From Fred Itua, Abuja
Former president, Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, opened up on the controversial 2014 report of the National Conference, which he convocated.
Jonathan spoke in Abuja at the public presentation of the book titled: “ The National Question”, authored by Akpandem James and Sam Akpe said the 1999 Constitution would have been amended by the National Assembly to reflect the recommendations made by the conference and that with elections around the corner in 2015, his intentions would have been misconstrued by a section of Nigerians.
The ex-president, represented at the event by former Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, also explained why he declined to give approval for its implementation, despite mounting pressure.
He partly blamed Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, who was then Speaker of the House of Representatives, as one of those who was opposed to restructuring and would have frustrated the move. He said with Tambuwal’s defection to the All Progressives Congress (APC) it would have been an exercise in futility.
He said he was optimistic that winning the 2015 election would afford him the opportunity of implementing the report of the confab, which sadly never happened.
“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…My message to the conference was very clear; that they could discuss everything, save for the sovereignty of our great country, Nigeria. I believe, like most Nigerians, that we are better off as one united country…
“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.
“Those knowledgeable about the processes of constitutional reforms will 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.
“Such elaborate review couldn’t have been possible at that time because by the time the report was submitted in August 2014, we 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. That meant that a reasonable part of the NASS were anti-government.
“When you know that your parliament is under that kind of situation, it would have been imprudent on my own part to take such a precious document, which I consider as crucial to our 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 member states in the last six months before elections.”
“When I contested the 2015 elections, my expectations was that I would win a second term within which period I would have worked for the implementation of the Confab report. 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.”
Jonathan commended Akpandem and Akpe, two Nigerian journalists, who participated in the conference, for documenting the experiences, including the intrigues, schemings, interests and the side attractions that formed part of the activities that produced its final document.
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From Fred Itua, Abuja