By Prudence Arobani
Proceedings at the National Conference were stalled following sharp disagreements on the voting mode to be adopted to arrive at decisions.The particular issue in contention is Order VI Rule 3 of the Procedure Rule.
It provides that: “Any question proposed for decision in the conference shall be determined by consensus and when this is not achievable, by a three-quarter majority of the delegates present and voting.”
While majority of the delegates wanted the conventional two-third majority to be adopted in arriving at decisions, some others wanted the three-quarter majority to be retained.
The issue plunged the plenary into rowdy session, as delegates moved to engage in “a free-for-all,” but order was restored.
Charting a way forward, Mr Fola Adeola, representing Ogun, advised the leadership to use “identified geo-political zone leaders” to resolve the issue.
“When a matter becomes heated and emotional, it is very difficult for 492 people to negotiate. You (leadership) should seek the services of the leaders of the different zones.
“There is a lot more that we would need to negotiate over; consensus, we have all agreed, is far superior to voting.
“I am hoping that if we break into our different zones, we can talk to ourselves, we can ask ourselves what are our concerns.
“The difference between two-third and 75 per cent is 41, to some people, it is the whole world, to some people, it is very few.
“Negotiations will always be give and take, and I believe that a smaller number is better and able to reach a reasonable conclusion than 492 people, because emotions are just being whipped,” he said.
Analysts say President Goodluck Jonathan seemed to foresee the divisive tendencies, when in his inaugural speech, he charged delegates to pursue only a Nigerian Agenda.
“I know the task before you is onerous; but there must be only one winner, and there can only be one winner if we do everything right, and that winner must be Nigeria.
“I urge you therefore to focus strictly on the Nigerian Agenda,” the president advised.
Speaking further, Jonathan said: “We must not approach 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 representatives of different interest groups, I urge you to make a united, stronger, indivisible and prosperous Nigeria your preoccupation and reference point,’’ he added.
In spite of the views expressed by many delegates before the conference, tones of delegates at the inaugural meeting, showed they were ready to pursue a Nigerian agenda.
When the Secretary, Dr Valerie Azinge announced that delegates would sit in alphabetic order, the delegates overwhelmingly supported the arrangement.
Raising their voices in unison, the delegates said that they were at the conference as Nigerians.
“I think I have come here as a Nigerian. We should sit in alphabetical order. If any group wants to confer on anything, they can do that after the plenary.
“I did not come here to be Yoruba; I want to be able to interact with others and see how we can have a pan-Nigerian discussion,” said Chief Segun Osoba, former governor of Ogun.
Mr Steve Aluko, a delegate of Coalition of Civil Society Organisation, said he was impressed that most delegates “have come to this floor to speak the Nigerian language, on how to move Nigeria forward.
“My joy is that a good number of the delegates also applaud the Nigerian issue, not ethnic or religious sentiments.
“I think if this is what will drive the national conference, we might be setting a better pace for the future generation to step in,” Aluko said.
However many Nigerians were disappointed on the utterances of prominent citizens when the issue of voting modality was debated on the floor of the conference.
Divisive tones resurfaced, which nearly divided delegates along ethnic lines and interest groups.
To resolve the impasse, the leadership constituted a 50-man consensus group cutting across geo-political zones, to confer with the principal officers on the contentious issue.
After series of meetings, the group adopted 70 per cent, which was unanimously adopted by the delegates.
Conference Chairman Idris Kutigi, said the best means to arrive at decisions at the conference was through consensus.
Kutigi said consensus is better than voting, adding that delegates would only resort to voting when all measures to reach a consensus over any matter has been exhausted.
“The most important in arriving at any decision in this conference is consensus.
“It is when consensus fails that we will go for the 70 per cent, and the chairman can adjourn twice or thrice to allow delegates to exhaust measures to reach a consensus before voting.
“We are trying to bring Nigeria closer to consensus as much as possible,” Kutigi said.
Analysts say breaking the voting impasse through dialogue is commendable and reinforces the hope that Nigerians can reach a consensus on many issues confronting the nation.
Mr Dare Atoye, a public affairs commentator, advised delegates against rigid positions but urged them to always employ dialogue to reach consensus on issues.
He urged them to heed the appeal of the President not to canvass selfish agenda that could further polarise the country.
“Indeed, I am quite worried when I hear people say that some participants in this national conversation are coming here to defend and promote ethnic or clannish agenda.
“It is very regrettable that there are persons who believe that we cannot undertake any collective task in our country without recourse to ethnic rivalry, even after 100 years of nationhood.
“This conference gives us an opportunity to prove such persons wrong and I believe it will.
“As we start a new century of nationhood, we have an obligation to reshape and redirect our country for the benefit of our children,’’ he stressed.
The conference has started on a good note, as it resolved the issue of voting through consensus. The delegates should imbibe that spirit in all their deliberations, so that the recommendations of the conference will be a “ win-win’’ solution to national problems. (NAN)