S’South, S’West leaders meet Jonathan, seek confab

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EK-CLARKWant President to cut cost of governance

‘Yoruba still hurt by loss of speaker’s slot’

CITING a compelling need for a stable polity that is based on well-defined terms for mutual co-existence, South-South and South-West leaders stressed the necessity for a sovereign national  conference as they met with President Goodluck Jonathan at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday.

They also want the government to cut the cost of governance and step up the anti-corruption campaign.

At the meeting, Jonathan explained why his administration constituted the Presidential Committee on Outstanding Constitutional Issues headed by Justice Alfa Belgore. He said that the panel would bring up areas of national consensus from the 2006 National Political Reform Conference for the National Assembly’s consideration.

Jonathan told the delegation led by Chief Edwin Clark and Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi: “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 presentation 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.”               

He told the elders that the government had decided on strengthening the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission  (EFCC), the Independent  Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) and the Nigeria Police to ensure that people were not unduly exposed to corrupt influences.

Jonathan noted that as part of efforts to curb corruption, government would sell fertiliser and tractors directly to farmers.

The President said the House of Representatives’ probe into the oil subsidy regime had exposed the fact that continued subsidy in the petroleum sector was a catalyst to corruption.

He also told the delegation that his administration was going to reduce the number of parastatals, especially those that were performing similar functions, while the members of staff would be retrained for other duties, adding that the budget submitted to the National Assembly last year had been cut down.

He thanked the elders for the visit and the support given to his administration.

Earlier, Clark and Gbonigi, leaders of the South-South and South-West elders, respectively, had presented a  statement  from a meeting held by the two groups on January 21, 2012, at Ikenne, Ogun State.                

The statement condemned the activities of Boko Haram, requested the withdrawal of troops from the streets to reduce tension, urged stronger prosecution of the war against corruption, requested a reduction of size and cost of governance, and called for a national conference to produce a truly national constitution.             

Clark also expressed the South-South’s appreciation to the South-West for supporting President Jonathan’s election in April, 2011.        

In a statement released to journalists at the end of the parley with President Jonathan, Gbonigi said: “While appreciating the present administration’s transformation agenda, we must note that the success of any agenda is predicated on a stable and secure polity, with happy and contented citizens. In the absence of these, no agenda can succeed, no matter how laudable. And to achieve peace and stability, there must be justice and equity. The 1999 Constitution is neither just nor equitable to the overwhelming majority of Nigerians, neither does it promote development and good governance.              

“The vast majority of our people are demanding a new constitution which will be of their own making. The changes required to the 1999 Constitution cannot be effected through the processes of the Legislature alone because they are fundamental and extensive. So, it is only the people, the ultimate repository of powers in a democracy, who can decide at a conference, to abrogate the old constitution and write a new one. This is why they are demanding a national dialogue, a dialogue towards a political restructuring of the country, a distribution of power and more equitable fiscal arrangements. They want an opportunity to sit together at a conference and of their own accord, reach a consensus on the terms of their union as one indivisible country. They want to work out an arrangement, which will make their diversity a source of strength rather than continuing in a forced unity that promotes distrust and mutual antagonisms. Of course, we are conscious of the constitutional role of the Legislature and the requirement for their full commitment to this cause and the proposed all inclusive process.”                

He continued: “Mr. President, we cannot but mention in passing, the events surrounding the election of the Speaker of the House of Representatives early in the life of your administration and the impact of those events on the Yoruba people. We recognise that governance is essentially about the management of human beings, of resources and of conflicting interests and social conflicts and therefore not surprised by the various conflicting interests surrounding the election, wherein you were confronted on the one hand by pressures to allow democracy to run its course and on the other hand by the need to achieve gender and ethnic equity in the House Leadership. We appreciate that you threw your weight on the side of gender and ethnic equity by supporting the candidacy of Mulikat Adeola-Akande. Unfortunately, however, the conflict resolved itself in government order of precedence. Much as we are discomfited by this development, we actually sympathise with you, knowing that it was not your wish to have things that way. All the same, we hope that as President, you will use your considerable powers to apply the soothing balm to the understandably hurt sensitivities of our people, to calm the frayed nerves and the increasingly loud murmurs of discontent emanating from them.”

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