Former President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday opened up on why he could not implement the recommendations of the 2014 conference report, saying he procrastinated because he was confident of winning the 2015 general election.
He also listed some of the impediment to implementing the report to include the gale of defections that hit his administration, the political environment at the time, as well as the length of time it would take to implement the report of the conference.
Jonathan disclosed this during a book presentation in Abuja titled “The National Conversation” written by Akpandem James and Sam Akpe.
He noted that those knowledgeable about the processes of constitutional reforms would know that to implement the confab report, a number of alterations will be made in the constitution which would require the involvement of the National Assembly and state assemblies.
The former president who was represented by former Senate president and presidential aspirant, Anyim Pius Anyim, said such an elaborate review couldn’t have been possible at that time because by the time the report was submitted in August 2014, the country were already on the verge of a general election.
“It is also important to point out that at that time, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who was a member of my party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), had already moved out, with some members, to the opposition party,” he said.
LEADERSHIP reports that even in the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki then with some Senators had moved out of the PDP.
The statistics show that a reasonable part of the two chambers was anti-government at the time.
The former president said, “Understanding that the parliament is under that kind of situation, it would have been imprudent on my part to take such a precious document, which he considered crucial to the nation’s development yearnings, to a parliament that would not give it due consideration.
“If we had a task that would require the alteration of the constitution, enactment of new laws, and amendment of some existing ones, there was no way that could have been done overnight.
“We were also fully aware that for the segments of our population that were already suspicious of all the actions of government, our intentions could have been misread, especially against the backdrop of the ECOWAS protocol on constitutional reforms which states that no substantial modification shall be made to the electoral laws of the member states in the last six months before elections.”
Jonathan said when he contested the 2015 elections, he expected that he would win a second term within which period he would have worked on the implementation of the confab report.
He stated: “I felt that within the next four-year mandate, my first two years would have been dedicated to implementing a reasonable part of the recommendations.
“If we take politics out of our national calculations, we would all agree that with a fresh government it would have been easier to achieve the implementation of the report.”
He regretted that one of the problems of the country was that Nigerians play politics with things that have very much to do with the national interest.
“We play politics with our security. We play politics with our economy. We play politics with almost everything. That, definitely, is not the way to go, if we must make progress in realising our national aspirations and goals,” he said.
The former president said a show of concern and demonstration of goodwill of his administration was his charge to the conference, urging the conferees to discuss matters comprehensively and exhaustively before agreeing on a common point.
He said he implored the members not to rely on a simple majority if they must vote on any issue, but on a convincing approval by no less than 75 per cent of the members, before passing any decision.
He said he was happy that most of the resolutions reached were not through voting but by overwhelming consensus.
He explained that it showed the conference tried to mend fences and create a common focus for the country.
As the chairman of the event, Jonathan said it would be remiss in his duties if he did not use the unique opportunity to address the issue which some people continue to raise on the implementation of the confab report.
“Whenever people say that I should have implemented its recommendations, my feeling is either those people did not understand the political environment at that time, the length of time it would take to implement the report of a conference like that or probably were just playing politics with such an important matter,” he said.
Speaking further, he said there is no doubt that a conference of that nature will continue to generate interest and debates with people approaching the discourse from the viewpoints of their beliefs, sectional sentiments, political orientation, and ideological persuasion.
He noted that the comments, appraisal, and controversy have continued, many years after the conference.
The former Nigerian leader stated: “One of the questions that has been variously asked has to do with why my administration did not implement the recommendations of the conference before leaving office.
“Although I had offered reasons for this on many occasions and even addressed it in my book, ‘My Transition Hours’, the concern has continued to recur. However, since this is the first major public event on the 2014 Confab after I left office, I feel obliged to offer further explanations on my thoughts on the conference.
“The essence of the 2014 Confab was to encourage a healthy conversation among the populace, address the queries agitating the mind of Nigerians and mend fences, where possible. At that time, it was obvious that the ethnic nationalities were singing discordant tunes about the state of the nation and the future of the country.
“The widening fault lines posed a clear threat to the stability and existence of our dear nation.
“In responding to the yearnings of the people, my administration inaugurated the conference to provide the opportunity for Nigerians to discuss their issues and agree on the way forward.”
He noted that his message to the conference was very clear, that they could discuss everything, save for the sovereignty of the country.
“I believe, like most Nigerians, that we are better off as one united country. The ethnic diversity and population of our great country can be deployed to enhance our economic development and our relevance in the global scheme of things.
“On the contrary, the disintegration into smaller fragments will diminish the status of our people and their standing in the world,” he noted.
He commended Akpandem and Sam for this great idea of documenting the experience of the 2014 National Conference, including the intrigues, schemings, interests, and the side attractions that formed part of the activities that produced the beautiful document we have as the report of the Conference.
“I believe that such a historic event would continue to attract the attention of writers and historians, as a way of documenting and preserving all that went down, for the future generation,” he said.
He also prayed for the repose of the soul of Justice Idris Kutigi, chairman of the Conference, who died in 2018.
He however said the vice chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, and other members who are still alive could testify that he never interfered with any decision of the conference.
“I can recall a particular incident when the chairman and his vice approached me for my guidance on a pressing matter before them, but I bluntly told them to figure it out themselves.
“I reminded them that, apart from the representatives of the youths, human rights, and student groups, most of the members of the conference, up to 60 per cent of them, were older and even more experienced than myself. I encouraged them to deploy their vast experience to execute the assignment without interference,” he said.
He also implored Nigerians to realise that the 2014 conference was neither about him nor what his administration stood to gain from it at the time.
“It was all for the good of our country, our children and our grandchildren. I plead with Nigerians not to play politics with the 2014 Conference report. I believe that at the appropriate time, the country through a dedicated parliament will do the right thing. And the right thing is to duly and dispassionately consider the report of the conference with a view to implementing the recommendations for the good of the country,” he stated.
On his part, a former senior special adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, said the 2014 confab report was becoming more potent than it was in 2014.
Enang said even if it remains two or three months to the end of the Buhari administration, it is pertinent to convey a dialogue of the ethnopolitical association of the country.
“After discussing with PANDEF, Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze NdIgbo, the Northern Elders Forum and I raised the issue to the highest authority that it’s extremely necessary because of the challenges of security and insecurity, because of the divergent voices, because of the way everybody is saying let’s go our way, because of the blood that is waste everywhere that we should convey a meeting with the elite of ethnic political association,” he said.
He stressed the need to call the leaders of PANDEF, Ohanaeze, Arewa, and others to talk about the unity and the existence of this country.
“I specifically make a recommendation in that memo that they should take up the 2014 Conference Report and examine the issues that are becoming more urgent for us to examine if we would be able to bring down the tension in the country.
“That memo was forwarded to the highest authority to the minister of Special Duty, Senator George Akume. I had several meetings with him. He agreed with the urgency but he is yet to do anything about it.
“So, I want to say that it is necessary, especially now that the issue on the national conversation on the 2014 Conference is still on that we reexamine some certain issues of the 2014 dialogue which the recommendations are still germane,” Enang said.
The book launched yesterday highlights the interests and intrigues that shaped the 2014 National Conference as well as the inside story of the conference.