The Senate President, David Mark, yesterday said that the upper house would support a conference of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities, “called to foster frank and open discussions of the national questions.”
Mark, in a welcome address to mark the resumption of the Senate from its 2013 annual vacation, however, opposed the convocation of a sovereign national conference.
According to Mark, Senate’s backing of an ethnic conference is based on the fact that such a parley is supported by the 1999 Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and association.
His position remarkably differs from the views of the National Patriots, comprising prominent Nigerians, as well as those of the Afenifere, a pan Yoruba socio-political organisation who have been consistently pushing for the convocation of a sovereign national conference as the basis to discuss the nation’s unity and existence.
The Senate President stated that the idea of a national conference is not without inherent and fundamental difficulties.
Chief among such difficulties, according to him, are the problem of its structure and composition, which he said will stretch the letters and spirit of the constitution and severely task the ingenuity of the nation’s constitutionalists.
“Such a conference, if and whenever convened should have only few red lines, chief among, which would be the dismemberment of the country,” Mark said.
Besides, the Senate President noted that it would be unconstitutional to clothe such a conference with constituents or sovereign powers. Unlike the national conference, Mark said that the resolutions of a national conference consisting of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities and called under the auspices of the Federal Government will carry weight.
He stated further that the National Assembly, though consisting of elected representatives of the Nigerian people will be hard put to ignore the outcome of such an ethnic national conference, even though the lawmakers may not be constitutionally bound by such resolutions or outcomes.
He noted that a conference, whether sovereign or not is not a magic wand.
He also observed that the task of nation building requires patience, faith, scrupulous honesty, diligence, dedication, sacrifice, toil, labour, assiduous application and massive investments in the future, stressing that, the heights attained by great nations were not made by sudden flights.
Meanwhile, the senate has appealed to the striking Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, to call off the ongoing strike in the interest of the Nigerian youths.
“While appreciating the tremendous merit in the case put forth by ASUU, we call on its leaders to return to class, while pragmatic negotiations to address their grievances continue,” Mark said in his welcome address to the senate.
ASUU embarked on the current strike in July, to press for the full implementation of the 2009 agreement it entered into with the Federal Government.
Despite a number of interventions by government, ASUU has refused to back down on its demands, insisting that the agreement must be implemented one hundred per cent.
Mark observed that the morass in the education sector is deeply troubling, not only because it is retarding the progress of millions of Nigerian students, but also because it arrests the intellectual development of the country, with grave consequences for the future.
He assured that the senate will invest the full weight of its moral and constitutional authority to nudge both the Federal Government and ASUU towards a comprehensive settlement that addresses, in realistic manner, the problems afflicting tertiary education in the country.
The senate also yesterday, approved the eight ambassadorial nominees sent to it by President Goodluck Jonathan, shortly before the start of the annual vacation in July.
The confirmation of the ambassador designates, who comprise six career and two none career ambassadors, followed the adoption of the report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, which screened the nominees.
The ambassador designates are Mr. O. F. Muon (Imo), Mrs. T. J. Chinquapin-Akabuogu (Anambra), Mr. Adamu Emozozo (Edo), Mr. A. Echi (Benue), Mrs. G. M. Quits-Adebiyi (Lagos) and Mr. M. Dauda (Borno).
The none career ambassador designates are Mr. Hakeem O. Suleiman (Ogun) and Dr. Bolete Ketebu (Bayelsa). President Jonathan also yesterday forwarded an additional nominee to the senate for screening and confirmation as ambassador.
The new nominee is Mr. S. U. Ahmed, a career diplomat from Gombe State