The National Conference Chairman, Justice Lebo Kutigi, Wednesday raised a 50-member committee, tagged â€œThe Consensus Groupâ€, to deliberate on how to break the deadlock over the voting pattern to be adopted in passing resolutions of the national discourse.
The conference, after a two-day debate that ended on Tuesday, could not agree on whether to adopt a voting system based on three-quarters of the 492 delegates in passing resolutions or two-thirds of the participants.
The debate had polarised the delegates along regional lines with northern participants canvassing for the adoption of the three-quarters voting system, while their southern counterparts pushed for a two-thirds majority vote.
It was learnt that delegates from the three zones of South-west, South-east and the South-south met on Tuesday night where it was agreed that they should boycott the conference if the northern delegates insisted on having their way over the voting pattern.
The northern delegates also met and agreed that there would be no shifting on the matter, insisting on the adoption of the three-quarters voting system.
In another bid to resolve the crisis of confidence threatening the National Conference, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, also led Muslims, under the aegis of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), to complain to President Goodluck Jonathan over the perceived marginalisation of adherents of the Islamic faith in the composition of delegates to the conference.
Signs of trouble had emerged earlier in the day when delegates arrived and formed clusters to discuss the impasse over the voting formula.
As such, when Kutigi, finally declared the sitting opened at 10.30 am, the chamber was already charged and it was obvious that delegates were ready for a showdown.
It was the warning by the Lamido of Adamawa, Aliyu Mustapha, that some so-called elders who claimed to be supporters of President Goodluck Jonathan were about to derail the conference that ignited trouble.
Mustapha first veered off the discussion by impressing it on the delegates the need to allow the public to contribute to the conference by submitting public memoranda, even as he threatened to walk out on the conference should the conference insist on adopting the two-thirds voting system.
Mustapha explained that he had been trying to speak on the floor of the conference for the past three days but was not recognised by the leadership.
He therefore used the opportunity to advise delegates to jettison what he described as â€œso-called Western Conferenceâ€ because this would not do Nigeria any good.
Mustapha said he was surprised at the behavior of some delegates who were trying to overstep the bounds set by the president.
He said: â€œSome so-called elders who claim to be supporters of the president are causing problems at this conference.â€
His remarks were followed by shouts of â€œNo! No! No! No!â€, from some delegates who refused to back down even when Kutigi pleaded that the traditional ruler be allowed to speak.
Mustapha, who stood his ground and continued speaking amidst the uproar, warned that the opposing delegates risked causing Nigeriaâ€™s disintegration with their unruly behavour.
He said that delegates from the other parts of the country should desist from pushing the North to the wall to avoid an unpleasant backlash.
The monarch further argued that Adamawa kingdom transcended Nigeria and Cameroun, adding that his subjects had somewhere to go if the country disintegrated.
He said: â€œThere is a state in Cameroun called Adamawa and if I run to that place, I can easily be assimilated. If you push us to wall, we can easily walk out of this country. Jingoism is not the preserve of anyone.â€
When it was obvious that the conference would be disrupted, the chairman handed the list of members of The Consensus Group to the vice chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, to read out.
Membership of the group include General Ike Nwachukwu, Chief Olu Falae, Dr. Kunle Olajide, Dr. Peter Odili, Chief Edwin Clark, Prof Jibril Aminu, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, Prof Jerry Gana, Alhaji Adamu Waziri, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Gen. Alani Akinrinade, Mr. Fola Adeola and Mr. Nduka Obaigbena.
Others are Dr. Olisa Agbakogba, Ambassador Vincent Okobe, Ambassador Lawrence Ekpuku, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, Dr. Joe Nguogwu, Hon. Mohammed Umaru Kumaila, Prof Anwalu Yadudu, Dr. Iyorcha Ayu, Chief Victor Attah, Senator Khairat Abdulrazak Gwadabe, Hon. Ghali Umar Naâ€™Abba and Senator Adamu Aliero.
Also on the committee are Mr. Atedo Peterside, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Prof Isah Mohammed, Alhaji Kashim Ibrahim Imam, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Dr. Ken Nnamani, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, Alhaji Sule Yahaya Hamman, Dr. Abubakar Sarki Mohammed.
