Nigeria’s long-awaited National Conference opened Monday in the capital, Abuja, aimed at solutions to an Islamist insurgency, corruption and oil revenue-sharing.
In opening the conference, President Goodluck Jonathan told the 500 delegates to put partisan politics aside and focus on the agenda of the country.
Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati says Jonathan also urged the delegates to strive toward building a stronger and more united Nigeria.
“The president made a number of points. He made it very clear that he has no personal agenda to pursue through this conference. He made very clear that what is important is the national interest, and he enjoined all the delegates to put Nigeria first, not to use the platform of the conference for the pursuit of divisive politics or ethnic jingoism,” he says.
Abati says Jonathan also told the delegates to use the conference to further strengthen the bond that ties all Nigerians together, including national unity and patriotism.
With raging violence blamed on the Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram in the north and political divisions within the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), some commentators say Nigeria is become more divided.
Abati says Nigeria’s unity is not threatened.
"A few weeks ago, we celebrated 100 years of Nigeria’s existence as a nation. And, in the speech that President Jonathan delivered, he stressed that the amalgamation was not a mistake, that we are a country of ethnic diversity, of linguistic diversity, and that our unity, the beauty of our country, lies, in fact, in that diversity,” Abati said.
He says Jonathan’s speech did not dictate the agenda of the conference.
“The issues that he referred to in the speech, these are the issues that have been out there in the public domain. It doesn’t amount to the president setting an agenda,” Abati said.
The ruling PDP was recently beset by defections due in part to Jonathan’s decision to seek re-election.
Abati says Jonathan told delegates they should make the conference one about Nigeria the country and not about political ambitions.
“President Jonathan made it clear that the conference is a conference of the Nigerian people. It’s not a conference about partisan politics. And, if you look at the composition of that conference, you will see that it is not constructed along political lines. It is a conference about the future of Nigeria. It is a conference about the politics of Nigeria itself,” Abati says.
Butty interview with Abati