

| †By Anayo Ezugwu †| †Feb. 3, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT

MIXED reactions have continued to trail the report of the Femi Okurounmu-led presidential advisory committee on national conference, submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan recently. Some ethnic groups and professional bodies have criticised the committee's report of not meeting the yearnings of the people while others laud it. One of the groups who are not happy with the panel is the Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG. The group has rejected the recommendations of the presidential advisory committee, saying that it could not engender the type of confab the country needed.

[caption id="attachment_18129" align="alignright" width="312"]President Jonathan Jonathan[/caption]

Kunle Famoriyo, publicity secretary, ARG, said the Yoruba socio-political group said that any conference convened based on the recommendations of the committee cannot meet the yearnings of Nigerians. "ARG maintains its stance that the proposed conference must be a conference of ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. We found the recommendation that representation should be based on federal constituencies distasteful because this political structure has been used as veritable tools of injustice, social, and political discriminations that have held this country bound," he said.

He insisted that equal number of delegates must come from each of Nigeria's six administrative regions, noting that the regions had become a defining structure for almost any national issue. "Our recommendation therefore is that equal number of delegates should come from each administrative zone and these delegates should be selected by ethnic nations within each zone." †The group also rejected the recommendation that conference delegates be saddled with the responsibility of deciding how decisions and outcomes of the proposed conference would be integrated into the Constitution and Laws of Nigeria. "This committee could not come up with any recommendation on this particular Term of Reference, despite the avalanche of historical antecedents in other countries, more than 1,000 presentations and memoranda, technical presentations from renowned experts and leaders, and several other consultations available to it. This is, to say the least, an evasion of responsibility and rejection of popular desire for a new Constitution," Famoriyo said.

[caption id="attachment_18130" align="alignright" width="275"]Nwabueze Nwabueze[/caption]

The Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought has also rejected the report. The Igbo leaders have written to President Jonathan, asking him to reject the recommendations of the committee. The group insisted that the type of conference the committee recommended was completely different from what Nigerians demanded. Ben Nwabueze, coordinator of the group, said the letter was signed by elders from all the states of the southeast zone on behalf of Ndigbo. †He explained that what they were canvassing for had already received the endorsement of the Yorubas, the people of the south-south zone as well as the ethnic nationalities' movement of Nigeria.

"We want a conference that will adopt a suitable new constitution embodying re-negotiated terms and conditions on which the diverse ethnic groups comprised in Nigeria should live together in peace, security, progress, prosperity, general wellbeing and unity as one country under a central government but not a conference, the result of whose deliberations will be integrated into the existing 1999 Constitution. The conference we are demanding is the conference for the adoption of a new constitution for Nigeria not the one whose deliberations will be integrated. The 1999 Constitution is one only in a loose sense not in a strict sense of the original act of the people," Nwabueze said.

There was also a controversy over the preparation and submission of a minority report on modalities for the national conference to President Jonathan by Solomon Asemota, a member of the committee. Asemota said he wrote the minority report in the interest of the country, the success of the proposed conference and to ensure that the exercise was not tele-guided like many numerous past attempts. "I wrote the minority report. I wanted to submit it through the committee but they said it was unacceptable to them because they have only one chairman of the committee and will only accept one report from the chairman. So, I sent the report to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and the President through DHL. We must get the conference right. I was a member of the constituent assembly in 1989 and the military tele-guided the process. Nothing came out of the draft constitution that we prepared. Nobody should tele-guide me after my years of experience. Even the people, who are to tele-guide me, are people who were entering the university when I had already become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN," he said.

These criticisms have made the presidential advisory committee to harmonise some parts of its recommendation that the delegates to the proposed national conference should be elected on the basis of federal constituencies. Realnews gathered that the committee now recommends that the delegates to the conference should be nominated by stakeholders. Before the revision, the committee had, in its 4,000-page report, recommended that 360 delegates should be directly elected by universal suffrage, while 185 delegates representing special interest groups would be nominated. "The advantage of electing delegates on the basis of federal constituencies is that it allows wider participation of the grass roots."

[caption id="attachment_18131" align="alignright" width="341"]Asemota Asemota[/caption]

A prominent member of the presidential panel said the decision to revise the recommendation on the election of delegates was reached at the harmonisation meetings with the government on Wednesday, January 15. He also said the role of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in the proposed conference had been amended. "It is one of the issues we have revised. INEC will not be involved in choosing delegates. †Let me just say there will be no election. Delegates will be nominated by the appropriate stakeholders. Delegates will be nominated by appropriate stakeholders. I am not talking of any constituency now. I am saying there is no election. We have finished the harmonisation. What is left for the government is to convene the conference. We have finished all the preliminary work," he said, adding that "only President Goodluck Jonathan can say when it will hold. There have been reports that it will begin in March. That remains a rumour. It is likely to be February."

Nonetheless, the presidency has denied existence of confab committee's minority report. It described as incorrect and untrue the allegation that President Jonathan refused to receive a minority report of the presidential advisory committee on the proposed national conference. Reuben Abati, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, said Jonathan was unaware of the existence of a minority report supposedly prepared by a member of the committee, Asemota. He said it was also a verifiable fact that Asemota himself was present at the submission of the committee's report to the president on December 18, 2013, and made it clear that there was no minority report.

"There was never any issue of President Jonathan refusing to receive such a minority report from Chief Asemota and the Presidency is completely unaware of any factual basis for the purported rejection of a minority report. President Jonathan did not at any time interfere in the deliberations of the presidential advisory committee on the national conference and he had no reason to reject a minority report, if it exists and was ever offered to him. The Presidency would like to reassure Nigerians that this administration is guided in all instances by democratic principles; the idea of a national conference being in itself a loud evidence in this regard," he said.

[caption id="attachment_18132" align="alignright" width="259"]Famoriyo Famoriyo[/caption]

However, Okurounmu had hit back at his critics mostly, the Nwabueze-led group. He accused them of allegedly attempting to pre-empt the report of his committee, which had yet to be made public by the federal government. He said that attempts by groups, such as the Igbo Leaders of Thought, to discredit the committee, would come to nought because majority of Nigerians had continued to show great interest in the proposed national dialogue. He stated that the fact that his committee was able to present its report without any dissenting or minority report should be viewed as a great achievement.

"They say, among other allegations, that the committee recommends a mere amendment of the constitution, whereas what the people desire is a new constitution. They continue and allege that the presidential committee recommends that the findings and conclusions of the conference be passed to the National Assembly whereas what they desire is a referendum. I shall resist the temptation to disclose what my committee's report actually recommends in an attempt to refute the unsavoury allegations against the report. This is because it is the President who appointed us and it was him that we submitted the report," he said.

In a related development, Bamidele Aturu, a Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, has advised that the conference should be dominated by the representatives of labour and professional organisations. "The confab should be dominated by representatives of labour bodies. We should also consider professional organisations like the Nigerian Medical Association; Association of Registered Nurses, Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria, therapists, the Institute of Chartered Accountant of Nigeria. We can also reflect the ethnic configuration of Nigeria. The confab must not be dominated by ethnic groups because people are making it look like it is an ethnic jamboree. We should make it labour-focused. Youths and the physically challenged also have roles to play. Government must not nominate any member. Once government nominates anybody, then the confab is hopeless. Each group should nominate its members," Aturu said.

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