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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 14:04 GMT
Nigerians mull nation's future
By Anna Borzello
BBC News, Abuja

Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo
Obasanjo is pushing on with the meeting despite criticism
Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo has opened a national political conference in the capital which could pave the way to constitutional reform.

There have been decade-long calls for Nigerians to meet to try and find ways to resolve underlying problems in the most populous nation on the continent.

But the opposition says the conference has been hastily organised and is poorly conceived, and are staying away.

Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka says the agenda is far too narrow.

Along with other government critics, he is planning a rival conference later in the year.

Sensitivities

Over the next three months, more than 400 delegates will discuss key issues facing the country such as resource control and federalism.

The government says there are no no-go areas as long as the unity of the state is not threatened.

Such conferences can succeed if they allow for a genuine debate and the conclusions duly implemented.
Mataka Mposa, USA

The delegates' recommendation should form the basis for constitutional reform. A grand parade of Nigerian dignitaries, from senators and governors to retired generals and former presidents, attended the first day.

They filed into the meeting room, where they were entertained by an evangelical singer who reminded the delegates of the country's dark political past with a chorus of "so many people died".

President Obasanjo then took the microphone and urged the men and women who have been nominated to represent Nigerians that the purpose of the conference is to find ways to reinforce the unity, cohesion, stability and security of the state.

Problem

But while Nigerians have been asking for a national conference for years, this particular process has been controversial from the start.

The national assembly has refused to authorise the $7m needed to fund the project, forcing the president to look elsewhere for the money.

The delegates have also come under scrutiny.

The vast majority have been nominated by the presidency and state governments, which means there is a heavy bias towards the ruling party.

Meanwhile, women activists are furious that in a conference meant to represent all Nigerians, only 7% of the delegates are female.




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