Deliberations on the speech by President Goodluck Jonathan as a road-map for the on-going National Conference continued on Monday with delegates dwelling on hair-raising issues that were either controversial or of national significance.
For instance, a delegate on the platform of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Alhaji Nurudeen Lemu, pulled the hall to its feet in a standing ovation (which was a breach of the Conference Standing Rules) when he combined sound logic and eloquence to deliver a message that touched the need for religious harmony in Nigeria.
Lemu told the delegates that God Almighty is neither a religious nor ethnic bigot and that the problem with Nigerians is that both Muslims and Christians always over-estimate their virtues while down-playing the goodness in others.
He almost drew tears in the hall when he condemned both the murdering and the murderers of Christians and Muslims in the country under the cover of religion.
Here is a part of what he said, “as a delegate and as a people representing people of faith in God from Islamic perspective, one thing we believe is that God will protect the community that stands for justice even if they are not Muslims and God will not protect the community that goes contrary to justice even if they call themselves Muslims.
“God is not a religious bigot. He is not a male chauvinist. He is not an ethno-centric tribalist. God is not the oppressor of anyone. God is with those who care, those who want for others those things they want for themselves.
“One tendency for people who claim to follow a religion is to slide into the position of believing that they are better than the others. We over-estimate our virtues and under-estimate the goodness in others.
“The tendency is for us to be spiritually arrogant and forget that others are people like us. And if you are in other person’s position, you probably will be like someone else.
“As delegates from the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, we condemn the murder and the murderers of all Christians; we condemn the murder and the murderers of all Muslims; not because they are Christians or Muslims but because they are all human beings—creatures of God.
“There is no compulsion in religion. We all own Nigeria. We all belong here. And we all have rights to self-determination. We should respect that right and do onto others what we will do onto ourselves.
“Every ethnic group is an oppressed minority somewhere. Every majority or settlers is an indigene somewhere. In one way or the other, we are all settlers.
“We just don’t remember where we came from and why we came. But ultimately, we are all visitors to this planet; from God we came and to Him we will return.
“As Muslim delegates, we come against the exploitation of religion and religious sentiments; we come against stereotyping, stigmatizing and dehumanization of each other. We come against the use of religion as a political decoy and distraction from the critical things that bedevil our nation.
“I pray that at the end of this conference, we will all grow in our humanity and respect for each other.”
On a seemingly controversial note, Mrs. Yemi Mahmoud-Fasominu called for the establishment of a special court where issues of rape and other criminal acts against women would be addressed.
She went further to demand that a law setting up such a court must specify that convicted perpetrators of such a crime should be castrated to serve as deterrence to others.
At this point, the hall exploded either in cheers or in jeers. It was difficult to determine.
Zamani Lekwot, a retired general, said beyond the courage and wisdom by Jonathan to convoke the conference, selection of delegates has accorded every section of the society an opportunity to be represented.
He did a quick analysis of the security situation in Nigeria especially regarding the murderous insurgency in northern Nigeria and concluded that the creation needed what he called a standing frontier force to protect the Nigerian borders.
Lekwot said the functions of the force should include curbing illegal movements in and out of the country and most importantly halting with military precision any infiltration by insurgents and other criminals.
Ambassador Yusuf Mamman said the violence in the north that has led to several deaths and loss of property presents an ideological challenge that has defied the use of military force and that the conference must find a way out.
On education, he said beautiful as the issue of the Almajari school concept may sound, government should de-secularise education by bringing the Almajari education in the mainstream curriculum instead of giving it a special treatment.
Ambasador Hassan Adamu in his comments said the Conference presents a good opportunity to talk rather than to fight and declared his belief that something positive will emerge from the Conference.
He said the Conference should focus on job creation; peace and security; elimination of corruption at all levels; justice for all, patriotism, qualitative education; and security of residents in every part of the country; adding, “Nigeria is waiting for us to offer solutions.”
Another delegate, Adeniyi Akintola, said it was pathetic that whenever the issue of corruption was being discussed, those who should be in jail for corrupt practices are the most vocal.
Akintola disclosed that if government were to compare the assets of public office holders between when they entered public service and at the time of departure, all of them, including former state governors, would be in jail.
He said sometimes, public officers declared in their assets form what they do not have and on entering public office would begin stealing desperately to meet the target earlier declared. He said there should be a way where assets and tax payments should be put side by side as a way of checking fraudulent declarations.
Wednesday session however started with a motion by Dr Bello Mohammed asking the Federal Government to take drastic action against people engaged in the act of kidnapping and other violence.
He drew the attention of the Conference to last week’s abduction of Chief Edwin Clark’s son and prayed that the Conference should send a letter of felicitation to the 86 year-old delegate after the release of the son last weekend.
Engineer Adefemi Kila, who seconded the motion, said the ineffectiveness of the local government administration in the country is to be blamed for the high rise in crime rate nationwide.
He said, “These kidnappers, these Boko Haram members, they are not spirits; they live with us. They can be identified.” He called on the federal government to do more in the area of security, adding, “our lives also are not safe.” While contributing later, Kila described Nigeria as being very sick in abject poverty; sick in the spiritual sense “and that is why we have problems of how to serve our God; it is a terrible spiritual poverty.”
Still on the issue of local government status, Nasiru Ibrahim Jinju said it was high time government ensured in practical terms, the autonomy of local government councils.
So far, he said, state governors have held council areas by the neck by not allowing them to function independently. He explained that most of the security problems faced by the nation could be traced to non-functionality of local government councils.
Professor Sambo Junaido from Sokoto described the President’s speech as comprehensive and that it touched on several aspects of the lives of Nigerians. He appealed for speedy implementation of the resolutions that would be arrived at in the course of the Conference.
Is’haq Modibbo Kawu of the Nigerian Guild of Editors told the Conference that poor economic management is the main cause of Nigeria’s problem; he described a situation where a state governor is richer than the state based on his ability to steal.
Ibrahim Khaleel was of the opinion that insurgency is a product of the bastardisation of the local government structure which has made it impossible for people at the grassroots to feel the impact of governance.
Remi Kuku called on every Nigerian to repent. She said if Nigerians were to love one another as their religions teach them, there would be no room for bickering and religious enmity.
Mohammed Kumalia reminded the delegates that the spirit of the speech made by Jonathan was for everyone to put aside their prejudices and parochial feelings and talk Nigeria instead of their ethnic groups.
He said if representations at the Conference were through election, it would have been impossible for most of the delegates to have been there to discuss issues of national importance as they affect their different groups.
Ledum Mitee from Rivers State reminded the conference of the need to attach practical solutions to issues raised at the Conference and for government to act in accordance with the wish of the people.
He told a story of how he met some Niger Delta youths during an awareness campaign and confronted them on why they were breaking pipelines only to be told that since all government plans are always in the pipeline, they were breaking the pipelines to bring them out.
Bello Mohammed in his contribution said there was nobody in the north who does not know about the environmental problems faced by the Niger Delta people; and that no southerner could claim ignorance of existing poverty and illiteracy in the north.
He said what is required is for both groups to agree on solution to the existing problems both in the north and in the south instead of behaving as though only one part of the country has problems.
A 24 year old girl, Yadomah Bukar Mandara, who said her father died exactly one year ago, moved the hall with her presentation when she spoke concerning the rise of insurgency in the country.
She said, “so many children have turned orphans. So many women have turned widows. We must unite to fight our common enemies. Our common enemies know no Christian. Our common enemies know no Muslim. Let us unite against them.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY, MEDIA AND COMMUNICATIONS