No room for national conference, says Presidency

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The Presidency yesterday said there was no basis for the convocation of national conference in the country.

It urged the pro-conference agitators to approach the National Assembly with their request for the resolution of the national question.

Presidential Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Mallam Garba Shehu advised the crusaders to understand the roles of the parliament in democracy.

In his view, there is no agenda at the national conference that cannot be discussed by the parliament that is made up of elected representatives of the people.

Shehu spoke on the achievements of the Buhari administration at an interactive session organised by the All Progressives Congress (APC) Professional Forum at the party’s national secretariat in Abuja.

Declaring the session open, the Chairman of APC Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni accused opposition parties of playing politics with Buhari’s achievements.

Buni, represented by the Secretary of the Caretaker Committee, Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, said: “They want to downgrade the government. There have not seen a government like this in the history of this nation. And I am not playing politics. Show me any government that has done much than President Buhari that has a direct link with the masses?”

Some pan-ethnic nationality groups have been calling for the convocation of a national conference or the implementation of the reports of previous conferences as the baseline for peaceful co-existence in the heterogeneous country.

To Afenifere, the decision to foreclose another conference underscored President Buhari’s lack of commitment to national unity.

A chieftain of APC, Chekwas Okorie, said the position of the president is not new, adding that it is not wise to organise another expensive conference at a time the economy is wobbling.

Shehu alleged that those spearheading the calls for a national conference and secession were people incapable of winning elections.

He said the president would not be intimidated by calls for seccession, adding that the country would remain united.

Urging pro-conference agitators to take their case to the National Assembly, he said the on-going constitution amendment is a veritable opportunity.

Shehu said:”What National Conference do more than a parliament? Anyone who is a democrat in heart, in practice and in their belief, they should believe in the tripartite structure of government.

“We have an elected parliament, which mandate is to be the custodian of the sovereignty of the Nigerian people.

“Look, a lot of these people crying for this secession or national conference, they are unelectable. If you think you are electable, go and contest for a seat, either in the House of Representatives or Senate, and come and table an amendment to the constitution.

“The process is ongoing as we speak now under the Deputy Senate President(Ovie Omo-Agege). They are calling for Memoranda, why ’t you present what you want? So, the issue is that people who are not democrats want a parallel parliament to be set up and the 1999 Constitution does not recognise two parliaments in this country.”

He added: “If the member representing you has failed to present this request that you want, whether it is a change of structure at state, local government or national level, pull him out four years after; don’t vote for him. Put another representative who will do what you want. This is how democracy works; there are periodic elections.”

The presidential aide maintaind that President Buhari would not be intimidated, saying: “You ’t intimidate Buhari. You can’t bully him. A lot of these people who are calling for secession are the problem of this country, I am happy that reasonable voices are now rising.”

Shehu noted that Afenifere, Ohanaze Ndigbo and other socio-cultural groups have spoken against secession, adding that Southsouth governors have also disowned secessionist agitators.

He blamed the spate of kidnappings and banditry in the country on bad eggs in communities who revealed military secrets to bandits.

He recalled how a tea seller in a particular state always revealed the movement of military to whenever they moved their aircraft to attack.

Shehu said: “The sponsors of hired him, built a house for him, bought him a Golf car and gave him money to do bigger tea business.

“Each time an aircraft took off from Katsina Airport to go and operate in Zamfara, he will call them on phone and say they are coming, by the time they get there, the target have disappeared,” he said.

Shehu said all hands should be on deck to rid communities of such informants.

On the current unrest in the Southeast, Shehu said though criminals were fighting to gain upper hand, no criminal or terrorist was bigger than the country.

“None of them is mightier than our armed forces, this structure has been there, they were certificated and praised, they stabilised the entire West Africa region,” he said.

He noted the role the Nigeria military played in ensuring peace and stability in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Gambia, saying they stood out.

He added that all the military needed to combat terrorism and banditry in the country with the support and prayers from Nigerians.

He further noted that Boko Haram was no longer fighting for Islamic Caliphate, but for food and weapons, which they want to replenish and money, adding that they had turned to armed robbers, attacking soft spots.

Shehu said the military was getting ready not only to stop Boko Haram from coming to the towns, but to stop them on their tracks in the forest.

Afenifere leader Chief Ayo Adebanjo yesterday said President Muhammadu Buhari’s reluctance to convoke a national conference is a disservice to national unity.

He said the President has never rekindled hope in unity in diversity by either shunning the report of the previous national confab or refusing to organise a conference.

Adebanjo, who spoke on phone, said that an attitude of indifference to national cohesion is peculiar to President Buhari.

He rejected the presidential admonition to pro-federalism crusaders that they should approach the National Assembly for the resolution of the national question.

Adebanjo said: “I am not surprised. That shows how sincere he is about keeping Nigeria together. He wants to keep the unitary constitution intact.

“The National Assembly is a product of the fraudulent 1999 Constitution. He is the number one enemy of for refusing to restructure the country to foster federalism.

“He is insincere and dishonest to ask us to go to the National Assembly, which is a product of a constitution imposed by the military. He is not interested in national cohesion.”

Okorie said President Buhari has not said anything new “because that has been his posture since he came into office”.

Okorie, who was the founding National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) recalled that the clamour for a national conference began when he came into office in 2015 and “he had always maintained that he was not going to consider the recommendations of the 2014 conference organized by former President Goodluck Jonathan”.

He said there is no doubt that the country requires some sort of restructuring and that since that is the president’s position, Nigerians would have to shift their focus to the National Assembly to get the country restructured.

Okorie added: “Government is a continuum if the National Assembly fails to make any move, it is likely to be a major issue during the campaign for2023 general elections. Personally, knowing the disposition of the president, I have turned my attention to the National Assembly long before now.

“Besides, I don’t think Nigeria afford to organize another national conference now, given the parlous state of the economy. To organize another national conference will cost another N7 billion, if the figure bandied in 2014 is anything to go by.

Considering the depreciation of the naira, it may cost as much as N21 billion to organize the same conference today. Who would want to spend that kind of money, considering the state of the economy? If Buhari had given that as a reason for not wanting to organize the conference, many Nigerians would have been more sympathetic.

“But, saying he would not organize a national conference is consistent with his previous positions; it doesn’t change anything. I would have been surprised if he said he would go ahead and organize the conference within the next two years. Those who are aspiring to lead us in 2023 may have to consider that as a cardinal programme.”