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Senate President backs national conference

By The Rainbow

President of the Senate, David Mark, on Tuesday weighed in heavily on the side of those canvassing for a national conference, saying it had become imperative to discuss immanent  discontent in the polity.

According to him, the country can no longer  continue to shy away from discussing national issues in view of the discontent in the polity and present global realities.

Speaking while welcoming senators from their seven-week annual vacation, Mark said every matter about the union of ethnic groups that made up the country should be opened to discussion.

He, however, such a discussion should be guided by a proviso that the dismemberment of the country should be a no-go area.

Mark said, 'We live in very precarious times, and in a world increasingly made fluid and toxic by strange ideologies and violent tendencies, all of which presently conspire to question the very idea of the nation state.

'But that is not to say that the nation should, like the proverbial ostrich, continue to bury its head in the sand and refuse to confront the perceived or alleged structural distortions which have bred discontentment and alienation in some quarters.

'This sense of discontentment and alienation has fueled extremism, apathy and even predictions of catastrophe for our dear nation.

'A conference of Nigeria's ethnic nationalities, called to foster frank and open discussions of the national question, can certainly find accommodation in the extant provisions of the 1999 Constitution which guarantee freedom of expression, and of association.

'It is welcome. Nonetheless, the idea of a National Conference is not without inherent and fundamental difficulties. Problems of its structure and composition will stretch the letters and spirit of the Constitution and severely task the ingenuity of our constitutionalists.'

The senate president however said that such a national conference should premised on existing governance structure.

In his view, giving sovereignty to an 'unpredictable mass' to determine the fate of the country 'will be too risky a gamble and may ultimately do great disservice to the idea of one Nigeria.'

'It would be unconstitutional to clothe such a conference with constituent or sovereign powers,' he added.

He said, 'Let me counsel that we make haste slowly, and operate strictly within the parameters of our Constitution as we discuss the national question.

'Be that as it may, such a conference, if and whenever convened should have only few red lines, chief among which would be the dismemberment of the country. Beyond that, every other question should be open to deliberations.

'The task of nation building requires patience, faith, scrupulous honesty, diligence, dedication, sacrifice, toil, labour, assiduous application and massive investments in our future. The heights attained by great nations were not made by sudden flights.

'Our people long for a country in which our tremendous potentials as a nation are transparently and equitably nurtured and realised; a country in which law reigns supreme, and is applied evenly and equally to all, high and low.

'For our constituents, there is no alternative to the democratic project. What they dread, and will never want, is a nation trammeled by impunity, brigandage, banditry, insurgency, rampant corruption, and misgovernance.

'These expectations perfectly dovetail into our core constitutional mandate of making laws for the good government of our federation, and all of its parts.'

Mark lamented that despite the fact that the 2015 general election was still two years away, some 'political jobbers, sycophants, and hustlers have prematurely seized the political space, and are being allowed to set the tone of national discourse.'

He described the development as an 'unnecessary and avoidable distraction by characters or hirelings who are desperately in search of relevance.'

He said those in the forefront of the crisis were only out to feather their own nests and in the process unduly overheat the polity.