President Goodluck Jonathan and former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, on Monday engaged each other in verbal punches over the proposed national conference, with the president declaring that contrary to Mr. Tinubu’s claim, the dialogue was not diversionary, neither was it meant to achieve a political end.
It was also a day the president’s aide, Doyin Okupe, said the former governor’s position on the planned talks did not represent the views of the majority of Yoruba people in the South West.
Mr. Tinubu, had upon his return from a medical trip early October, said the planned national dialogue, announced by Mr. Jonathan in his independence day broadcast to the nation, was “diversionary and deceptive”.
The All Progressive Congress, APC, leader, also alleged that the dialogue was being packaged to promote Mr. Jonathan’s 2015 presidential ambition. He maintained that position in remarks he gave Monday.
Mr. Tinubu said while he welcomed the planned talks, such a serious exercise cannot be left in the hands of a “flip-flopping” administration that had done little to draw public trust.
He challenged the president to, as a show of seriousness, implement first, the recommendations of the previous conference convened by the Obasanjo administration, and proposals endorsed by the electoral reform committee headed by former Chief Justice of the Federation, Muhammed Uwais.
Mr. Jonathan fired the first salvo Monday, using his message to the nation as Muslims prepared to mark Eid-el-Kabir, to subtly respond to Mr. Tinubu as being “in error”.
“Those who continue to say that the initiative is diversionary or aimed at promoting certain political ambitions are in error,” the president said in his message.
The president said the decision to convene the dialogue was informed by his avowed commitment and firm belief in the right to freedom of expression and the right of all people in a democracy to make choices on how they wish to live and be governed.
Mr. Jonathan added that it was the desire of his administration for the majority of Nigerians to key into the process and agree on the best way forward for Nigeria.
“My administration remains fully committed to the implementation of measures and policies that will further promote and enhance national peace, stability and progress,” he said.
“It is in keeping with that avowed commitment and my firm belief in the right to freedom of expression and the right of all people in a democracy to make choices on how they wish to live and be governed that I recently announced plans for an orderly national conversation on our problems and challenges.”
He added that his administration’s desire “is for the greatest possible majority of Nigerians to key into the process and agree on the best way forward for our dear nation.”
The president said he had been greatly encouraged by the very positive reaction of various national interest groups to the initiative, and urged all Nigerians to offer their support to the conference.
Earlier, while addressing journalists in Abuja, the president’s aide, Mr. Okupe, described Mr Tinubu’s claim that the proposed dialogue was tainted with selfish motive, as purely conjectural and in the realm of speculation.
“His assertion that there is an ulterior motive for the conference is purely conjectural and speculative; and has no foundation in any reasoning or logic. The onus is heavily on him to prove this; hence we will not dwell too much on this unjustifiable conclusion,” he said.
The presidential aide stated further, “We wish to state categorically that President Goodluck Jonathan has shown convincingly that he is a credible, reliable and capable leader by his unprecedented achievements in such a short space of time. He most certainly does not flip flop as the opposition politician insinuates.”
Mr. Okupe unfolded his principal’s achievement since he assumed power, recalling among other things that he had delivered on electoral reforms.
The presidential aide said the APC leader spoke ignorantly on the various issues.
According to him, Mr Tinubu’s “myopia and beclouded diatribe on this matter reveals the narrow mindedness of a local politician totally insensitive to the genuine sensibilities of other sub-nationalities within the polity.
“The results of the various programmes of the Amnesty Office are self-evident and have definitely impacted positively on the lives and wellbeing of the youth and communities in the Niger Delta region,” he said.
On the former governor’s allegation that Mr. Jonathan was organizing a national conference when his (president) party was bedevilled with internal crisis, Mr. Okupe said he (Tinubu) was merely being mischievous and dishonest.
“The APC leader, as usual, is completely off target. Desperate politicians and self-seeking political leaders tend to believe that their quest for power or insatiable appetite for wealth accumulation through politics is superior to the genuine desires and innate aspiration of the ordinary Nigerians,” Mr. Tinubu said.
“Senator Tinubu in his criticism of the conference asked: “Where is the capability, where is the sincerity?” He also queried: “Will this president have the guts to implement fully all final resolutions of the conference without fear or favour?”
“On all these queries, we state that for the first time in the history of post-independence Nigeria, a Federal Government took a bold initiative to call for a National Conference without the obnoxious “no-go-areas” so that Nigerians can once and for all have the opportunity to address all pertinent issues regarding the polity and has also given the advisory committee freewill to determine its nature and/or structure. This is a definite demonstration of boldness and sincerity by the administration of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
“Our dear Senator Tinubu wants the Yoruba Nation and indeed the people of Lagos State to believe that he is sincere in rendering public service to the state and the people, whereas he has heavily garrisoned the state political apparatus with a sizeable number of his immediate family members.”
Responding to the issues raised by Mr. Okupe, the APC leader said he did not expect any less a vitriolic outburst from presidential “cry-babies”, adding that he would leave Nigerians to judge since they were the ones feeling the pains.
“The reaction of Goodluck Jonathan’s presidential cry-babies to Tinubu’s extensive comments on the proposed national conference was predictable,” he said in a statement signed by his media adviser, Sunday Dare, late Monday.
“As usual, rather than deal with the salient and substantial issues surrounding the proposed National Conference raised by former Governor Tinubu, the reaction from the presidency skirted around them.
“In typical fashion it resorted to abusive language and name calling. Okupe, like a punch drunk pugilist threw several empty jabs and went on a flight of fancy praising his boss and flaunting fictional achievements of the administration in the face of Nigerians.
“We leave it to Nigerians to judge. They are the ones who feel the pains and millions will not be able to relate to all the fictional transformational achievements reeled out by the Presidency. Nigerians are saddled with a President who believes fiction is more important than fact and imagination is more genuine than reality.
“While we would not mind such a person to be a leading figure in our Nollywood film industry, I am frightened that he is the Chief Resident of Aso Villa and surrounded by a cast of like minds.”