More issues emerged on Wednesday at the on-going 2014 National Conference in Abuja as the debate on the inauguration speech by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan continued.
Issues bordering on national security, economic development, true federalism, restructuring of the polity, among others took centre-stage as delegates spoke passionately on the need for the country to look back before going forward.
As the debate opened on Wednesday, Professor Titi Filani asked rhetorically: “How did we get to where we are today; what did we do or what did we not do right.”
Chief Joshua Fumudo, former national president of Ijaw Youth Council, as if in an answer to the question said Nigeria must be restructured as it were before and after the 1960 Independence before the military struck in 1966.
He said the central government must let go its grip on the states; and that the only way out was for the Conference to work out what he called a genuine constitution-based federal structure.
This position was re-emphasised by Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nation, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, when he said that Nigeria was yet to meet the visions of the founding fathers almost 54 years after independence.
Gambari noted that the way out would be structural and policy changes in such a manner that poverty would be eradicated and unemployment will cease to exist while investment in education should receive serious attention.
In addition, the respected political scientist said no change will succeed as expected except there is attitudinal change in the citizenry such that crimes like corruption can be eliminated.
He cautioned that it was immaterial whatever argument people would propound at the Conference, rather the most important thing would be to use the God-given opportunity to advance practical suggestions that will pull the country out of the woods.
Professor Jerry Gana, former Minister of Information said the speech delivered by President Jonathan on March 17 presented a true picture of the “kind of Nigeria you and I have been yearning for,” adding that the Conference provides a historic opportunity to effect changes in the polity.Gana told the delegates in no uncertain terms, “we have to be creative and put on our thinking caps. We can do it, and by the grace of God, we must do it.”
Lawal Hassan, Professor Onje Gewedo and Sule Yahaya Hamman said the issue of devolution of power must be given a place of importance both during debate and when suggestions are to be made to the federal government.
They believed the issue of restructuring of the country was long overdue and should be the focus of the Conference so as to ensure peace, stability and growth of the country.
The issue of religion based on ethnic configuration surfaced again on the floor with a word of caution from the Emir of Ilorin, Sule Gambari who said religion should not raise tempers but should be handled maturely as a very sensitive issue that is capable of tearing the nation apart.
Binta Eunice Garba, who introduced herself as a Christian while her parents are Muslims, said she has won elections twice in two states of the north based on merit and not on religious consideration.
She said the issue of religion based on ethnic or political divide must be de-emphasised as it was more a matter of perception than reality in most cases.
Garba said, “We must salvage this nation so that our children tomorrow can have hope. We must keep religious and tribal sentiments aside so that anywhere we go, we can be proud to say we are Nigerians.”
Gaskiya Jaye from the civil society group said class division as manifested in the gap between the rich and the poor; poverty and unemployment present more threat to the existence of Nigeria than religion.
He called for the right of citizens to good health and employment, explaining that “if we restructure this country and there is no fairness and equity, we would be restructuring poverty.”
For Haruna Andrew, religion has no region. He said if all the missionaries who stationed in the southern part of Nigeria had come into the country through the north, all the emirs and imams found in northern Nigeria would have been pastors and bishops.
In the same manner, Andrew told the Conference that if the jihadists who brought Islam to the northern part of the country had entered Nigeria through the southern part of the country, all the pastors and bishops would have been Muslims.
He therefore advocated the removal of all the discriminatory policies associated with religion from both the constitution and from public places to emphasise the secularity of the Nigerian state.
Nosakhure Isekhure from Edo State said religion is a family-based concept and that God is neither a Christian nor a Muslim while Isaac Ighure was of the opinion that no one should fight for God because “God can fight His own battle, He does not need anyone to fight for Him.”
Leaders of youth groups, both the National Association of Nigerian Students and the Nigeria Youth Council urged the Conference to take decisions that would stop strike in higher institutions of learning and provide jobs for the jobless.
They said it was high time the Conference decided on ensuring the full implementation of suggestions to be advanced at the end of the Conference and that such suggestions must take the issues of Nigerian youths seriously.
One of the youth group leaders, Yinka Gbadebo, said 90% percent of the delegates may never have experienced strike during their days in tertiary institutions and as such would not understand what it means to be left at home because of strike by teachers.
He said the utmost priority issue to any Nigerian youth today is acquisition of education and employment and that these two would ensure the emergence and growth of a great nation.
On security, Kashim Ibrahim Imam from Borno State lamented over the state of killings and destruction of means of livelihood by the Boko Haram sect in the state.
He said government should establish a N300 billion reconstruction fund for the rebuilding of the state and that the solution to the issue lies in job creation and mass literacy development.
Senator Florence Ita-Giwa said it was time to re-launch Nigeria. She explained that Nigeria’s problem was caused mainly by politicians who consistently refuse to accept election results in which they lost.