Delegates drawn from across the 36 states of the federation on Sunday started arriving in Abuja, for the National Conference scheduled to commence today (Monday).
The Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, was a beehive of activities as some delegates flew into the Federal Capital Territory amid tight security.
One of our correspondents, who was at the airport, saw eminent Nigerians at the arrival lounge just as others who had armed security escorts, made their way into waiting private vehicles.
The entire airport was heavily guarded as plain-clothes security personnel and a few uniformed men were sighted at strategic locations within and outside the airport.
As is to be expected, taxi drivers were also making brisk business as a result of the increased human and vehicular traffic, which was compounded by civil servants and businessmen who were returning to Abuja after the weekend.
Delegates, who arrived on Sunday, included Sir. Olaninhun Ajayi, Prof. Anya O. Anya; a former Chairman, PUNCH Nigeria Limited, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola; and the Lamido of Adamawa, Alhaji Aliu Mustapha.
The Corps Education Officer, Federal Road Safety Commission, Mr. Jonas Awgu, told The PUNCH that the FRSC was deploying 250 of its personnel to ensure a free flow of traffic to strategic locations in the FCT.
He said “For now, the total personnel we are deploying is 250, made up of 50 officers and 200 other ranks; we will be deploying 15 vehicles, three bikes and two breakdown trucks.
“The conference is holding in Abuja; as much as we will emphasis on what happens between the airport and the venue, the other parts of Abuja won’t be left unattended to; we will consider those areas.”
He said the commission expected road users to be law abiding and exhibit a high sense of decency and respect for rules and regulations.
His counterpart in the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps, Mr. Emmanuel Okeh, said the NSCDC was deploying 2,000 of its officers and men, as well as 100 sniffer dogs as part of the security arrangement for the event.
The FCT Police Command said it had deployed men to all the major hotels where delegates were lodged, adding that the venue and surrounding areas had been placed under tight security watch.
The command’s Public Relations Officer, Altine Daniel, called on Abuja residents to cooperate with all security agencies to ensure a hitch-free event. He was, however, silent on the number of officers deployed.
The Justice Andrews Otutu Obaseki Auditoium at the National Judicial Institute is wearing a new look for the inauguration of the conference.
Investigations by one of our correspondents on Sunday indicated that some of the delegates, who arrived early, had commenced accreditation and registration.
Special security team made up of the military, FRSC, Police anti-riot squad, anti-bomb unit and the men of the State Security Services were busy taking instructions from their team leaders and doing last-minute rehearsals.
Although soldiers were seen on parade, attempts by one of our correspondents to take their photographs met with stiff resistance as they threatened to smash his iPad.
Also, members of the anti-bomb squad were seen combing the premises and making sure that no dangerous material at the venue.
Sources said that the existing security arrangement at the NJI had been overhauled with hundreds of security men being deployed to man strategic areas of the conference venue.
Officials of FRSC were also on hand receiving briefings on their expected roles during the proceedings of the confernce.
THE PUNCH saw ambulance buses belonging to the FRSC and the National Emergency Management Agency at the conference venue.
A security operative said he and his colleagues had been compelled to work round the clock without observing their normal shift duty in preparation for the conference.
The organisers are adopting a special accreditation procedure to ensure that every delegate, security agents, journalists and other officials were subjected to biometric data registration before being issued with the conference tag.
As of 6.00pm on Sunday, the number of accredited journalists jostling to cover the event was put at 315. Accreditation for journalists ended at 2.30pm.
Among the electronic media that have started mounting their broadcast equipment at the venue in readiness for live broadcast are AIT; South African cable television, DSTV; and the Nigerian Television Authority.
Meanwhile, a statement from the secretariat of the National Conference, signed by the Assistant Secretary (Media and Communication), Mr. James Akpandem, asked delegates to arrive at the venue by 10am today (Monday) for accreditation.
According to him, the delegates are expected to report at the NJI, along the Airport Road in the Jabi area of Abuja.
“Delegates to the conference are expected to arrive the venue of the inauguration by 10am for accreditation in preparation for the inauguration ceremony fixed for 4pm,” Akpandem said.
He added that all invited guests and delegates were expected to be seated by 3.15pm. for the inauguration by President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents, gave an insight into what the President expected from the conference.
Abati urged the participants to ensure that they used the conference to further strengthen the country’s unity.
He said President Goodluck Jonathan’s expectation was that the dialogue would turn out to be about Nigeria and its future and not about narrow interests.
The presidential spokesman said, “The President’s expectation is that this conference should turn out to be an opportunity to further strengthen national unity and that the conversation provides a platform to move Nigeria forward.
“His expectation is that the participants will engage in very robust and open dialogue, and that they will rise above narrow interests and focus on Nigeria.
“It is also the President’s expectation that this will turn out to be a dialogue about Nigeria and its future and not a dialogue about narrow interests.”
A delegate representing ethnic nationalities from the North Central geo-political zone, Mr. John Dara, expressed hope that the conference would be a platform for Nigerians to get things right.
Dara, who was selected by the Middle Belt Forum, said this in a telephone interview with our correspondents, in Ilorin on Sunday. He explained that he had been mandated to ask for true federalism.
According to him, this entails the devolution of more powers to the federating units as well as allocation of more resources to the states.
He said it was improper for statutory allocations to be made from the centre to the local government.
Dara also said resources should be allocated to the federating states, which would in turn allocate a certain percentage of the resources to their local governments according to stipulated guidelines.
He said, “I believe that in this new dispensation, we need to get it right once and for all. This is not the time for half measures. We are going there to specifically ask for true federalism. What we need is that the federating units should become a little more autonomous.
“So, if you want to do that, it means that the state will also have their own police. The states will be the ones to determine the number of local governments that they want and how they want to administer them. You do not allocate money from the Federal Government to the local governments.”
According to him, minority groups that are being threatened with extinction in the states where they belong should be allowed to decide whether or not to join another nearby states of their choice.
He noted that minority groups in southern Borno State, who are being threatened with extinction following the Boko Haram attacks, should be allowed to merge with their kinsmen in Adamawa State, if they should opt for this, just like the people of Southern Kaduna should be accorded the right to self determination.
Dara, however, said he was not convinced that the Yoruba people in Kwara and Kogi states should be allowed to merge with their kinsmen in the South-West.
Prof. Auwalu Yadudu described the conference as ill-timed, ill-conceived and ill-advised. He said this in a television programme: ‘Nigeria and the national question’, on the African Independent Television.
He said there was no evidence that the outcome of the conference would pass through the legislative process before the 2015 elections.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]