President Goodluck Jonathan has inaugurated the 13-man Advisory Committee on the proposed National Conference, assuring Nigerians that his government is very sincere about it.
Speaking at the inauguration of the Committee headed by Senator Femi Okurounmu on Monday, President Jonathan said the setting up of the committee to work out the modalities for a national conference was in line with the yearnings of the majority of the people.
He said previous conferences may have failed to meet the yearnings of the people, but assured that this time around, government was committed to ensuring that all contentious issues are discussed in the interest of the nation.
“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.
“Let me emphasize that this is a National Project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united Nation,” he noted.
He also assured that the conference will not in any way affect the unity of Nigeria, saying “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.
He said: “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 skepticism on the need for another Conference or Dialogue. My skepticism 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.
Jonathan the fact that previous conferences had failed to meet the yearnings and aspiration of the people does not mean “we should discuss no more; we must find ways to strengthen the foundation of our Union.
“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.
“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 channeling our grievances, misgivings and suggestions into more positive use for the good of our Country.
He expressed appreciation to the Senate President, and the leadership and members of the National Assembly “for the support they have given to this important National Project”.
Chairman of the Advisory Committee, Femi Okunrounmu said President Jonathan must be commended by being courageous enough to open channel for national discourse.
While assuring Nigerians that the committee will not let them down, Mr. Okunronmu also commended the President leaving the committee’s assignment open without “no go” areas.
He said: “It can be argued that no committee in our polity today is more sensitive or carries higher expectations from the people of Nigeria that this committee which the President has just inaugurated.
“That is why Mr. President, having decided to convene such a conference, must be commended for showing courage. He has by his present move, shown himself to be a listening President, a President with strong commitment to sincere constitutional reform, as part of his ongoing transformation agenda.
“The President’s sincerity and commitment is further buttressed by the fact that he has not established any so called “no go” areas for this committee, thus opening up for discourse, all aspects of our present constitution and national life”.