Former President Goodluck Jonathan has explained that he fell short of implementing the 2014 recommendations of the National Conference because he was confident of winning the 2015 general elections.
He also highlighted that part of the impediment to implementing the report was due to the gale of defections that hit his party at that time, as well as the length of time it would take to implement the report.
Jonathan was speaking at the launch of a book entitled: “The National Conversation” written by Mr James Akpandem and Mr Sam Akpe a book which dealt with the intrigues that shaped the 2014 National Conference as well as the inside story of the conference.
The ex-President noted that those knowledgeable about the processes of constitutional reforms would know that to implement the Confab report, a number of alterations would be made in the constitution which would require the involvement of the National Assembly and State assemblies.
Jonathan who was represented by former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, said such an elaborate review couldn’t have been possible at that time because the report submitted in August 2014, at a time when the country was 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.
He stated that the then Senate President Senator Bukola Saraki with some senators had moved out of the PDP.
“The statistics showed that a reasonable part of the two chambers were anti-government at that 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,” he said.
He said when he contested the 2015 elections, expected to win a second term within which period he would have worked on 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.
“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 stated.
He lamented that one of the problems of the country was that the nation plays 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 as a show of concern and demonstration of goodwill of his administration was his charge to the conference which he urged them 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 percent 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 that the conference tried to mend fences and create a common focus for the country.
As the chairman of this event, Jonathan said it would be a missed opportunity if he did not use the unique opportunity to address the issue.
“Whenever people say that I should 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.
He further said there was no doubt that a conference of that nature would continue to generate interest and debates among people approaching the discourse from the viewpoints of their beliefs, sectional sentiments, political orientation, and ideological persuasion.
He wondered why comments, appraisal, and controversy have continued, many years after the conference.
“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 said.
He noted that his 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. 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 said.
He commended Akpandem and Sam for the great idea of documenting the experience of the 2014 National Conference, including the intrigues, scheming, interests, and the side attractions that formed part of the activities that produced the beautiful document we have as the report of the Conference.
He also prayed for the repose of the soul of Justice Idris Kutigi, chairman of the Conference, who died in 2018.
However, he said the vice chairman Professor Bolaji Akinyemi and other members who are still alive can 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 me nor what my administration stood to gain from it at that 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.
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 this administration, it is pertinent to convene a dialogue of the ethno-political association of the country.
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.