Since the return of civil
rule in 1999, pro-democracy groups in Nigeria have been clamouring for a Sovereign National Conference where the various ethnic nationalities that make up the Nigerian state will be given the opportunity to re-negotiate their stake in the Nigeria project for their collective well-being. Both past and present administrations had been vehement in their opposition to the idea of convoking a Sovereign National Conference, basically to justify the nation’s representative democracy and the “indispensable” services being rendered by those at the helm of affairs. The National Assembly in particular had been very vociferous in opposing the idea and was never comfortable whenever such matter was being raised by members of the public. In 2012 the National Assembly had this to say.
“Talking about Sovereign National Conference now looks like going back to the days of tribal champions. It is like going backwards. For us, it is not just because we are sitting here (in National Assembly), but we are moving forward the fragile democracy.
“A Sovereign conference is suitable for countries that are coming out of war and not Nigeria. We believe that rather than solving the problems, the Sovereign National Conference will end up creating more problems for us.
“They should believe in National Assembly. They are talking about the constitution but there is no way the constitution will be perfect. But since we are in the process of reviewing and amending the constitution, let them take advantage of the exercise and present their grievances and proposals to the National Assembly, so that it could be taken care of”.
In order not to upset the apple cart President Goodluck Jonathan was supportive of the position of the National Assembly. Hear him:
“In recognition of the demands by Nigerians for a constitutional amendment, we set up the Justice Belgore Committee to bring up all those issues which have been agreed upon at previous National Conferences, for presentations as bills to the National Assembly and subsequent passage into law, while a larger body will meet on issues that are still controversial for a national consensus.
“The committee will bring up areas of national consensus from 2006 National Political Reform Conference for National Assembly’s consideration towards effecting constitutional amendments.”
Speaking at the annual national conference of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) in Calabar in August this year, the Senate President, David Mark, re-affirmed the position of the National Assembly on Sovereign National Assembly. Hear him:
“The National Assembly recognizes the right of Nigerians to aggregate, assemble or meet in any legitimate form or manner to discuss the affairs of their country and indeed encourages such fora as it is a constitutional right. A mark of such encouragement is the elaborate public hearings that have become part of our constitutional amendment process. We however, have difficulties with the calls by certain sections of the party for a Sovereign National Conference.
“The 1999 constitution (as amended) with all its imperfections, including its debatable origin, remains our grundnorm, our supreme law from which all other laws derive and express our sovereignty. It creates all the powers, institutions and authorities of the state to which we have all submitted. We have challenged its provisions in courts of law established by it and obeyed the decisions of the courts.
“We have therefore ratified the constitution by our conduct. The 1999 constitution (as amended) is a reality.
Consequently, where will the Sovereign National Conference be convoked and by whom and under what terms? I have been confronted by the argument that sovereignty derives from and belongs to the people. How then do we get the people to confer sovereignty on such a conference?
“These are intractable issues to be addressed by the agitations for Sovereign National Conference and that is why I subscribe to the proposal for an amendment to the 1999 constitution to provide for the making of a new constitution.”\
Surprisingly, President Jonathan, while playing host recently to a political pressure group, The Patriots, led by Professor Ben Nwabueze expressed support for the convocation of a conference for ethnic nationalities in Nigeria.
“It is time to have a conference but the limitation we have is that the constitution appears to have given that responsibility to the National Assembly.
“I have also been discussing the matter with the leadership of the National Assembly. We want a situation where everyone will key into the process and agree on the way forward.
However, Nigerians were stunned and dumbfounded when the Senate President, David Mark recoiled from his hard stance to lend weight to the convocation of national conference. His volte-face came barely a month after he had attended the NBA conference in Calabar where he reiterated the position of the National Assembly on the matter. Hear Senator Mark at the resumption of the Senate from annual recess on September 17 this year:
“We live in very precarious times and in a world increasingly made fluid and toxic by strange ideologies and violent tendencies, all of which currently conspire to question the very idea of the Nigerian state. But that is not to say that the nation should like the proverbial ostrich, continue to bury its head in the sand and refuse to confront the perceived or alleged structural distortions which have bred discontentment and alienation in some quarters. This sense of discontentment and alienation has fuelled extremism, apathy and even predictions of catastrophy for our dear nation.
