?National Conference Will Set Agenda for New Nigeria?
Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke
Nduka Nwosu in New York
The Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, has said the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and the opposition were free to hold their opinions on the proposed national dialogue, adding that whatever views anyone held, the outcome will set the agenda for a new Nigeria
Duke, who said the proposition was a master stroke that had left the original critics of the president in disbelief, was speaking to journalists on Sunday, at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel Washington DC, after the 23rd annual edition of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Legacy Award for International Service presented to Ambassador Ade Adefuye, Nigeria?s Ambassador to the United States (US).
According to him, who brought a goodwill message from President Goodluck Jonathan to the organisers and participants at the award ceremony, Jonathan should not be taken for granted because he was humble, non-eccentric and not vindictive, referring to his critics and the NEF, who asked him to resign if he must be taken seriously on the outcome of the conference.
The minister said rather than acknowledge the president for his brave decision to convene a national conference, the opposition and the NEF were singing a different and new song.
Duke said: ?It is unfortunate that the same people who were busy mouthing the need for a national conference of ethnic nationalities are now going about thrashing the president for taking the wind off their sail. The president?s initiative caught them pants down and to their disbelief they are now singing a new song while condemning the noble proposition of Mr. President.
?The fact that this president is not vindictive and eccentric is no reason any one must take him for granted and write off his honest desire to move the country to the next level.
?As for those who proclaim doomsday as a consequence of the national conversation, they will be disappointed because we are already demystifying the steps that lead into disintegration and make no mistakes about it, Nigerians are great advocates of progression.?
On the importance of the national conference, Duke said there was need for this to cut across all interest groups with a yardstick that defines the conversation, saying the idea was designed to ventilate ?our thoughts and ideas from the various geographical, ethnic and interest groups, an expression of belief in the country?s corporate unity.
On NEF?s demand that it did not have faith on the outcome of the conference but instead that the president should resign and allow an independent group with an interim president to steer the conference, Duke disagreed, insisting that the North needs not agree with the modalities for the conference but that one thing was certain, ?the North agrees Nigeria must remain one corporate entity.?
Duke who commended the organisers of the King Award, said Adefuye deserved high commendation for his Diaspora crusades, which he noted, have continued to add value to the initiatives of the Jonathan administration, aimed at creating global benchmarks for the country?s development and growth.
Adefuye, he said, had excelled in this directive, which was why he rightly earned the King Legacy Award for International Service.
?We know Adefuye?s effort in positioning Nigeria on the global village has been phenomenal especially in helping to include Nigeria as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We must continue to encourage him through our efforts at the culture ministry,? he stressed.
On the Centenary celebration, which he said, was the baby of the culture ministry, Duke added: ?We hold great expectations on the outcome of the celebration because we have to crow and count our successes as a nation. Many such experiments collapsed before the attainment of the age of 50 and here we are discussing 100 years as a people.
?Our common heritage as a people is our greatest collateral advantage. The centenary initiative is being championed by Mr. President and the aim is to create national harmony, a greater achievement of goals aimed at stimulating growth and development in the future. Of course the initiative was that of the culture ministry. The Centenary team is made up of ministers of the Federal Republic.?