President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday said the resolutions of the ongoing National Conference would be subjected to a referendum.
This is coming just as the president declared that he has neither hidden agenda nor personal interest in convening the conference.
“Let me again repeat what I have been saying that Goodluck Jonathan has no personal agenda in convening this national conference”, he said.
He also clarified that the National Conference would in no way become an alternative to the National Assembly even as he declared that the decisions reached at the Confab would only complement the efforts of the government in the march towards a greater and stronger country.
The president said: “Let me at this point thank the National Assembly for introducing the provision for a referendum in the proposed amendment of the Constitution. This should be relevant for this conference if at the end of the deliberations, the need for a referendum arises. I therefore urge the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly to speed up the constitutional amendment process especially with regard to the subject of referendum”.
Stressing the need for the dialogue, Jonathan stated that: “This National Conference is a very important avenue for the voices of our people to be heard. Our people have yearnings and desires that need to be discussed. Their representatives at this conference are neither usurping the role of the National Assembly nor the Executive. They are complementing us in our march towards a greater and stronger union.
“This coming together under one roof to confer and build a fresh national consensus for the amicable resolution of issues that still cause friction amongst our people must be seen as an essential part of the process of building a more united, stronger and progressive nation.
“We cannot continue to fold our arms and assume that things will straighten themselves out in due course, instead of taking practical steps to overcome impediments on our path to true nationhood, rapid development and national prosperity”, he added.
While reiterating that he harbours no personal agenda for organizing the conference, the president charged the conferees not to be guided by selfish, clannish and parochial interests but to always be guided by the national interest.
“We must not approach these issues with suspicion and antagonism. Rather, we should be open-minded and work to achieve what is best for Nigeria. Even though you come to the conference as nominees and representatives of different interest groups, I urge you all to make a more united, stronger, indivisible and prosperous Nigeria your preoccupation and reference point at this national gathering.
Whatever the pressures on you may be, I call upon you to put the best interest of Nigeria before all other sectional or group interests”, Jonathan further counselled.
On arguments in certain quarters that the Confab may not be necessary with a National Assembly in place, the president said: “A deeper look will reveal that the challenges we faced before each of the preceding national conferences were different. The challenges of 1956 are certainly not the challenges of 2014, and definitely not the challenges that the nation will face in years to come. It makes sense, therefore, that as the challenges before us evolve, we must be constant and proactive in our search for fresh solutions. We cannot continue to proffer yesterday’s solutions for today’s problems”.
Setting an agenda for the discussion, Jonathan said issues for the parley should “range from form of government, structures of government, devolution of powers, revenue sharing, resource control, state and local government creation, boundary adjustment, state police and fiscal federalism, to local government elections, indigeneship, gender equality and children’s rights, amongst others”.
But, His Eminence John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who is a delegate to the conference, has expressed reservation about the proposal by Jonathan that the recommendations of the parley be subjected to a referendum.
The clergyman observed in an interview with one of our reporters, that subjecting the outcome to a referendum may not be the right thing to do because a situation such as throwing away the baby with the bath water could arise if any aspect of the recommendations is faulted by the majority.
“If the outcome of the National Conference comes to a referendum, then you would have to go through the recommendations chapter by chapter. Of course, a section may be favourably disposed to some recommendations to the detriment of others. That’s where there is danger because a dislike for one section could result to dispensing with the whole document,” he said.
“The kind of document that comes out of the Confab will determine the kind of reaction Nigerians will give to it. If it is relatively good and reflects the desire of the majority of Nigerians, it will be easier for Nigerians to say yes we agree. But reducing it to a referendum will be dangerous”, he said.
Meanwhile, human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, while responding to the issue of unity of the country being the focal point of the Confab said all issues, including the unity of the country, would be discussed at the parley.
Falana, who spoke with newsmen after the inauguration of the delegates said: “I have no problem with unity and I believe that most of the participants don’t have any problem with that. The challenges before the conference is how the delegates will put sectional agenda aside and appreciate that history is beckoning to them to transform the concentration of black people all over world from poverty to prosperity.
“All those who have come to the conference with their own agenda, including the government that is saying that the unity of the country is not negotiable, I think that is an arrogant statement. It is the way you run the country that would preserve its unity. If you have 4000 jobs and you collect money illegally from the people and in the process you made N700 million, and asked people to go to stadia in the country to write exams where there are no tables and chairs, you can’t talk of unity of Nigeria in the air. The unity must be concretized.
Address the problem of underdevelopment; unemployment, corruption. It is when you have fixed these problems that you can say our people have to unite.
“But if there are centrifugal and centripetal forces trying to pull Nigeria apart, you can’t talk of unity in the air. It must be unity of justice and fair play; unity on the basis of social justice and unity on the basis of recognizing the rights of our people”, he said.