“…this is a National Project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking…”
Today, we are taking historic and concrete steps that will further strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of our inclusiveness and deepen our bond as one people under God.
In my address to the Nation on the occasion of our 53rd Independence and Golden Anniversary as a Republic, I announced that in response to the yearnings of our people, we had decided to take on the responsibility of decisively and genuinely exploring the option of a National Conversation.
In furtherance of this objective, Government announced the names of some Nigerians, with wide experience from various disciplines, to form membership of an Advisory Committee to facilitate a most acceptable process that will bring our aspirations to fruition. Our gathering here today is to formally inaugurate this child of necessity, the Advisory Committee to midwife this Conversation.
Permit me to very quickly review the foundational principles that drive our action, and also address a few matters arising. Firstly, let me emphasize that this is a National Project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to ourcohesion and harmonious development as a truly united Nation.
There is a view by some of our people that we do not need to sit together to dialogue over the socio-political challenges facing our country. Some believe that because we have held several Conferences in the past, we do not need to hold another one. I was one of those who exhibited scepticism on the need for another Conference or Dialogue. My scepticism was borne out of the nomenclature of such a Conference, taking into cognizance existing democratic structures that were products of the will of the people.
However, we are in a democracy, and in a democracy; elected leaders govern at the behest of the citizenry. As challenges emerge, season after season, leaders must respond with best available strategies to ensure that the ship of state remains undeterred in its voyage.
Nations rise to the challenges that each epoch presents. It is imperative therefore, that in our march to nationhood, we have to be dynamic in our approach and response to the problems, even as we seek solutions to them. We cannot proffer yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, let us remind ourselves of the gains from previous Conferences and Dialogues. The Conferences that were held before 1960 were designed to produce a political system and a roadmap to Nigeria’s independence.
The Constitutional Conference of 1957 in London, for example, effectively prepared Nigeria for Independence. The Eastern and Western regions were granted self-government in 1957, while the Northern region got its own in 1959. The Office of the Prime Minister was created and it was also decided that the Federal Legislature would be Bi-cameral.
Furthermore, the Constituent Assembly of 1978 gave us the 1979 Constitution and also created the current Presidential System with its attendant checks and balances and Fundamental Human Rights provisions. The 1999 Constitution we operate today, is a successor to the 1979 Constitution and records show that the 1999 Constitution also benefited from reports and recommendations arising from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference.
Although not enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, the idea of the current Six Geo-Political Zones that have become one of the avenues for equitable distribution of projects and public offices in Nigeria was also a product of Dialogue that emerged from the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference.
The 2005 National Political Reform Conference produced a number of key recommendations that were sent to the 5thAssembly, which were however not perfected. In 2010, I reasoned that the outstanding recommendations from the 2005 Conference be revisited.
It was my view that Government is a continuum and that we must find ways to strengthen the foundation of our Union. I proceeded to set up the Justice Alfa Belgore Committee with a mandate to review the report for possible implementation, especially the areas where there was a common agreement. The committee worked hard and came out with its report that included a number of Bills, which were forwarded to the National Assembly.
We believe that these Bills will form key components of the on-going Constitutional Review by the National Assembly.
Clearly, every dialogue adds something valuable to our evolving Nation. The urgency of a National Conversation in the present therefore, need not be over emphasized.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as we continue to strive to build a strong and virile Nation, especially in the midst of agitations and tensions, we cannot deny the fact that sitting down to talk is one right step in calming down tensions and channelling our grievances, misgivings and suggestions into more positive use for the good of our Country.
Let me use this opportunity to thank the Senate President, and the leadership and members of the National Assembly for the support they have given to this important National Project.
The concept of participatory democracy is such that even after the people have given their representatives the mandate to make laws and act on their behalf, there is also a space for the governed to make further input into the political processes, without undermining the authority of the statutory bodies. Sovereignty continues to be with the people even as the people evolve strategies and tactics to strengthen its foundation for the benefit of successor generations.
It is this sort of collaboration between the people and established institutions of government, that will allow for a robust outcome that leads to greater understanding and a more cohesive and inclusive Union. For me, there is no alternative to inclusivity, equity and justice in a modern democratic state.
I will therefore like to allay the fears of those who think the Conference will call the integrity of Nigeria into question. This National Discourse will strengthen our union and address issues that are often on the front burner, and are too frequently ignored.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Committee Members, this is a serious task, and history beckons on you not to disappoint our people. I want to charge you to consult widely before sitting down to develop the framework that will guide and guard the proceedings of the discussions.
In the task before you, no voice is too small and no opinion is irrelevant. Thus, the views of the sceptics and those of the enthusiasts must be accommodated as you formulate this all important framework. This Conversation is a People’s Conversation and I urge you to formulate an all-inclusive process that protects the people’s interest.
Let me also urge the Advisory Committee not only to be alive to the expectations of our people, but to bear in mind, that what we desire is what can work for the good of our people and country. The goal is to bequeath a better and a greater Nigeria to the present and the generation that is to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen, We have wasted too much time and resources, bickering over sectional versions of what define reality. This is an open-ended luxury we can no longer afford. Let us move forward, with honest conviction and patriotic courage, to strengthen this Republic, and get it to work better and brighter, for all of us, to the glory of God.
On this note, I hereby inaugurate the National Advisory Committee on this significant National Assignment and give the Committee six weeks to submit its report. I thank you for accepting to serve and I wish you the very best of wisdom in this very important call to duty.
Congratulations. I thank you.
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