NUJ President in Calabar, Says Mark or Tambuwal Should Chair National Confab

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NUJ President addressing newsmen in Calabar
NUJ President addressing newsmen in Calabar

President, Nigeria Union of Journalists, Comrade Muhammed Garba was at the Ernest Etim Bassey Press Centre, Calabar recently to sensitize his members on his position on the proposed National Dialogue as announced by President Jonathan.

He took time out for an exclusive interview with some journalists who approached him on the proposed dialogue before addressing members of the Union.

Excerpts:

What is your position on the National Conference which President Jonathan announced and the inauguration of the committee?

I think the President has finally conceded to the agitation by quite a number of Nigerians on the need for us to have a forum where all contentious issues that are being raised can be discussed and I want to say that by so doing, the President has demonstrated that he listens to the yearning and aspirations by quite a number of Nigerians. And I know that the issue of national dialogue or national conference has been on for a while and I want to believe that this action is a welcomed development and our prayers and hope is that whatever would be the outcome of this dialogue I want to believe would be ratified by members of the National Assembly, because the National Assembly are the ones who have the mandate of Nigerians to discuss and ratify most of the issues that are raised by Nigerians.

Then secondly, the committee members should not conflict the constitutional responsibility of the members of National Assembly. That is very important. Therefore for this conference to succeed since the National Assembly would be the last alternative in terms of endorsement of whatever resolution, I think the President should consider the Senate President as the Chairman of the dialogue committee and probably the speaker of the House of Representatives as co chairman. Why I am proposing this is that because we are going back to them and if indeed they are members of all the deliberations including the resolution, it would be very easy for them to present it before the NASS and it can easily be ratified and I also want to believe that the constitutional amendment is still on-going. Since Mr. President has agreed to this dialogue it is also important for the NASS to plan in such a way that whatever is its resolution is adopted by and should be captured in the amended constitution before them. For that to happen I think all the processes that are involved in that amendment should either be suspended or it should pending on the resolution of the national dialogue committee. I also believe that the membership of the committee should be open. Everybody that has interest should either be given the opportunity to come and make presentations including the diaspora. Then the social media and all other media should be very active in terms of relating information, it is very necessary.

You were once quoted saying that Government should not finance the national dialogue why did you say this?

Honestly, it is my personal position and I believe people of like minds share this thought with me. I still maintain that government should not sponsor the National Dialogue in terms of accommodation, transportation and allowances like what we have had in the previous conferences. From reports available to us, people have started lobbying to be members of the committee and at the end of it all you realize that there is a lot of lack of jobs. It is not only limited to those who have left secondary school or university. There are quite a number of elites in Nigeria today that are jobless, so honestly from reports available to us , they are lobbying and for people to discuss sincerely they must be allowed to participate on their own. If it is going to be on regional basis, let the regions sponsor who they feel. They should shoulder the responsibility of accommodation, transportation and participation and if it on state basis, the states should also be able to do that. If it is on individual basis it should also be same for religious, ethnic, or whatever group should shoulder the responsibility of whatever that is necessary for participation for this conference. It is considering that based on the level of participation of this individuals and groups at personal level that we would be able to determine whether or not the sincerity of Nigerians on sitting down to discuss on this issues because if you have this plan and you still have quite a number of people coming out to participate, it means Nigerians are really sincere in this agitation. But in a situation where because government is not going to spend on it, people feel reluctant to make sacrifice, because whatever we are going to do is to make sacrifices, then you will realize that there is no level of sincerity and it should be a forum for us to discuss other issues.

The duration and timing of the program has also generated reactions from Nigerians…… Cut in

The lifespan of all the dialogue should not be more than one month. I said this because since the leadership of the National Assembly should be duly involved, it should not be more than one month. I don’t know if they should do public hearing according to geopolitical zones. I also think that they should centralize it and it should be live on the televisions and on social media. Papers sent should be published so it has to be very open and transparent. So the life span should not be more than one month so that the NASS should have the opportunity to go back and continue with the constitutional amendment and capture whatever resolutions that were adopted at the national dialogue.

Why do you think that Nigerians need to sit down and talk again when we have political structures in place?

Sadly if you look at the political structure, the executive has their own responsibility, the judiciary and legislatures have theirs according to the constitution as well as other structures of government. All the issues the national dialogue sets to address like the state police, revenue allocation, autonomy of this and that and others, I believe the political system is arranged in such a way that it can address these issues. So by going to dialogue, you can interpret it in such a way that probably the political system in the country has failed. It has completely failed and that is why we are doing this as an option.

Some Nigerians have are already saying that the National Dialogue has failed on arrival due to the attitude of politicians especially as the political space has already been charged?

I have said it severally that we should not allow politicians to hijack this national dialogue. This democracy, politicians are trying to derail us. We are now in 2013, we have virtually two years to 2015 and the tension has been very high. Government has eventually not been moving as fast as it should be. Quite a number of activities are not on ground. The activities of government are about strategizing on what to achieve in 2015 at the various level of government. So if we are not careful it would be very difficult for us to achieve meaningful programs and projects of government between now and 2015. And then the level of desperation by politicians is of great concern to us. It is not good for our democracy which we have fought seriously to achieve. We must check the excesses of the politicians through our constitutional means as members of the fourth estate.

Do you subscribe to the notion that politics and economy should not be discussed?

