President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday declared that he has no personal agenda for the National Conference—contrary to a popular view.
The President also said that the convocation of a National Conference became necessary to avail Nigerians the opportunity of charting a way forward for the country.
Dr. Jonathan added that the National Conference was being convened to engage in intense introspection about the political and socio-economic challenges confronting Nigeria.
He said that the conference was also to chart the best and most acceptable way for the resolution of such challenges in the collective interest of all the constituent parts of the country.
Jonathan spoke while inaugurating the 2014 National Conference in Abuja.
National Conference, he said, is a very important avenue for the voices of Nigerians to be heard and an avenue to address the yearnings and desires of Nigerians that needed to be discussed.
He noted that delegates at the conference are neither usurping the role of the National Assembly nor the Executive, but rather complementing the efforts of the two arms of government in their march towards a greater and stronger union.
“Let me repeat what I have been saying that Goodluck Jonathan has no personal agenda in convening this national conference. Dear Compatriots, my administration is convening this National Conference today because we believe that we must assume responsibility for ensuring that the long-running national debate on the best way forward for our country is not in vain.
“It is our expectation that participants in this conference will patriotically articulate and synthesise our peoples’ thoughts, views and recommendations for a stronger, more united, peaceful and politically stable Nigeria, forge the broadest possible national consensus in support of those recommendations, and strive to ensure that they are given the legal and constitutional backing to shape the present and the future of our beloved fatherland.
“In inaugurating this national conference today, we are not unmindful of the argument of those who say that we do not need such a conference since we already have an elected Parliament and an elected Government in place.
“As cogent as that argument may sound, I have chosen to act on the sincere conviction that in the truly democratic nation we are striving to build, we must never ignore the loudly expressed views of the majority of ordinary Nigerians.
“I have heard that majority say, that we need to rebuild trust by involving them in the process of developing a guiding document of our national political relationships, which is more acceptable to all sections of the country. I have heard our people say that we need to openly and frankly discuss our problems and seek acceptable solutions instead of allowing them to fester and remain sources of perennial conflict.
“I have also heard them say that, as the elected representatives of our people, we must never arrogate to ourselves all knowledge and wisdom regarding the development of our country.
“And I am in full agreement with our people. The power we hold is, without question, in trust for the people. Sovereignty belongs to the people. Their voices must be heard and factored into every decision we take on their behalf.
“This National Conference is a very important avenue for the voices of our people to be heard. Our people have yearnings and desires that need to be discussed. Their representatives at this conference are neither usurping the role of the National Assembly nor the Executive. They are complementing us in our march towards a greater and stronger union.
“This coming together under one roof to confer and build a fresh national consensus for the amicable resolution of issues that still cause friction amongst our people must be seen as an essential part of the process of building a more united, stronger and progressive nation.
“We cannot continue to fold our arms and assume that things will straighten themselves out in due course, instead of taking practical steps to overcome impediments on our path to true nationhood, rapid development and national prosperity.
“For many years we have discussed and argued over various issues concerning our national existence and well-being.
“Much of this national discourse has been conducted through the mass media, both print and electronic. More recently, the advent of the age of ICT and social media has greatly enlarged the space for the discussion of our country’s future.
“Many more young and articulate Nigerians who previously had little access to the traditional mass media have now joined the conversation, motivated by patriotic concern for good governance, peace, stability, justice, equity, fairness and the harmonious co-existence of the diverse groups that make up our great nation.”
Describing the inauguration of National Conference as historic which promises to be another significant landmark in the country’s efforts to strengthen national unity and consolidate democratic governance in the country, Jonathan said that he also believed that the National Conference is coming at a very appropriate time.
“Having just celebrated the first centenary of our country, the most compelling task before us, as we move ahead and contemplate what our nation will be at the end of its second century, is to lay a much stronger foundation for faster development.
“This we can achieve by building a more inclusive national consensus on the structure and guiding principles of state that will guarantee our emergence as a more united, progressive and prosperous nation.
“In our history as a political entity, we have experienced highs and lows but have always forged ahead. To my mind, the fact that we have weathered all storms and continued with the mission of evolving a truly national identity signifies that we are going in the right direction.
“The strongest nations in the world today also went through their own formative stages; some for decades and others for centuries. We must learn from them that nationhood will not happen overnight, especially given the circumstances of our birth as a nation.
“History also teaches that nation-building is a journey of dedication, commitment, diligence, perseverance and patriotic vision. To be successful, nation-builders must continually strive to evolve better and more inclusive societies in which every citizen is a proud and committed stakeholder.
Jonathan also thanked the National Assembly for introducing the provision for a referendum in the proposed amendment to the Constitution.
The introduction, he said, should be relevant for the Conference if at the end of the deliberations the need for a referendum arises.
He urged the National Assembly and the Houses of Assembly to speed up the constitutional amendment process especially with regard to referendum.
Jonathan is confident that “we are embarking on a landmark journey that will make us stronger as a nation, if we undertake it with all sense of purpose and sincerity”.
“Let us do that which is selfless, purposeful and patriotic so that history will remember us for having served our nation well,” he said.
Jonathan urged all officials and participants in the national conference to work extra hard to ensure that their deliberations are completed on schedule, well ahead of the schedule of events for the next general elections already announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Chairman of the Conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, who spoke on behalf of delegates, described the inauguration of the National Conference as historic.
Kutigi who commended Jonathan for initiating the conference noted that the talk shop is part of the country’s strive for equitable nation.
He said that the caliber of delegates attests the importance of the conference. “Today is an important day in the history of Nigeria. This is part of our drive for equitable nation.”