President Jonathan says he has no personal agenda
President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday assured Nigerians that he has no personal agenda for convening the National Conference.
Mr. Jonathan, gave the assurance while declaring open the 492-member national dialogue at Andros Otutu Obaseki Auditorium of the National Judicial Institute, Abuja.
Before delivering his inaugural address, the President called for a one-minutes silence for the over 20 job seekers who died during the recruitment exercise conducted by the Nigerian Immigration Service on Saturday.
He described the death of the unemployed youths as regrettable, saying his government would address the matter at the appropriate time.
Mr. Jonathan, however, said the conference is borne out of patriotic desire to build a better and greater nation and urged the delegates not to do anything to undermine unity and development of the country.
He noted that there was a possibility that the outcome of the National Conference would be subjected through a referendum, based on the ongoing constitutional amendment which he says is seeking to open the space for public participation in governance.
For many years, Mr. Jonathan said, Nigerians have discussed and argued over various issues bedeviling the country through the mass media and recently through the social media.
He insisted that Nigerians must assume responsibility for ensuring that the long-running national debate on continued existence of the country cannot be in vain.
Mr. Jonathan argued that some of the strongest nations in the world went through formative stages which spanned decades and centuries and called on Nigerians to realize that nationhood does not happen overnight.
Mr. Jonathan said, “In our history as a political entity, we have experienced highs and lows but have always forged ahead. To my mind, the fact that we have weathered all storms and continued with the mission of evolving a truly national identity signifies that we are going in the right direction.
“The most compelling task before us, as we move ahead and contemplate what our nation will be at the end of it second century, is to lay a much stronger foundation for faster development by building a more inclusive national consensus on the structure and guiding principles of state that will guarantee our emergence as a more united, progressive and prosperous nation.”
He said the conference would afford the delegates an opportunity to engage in intense introspection about political and socio-economic challenges confronting the nation and to chart the best way to resolve them.
“We cannot continue to fold our arms and assume that thing will straighten themselves out in due course, instead of taking practical steps to overcome impediments on our path to true nationhood, rapid development and national prosperity.
“In inaugurating this national conference today, we are not unmindful of the argument of those who say that we do not need such a conference since we already have an elected parliament and government in place.
“As cogent as that argument may sound, I have chosen to act on the sincere conviction that in the truly democratic nation we are striving to build, we must never ignore the loudly expressed views of the majority of ordinary Nigerians.
“I have heard that majority say that we need to rebuild trust by involving them in the process of developing a guiding document of our national relationships which is more acceptable to all sections of the country.
“The 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.”
Mr. Jonathan, however, explained that the conference delegates were not usurping the roles of the National Assembly or the executive arm of government but complementing these arms of government towards building a stronger union.
Over the years, he noted that well-meaning Nigerians have drawn attention to the inadequacies of the 1999 Constitution and the fact that it does not take into account the genuine desires of the people.
Continuing, he said, “It is a strong and compelling statement in a world much afflicted by strife and violence. We must sustain it. We must not allow antagonists of unity and togetherness to prevail. We must work ceaselessly to remain one nation bound in freedom, peace and unity, as our National Assembly says.”
While many have argued that the nation has held several conferences in the past and did not need for a fresh conference, Mr. Jonathan said he was averse to such argument.
He, therefore, held that the challenges the nation faces during past national conferences were different.
“The challenges of 1956 are certainly not the challenges of the 2014, and definitely no the challenges that the nation will face in years to come. It makes sense, therefore, that as the challenges before us evolve, we must be constant and proactive in our search for fresh solutions, we cannot continue to prefer yesterday’s solutions for today’s problems.”
“This conference is open for us to table our thoughts and positions on issues, and make recommendations that will advance our togetherness.
“The issues range from form of government, structures of government, devolution of powers, revenue sharing, resource control, state creation, state police and fiscal federalism, to indegenship, gender equality and children’s rights, among others.”
He, however, advised delegates not to approach the issues with suspicion and antagonism but to be open-minded and work together to achieve the best for the country.
He challenged the delegates to prove skeptics wrong by reshaping the destiny of the country for the benefit of posterity.
Mr. Jonathan also said that in the 60s, Nigeria was ranked alongside India, Malaysia and South Korea but noted that the Asian countries have long moved ahead in many areas.
“We must seize this opportunity to cement the cleavages and fault lines that separate us. We must re-launch our country,” the president said.
He said Nigeria would be the ultimate winner if delegates do what is right especially when they are confronted with strong, complex and emotive views from opposing sides.
Mr. Jonathan also used the occasion to appeal to the National Assembly and state houses of assembly to hasten work on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution with a view to accommodating the outcome of the conference.
“I am confident that we are embarking on a landmark journey that will make us stronger as a nation if we undertake it (conference) with all sense of purpose and sincerity. Let us do that which is selfless, purposeful and patriotic so that history will remember us for having served our nation well,” Mr. Jonathan said.
Responding, the Conference Chairman, Idris Kutigi thanked Mr. Jonathan for inaugurating the conference, saying it was “A significant step in the drive towards building a stable nation.”
Justice Kutigi assured that the conference would leave up to the expectation of Nigerians in addressing some of the nation’s challenges.
Earlier in an opening address, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, had told the President that 492 delegates to the conference have confirmed attendance.
He said the delegates were men and women of integrity and wisdom, adding that they were selected from based on the recommendation and structure proposed by the Presidential Advisory Committee on the National Conference.
But PREMIUM TIMES checks showed that not all the delegates turned up for the conference.
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