A National Conference, aimed at providing a platform for Nigerians to engage in a dialogue over the multifarious challenges facing their country, was due to open in Abuja Monday, after months of planning.
PANA reports that some 492 delegates, comprising representatives of the 36 states, political parties, ethnic nationalities, professional groups and the civil society, among others, have converged on the inland capital city for the inauguration of the conference, to be performed by President Goodluck Jonathan at 4pm local time.
Giving details of the conference earlier, Secretary to the Government of the Federation Anyim Pius Anyim said: “It shall last for 3 months and shall discuss any subject matter, except the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a nation.'
Anyim said the National Conference shall advise the Government on the 'legal framework, legal procedure and options for integrating the decision and outcomes of the National Conference into the constitution and laws of the country'.
Nigeria's main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is boycotting the conference, saying it is not far reaching enough since it will not be 'sovereign' and its decisions will still be subject to ratification by the National Assembly (parliament).
However, the 16 states under the control of the APC have sent delegates to the conference, the latest in a series of efforts by the country, cobbled together by British colonialists, to resolve its differences and consolidate its unity.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation of 167 million people, is in dire straits amid huge economic, social and political problems.
But by far the most pressing challenge is that of security of lives and property, especially as the Islamic sect Boko Haram in the north has continued to kill and maim.
Kidnapping for ransom, which is more rampant in the south, violent crimes as well as incessant ethno-religious have left the people in a state of perpetual insecurity.
According to the 'Nigerian Security Tracker', a project of the US Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, non-partisan organisation, some 15,000 people have been killed in violent crimes in just a little over three years dating back to 2011.
Analysts said the number could be far higher, considering the huge number of deaths within the past week alone.
In an editorial on the conference on Monday, Nigeria's widest circulating Punch newspaper wrote: 'The task before the conferees is to arrest the drift into chaos and outright state failure by responsibly and realistically drawing up appropriate recommendations and a road map for a viable political configuration.
'To head off such a catastrophe, prevailing political, economic and security conditions ought to arrest the minds of the summiteers. They cannot ignore the palpable mood of angst and discontent across the land. They should consider themselves as being on the threshold of history.'
Speaking ahead of the conference, presidential spokesman Reuben Abati said President Jonathan expects that the dialogue would turn out to be about Nigeria and its future and not about narrow interests.
“The President’s expectation is that this conference should turn out to be an opportunity to further strengthen national unity and that the conversation provides a platform to move Nigeria forward.
“His expectation is that the participants will engage in very robust and open dialogue, and that they will rise above narrow interests and focus on Nigeria,' he said.
How much the expectations will be met remains to be seen as the 7-billion-Naira (US$42 million) conference begins its deliberations in the days ahead.