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Newspaper headlines in Nigeria 02/02/2014

Proposed National Conference dominates newspaper headlines - The federal government's modalities for the conduct of the National Conference, designed to bring the people together and discuss the fundamental terms of their coexistence, was the main story in Nigeria this week.

The pro-opposition NATION newspaper headlined its story '492 delegates for National Conference', reporting that the Federal Government on Thursday released modalities for the conduct of the National Conference, tentatively fixed to last for three months.

It said that in releasing the modalities in Abuja, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, said that 492 delegates were expected to be nominated from 30 January to 20 February, 2014.

Those entitled to nominate the delegates, according to Anyim, include the President, state and local governments, traditional rulers, political parties, retired civil servants, organized private sector, selected associations and professional bodies, civil society organizations and other stakeholders in the relevant fields.

He said the national conference was entitled to discuss all subject matters except the divisibility and dissolubility of Nigeria as a nation.

The paper quoted Anyim as saying 'Decisions at the National Conference shall be by consensus and where not achievable, it shall be by 75 per cent majority.'

The conference, at the end of the three months, he said, would decide whether there would be referendum or not.

To conclude everything that has to do with the National Conference before the 2015 election season sets in, he said, the President would nominate delegates for any state that failed to nominate delegates before the time specified.

The NIGERIAN TRIBUNE, with the headline '492 DELEGATES FOR NATIONAL CONFAB', with the riders 'Jonathan to nominate 60 delegates, political parties 10, ethnic nationalities 135' and 'Why referendum was rejected', quoted Anyim as saying that “the national conference shall advise the government on the legal framework, procedures and options for integrating the decisions and outcomes of the national conference into the constitution and laws of the country”.

Anyim, who failed to give specific date for the inauguration of the conference, however, gave the assurance that everything would be concluded before actual activities for 2015 general election. 

He said the kick-off of the process of selection of delegates followed the submission to the Federal Government of the report by the presidential advisory committee on national dialogue.

President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to nominate no fewer than 60 participants, with at least one elder statesman from each state and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to the conference, scheduled to take off in March.

The president would also nominate the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary of the conference, including women. Also, 10 representatives of political parties with representatives in the National Assembly would be among the delegates.

The six geopolitical zones of the country, according to the breakdown, would produce 15 delegates each, totalling 90.

Governors of the 36 states of the country would have three slots each, making 108, with one delegate from the Federal Capital Territory, all totalling 109.

A further breakdown showed that retired military and security personnel would nominate 18; traditional rulers, 13; retired civil servants, six; trade unions, 24; organised private sector, eight; youth organisations, 18 and women groups having 24 slots.

Muslim leaders will have six slots; Christian leaders, six; civil societies, 24; Nigerians in diaspora, two each from Europe, Asia, America and Africa.

Also, people with disabilities would have six delegates; newspaper proprietors, two; Nigeria Guild of Editors, two; Nigeria Union of Journalists, two; Broadcasting Organisations of Nigeria, two; professional bodies, 13; former political office holders, 24; judiciary, six, while former local government chairmen would produce one from each geographical zone.

Anyim said only five political parties that had representation at the National Assembly -- the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party and Accord Party -- were given consideration to nominate delegates.

He announced that after deliberations on the report of the committee, the government accepted that the official name of the conference shall be “the National Conference,” to be held in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.

But the GUARDIAN, on Saturday carried reactions that trailed the government move.

It screamed 'Arewa Leaders, Others Fault National Conference Modalities', 'NBA Rejects Single Nominee Slot For National Confab' and 'Igbo Leaders Disagree On Confab'.

According to the GUARDIAN, Arewa elders, a group in Northern Nigeria established to protect the interests of the Muslim Hausa and Fulani of the area, have rejected the modalities released by the Federal Government for the conduct of the proposed National Conference, alleging that from all indications, the national dialogue may eventually snowball into a tool for President Jonathan to drive home his Presidential ambition in 2015.

Besides, former Governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, has urged Nigerians and the opposition parties to reject the National Conference, saying that the modalities of the government for the conference have shown that President Jonathan is playing a script for his 2015 Presidential ambition.

On his part, Musa, who is the leader of the Conference of National Political Parties (CNPP), faulted the way and manner President Jonathan has handled the proposed national confab, saying that with the release of the modalities by government, “it has now confirmed the agenda that Jonathan is nursing towards 2015”.

Musa further averred: “We are not only criticizing the modalities, but the composition of the delegates has also  justified our own rejection of the national conference; and we see it as a political manoeuvre with respect to 2015 elections.

“It is also a diversion from the massive failure of the President. The conference would not achieve anything and would even be an insult to Nigerians. Remember that the President should at the moment be held responsible for the negative state of the nation, because as President, under the prevailing circumstances, he is expected to correct the wrongs.'

According to Musa, “He (President Jonathan) has not corrected any wrong. And therefore, he is part and parcel of the cause of the negative state of the nation which the national conference is supposed to deal with. How can this person who is guilty of the situation which the conference is to deal with, call for the conference, appoint the committee to decide the modalities, announce the modalities and appoint the delegates to the conference?

“How can this conference be relevant in any respect? This conference ought to be one of elected delegates. But what we have now is selected delegates. I therefore call on Nigerians to reject this conference and dissociate themselves from it.

“I call on the APC, which is the opposition to the government and which is even more than an opposition as far as the National Assembly is concerned, to reject the national conference, boycott the national conference.

“If the President attempts to finance the conference through sources outside the budget, like Obasanjo did, then the National Assembly should consider the possibility of impeaching the President for gross misconduct. Because, as the President, he cannot finance anything outside the budget. That would amount to gross misconduct.”

Speaking in the same vein, the spokesman for Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof. Ango Abdullahi, described the proposed conference as 'President Jonathan’s conference and not Nigerians’ conference'.

He questioned the rationale behind government’s modalities, insisting that if the government knew it would not consider the views of the majority of Nigerians, the Femi Okoroumu-led committee shouldn’t have wasted time and public resources in moving round the country to collate the views of the people.

“The modalities show that the government is taking Nigerians for granted. Obviously it is going to be another jamboree, waste of public resources and job for the boys. It is going to be worse than the previous in all ramifications.'

To the National Chairman of United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, 'the timetable for the conference is a clear recipe for failure'.

THE Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Friday in Abuja declined the single delegate slot allocated to it by the Federal Government to participate in the national conference.

NBA’s President, Okey Wali (SAN) who made this disclosure via a protest letter to Anyim, described the single slot accorded the association as “disappointing”.

Wali questioned the rationale for the single slot in the face of multiple slots allocated to other groups.

According to the GUARDIAN, what looks like a disagreement over the modalities for the proposed national conference released by the federal government, may have erupted among leaders of the Southeast geo-political zone.

While the apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, praised the modalities, saying it is partly in line with their submissions to the Senator Femi Okunrounmi Committee, the Concerned Igbo Leaders of Thought, led by Constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, rejected the modalities as not being in tandem with the nature of conference proposed by Nigerians.   

The concerned Igbo leaders, who met in Enugu on Friday to review government’s position, insisted on an enabling law for the President to convoke an ethnic nationalities conference, whose outcome would  be subjected to a referendum for a new constitution for the country.

Pana 02/02/2014