“A conference of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities called to foster frank and open discussions of national question, can certainly find accommodation in the extant provision of the 1999 constitution which guarantees freedom of expression and of association. To that extent it is welcome.
“But be that as it may, such a conference if and whenever convened should have only a few red lines, chief among which would be dismemberment of the country. Beyond that every other question would be open to deliberations.
“However, I hasten to add that it would be unconstitutional to clothe such a conference with constituent or sovereign power. But the resolution of a national conference, consisting of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities and called under the auspices of government of the federation will indeed carry tremendous weight.
“And the National Assembly, consisting of elected representatives of the Nigerian people, though not constitutionally bound by such resolutions will be hard put to ignore them in continuing the task of constitution review. But to circumvent the constitution and its provisions on how to amend it and repose sovereignty in an unpredictable mass will be too risky a gamble and may ultimately do great disservice to the idea of one Nigeria,”
Could it be that President Jonathan eventually persuaded the senate president to have a rethink in the interest of the nation? But one thing is instructive: they only gave their consent to the convocation of national conference and not sovereign conference.
Political pundits are of the view that the presidency and the National Assembly are merely playing to the gallery in view of the 2015 general elections and the wave of political crisis pervading the nation. While it is too early to put to question the sincerity of the leadership of this great nation on the matter Nigerians would be gladdened if at the end of the day the resources expended on the convocation of the national conference would be justified.
eNaira, BVN, TSA, NIN Should Give Investors Comfort, Buhari Insists
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, said initiatives to drive the digital economy and fight corruption in the country should give investors “a lot of comforts”.
Among the initiatives mentioned by the president are e-Naira, Treasury Single Account (TSA), Bank Verification Number (BVN), and National Identification Number (NIN).
Speaking at the fifth Edition of Future Investment Initiative Summit holding in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Buhari said his regime would keep encouraging public and private initiatives that increase investments in health, education, capacity building, youth empowerment, gender equality, poverty eradication, climate change, and food security.
A statement from the Presidency quoted the Nigerian leader as urging more interest in infrastructure such as healthcare and education, which “present enormous opportunities for investors in a country our size.
“Digital economy in Nigeria has many potential for investment, as it has remained the fastest growing sector in both 2020 and 2021. Nigeria has many opportunities for investment in broadband, ICT hardware, emerging technology and software engineering.
“We have recently approved the national policy on Fifth Generation (5G) network. Our aim is to attract investors in healthcare, smart cities, smart agriculture among others. The benefit of real time communication will support all other sectors of the economy,” he noted.
To further improve and reposition the economy to attract investors, the president said, “e-Naira, the electronic version of our national currency, which puts us on track to become the first African country to introduce a Central Bank Digital Currency” was launched on October 25, 2021.
“We believe this and many other reforms will help us increase the number of people participating in the banking sector, make for a more efficient financial sector and help us tackle illicit flow of funds.
“To further strengthen our anti-corruption drive, increase accountability and transparency, we have centralized government funds through a Treasury Single Account, and ensuring that all Nigerians with a bank account use a unique Bank Verification Number (BVN).
“These initiatives, coupled with our nationwide National Identification Number (NIN) exercise, reinforce our efforts to tackle corruption and fraud. We believe that this should give investors a lot of comforts.”
Buhari attributed growing social unrest to inequalities and unfair policies that exclude the majority from opportunities for participation, admonishing world leaders and global investors to prioritise inclusive and humane policies.
He said, “By so doing, it will go a long way in reenergizing the global economy in a post-COVID-19 era.
“Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation. Our economic reforms which focus on ‘humane’ investments are ideal for investors looking to have profitable returns while positively impacting the citizenry.”
Cancer: Jonathan, Others Seek Homegrown Solution
Former President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, recommended the implementation of homegrown solution to tame the scourge of cancer in Nigeria.
According to him, such measures would ensure that the nation makes significant progress in cancer management and treatment.
He also stated that Africa bore a heavy burden of cancer, with a significantly high mortality rate, adding that a recent projection by the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that over 70 per cent of cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, many of which were in Africa.
