Akin Akande, Abuja
President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday said contrary to belief in some quarters that his proposed National Dialogue was capable of disintegrating the country, the dialogue would help address critical issues in the polity.
While performing the inauguration of the National Dialogue Committee members at the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa, President Jonathan gave the committee, headed by Afenifere chieftain, Senator Femi Okurounmu, additional two weeks to the original one month within which to complete its task.
The President noted that the decision was meant to allow Muslims who are on pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia to participate in the work of the committee on their return.
The President equally told the committee members to decide the direction of the dialogue, adding that the recommendations of the committee should tell government the name of the dialogue or conference.
Said the President: “Today, we are taking historic and concrete steps that will further strengthen our understanding, expand the frontiers of our inclusiveness and deepen our bond as one people under God.
“This is a National Project, a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united nation”.
Jonathan admitted that he also had been reluctant to endorse a national dialogue because of the existence of democratic institutions, but, “as challenges emerge, season after season, leaders must respond with best available strategies to ensure that the ship of state remains undeterred in its voyage.
“Nations rise to the challenges that each epoch presents. It is imperative therefore, that in our march to nationhood, we have to be dynamic in our approach and response to the problems, even as we seek solutions to them. We cannot proffer yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems,” he stated.
The President revealed that his administration had benefited from the political reform conference of 2005 and the Belgore committee report of 2010 from which bills have been sent to the National Assembly.
“Clearly, every dialogue adds something valuable to our evolving nation. The urgency of a National Conversation in the present therefore, need not be over emphasized,” the President said.
“For me, there is no alternative to inclusivity, equity and justice in a modern democratic state. I will therefore like to allay the fears of those who think the Conference will call the integrity of Nigeria into question. This National Discourse will strengthen our union and address issues that are often on the front burner, and are too frequently ignored,” he explained.
According to the President: “We have wasted too much time and resources, bickering over sectional versions of what define reality. This is an open-ended luxury we can no longer afford.
“Let us move forward, with honest conviction and patriotic courage, to strengthen this Republic, and get it to work better and brighter, for all of us, to the glory of God,” he said further.
Jonathan, therefore, tasked the committee to consult widely before sitting down to develop the framework that will guide and guard the proceedings of the discussions.
His words: “In the task before you, no voice is too small and no opinion is irrelevant. Thus, the views of the sceptics and those of the enthusiasts must be accommodated as you formulate this all-important framework.
“This Conversation is a People’s Conversation and I urge you to formulate an all-inclusive process that protects the people’s interest”, he advised the committee members.
Responding on behalf of the committee members, Okurounmu assured Nigerians of a thorough accomplishment of the “sensitive” task ahead, especially given the expectations of the public.
He continued: “The President’s sincerity and commitment are further buttressed by the fact that he has not established any so called ‘no go’ areas for this committee, thus opening up for discourse, all aspects of our present constitution and national life.”
He pledged that the committee would not let the President down or fail the nation, stressing that “we shall not be another case of failed expectations. We shall not betray the confidence, which the president and over 160 million Nigerians, have reposed in us.
“It is our hope that at the conclusion of our assignment, and the national conference that will follow, even those who were once sceptical and critical of the idea of a national conference will have become persuaded of its merits and benefits to our nation,” he said.