Speech By President Jonathan While Receiving the 2014 National Conference Report
Mr Chairman, very distinguished delegates, it is with all gladness that I address you this day. After nearly five months endeavour to find the appropriate verb for the noun of our country within the syntax of human experience, you have brought to a grateful Nation, the report of the 2014 National Conference.
I want to congratulate the Chairman and his able team, the Delegates, all Nigerians and indeed everyone who has contributed one way or the other to the successful convocation and conclusion of the Conference.
I also congratulate the Presidential Advisory Committee which developed the framework for the Conference after travelling around the country. We cannot afford to take for granted the efforts and commitment that the delegates and the leaders put into the Conference to make it a success. The patriotic zeal was evident in the inputs of the delegates into the dialogue and how these have now formed the basis of the report.
On behalf of all Nigerians, let me thank you most sincerely for your hard work. Your tireless efforts aimed at coming up with recommendations to chart a path of peaceful coexistence, sustainable development, justice and progress as we march into our second centenary shall not be in vain.
To my mind, one of the main reasons for which the Conference was convoked was fully achieved: that is, to create a platform for a genuine and sincere dialogue among Nigerians. Even in moments when things seemed ready to boil over, it was evident that the Delegates were only disagreeing to agree.
It is now very clear that as Nigerians, we have devised a way of addressing and resolving our differences amicably: we dialogue and dialogue until we agree! This is most heart-warming indeed!
My dear brothers and sisters, I am not unmindful that there were delegates who were in this hall when I inaugurated this conference who today are not part of this closing event as the cold hands of death have snatched them. I pray that Almighty God will grant eternal repose to the souls of our departed patriots and protect all the families they have left behind. They would be proud of what you, their living colleagues, have done to end what we started together.
On the occasion of the 53rd Independence Anniversary of Nigeria last year, I made a promise to set a National Conversation in motion in order to advance the course of nation-building. The agitation had been there for a while and we could no longer ignore it or delay the process. I was motivated by a genuine desire to make our country a better place where we can build consensus in the evolution of a New Nigeria.
When I was inaugurating the Presidential Advisory Committee in December last year, I made it very clear to the committee that it was a sincere and fundamental undertaking, aimed at realistically examining and genuinely resolving, longstanding impediments to our cohesion and harmonious development as a truly united Nation.
At the inauguration of the National Conference in March, I told you the Delegates our expectations. I did say that I expected participants to patriotically articulate and synthesize our people’s thoughts, views and recommendations for a stronger, more united, peaceful and politically stable Nigeria.
I urged the participants to forge the broadest possible national consensus in the process. I also warned that we should not to be under any illusions about the task ahead because we would be confronted with complex and emotive issues.
I am very satisfied that the Delegates navigated these obstacles in a very mature manner. There were those who set out to input ulterior motives to our modest efforts at reshaping and strengthening the foundations of our nationhood to deliver better political cohesion and greater development agenda. The naysayers raised false alarms over some phantom hidden agenda and called to question our sincerity and did everything possible to derail this noble project.
The success of this conference has proved the cynics wrong in many respects. Those who dismissed the entire conference ab initio as a “diversion” have been proved wrong as what you achieved has contrary to their forecast diverted our country only from the wrong road to the right direction.
They said the conference would end in a deadlock as Nigeria had reached a point where the constituent parts could no longer agree on any issue. We exploded that myth by suggesting that you should arrive at your decisions by consensus or 75% majority threshold.
That was the first challenge you had at this conference when it appeared you were going to break up. There were suggestions that we should intervene as government to “save” the conference at that dicey moment but I insisted that beyond the inauguration we were not going to intrude into the conference in any manner. We kept our promise.
One of the many reasons for our non-interference is this: we have at the conference, 492 delegates and six conference officials who all in their individual rights are qualified to lead our great country and if they were unable to agree on how to take decisions, we would be in real trouble! Acknowledging the quality and patriotic content of the delegates, I was confident, the right thing will be done.
I understand, there were a few outstanding issues yet. That you did not agree on all issues shows the sincerity of the discourse. Nobody was at the Conference to be politically correct. People spoke passionately and argued strongly in favour of what they genuinely believed in. As a result, there were bound to be strong disagreements.
If everybody agreed on every issue, the debate would not only be lacking in quality and passion, it would also be said to have been stage-managed. What we should worry about now is not that there were disagreements in one or two items, but how to manage these disagreements such that nobody walks away feeling short-changed and bitter. It is a major challenge in nation-building as experienced by the biggest democracies in the world. You managed them well and came out tall, fellow citizens.
I must congratulate you! You not only worked out a compromise but you never had to divide the house to take over 600 resolutions which I understand you passed at this conference. You have indeed built a new architecture of negotiation based on trustful give-and-take that is going to be a permanent reference point in our national life.
