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Nwabueze quits as national conference row grows

By The Rainbow
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There will be no restriction on issues that the proposed national conference will discuss, the government said yesterday as Prof Ben Nwabueze (SAN), a key personality appointed into the 13-member Planning Committee, pulled out.

Opinions have been divided on the conference since President Goodluck Jonathan in his October 1 anniversary broadcast announced his intention to convoke it.

The Senator Femi Okurounmu-led committee is due for inauguration by Dr. Jonathan today.

Members of the committee are: Dr. Akilu Ndabawa (secretary) Prof. George Obiozor, Sen. Khairat Gwadabe, Sen. Timothy Adudu, Col. Tony Nyiam, Prof. Funke Adebayo, Dr. Mairo Ahmed Amshi, Dr. Abubakar Sadiq, Alhaji Dauda Birma, Mallam Bello Bukhari and Mr. Tony Uranta.

Nwabueze, the octogenarian leader of The Patriots, a group of elder statesmen who have been canvassing the convocation of a sovereign national conference, said he was quitting the planning team on health grounds. But he hailed the presidential move as a bold step.

Nwabueze urged the President to replace him with another member of The Patriots, Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN).

In his letter to President Jonathan on behalf of The Patriots, Nwabueze, said : ''The Patriots' regard this development as epochal and re-affirms the support, which we conveyed to you on the occasion of our visit on August 29. It is our fervent hope that nothing would be allowed to stand in the way during the preparation for and execution of the national conference that would finally bring every Nigerian into the mainstream of governance.'

In another personal letter to the President, Nwabueze said: 'I am presently in London and may be away from Nigeria for some time. I will be glad, if I could be replaced in the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue/Conference by Mr. Solomon Asemota (SAN), who is a member of 'The Patriots'.'

On his return from medical vacation abroad at the weekend, a national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, described the planned conference as 'a Greek gift', which should be avoided.

He said the conference was diversionary, adding: 'I see diversion here. I see deception here. I see lack of honesty and integrity here. Nigerians are being deceived.'

Also yesterday, Jigawa State Governor Sule Lamido said the conference 'is illegal', adding that his state will not participate in it.

Lamido, speaking in Dutse, the state capital, said there was no constitutional backing for the conference.

According to him, it will be a flagrant abuse of democratic institutions. He said his administration would not be party to it and no delegate from Jigawa will attend.

Lamido said: 'The only solution to the country's problems is good governance and leaders should abide by due process, rule of law and ethics of leadership.'

'This proposal is a flagrant abuse of democracy. We have the Senate and the House of Representatives that are legally and democratically elected to represent constituencies to discuss national issues.'

On how delegates will be selected, he asked: 'Are you going to ask (Attahiru) Jega (the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman) to organise elections for those that would participate in the dialogue, which I am sure he would not accept or are you going to select them through nomination to go and take over the responsibility of elected ones?

'So the idea for the dialogue lacks formula in our democratic society and embarking on such worthless venture is not ideal.'

But presidential spokesman Reuben Abati was quoted yesterday by the Voice of America (VOA) as describing critics of the conference as doing so 'for selfish political reasons'.

'The naysayers are just individual trouble makers who are opposing it for selfish political reasons. Because these same isolated individuals are persons who in the past have demanded an exercise of this nature, who have said this is important for Nigeria to move forward.

'But now that they have been confronted with it, and they have seen the administration is committed to really having that dialogue and giving them the opportunity to ventilate their own opinion, they are now trying to play politics just to be seen to be contrarian as a habit.'

Abati added: 'What is different is the commitment of the government of the day, the political will to make a difference and this administration is not going to define no-go areas for the conference.

'This is a problem solving unity forging exercise, and it is not surprising that the proposal has received the support of Nigerians across the various ethnic nationalities, and across socio-political organisations, who have said that indeed a dialogue is necessary.'

According to Abati, the mandate of the conference is to 'work out the modalities, the form, the structure, the nomenclature, the agenda for the dialogue or conference'. 'Part of the function is also advising government on the legal proceeding that may be necessary, the constitutional action that may follow the outcome of the dialogue,' he said.

Abati said the conference would address 'those issues that continue to cause friction within the Nigerian society, issues that were left unresolved by previous conferences of this nature'.