Chief Olusola Akomode, Justice Lawal Gummi, Mr. Ledum Mitee, Senator Mimi Bariya Amange, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, Mr. Benjamin Elue, Chief Mike Ahamba, Senator Ibrahim Ida, General A. B Mamman, Chief A. K. Horsfall, Justice Mamman Nasir, Mrs. Josephine Anenih, Mr. Issa Aremu, Miss Hauwa Evelyn Shekarau and Hajia Bola Shagaya also made the list.
Besides the resolution of the impasse on the voting pattern, the committee is also to assist the conference leadership in resolving other thorny issues, especially the selection of members for committees, which will be announced today.
Akinyemi, after announcing membership of the ad hoc committee, told delegates that the list was compiled after extensive consultations that lasted all through Tuesday night.
Those selected, he added, represented the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and other interest groups.
After reading the names of members of The Consensus Group, Kutigi ruled that the conference adjourned till 4 pm to enable them meet and discuss on the controversial voting procedure.
But after several hours of consultation with leaders of the delegates, Kutigi came back to inform the delegates of the need to adjourn proceeding until Monday as the discussion was yet to resolve the issues at stake.
He said: â€œWe have to adjourn because we have to go and finish our meeting and when we finish, the people that we called for consultations will come back to brief you of our discussion. As soon as we finish, may be tomorrow, if you are here, they will see you; if not will have to adjourn until Monday.
â€œThis because they have to make a comprehensive report on the meeting we are holding. It is all in respect of ourselves because we told you that if had watched the television yesterday (Tuesday) on the proceedings at the conference, you will be embarrassed by how some of us were behaving and we do not want that to repeat itself.
â€œThat is why we called some of us to join the principal officers to discuss. Those called out among the delegates are not permanent. Whenever the need arises for a meeting, some other delegates will be called upon to assist because we do not want this meeting to be a failure. By the grace of God, we shall succeed.
â€œFor this reason, I think this meeting will have to stand adjourned until Monday while we go back to continue our meeting.â€
A source told THISDAY that the rationale for the three-quarters voting system for conference resolutions, as enunciated by the president in his speech at the inauguration of the conference, was aimed at ensuring consensus because of the extant political configuration of the country.
According to him, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has control of 18 states and its allied parties, Labour Party (LP) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) control the two states of Ondo and Anambra respectively.
The source said: â€œThe idea of three-quarters is that the three-quarters of the states are 27 and reaching a resolution based on the three-quarters voting system will reduce the influence of the All Progressives Congress (APC) controlled states in the passage of resolutions.
â€œIf agreements are reached based on three-quarters of the votes, then the APC states will not have much powers or impact to thwart the decisions reached, because the consensus is more overwhelming. But a two-thirds majority may not be seen as compelling as three-quarters.
â€œThis explains the comment by your chairman (Nduka Obaigbena) when he told the conference on Tuesday that the conference should be as good as its report and the ideas that come with it, and as such, the people will not have any objection to the report of the conference than to accept it.â€
Meanwhile, the NSCIA, led by the Sultan of Sokoto, yesterday met with Jonathan over perceived marginalisation of Muslims in the composition of delegates to the National Conference.
At a closed-door meeting with the president, which was attended by Vice-President Namadi Sambo and a few top government officials, the Muslims faulted the composition of the National Conference, which they claimed was skewed against them.
Though the sultan declined to speak to State House correspondents on what transpired at the meeting, the Secretary-General of NSCIA, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, said they were at the presidential villa to discuss with the president on the alleged marginalisation of Muslims at the National Conference.
â€œWe are happy we consulted with him (president), and he has given us reasons to re-assure Muslims in Nigeria that they are not deliberately marginalised and he has asked us to convey the feelings of the government, the genuineness of the government, and the fairness of the government to the entire populace.
â€œThat if there are issues that are not as they ought to be, they were not definitely deliberate and we want to believe that Mr. President told us his mind but we also want to believe that it is proper to protest, it is also proper to assume that a leader will always be just even if there are mistakes thereafter,â€ Oloyede said.
He added that it was important to convey the feelings of the Muslims in Nigeria to Jonathan, noting that the president gave them his word that he is a genuine and committed Christian who will not be unjust to others.
When asked to be specific on some of the concerns the Muslims had conveyed to the president, Oloyede mentioned the composition of delegates for the ongoing National Conference.