All is now set for the inauguration today, March 17, 2014 of the National Conference by President Goodluck Jonathan.
In this regard, THISDAY observed at the weekend heightened preparations at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) in Abuja, venue of the conference.
A visit to the venue showed a beehive of activities with some of the 492 delegates who had arrived early for the opening ceremony completing registration formalities.
A special security team, comprising personnel of the military, police riot squad, the anti-bomb unit, and men of the State Security Service (SSS), were busy taking instructions from their team leaders and engaging in last minute rehearsals.
Also, members of the anti-bomb squad were seen combing the premises and making sure that the venue was safe for the delegates.
It was learnt that the existing security arrangement at the institute had been overhauled with hundreds of security men deployed to man strategic areas of the conference venue.
A detachment of the men and officers of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) were also seen yesterday receiving briefings on their expected roles during the proceedings.
A security staff member attached to the venue told THISDAY that they had been compelled to work round the clock without observing their normal shifts, owing to preparations for the conference.
Besides, at the Giri/Gwagwalada junction, a combined team of the army and riot policemen were seen conducting stop-and-search procedures on all vehicles. Another detachment was seen at the Zuba /Suleja junction leading to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
In addition, there was the presence of heavy security at the AYA/Nyanya axis and its environs.
THISDAY learnt that the conference organisers had adopted special accreditation procedures to ensure that every conference delegate, including security agencies, journalists and other officials, are subjected to biometrics before being issued a conference tag.
By 5.30 pm yesterday, the number of accredited journalists jostling to cover the event had risen to over 300, while a sizeable number of delegates had arrived Abuja for their accreditation.
Among the electronic media that had started mounting their cameras yesterday in readiness for live broadcast of the opening ceremony were AIT, South African cable television, DSTV and Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
Meanwhile, a statement from the secretariat of the conference, signed by the Assistant Secretary, Media and Communication, Mr. James Akpandem, has asked delegates to arrive the venue of the conference by 10 am today for accreditation.
“Delegates to the conference are expected to arrive the venue of the inauguration by 10 am for accreditation in preparation for the inauguration ceremony fixed for 4 pm,” he said.
He added that all invited guests and delegates were expected to be seated by 3.15 pm ahead of the inauguration by Jonathan.
According to him, the federal government would not provide accommodation for the delegates, as all their benefits will be monetised.
THISDAY gathered that the delegates will be paid N4 million each as sitting and accommodation allowances, while the presiding officers would be paid between N5 million and N6 million each.
Akpandem, who did not disclose the amount the delegates would be paid as allowances, said some of the delegates already owned homes in Abuja and therefore it would be needless to provide accommodation for the delegates, adding that the idea was to monetise their accommodation and other allowances.
The conference is expected to cost the federal government N7 billion as provided in the 2014 budget bill. Investigations further revealed that most of the hotels and flights into Abuja were fully booked at the weekend, preparatory to the conference. But as the federal government prepares to kick off the conference, the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) has stated that it may review its stance on boycotting the dialogue at an emergency meeting of its leaders scheduled for tomorrow.
A chieftain of the party and the former National Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Alhaji Buba Galadima, who spoke to journalists yesterday evening in Abuja shortly after getting his accreditation, said APC would finally decide whether to attend the conference or not during the meeting.
“APC will be meeting on Tuesday where they would decide to attend or not but for now, we have to be part of this so that even if we become minority, the majority can have their way but the minority must have their say. We must put on record what we believe on issues that will be tabled before the conference,” he said.
The APC leadership had voiced its opposition to the modalities of the National Conference, which it claimed would amount to a mere distraction in the polity and that it would not serve the interest of majority of Nigerians.
But the party later succumbed to pressure from its state governors who got the approval of the party leadership to nominate delegates to represent their states at the conference.
However, Galadima said his acceptance to attend the conference on the platform of Yobe State would not pose any contradiction to the principled stand of the party.
“There is no contradiction; it is complementary, the APC as a political party said they would not participate but I am coming on a different platform, representing my state, Yobe.
Commenting on the modalities set out for the conference, Galadima said he had no problem with the directive of the federal government on the “no go areas” but maintained that he was prepared to discuss any issue brought before delegates at the conference.
“You know I come from the North-east and the top priority there is the security of lives and property, without which nothing tangible can take place. It is a big priority and naturally one would expect that the one man, one vote principle, would be entrenched in the constitution.
On another note, the President National Youth Council of Nigeria, Wale Ajani has said that the outcome of the conference should be targeted at the future generation.
Ajani, who spoke with journalists at the venue, said the key interest of Nigerian youths is to see to the unity of Nigeria where all have equal rights.
According to him, 30 per cent affirmative action for youths should enshrined in the constitution.