Jonathan defends Conference
•Council of State okays plan
Members of the Council of State challenged President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday on the plan to pick delegates to the proposed National Conference.
Who are the stakeholders who will nominate 282 of the 492 delegates, the President was said to have been asked.
The former leaders also sought to know the difference between nomination by the Presidency and the Federal Government.
Although the Council members endorsed the conference, according to sources, they advised the President to revisit the deference to “unknown or undefined stakeholders”, who will nominate delegates to the conference.
They urged the President to avoid the nominations being hijacked by vested political interests and turning the exercise into a “Presidency-only show”.
They said the nomination, which will take place within the next three weeks, is vital to the outcome of the conference.
The President, who took time to rationalise the need for the conference, noted the observations of Council members and promised a tidy process, it was learnt.
He also said his administration chose nomination because the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said it could not conduct the election of delegates earlier than April.
On the delay in convening the Council of State meeting, the President admitted that the timeline for holding the session was too long – in view of state matters that had been coming up.
He bought the idea of hosting the Council meeting once per quarter and pledged to start its implementation immediately.
According to sources, who pleaded not to be named because they are not allowed to talk to the media, the major part of the meeting at the Presidential Villa centered on the proposed National Conference.
It was learnt that members felt nomination of 282 of the 492 delegates by undefined “stakeholders” was ambiguous.
Those to be nominated by “stakeholders” are retired military/ security personnel(18); traditional rulers(13); retired civil servants at one per zone(six); Organised Private Sector(eight); Nigerian Youth Organisations(12); Women groups(24); political parties(10); Muslim and Christian leaders(12); Civil Society Organisations(24); Nigerians in the Diaspora(eight); People Living With Disabilities at one per geopolitical zone(six); NPAN, NGE ,NUJ and BON(eight); Socio-political/Cultural and Ethnic Nationality Groups(90); professional bodies(13); National Academies at one per Academy(six); and Former Political Office Holders(24).
A source at the session, who spoke in confidence, said: “The Council members did not object to the National Conference, but they raised issues on the reference to stakeholders who will nominate most of the delegates.
“They advised the President to avoid the choice of stakeholders based on partisan politics and vested interests.
“They also sought clarification on the difference between nomination by the Presidency and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
On nomination of conference delegates, another source said: “President Goodluck Jonathan explained that he opted for this method instead of outright election because INEC said it cannot conduct the election of delegates earlier than April.
“He said since April will be close to some elections in 2014 and preparation for 2015 polls, he does not want to confuse the electorate. He added that he does not want Nigerians to read meanings into the intention of the Presidency.”
Another source, who was also at the session, said: “The Council members do not want nominations to be dependent on the President and those with political interests. They do not want the National Conference turned into political patronage.
“The President noted observations from Council members on the National Conference. He asked for the cooperation of governors who he advised to meet and coordinate nomination of ethnic nationalities and youth organisations.
“The next three weeks will determine whether the President will heed our advice or not.”
On other issues tabled at the meeting, a governor said: “The President briefed members of the Council on the appointment of Service Chiefs which he described as routine.
“He also said he sent the list of Service Chiefs to the National Assembly because one civil society person went to court that the nomination process did not follow the law. So, the government decided to comply with the law.
The President was said to have presented his list of nominees for the chairmanship of the National Population Commission (NPC).”
On security challenges, another source at the meeting said: “The National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, briefed the meeting on the problems and how the military and security agencies were curtailing them.
“From his submissions, there are security challenges in all parts of the country. But he assured us that these problems are being addressed. We all pledged to cooperate with him and all agencies,” the source said.
Speaking with reporters at the end of the meeting, Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha said all governors threw their weight behind the national conference because it was essential that Nigerians sat and discussed about the future of the country.
He said the All Progressives Congress (APC), his party, was yet to come up with an official position on the conference. He promised that Imo state would send its delegates to the conference.
He also said that the Council discussed the nation’s security situation and cautioned politicians against making unguarded statements that can heighten tension and cause chaos in the country.
Okorocha refuted claims that the APC federal lawmakers had taken instruction from the party to deliberately block the passage of the Budget.
He explained that the directive to the lawmakers was merely to draw the attention of the Executive to issues with question marks in the budget.
According to him, the Council agreed that all state governments are to fully participate in marking Nigeria’s 100 years anniversary.
He said: “We deliberated on how to move the nation forward, we also discussed other national issues including the Centenary celebrations, Security matters and issues of national conference and basically how to move the nation forward.”
“We have to adopt some new strategies on how to move the nation forward. Politician have also been warned against unguarded utterances so as not to heat up the polity. The meeting has helped to resolve a lot of issues.”
“On centenary message, we said that Nigeria must stay together as a nation,” he added.
Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam said: “The president briefed us about a lot of things including the impending Conference. There were a lot of contributions and the council approved it.”
According to him, the Council also approved a list of the new chairman and members for the National Population Commission.
He said: “The National Security Adviser briefed us on the general security situation in the country. All members of the council contributed to the way forward and the decisions that will be taken to address some of the security issues affecting the country.”
“The National Security Adviser said some of the unguarded statements by some prominent Nigerians are capable of inciting people, that we should be careful as major actors in the polity to avoid making some unguarded utterances that could unwittingly incite the generality of Nigerians.”
“The council took note of that and agreed that people should be more careful about what they say as public office holders,” he stated.