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Nigeria Commission to Meet Former Presidents

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan presents the 2013 budget proposal at a joint sitting of the parliament in Abuja, October 10, 2012.
President Goodluck Jonathan’s special commission to help Nigeria move forward plans to meet Thursday with the nation’s former heads of state.

Alhaji Maitama Sule, chairman of the commission, says his group will seek the counsel of the former leaders as part of an effort to resolve the country’s growing political, economic and internal security problems.

“These former heads of state had their experience, they therefore know the problems of this country more than most people, and therefore if they can bring their experience, it will help a great deal,” Sule said. “We need their wisdom and above all, we need them to come together… because we expect a lot from them.”

“We believe that if we can get together and get ourselves united, we will be able to offer solutions to the problems confronting us, and that is why we want to have this meeting,” Sule said. “If we can bring them [former leaders] together, I’m sure that we will be able to be strong enough to offer solutions to the problems facing the country, and the north in particular.”

President Jonathan called on the commission to draw up measures that would include granting amnesty to members of the militant group, Boko Haram. The group has been accused of carrying out violent attacks in an attempt to force the country to adopt strict Islamic law.

Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram-related violence has killed an estimated 3,000 people since 2009, a toll that includes killings by security forces.

Sule, a former Nigerian diplomat, says members of the commission are encouraged by the support they received from Jonathan following the group’s first meeting.

“Mr. President has given us some hope, and we hope and believe that we will be able to succeed if the atmosphere continues like this,” said Sule.

The group has about two weeks to come up with recommendations for the government to consider.

But some Nigerians say the allotted period might not be enough for the group to consider solutions to the many problems the country faces.

“From all indications we have started well, so it is not the timing,” said Sule. “Sometimes you give time to people to produce something and if the time is not enough they ask for more time [and] that is life.”

Critics of the president’s new commission say it is unlikely to succeed, citing numerous commissions in the past that have failed to yield any positive results. Sule disagrees.

“The two problems facing Nigeria are tribalism and religious bigotry,” he said. “In our own organization we have both Muslims and Christians, and prominent ones too, together and they are speaking with one voice. And that is why we feel that this time around, we will succeed by the grace of God. That is my hope.”
Clottey interview with Alhaji Maitama Sule, chairman of the commission
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