For over a decade, Nigerians have continued to clamour for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), a platform which is believed would avail them opportunity to discuss over the table burning issues affecting their existence in the Nigerian State with a view to charting the possible way out of the logjam.
President Jonathan, poised to respond to the yearning and aspirations of the people, has inaugurated a-13 man Advisory Committee with a mandate to working out modalities cum making recommendations for the convocation of a National Conference without a no-go-area clause as it was the case with his predecessors.
Indeed, it is worthy of note that President Jonathan is all-out to make the difference. He has promised to transform the country, give it a new sense of direction and make it to consolidate its image on the world stage through an enduring peace at the home front.
It is pertinent to highlight that successive administrations have in the past attempted to organize national confabs. For instance, the late Gen. Sani Abacha and former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. But efforts by both administrations to manage and sustain the outcome of the confabs were unyielding because the entire process was shrouded in controversy and suspicions, following several no-go- area clauses. As a result, the citizenry had grave misgivings. This eventually stalled their participation and the outcome was a nightmare.
While some see the proposed national dialogue as a welcome development, others view it as mere waste of time, energy and resources. Whatever is the case, one would have thought that every well- meaning Nigerian will rally round the president, give him the necessary support he deserves, in his quest to turn things around and deepen the unity of the country. But on the contrary, some elder statesmen prefer to play to the gallery, thereby fanning the embers of disunity and extremism as they described the planned conference as diversionary, ill-timed and above all, questioned the sincerity of the president to implement the outcome of the conference.
In fact, when I heard one of the political juggernauts of our time asking for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), one cannot but wonder whose agenda he is pushing for. Is it the country or self? This is because calling for a Sovereign National Conference side by side the National Assembly to say the least, would mean anarchy-the breakdown of law and order. The pertinent question to ask is who will oversee the other if both are allowed to assume sovereign status?
President Jonathan in his Eld-el-kabir message said: “Those who continue to say that the initiative is diversionary or aimed at promoting certain political ambition are in error”. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. President. If not, why should people begin to speculate the likely colour of the rain water on mere formation of the cloud? I stand to be corrected. But, this is practically impossible.
It cannot be gainsaid that since independence, this is the first time a Nigerian leader has called for a National Dialogue/Conference without a no-go-area clause. Therefore, Mr. President should at least, be commended for his bold and courageous step, rather than casting aspersions on such a no mean feat, in a bid to scoring cheap political point.
However, In a move to allay the fears and suspicions of pessimists towards the proposed National Conference, the president has maintained that: “The decision is in line with 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 that I recently announced plans for an orderly national conversation on our problems and challenges”.
Pundits have however, expressed latent fears that the outcome of the planned conference may go the same way of others, and or be watered down by the National Assembly when it’s taken to them for ratification. Therefore, they opined that Mr. President should as quickly as possible move to amend section 9 of the 1999 constitution which vests in the National Assembly the power to ratify. According to them, this would pave way for the outcome of the proposed dialogue to be voted by the people in a referendum.
My take is that all Nigerians are enjoined to embrace the dialogue and think beyond the shell of ethnic jingoism, sectionalism, parochialism, religious bigotry and political sentimentality.
We must set aside all forms of acrimonies, discuss our bottled hostilities and bitterness that have been allowed to fester over the years and now threaten to shred our corporate identity, with a view to ascertaining lasting peace and social justice for sustainable economic growth and development.
The unity of our dear country remains sacrosanct and non-negotiable. It is our democratic right to participate in every platform, such as the planned conference which is aimed at consolidating the gains of the country and navigating solutions to our socio-economic and political quagmire for the future good of our nation and generations yet unborn. Nigerians are implored to give the dialogue a chance.
Sampson Ikemitang writes from Abuja.