President Goodluck Jonathan has approved the membership and terms of reference of the Federal Government’s Advisory Committee on National Dialogue/ Conference.
A terse statement on Tuesday night in Abuja by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, named a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, as one of the 13 members of the committee headed by Senator Femi Okurounmu.
Others are Dr. Akilu Indabawa,Secretary; a former Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Prof. George Obiozor; Senator Khairat Gwadabe; Senator Timothy Adudu, Col. Tony Nyiam (retd), Prof. Funke Adebayo, Dr. Mairo Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Mallam Buhari Bello and Mr. Tony Uranta.
The committee which has one month within which to conclude its assignment, will be inaugurated by Jonathan at the State House on October 7.
The committee’s terms of reference are: consult expeditiously with all relevant stakeholders with a view to drawing up a feasible agenda for the proposed national dialogue/conference; make recommendations to government on structure and modalities for the proposed national dialogue/conference; and make recommendations on how representation of various interest groups at the national dialogue/conference will be determined.
It is also to advise the government on a time frame for the national dialogue/conference; its legal framework, legal procedures and options for integrating decisions and outcomes of the national conference into the constitution; and advise the government on any other matters that may be related or incidental to the conference.
Jonathan had in his Independence Day broadcast on Tuesday, said he decided to set up the advisory committee to establish the modalities for the national dialogue or conference.
“I expect the report to be ready in one month, following which the nation will be briefed on the nomenclature, structure and modalities of the dialogue/ conference,” he had added.
The announcement was well received by the pan-northern socio-cultural organisation , the Arewa Consultative Forum, the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the Ijaw National Congress and the two Peoples Democratic Party factions.
Although the Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the INC and the PDP factions in their separate reactions did not give conditions for supporting dialogue, the ACF did.
The ACF advised against the dialogue taking the form of a Sovereign National Conference.
The ACF National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, told one of our correspondents in Kaduna, that an SNC would amount to a vote of no confidence in the nation’s democracy and its institutions.
He added that the forum had nothing much to say at “this formative stage of the committee until when the name, content, shape and scope of the dialogue are made public.”
Sani said, “When I am asked to react to Mr President’s decision to set up a committee on how to organise a national dialogue as to the appropriate name, scope, content and direction, I begin to wonder what to say.
“You would note that ACF has made it clear that it is not opposed to a national dialogue so long as the aim is to strengthen the unity and diversity of this country, since the concept of nationhood presupposes that the people can come together and unleash their synergy by living up to collective challenges for public good, provided such a dialogue is not in the form of SNC that amounts to a vote of no confidence in our democracy and its institutions, which no group has the right to do.”
Both Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo said they were ready to make submissions to the committee once invited.
Afenifere advised that the proposed national dialogue should focus on true federalism so that the issue of allocation of the country’s resources could be well tackled.
Its Secretary, Chief Seinde Arogbofa, in an interview with one of our correspondents, said, “We don’t have to pre-empt the terms of reference of the committee. We must appreciate the head of state for allowing Nigerians to talk about our problems.
“We should be talking about issues of security, youth unemployment and the right structure. We believe that with a true federal system, all other things will automatically fall into place. The issue of resources will be taken care of if we have the right federal structure.”
The Secretary General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Joe Nwaorgu, told one of our correspondents that “all peace-loving Nigerians must commend” Jonathan for the initiative.
He said, “He has pulled Nigeria back from the brink. Jonathan has saved Nigeria by choosing a forum for talking rather than shooting. It is a welcome deviation from the past when former Presidents were foot-dragging on the issue.
“Let us restart our association envisaged in the 1914 amalgamation statement. Let us kick- start the system so that all Nigerians can very truthfully say they are Nigerians.”
The Ohanaeze secretary general said the national conference would ” bring an end to the abracadabra in the country since 1966,” since it would give the people the opportunity to “discuss and say how we are to relate with one another.”
Also, the INC advised that the national conference should be used as an opportunity to discuss all the problems affecting the unity of the country.
The spokesman for the congress, Mr. Victor Borubo, said there should be no limitations to what should be discussed when the national dialogue eventually holds.
He said that resource control, devolution of power, structure of the country and issues on the Exclusive and Residual lists should be among the things that should be discussed at the conference.
Borubo added, “There should be no limitation to what should be discussed at the conference as we expect those to represent Nigerians to discuss devolution of power, structure of the country, resource control and issues on the exclusive and residual list.
The NLC, through its Secretary-General, Mr. Chris Uyot, said, “We applaud the President for seeing the need for a conference because we believe in participatory and inclusive government.
“Any form of dialogue or discussion points to a positive and an inclusive government and we support it. We think it is a good idea which should be encouraged.”
Also, the Bamanga Tukur-led PDP said the President had through the decision demonstrated that he derived his mandate from Nigerians.
It hailed the President for anchoring the theme of the independence day broadcast on the road map to a secure future for the nation, which it said was not only unique but an eloquent expression of his determination to bequeath a transformed Nigeria.
The party, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary , Chief Olisa Metuh, said by taking a definite stand on national dialogue and setting up a committee led by Sen. Femi Okurounmu to fashion out the structure and modalities for the conference, the President has shown he is a listening leader.
The statement reads in part, “Nigerians listened to their President as he humbly relegated accomplishments and beating of the chest. We saw the President assuming the place of an ordinary Nigerian, in his pains, fears and uncertainty about the future. This is very commendable.
“We are pleased that the President listens and leaves Nigerians in no doubt that their opinions matter.
Also, the New PDP led by Alhaji Abubakar Baraje, said there should no-go areas in the work of the committee.
Its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Chukwuemeka Eze, in an email to one of our correspondents, said, “We see the clamour for a national dialogue as timely and appropriate as there is an urgent need for Nigerians to come together and discuss matters affecting them as well as the way forward.
“We, therefore, welcome Mr. President’s announcement in his Independence Day broadcast about the establishment of a committee to advise him on the modalities for the holding of the conference,” the New PDP said.