President Goodluck Jonathan’s Inauguration the National Conference
I am delighted to welcome you all to the inauguration of this historic National Conference which promises to be another significant landmark in our efforts to strengthen national unity and consolidate democratic governance in our beloved country.
I also believe that this 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.
It was with this objective in mind that we set up the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) on the National Conference in October last year and charged its members with the responsibility of designing the framework and modalities for a productive National Conference.
The Committee which submitted its Report in December, 2013, was able to reach out to all Nigerians and various interest groups, socio-political groupings, regional and religious elements, professionals, civil society, the organised private sector, labour, youth, women and others to ascertain their views on the initiative. The Presidential Advisory Committee established that there was indeed, a national consensus for this Conference to be convened immediately, to meet the yearnings and aspirations of our people.
The National Conference is therefore being convened to engage in intense introspection about the political and socio-economic challenges confronting our nation and to chart the best and most acceptable way for the resolution of such challenges in the collective interest of all the constituent parts of our fatherland.
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. 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 synthesize 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.
Over the years, well-meaning Nigerians have drawn attention to inadequacies in our current constitution. Some have described it as a military-inspired document which does not take into full consideration the genuine desires and wishes of the people. The phrase in the preamble that says “we, the people,” has been variously criticised as being misleading because, according to the critics, the constitution was not written by the people. There are also those who believe that the constitution is not our problem but the political will to faithfully implement it for the peace and progress of Nigeria. While opinions on the matter can be as diverse as rain showers, I believe that irrespective of our personal views on the issue, no one can deny the fact that every constitution is a living document that needs to be revised and improved upon from time to time. The United States, which is the model democracy in the eyes of many, has amended its constitution 27 times since it was first adopted in 1787.
Some of our compatriots also believe that because we have held several conferences in the past, we do not need to hold another one. I do not share that view at all. A deeper look will reveal that the challenges we faced before each of the preceding national conferences were different. The challenges of 1956 are certainly not the challenges of 2014, and definitely not the challenges that the nation will face in years to come. It makes sense, therefore, that as the challenges before us evolve, we must be constant and proactive in our search for fresh solutions. We cannot continue to proffer yesterday’s solutions for today’s problems.
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