The federal government has approved 492 delegates to participate in the proposed national conference, which may last three months. Anayo Okolie writes on issues around the conference, particularly the novel way the government is handling the matter of representation and the involvement of various stakeholders in the nomination… The Federal Government is in love with the idea that the ethnic nationalities should be the basis for representation at the proposed national conversation, now appropriately christened ‘National Conference’. But the planners of the conference were in a quandary as to how to engender this and not leave some ethnic groups shortchanged. For instance, Nigeria is credited with at least 250 ethnic nationalities, Adamawa State alone has 89 ethnic groups while the whole of South-west have just one as the Yoruba are a monolithic group with the same culture and tradition and hence one ethnic nationality. So in that kind of arrangement, the Yoruba comprising six states may end up with one delegate and Adamawa with 89 ethnic groups will have 89. What is the fairness in that kind of arrangement? But the government eventually devised an arrangement which recognised ethnic nationality and also catered for broad representation. In the modalities for the convocation of the proposed conference released on Thursday, of the 492 delegates, representing all shades of opinion and interest groups nationwide, President Jonathan will nominate 46. These will comprise 37 elder statesmen drawn from each of the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), six representatives from the judiciary as well as the chairman, deputy chairman and secretary of the conference. Government had always nominated chairmen, deputy chairmen and secretaries of such conferences in the past. But government’s nominees had almost been almost neck and neck in number with elected ones. The Jonathan government did not opt for election. It went for nomination by stakeholders, which may also resolve their delegates through election. The 36 state governors will nominate 108 delegates made up of three persons each to represent their states and one delegate will represent the FCT. However, where a state governor fails to nominate delegates, the president is empowered to pick representatives for such state. The five major parties with representation in the National Assembly, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Progressives Congress (APC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party (LP) and Accord Party (AP) will also be required to send 10 delegates, comprising two nominees each. Others like the judiciary, police, SSS, armed forces, media, labour groups, women associations, youths, the disabled, former political office holders, socio-cultural groups/ethnic nationalities and professional groups. Others that will nominate delegates are traditional rulers, retired civil servants, Muslim and Christian leaders, etc. Representation will be broad-based in short. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who released the modalities had said it followed the acceptance of recommendations of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue by the president. There was a Minority Report, which the committee and the government had spurned. The report had wanted the senatorial districts to be the basis of representation as opposed to geo-political zones canvassed by the 13-member committee headed by Afenifere chieftain, Senator Femi Okunrounmu. The Minority report had also sought legal backing for the confab. But sources said the President is backed by the constitution in his power to convene the talks. But sources said the conference is also covered in that whatever comes out of the national conference as its recommendations will end up in the National Assembly for appropriate legislative action. Also, the conference will advise the government on the legal framework, legal procedures and options for integrating the decisions and outcomes of the confab into the constitution and laws of the country. There is early release of the draft guidelines for the conduct of the confab to enable stakeholders make further suggestions and inputs. After he announced the idea in his October 1, 2013 independence speech, the president inaugurated the Okunroumu Committee on October 7, 2013. The committee submitted its report last December. The high gender sensitivity, high level civil society representation in the proposed conference is also unique. People living with disabilities will also be accommodated. The government said the conference would be over before the country hits the next political season, but in the final analysis, the three months being proposed for the talks may be inadequate. This is because though the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a nation are not non-negotiable, and not on the agenda, deliberations at such conferences are normally volatile and may drag on longer than expected.
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