President Goodluck Jonathan Thursday said his administration believes in the rights of the nation’s constituent parts to come together to discuss how they will continue to live in peace and unity, but expressed pity that the constitution already delegated the duty to the National Assembly, making such conference needless.
Responding to a request by a group of Nigerians under the aegis of The Patriots, which submitted a memorandum, in which, among others, it demanded the convocation of a sovereign national conference to discuss Nigeria’s future, Jonathan told the delegation, led by renowned constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, that ordinarily, the issue of Nigerians coming together to discuss their future should not be out of place.
He noted that there have been discussions within the government on how to create an acceptable and workable platform for a national dialogue that will reinforce the ties that bind the country’s many ethnic nationalities and ensure that Nigeria’s immense diversity continues to be a source of strength and greatness.
“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,” the president added.
He thanked The Patriots, a group of eminent Nigerians, for acknowledging the federal government’s efforts to implement his administration’s agenda for national transformation.
“As a government, we are totally committed to transforming this country; positive things are being done and by the grace of God, we will get to where we ought to be as a nation,” Jonathan told the delegation which included Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Solomon Asemota, Mr. Chris Okoye, Mrs. Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (rtd.), Prof. Kimse Okoko and Mr. Michael Orobator.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, the president also welcomed the group’s call for moral reorientation of Nigerians, saying he shared their belief that the ongoing efforts at national transformation and development would be greatly facilitated and enhanced by the cultivation of better national ethics and attitudes.
The Patriots in their address read by Nwabueze, had urged the president to support the production of a new constitution that truly derives its authority directly from Nigerians.
“I compliment you for your initiative of introducing a transformation agenda. It is what Nigeria needs. Above all things, we need to transform this country.
“It is a great credit to you that you recognise this. We congratulate Your Excellency for recognising the need for national transformation and moving Nigeria in that direction,” he told the president, adding that the need for national transformation was the main reason for The Patriots’ continuing calls for a national conference.
After the meeting with the president, Nwabueze told State House correspondents that they discussed the issue of the country’s transformation, particularly the economy, the polity and the society, with the president.
“We believe that the way to achieve that objective is through a national conference; a national conference of ethnic nationalities in this country,” he stated, noting that the group had conducted its own research on the matter.
According to him, “We need to bring these nationalities around a conference table to discuss how we are going to live together as one country in peace, in stability, in security as one country with the aim of achieving national unity. But as of today, we are not a nation yet. We are a state.”
On the National Assembly’s position that there was no need for the national conference when there is an elected National Assembly in place, Nwabueze said what was imperative was the overhaul of the constitution to reflect the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians.
He said: “We need the people’s constitution whose source of authority derives directly from the people. Forget about the content. We will talk about the content later.
“It must be directly from the people and that is the position of at least 85 per cent of the countries of the world. So we examined this and we said this a bogey. There is no problem; don’t confine yourselves to Sections 8 & 9, because the 1999 Constitution is a schedule to Decree 24.
“If you read Section 1(1) of the decree, there are all preambles to that decree and the 1999 Constitution that you are talking about is a schedule to Decree 24.
“Repeal the decree and the constitution will disappear and you enact a brand new constitution, which would derive its authority from the people.”
On the eligibility or otherwise of the president to run for a second term in 2015, Nwabueze said it was an issue which only Jonathan could decide.
“That is not an issue. Mr. President is eligible; nobody is questioning his eligibility. What makes him ineligible? Nothing, he is eligible. But whether to run or not is a personal decision for him to take.” [ThisDay]