There were many other moments of anxiety at the conference with avalanche of headlines about possible “walkouts” and “show-downs”. However with your sense of maturity and abiding presence of God who put this country together, what we have today is a walk-in and a show-up!
In my inauguration speech on March 17, 2014, I enjoined you as follows:
We need a new mind and a new spirit of oneness and national unity. The time has come to stop seeing Nigeria as a country of many groups and regions. We have been divinely brought together under one roof. We must begin to see ourselves as one community. We are joined together by similar hopes and dreams as well as similar problems and challenges. What affects one part of the community affects the other.’
I’m greatly delighted that you worked that out in practical terms by your patriotic demonstration of the truism that “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”.
The result of the conference has shown that we are not enemies, neither are we antagonists no matter our religion, region, state and tongue. This Conference has reinforced what I have always believed: that Nigeria is here for our collective good.
Mr Chairman, distinguished delegates, there is a wisdom saying that if two siblings went to the inner recess to dialogue and they are grinning from ear-to-ear when they are done, truth must have been in short supply in their discussions. However, no matter the bitter truth they shared behind closed doors, holding hands when they emerge and not disowning each other is the hallmark of blood being thicker than water.
This dialogue reflects the current issues in the light of the socio-political evolution of the world. I did say before that we cannot proffer yesterday’s solutions to today’s Nigeria’s problems. The challenges we faced at Independence or even at the beginning of this democratic experience in 1999 are not the same challenges we face today.
The discourse reflected our latest challenges. We shall send the relevant aspects of your recommendations to the Council of State and the National Assembly for incorporation into the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. On our part, we shall act on those aspects required of us in the Executive.
Let me reaffirm this: Nobody has a monopoly of knowledge. We who are in government need to feed from the thoughts of those who elected us into power. You have done your patriotic duty, we the elected, must now do ours.
As I receive the report of your painstaking deliberations, let me assure that your work is not going be a waste of time and resources. We shall do all we can to ensure the implementation of your recommendations which have come out of consensus and not by divisions.
In this regard I appeal to all arms of government and the people of Nigeria to be ready to play the different roles that the volumes of reports you have produced would assign to you. It is my hope that with what you have done, our country is on the right road to getting the job of nation building done.
The report of the National Conference, coming 100 years after the Amalgamation, promises to be a landmark in our history. I have always believed that dialogue is a better way of driving change in the community and I am happy that this dialogue has gone very well. With the far-reaching recommendations touching on several areas of our national life, I am convinced that this will be a major turning point for Nigeria.
We have gone through many challenges in our first centenary, now is the time to hit the track and take our proper lane for the race of progress. Our moment for national rebirth is here. We have to rekindle hope not only within our country but in the entire African continent where collectively our leadership is acknowledged.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, in every governance index, we are making progress. In 2009, our life expectancy was 47 years. It has now risen to 52. We were spending over a trillion naira importing food four years ago. It is now down to a little over six hundred billion naira and still falling! The size of our economy has grown.
We are improving on our infrastructure and now well on our way to self-sufficiency in energy security. We are focussing on education with a view to banishing illiteracy from our country. We have revived our railways and our airports are undergoing massive repositioning. Our sports men and women are now hungrier for laurels and we are recalibrating our security forces to meet the challenges of newer security threat that was brought to us!
Very distinguished delegates, this administration has made the sanctity of the ballot a cardinal focus. Our successes in polls in different states in recent past have shown we are making substantial progress in the direction of making the polls attractive to all categories of citizens in our land so that our best and brightest would not continue to shun the electoral process.
Our goal is that Nigeria must quickly arrive at the point where every vote is not only counted but counts. It is free, fair and credible elections that we crave.
Now is the time that we put behind us all the drawbacks that have inhibited us from fulfilling our manifest destiny and realizing our full potentials. We must steadily arrive at the juncture where strife, conflicts and mistrusts would become distant echoes of our past. We must make every inch of our country a space for joyous habitation. Our country must enter a new season of harmony, prosperity and happiness with justice abiding in every hamlet, community and our country. It is the dawn of a new day in Nigeria and the new nation is at the door accompanied by its great men and women, young and old.
All those who have predicted the disintegration of our country at the end of our first centenary would wish they chose another country when the possibilities of the new vision for Nigeria are actualised. In place of disintegration we shall have integration. In place of bitterness and spilling of blood, we shall have sweetness and healing in our land. Henceforth, our country shall become like a running water that approaches a rock, rather than stopping it takes a curve and flows on.
Mr Chairman, we arrived at this point with praise to God and gladness in our hearts. I once again congratulate you and your wonderful team and all of you the distinguished delegates, for the great job that you have done in these five months. I would like to implore you all to continue to make yourselves available for service to the nation as that is the hallmark of every patriot.
We are grateful! On this note, I hereby accept the report and declare the 2014 National Conference closed to the glory of our Almighty God.
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