President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday said the peaceful conclusion of the National Conference has put to shame cynics who never gave it a chance to succeed.
He also explained why his administration did not intervene in the affairs of the Conference while it lasted.
The president made the remarks after receiving the report of the Conference from its Chairman, Idris Kutigi, on behalf of the delegates and leadership at the National Judicial Institute, Abuja.
Mr. Jonathan inaugurated the 492-member Confab on March 17 at the same venue he performed the closing ceremony on Thursday.
The event had in attendance, members of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, the Diplomatic Corps and other prominent Nigerians in attendance.
The Conference sat for nearly five months and made about 600 recommendations contained in the report presented to the president.
Mr. Jonathan recounted that when he convoked the Conference there were those who claimed that he had ulterior motives in doing so and also raised a false alarm about a phantom hidden agenda.
According to him, they did not only question the sincerity of his administration on the project, but also tried to derail it.
He recounted that on the occasion of the 53rd Independence Anniversary of Nigeria in 2013, he made a promise to set a national conversation in motion in order to advance the course of nation-building.
He said the agitation had been there for a while and that his administration could no longer ignore or delay the process.
He explained that he was motivated by a genuine desire to make the country a better place where consensus could be built in the evolution of a New Nigeria.
He stated that when he was inaugurating the Presidential Advisory Committee led by Femi Okurounmu in December, 2013, he made it very clear to the committee that it was a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to Nigeria’s cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united nation.
Mr. Jonathan also said at the inauguration of the National Conference in March, he told the delegates the expectation of his administration, one of which was to patriotically articulate and synthesise the people’s thoughts, views and recommendations for a stronger, more united, peaceful and politically stable Nigeria.
He said he also urged the participants to forge the broadest possible national consensus in the process and warned them not to be under any illusions about the task ahead because they would be confronted with complex and emotive issues.
“I am very satisfied that the delegates navigated these obstacles in a very mature manner,” Mr. Jonathan said.
“There were those who set out to input ulterior motives to our modest efforts at reshaping and strengthening the foundations of our nationhood to deliver better political cohesion and greater development agenda. The naysayers raised false alarms over some phantom hidden agenda and called to question our sincerity and did everything possible to derail this noble project. The success of this conference has proved the cynics wrong in many respects,” he said.
“Those who dismissed the entire conference ab initio as a “diversion” have been proved wrong as what you achieved has contrary to their forecast diverted our country only from the wrong road to the right direction. They said the conference would end in a deadlock as Nigeria had reached a point where the constituent parts could no longer agree on any issue. We exploded that myth by suggesting that you should arrive at your decisions by consensus or 75 per cent majority threshold.”
The president expressed gladness that “after a nearly five months endeavour to find the appropriate verb for the noun of our country within the syntax of human experience,” the delegates brought to a grateful nation the report.
Mr. Jonathan thanked the conferees for their hard work, noting that their tireless efforts aimed at coming up with recommendations to chart a path of peaceful coexistence, sustainable development, justice and progress as Nigeria marched into its second centenary, would not be in vain.
He said the Conference had achieved one of its aims, namely that Nigerians now had platform for a genuine and sincere dialogue.
He said, “To my mind, one of the main reasons for which the Conference was convoked was fully achieved: that is, to create a platform for a genuine and sincere dialogue among Nigerians. Even in moments when things seemed ready to boil over, it was evident that the Delegates were only disagreeing to agree. It is now very clear that as Nigerians, we have devised a way of addressing and resolving our differences amicably: we dialogue and dialogue until we agree! This is most heart-warming indeed!”
The president said he and his administration deliberately refused to intervene in the affairs of the Conference while it lasted despite its challenges.
He narrated that when the Confab had its first challenge and it appeared it was going to break up, there were suggestions that the administration should intervene to “save” it but that he insisted that beyond inauguration the government would not intrude in any manner.
He explained, “One of the many reasons for our non-interference is this: we have at the conference, 492 delegates and six conference officials who all in their individual rights are qualified to lead our great country and if they were unable to agree on how to take decisions, we would be in real trouble! Acknowledging the quality and patriotic content of the delegates, I was confident the right thing will be done.”
Mr. Jonathan congratulated Mr. Kutigi and his team, the delegates, all Nigerians and everyone who contributed in one way or the other to the successful convocation and conclusion of the Conference.
He also congratulated the defunct Presidential Advisory Committee, which developed the framework for the Conference after travelling around Nigeria.
According to him, “We cannot afford to take for granted the efforts and commitment that the delegates and the leaders put into the Conference to make it a success. The patriotic zeal was evident in the inputs of the delegates into the dialogue and how these have now formed the basis of the report.”
Mr. Jonathan assured that the report would be implemented and that the work done by the delegates would not be a waste time and resources.
“As I receive the report of your painstaking deliberations, let me assure that your work is not going be a waste of time and resources. We shall do all we can to ensure the implementation of your recommendations which have come out of consensus and not by divisions. In this regard I appeal to all arms of government and the people of Nigeria to be ready to play the different roles that the volumes of reports you have produced would assign to you. It is my hope that with what you have done our country is on the right road to getting the job of nation building done.”
The president also paid tribute to the four delegates who died during the period of the Conference. He prayed God to grant eternal repose to their souls and protect the families they left behind.