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A PRESENTATION BY FORMER PRESIDENT DR. GOODLUCK EBELE JONATHAN, GCFR, GCON, CHAIRMAN, GOODLUCK JONATHAN FOUNDATION (GJF) AT THE PUBLIC PRESENTATION OF ‘THE DREAM’,A MEMOIR BY SENATOR FEMI OKUROUNMU ON JULY 11, 2019, AT THE AFE BABALOLA HALL, UNIVERSITY OF LAGOS
I am delighted to be here to celebrate Senator Femi Okurounmu, a patriot who has rendered a great service to our nation. I believe that all of us gathered here to honour him are united by a common dream; a vision of a united, peaceful and prosperous country.
Senator Okurounmu and I did not belong to the same political family, but that did not affect the way we related in pursuit of the common good of our dear nation. I received support from him during my administration.
The patriot in him would not let him play bitter and destructive politics against my administration. His criticisms of my administration, in his speeches and newspaper articles, may have seemed harshbut they were constructive.
I believe he has shown courage by documenting some of his experiences in the course of his glorious service to his nation and community for the sake of posterity.
His memoir,‘The Dream: Pursuing The Black Renaissance Through the Murky Waters of Politics’is a commendable effort that showcases the author’s earnest desires for our country, his philosophy and political leanings at different times.
Every book tells a story; every story teaches a lesson. In the case of ‘The Dream’, the author has regaled us with many didactic tales; stories of his dreams, his ideas and his different sojourn within and outside the corridors of power.
Expectedly, the book raises many pertinent issues about our country’s nationhood. The questions and challenges of Nigeria’s democracy is a dominant theme in most chapters of the book.
However, chapter eleven, titled ‘Midwifing and Participating in the 2014 National Conference did not escape my attention. The reason for this is obvious. The author, Senator Okurounmu was a major character in the course that led to the National Dialogue. He sat on the driver’s seat as Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee, I set up to deliberate with Nigerians and design a structure that would be adopted for a National Dialogue. I am happy that he has been able to document his role and other proceedings in a remarkable manner in this book.
I convened the National Conference in 2014 in response to the yearnings of Nigerians, who sought the opportunity to get together and brainstorm on the challenges of our nation, with the mind of proffering solutions to our structural problems.
I initiated and inaugurated the Conference because I believed that the call for a National Dialogue could no longer be ignored.It was a decision taken to reconcile ethnic differences, heal old wounds and address mutual suspicions.
At the conference, all issues including those bothering on citizenship and federalism were thoroughly discussed without any inhibitions. The Conference was a conversation that came up with ideas on how to strengthen the pillars of our democracy and build on the collapsing structures of our nation.
The recommendations of the Conference were far-reaching in setting an agenda for peace and unity. They amply captured the solutions to the problems of today and made suggestions that will address the worries of tomorrow.
Our country is faced on all corners by a multiplicity of challenges, bothering mainly on security and national cohesion. Although these problems are not new, the discord has continued to widen over time.
I understand that efforts are being made towards addressing some of these challenges, however we seem to play politics with sensitive and serious matters. The call for reforms has continued to grow louder, gathering the kind of momentum that should no longer be overlooked, if the nation must make real progress.
I believe that the solutions to most of the problems we face today lie in our honest assessment of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. If we take politics out of our consideration, there is every likelihood that a diligent implementation of the key recommendations of the Conference will lead the nation out of the woods. This will heal frayed nerves, promote solidarity, engender peace and reposition our nation for meaningful growth and sustainable development.
I noticed that each time I express this belief and optimism, I always get hit with a counter narrative that seems to question my inability to implement the recommendations during my Presidency. This is a question I have answered in many fora. In my book, My Transition Hours, chapter ten provided detailed answers in this regard.
My administration was prepared to change the narrative of our constitutional democracy with the assurance that sovereignty really belonged to the people. However, we were time constrained. The Conference was concluded less than one year to the end of my tenure. We received the report specifically on August 21, 2014,at a time the nation was already in the mood of electioneering. Then,the members of the National Assembly, whose duty it was to consider and validate the process, werepreoccupied with the battle for political survival.
I believed that given the nature of the consultations and due deliberations involved in advancing the process, an orderly and systematic implementation could not have been conducted in less than one year. It was obvious we did not have that time before the end of my administration. I did not insist on a rushed implementation because my administration did not embark on the conference to achieve political popularity but to genuinely advance the course of nation-building.
We assembled 492 reputable individuals, drawn from all walks of lives and shades of opinion, who emerged through a rigorous selection process, to conduct diligent deliberations over a period of 120 days. We did this not to score a political point, but to come up with ideas on how to strengthen the pillars of our democracy and build a new foundation for sustainable nationhood.
No serious athlete goes into any contest for the fun of merely competing; they do so for the purpose of winning a prize. Our goal was to build peace and secure our unity through national dialogue and consensus.
I believe that democracy is a process, a journey and a home. It is a process that defines who we are, who leads us and how we should be led. It is a process of daily conversation between the people and their leaders on what constitute the good and acceptable will of the people.
Democracy is a journey towards building a collective dream, nurturing people’s hope and guaranteeing the liberties of men and women, irrespective of their faith, colour and status. Sustainable democracy is a home of liberty, where citizens live freely and respect each other’s space. It is an abode where they are sheltered in peace, justice and truth.
On this journey to sustainable democracy, we should endeavor to make adequate arrangements to ensure that the support and confidence of the people do not wane. An electoral process that does not earn the support and participation of the citizen is a recipe for violence and political crisis.
It is necessary for democratic nations to take relevant measures to ensure the impartiality and independence of the electoral management body (EMB), as a means of guaranteeing the credibility and legitimacy of electoral processes.
We understand that there are no perfect elections anywhere in the world. However, there are minimumstandards expected of every nation that is desirous of organizing credible elections.
In this regard, the process of constituting EMBs is very critical. In many thriving democracies, the responsibility of appointing electoral umpires is no longer left in the hands of one powerful politician. This is because no matter how he goes about it, his intentions and choices will not be entirely trusted by the stakeholders, on account of his or her partisan political leaning.
So, if the process of appointing the key members of the EMB, is institutionalized, it would inspire confidence among all stakeholders. One way this can be achieved is for the relevant arms of the National Assembly to study the different models of recruiting members of EMBs in other countries as a guide towards establishing a functional template that would secure true independence for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in a manner that meets the expectations of the people.
If we have to grow politically in the desired direction as a democratic nation, the independence and impartiality of INEC cannot be compromised.
Senator Femi Okurounmu asked in his book, ‘can this dream become a reality?’ For me the answer is yes; if only we will adhere to the letters of our constitution, listen to the voices of the people, obey the wishes of the citizens and forsake the prejudice of our personal ambitions.
Finally, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, no matter your political leanings, please let us work towards ensuring that this dream of true democracy becomes a reality in Nigeria.
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