There is truly hardly any
misgiving regarding the need to have a dialogue, a national dialogue, in order to decide how Nigeria should be governed. In fact, Nigerians are really itching to talk about their future as many agree that th country is inching towards failure in terms of governance, equitable distribution of the nation’s resources, rule of law and other sundry issues.
What is, however, doubtful is the genuine purpose of the dialogue and whether at the end of the day it can truly pass for the type of national conference that a truly democratic mind anticipates. For instance, would the talk lead to the resolution of the nagging issues that are believed to be creating friction in the polity?
Such issues as true federalism, resource control, state police, rotational presidency, federal character or even the outright disintegration of the country, which some have suggested as the most reasonable way to go for the country given its highly multi-lingual nature.
Or would it, in the words of William Shakespeare, be full of sound and fury but hardly signifying anything meaningful to the common man as previous ones? These are the questions that require urgent answers before delegates from all shades of views about Nigeria converge for the national dialogue which President Goodluck Jonathan surprisingly promised during his Independence Day address as part of events marking the country’s 53rd anniversary.
In the speech, President Jonathan announced the formation of an advisory committee to steer the process leading to the conference, which he has momentarily christened “National Dialogue”. The committee is headed by a chieftain of the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, and a Second Republic Senator, Femi Okurounmu, while a former Political Adviser to the President, Akilu Sani Ndabawa, is secretary.
Other members of the committee include: former Nigeria Ambassador to the United States (U.S.), Professor George Obiozor; respected constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze (who declined the appointment citing age as reason); Senator Khairat Gwadabe, Senator Timothy Adudu, Col. Tony Nyiam (rtd.), Professor Funke Adebayo, Dr. Mairo Ahmed Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq , Dauda Birma, Buhari Bello and Tony Uranta.
Inaugurating the members, President Jonathan noted: “Fellow Nigerians, our administration has taken cognisance of suggestions over the years by well-meaning Nigerians on the need for a national dialogue on the future of our beloved country. When there are issues that constantly stoke tension and bring about friction, it makes perfect sense for the interested parties to come together to discuss.
“In demonstration of my avowed belief in the positive power of dialogue in charting the way forward, I have decided to set up an advisory committee whose mandate is to establish the modalities for a national dialogue or conference. The committee will also design a framework and come up with recommendations as to the form, structure and mechanism of the process.
The full membership of the committee will be announced shortly. I expect its report to be ready in one month, following which the nation will be briefed on the nomenclature, structure and modalities of the dialogue.”
The President’s decision to convoke a National Conference or Sovereign National Conference (whichever he finally settles for) is a remarkable departure from his earlier stance. This is because he was one of the opponents of such conference on the ground that the National Assembly remains the valid representative of the people because, as he noted, the members were elected to discuss on behalf of their people.
This is the crux of the matter. It has also been, from all indications, the only reason for the unnecessarily prolonged dilly-dallying of the presidency on the issue of not only naming, but also making the proposed conference sovereign. The situation is not made any easier by the position of many within the corridors of power who have vowed to ensure that the word “sovereign” is never included in the conference.
One of them is Senate President, David Mark, who recently said “I’ll crush the bid to add ‘sovereignty’ to the National Conference”. In 2001, when pressed on the issue of the virtues of convening a sovereign national conference, President Olusegun Obasanjo unequivocally said something similar: “I cannot surrender the sovereignty that was given to me by the Nigerian people”.
As it stands, while the North is vehemently opposed to a sovereign national conference, the South, East and a majority of the West are clamouring for it. Some northern Governors have, in fact, been reported to refuse to send people from their State to “any conference”, while some leaders from the area have started singing war songs to counter calls for national conference.
Also, pundits from the North have not ceased to argue that “our constitution is not the problem. It is the people that use the constitution that needs to be upgraded”. It is therefore not surprising that just as President Jonathan was announcing that the final destination of the outcome of the conference is the National Assembly, spokesman for the most authoritative socio-cultural organization in the North, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), stated its stand unequivocally:
“The ACF does not believe that the problem with Nigeria is the structure of the country or the pattern of governance … for now, we do not have any position to present to them (the Advisory Committee) because we did not ask for a conference in the first place”, a statement quoted the leadership of the ACF.
The seeming indifference of the North over what has become a desperate quest by a majority of the parts that constitute the Nigerian state, and the almost sarcastic confidence with which the leadership of the ACF states its stand is an apparent indication of their knowledge that without cooperation from the northern members in the National Assembly, there can be no two-thirds to alter a single sentence in the current constitution, no matter the number of conferences.
Is this the reason behind the current rigmarole of sending the outcome of the proposed conference to the National Assembly for vetting? If this is true, as it obviously seem, then the rest of the country is, to say the least, endangered. This is because if the reverse was the case in the call for the sovereign national conference, the decision would have been made easily, probably with little thought about its implications on the rest of the country.
This explains why key stakeholders in the country have expressed the belief that the current proposed national conference will end up in the waste bin as previous ones because like President Obasanjo, the Presidency and National Assembly would not want to surrender the sovereignty that was given to them by the Nigerian people, since that is the implication of a “sovereign” national conference.
In the words of the former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Professor Ango Abdullahi, “a sovereign national conference will create a new level playing field for Nigerians to decide their future.
“In doing so, everyone, including the President, governors, and lawmakers at national and state council levels must vacate their offices and allow for a truly sovereign national conference to take over the running of the country”.
The extent to which this can be achieved remains to be seen.
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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