Jonathan stated this in Abuja during the 28th annual Lift Above Poverty Organisation Development Forum, a non-governmental organisation committed to the social, health, and economic empowerment of poor and vulnerable persons in Nigeria with the theme: ‘Promoting community-based cancer control programme in Nigeria’.
He said, “A recent projection by the World Health Organisation indicated that over 70 per cent of cancer patients occur in low and middle-income countries, many of which are in Africa.
“The reason for this most times may be due to late detection and referral for treatment, poor access to treatment thus account for the high mortality rate in poorer countries.
“These delays in diagnosis and proper referrals lead to a situation where a high percentage of cancer cases arrive at the point of treatment at advanced stages of the disease when it is difficult to recover from or even manage.
“Cancer management is quite expensive and a technology-dependent endeavour, but homegrown solutions such as the community-based LAPO C4 present us with hope.
“With the required effort and manpower, we can evolve a system that works for our peculiar environment and give us the best possible outcomes and reduce the possibility of loss of lives.
“I believe that LAPO Community Campaign for Cancer Control was born out of the need to galvanize people and resources around the critical issue of early detection of cancer as well as its proper management and treatment.
“The community-based approach to creating the early detection awareness campaign and controlling the spread and management of cancer from the bottom up as proposed by LAPO is quite laudable.
“This is because it promises to deliver better treatment outcomes through early diagnosis and referrals. I believe that a collaborative and community-based health care system will go a long way to improve our health sector.
“I believe that as more stakeholders key into this initiative there will be an uptick in awareness and pooling of resources to effectively manage and treat cancer. A strategic awareness campaign such as this will also go a long way towards eliminating the fear and misconceptions people generally have that cancer is a death sentence.”
NHRC Urges Police, Others To Locate, Rescue ‘Missing’ Journalist
The Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Mr Tony Ojukwu, has urged the police and other security agencies in the nation’s capital to do everything within their powers to locate a missing journalist.
This is just as journalists, editors and media owners across the country have charged security agencies to immediately locate and secure the release of Tordue Salem, a Vanguard Newspaper’s House of Representatives Reporter, who reportedly went missing on October 13 in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Ojukwu’s call is contained in a statement signed by the Deputy Director, Public Affairs in the commission, Mrs Fatimah Mohammed.
He expressed sadness over the news of the National Assembly Correspondent who has been missing for 15 days.
“There is no place for enforced disappearance in modern history”, he said, describing the act as one of the worst human rights violations which leave the victims, family members and the society traumatised.
“It is needless for the family members of the journalist to go searching for him in hospital mortuaries and police stations if the security situation and intelligence gathering was better.
“NHRC stands for press freedom and will continue to advocate for same.
“A free press is important because people are able to express themselves in a constructive manner such that the views and concerns of ordinary people are also heard,” Ojukwu said.
He added that journalists serve as the watchdogs of any society and should be allowed to do their work without harassment and intimidation.
Ojukwu further said that the role of a journalist is crucial in a democratic society like ours.
He described Salem as a journalist who has passion for his work.
“He has painstakingly reported human rights issues as well as educated the masses on their rights since his days with the LEADERSHIP Newspaper.
“Enforced disappearance is one of the hazards associated with the practice of journalism in Nigeria” Ojukwu added.
He, therefore, called on the authorities to respect the rights of journalists.
He also urged the journalists to always work within the ambit of the law and ethics of the profession.
He assured the family members of the commission’s support to ensure that Tordue Salem is found and reunited with them.
The FCT Commissioner of Police, Babaji Sunday, last Monday, assured that officers are looking for the journalist.
Sunday said the case was reported at the National Assembly Police Station and that he directed the immediate transmission to all Areas and Divisions.
“We are seriously on the matter. However, we have not received any information about kidnap or demand for ransom.
“My men have not received any information about any corpse on the road or abandoned corpse from the mortuary. We are searching,” the CP added.
The commissioner made the remark while responding to the demand by journalists under the auspices of FCT Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), during a protest march to the police command headquarters in Abuja, led by its Chairman, Emma Ogbeche.
The journalists took the protest to the Force Headquarters where they delivered same demand to the Inspector General of Police.
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