Those are two critical issues that must be tabled .If politics and economy are not discussed then what should be discussed? Look when it comes to the issue of leadership, Nigerians don’t really care who is the President or Governor. What matters to us ordinary Nigerians is who will give us food to eat, shelter, health and light to do our small job. That is what matters to us. It does not matter whether you are from the south or you are from the north. Therefore I want to caution politicians, if you look at political parties in Nigeria there is none with an ideological inclination. The content of the political parties are the same. What matters is who will enhance the lives of Nigeria. We have to look at our economy. The level of poverty in Nigeria is very high. The disparity between rich and poor is becoming wider. That is why we have increasing cases of insurgents and security problems in Nigeria. And even from all indications the security agencies have no alternative to the problems otherwise from the time the insurgents started till now, we would have addressed the issue. We have to do something about it and the only way we can do that is by improving the lives of Nigerians, employment for youths, infrastructural development amongst others.

What advise will you give to the media as an unbiased and non-partisan organ in covering the National Conference?

As far as this dialogue is concerned, the media has to be very neutral. We have to be guided by the ethics of our profession because both the polity and those who are going to be part of this dialogue will rely on the media. Therefore the media has the constitutional authority of holding government accountable to the people to ensure that whatever is projected, whatever decision is carried or adopted in the course of dialogue is properly reported without being biased. It is only by so doing that Nigerians would accept our responsibility. So I think the media has a critical role to play in the success of this dialogue.

Some people said the conference is a Greek gift and diversionary, what is your take on this?

Don’t forget that people have agitated for this and called for it severally and if you trace the history of people who have been agitating because of the increasing cases of contentious issues raises, these are issues that have been on for a while and I want to believe that for the President to have conceded and said ok let’s do it, of course it is welcomed. Those talking of sovereign national conference, it is not possible because if you are talking of a sovereign national conference, the whole polity has to be dissolved and that is not acceptable to me as a person, because this is a democracy we have fought very hard to achieve so it has to be either a national conference or dialogue as the President has called it. So I want to believe that it is nothing to do with whether is Greek gift or diversionary. Some also say it is not timely because it is close to election but whatever it is it depends on how you are able to arrange and plan and like I said it should not be more than one month.

Do you think President and National Assembly will Accept if Nigerians Resolved to Divide?

Nobody is praying that Nigeria should disintegrate but if at the end of it all that was the resolution and it was adopted, we should be able to leave in a peaceful atmosphere as neighbors because even if Nigeria divides today we are going to be neighbors. We have to be peaceful and relate. We have inter married and are sharing lots of things in common. So if at the end of it all that is what is arrived at, which I don’t subscribe to, we have to ensure that it is in a matured and peaceful atmosphere so we can continue to relate. These are some of the critical issues I believe people should understand.

Should there be no go areas in the dialogue?

I believe there should not be no go areas and I’m happy the President has said it during the inauguration of the committee. All issues should be discussed. Everybody that participate should be allowed to say anything in his/her mind and there should not be restrictions

You were also quoted as being afraid for our political environment as it is presently because it may be a threat to our democracy, are you supposing that there may be some kind of military intervention?

The worst democracy is better than the best of military rule, my assertion on that is that considering the role the media towards the sustenance of this democracy we are not doing well as expected. So I can’t predict military intervention because all over the world, it is old fashioned. If the military should intervene in Nigeria I want to assure that it would not be accepted. We are going through a very difficult moment. Military intervention is not the solution because the military were part of the problems we have in Nigeria today, because if the military had done very well, we would not be talking about decayed infrastructure, power and so on. The military had every opportunity to ensure that we had very good infrastructure, especially critical ones, and they were unable to do much for Nigerians and if you look at the level of development recorded since 1999 when we had this democracy to date it is far better than the number of years that we had military dictatorship. In the military even when you look at the aspect of the press in this democracy the press has freedom, whereas it was not so in the military. I am not thinking the military would come because of our inability to have good governance in Nigeria.

Do you think the President would be sincere in accepting the recommendations of the committee and what do you think about Nwabueze’s withdrawal?

It is very difficult for me at this material time to determine whether Mr. President is sincere in forming this committee or not and whether he is going to be sincere in probably adopting the recommendations of this committee because as I said the call for the dialogue has been on for a while. The timing that so many people have questioned that its very close to election and what have you, those are issues but I believe that if you analyze the number of Nigerians especially coming from the civil societies and the critics who have been agitating for the conference, if you consider such agitation I would say the President has done the right thing as far as I am concerned. Because he has heeded to the cries of Nigerians which is expected of a leader. In terms of sincerity of adoption of resolutions, I don’t think Mr. President as an individual of this country has the constitutional right to accept or reject such National Resolutions. Whatever it is, it has to go to the National Assembly. He has no constitutional power to adopt as the President. Most of the issues have to be ratified and endorsed by the National Assembly. On Nwabueze, my thinking is that before people are appointed into such committee, it would be really ideal that they are consulted and if eventually they are not consulted and their names are mentioned as we have seen in the amnesty committee where people withdrew. I believe the membership of the committee is credible from the chairman of the committee to all the members, but Professor Nwabueze had cited health grounds for his rejection which still bother on consultation as i said earlier because if he had been consulted, they would have known his condition.

We have had similar dialogues like this in the past under Babangida and Abacha. Why do you think this one would be different?

Of course my approach to that is that we should always be optimistic. We have had so many conferences that would enhance Nigeria as a nation but in most of the cases, it is the issue of implementation that is the problem. I quite agree with you, but we should remain optimistic. The main problem of Nigeria is implementation. I would not blame those who are pessimistic about this issue as it is because they believe it is going to be the same, but like I said let us give the benefit of doubt. Let us be optimistic and let us come out and work and ensure the success of this dialogue. The media does not do follow up in most cases. This time I think the media must do a lot of follow up.

Thank you Mr. President.

Thank you too. It’s my pleasure

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