ABUJA â€” THERE were indications, yesterday, that the Federal Government is in a fix on how to accommodate the 492 delegates to the National Conference, billed to begin next Monday.
Findings by Vanguard showed that the government was torn between putting the 492 delegates and six secretariat officials in choice hotels in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and paying them certain amount per month in lieu of accommodation.
The option of lodging the delegates in first-rate hotels is, however, said to have met stiff resistance from some top government officials and delegates, who argued that they did not want their locations to be easily identified.
Besides, senior government officials and the delegates argued that since most of them had comfortable homes in and around Abuja, they would rather prefer to live in their houses and commute from there to the conference venue.
It was also learnt that most of the delegates preferred to be paid cash in lieu of accommodation since they could easily make their own arrangements away from prying eyes in public hotels.
Vanguard learnt that the government might have decided to pay each of the delegates a flat sum of N4 million per month for accommodation and other logistics related to the conference.
A top source, who did not want to be named, said the payment of the sum to the delegates was more acceptable to both the government and the delegates and would be pursued.
â€œIt is true that not many of the delegates accepted to be housed in hotels because of security concerns and other issues. Arguments that most of the delegates also own houses in Abuja swayed the administration towards opting to pay them a flat rate for their own accommodation,â€ the source said.
FG may spend N5.976bn
At the rate of N4 million per delegate for the three-month duration of the conference, the Federal Government might end up paying as much as N5.976 billion to the 492 delegates and six secretariat officials.
It will be recalled that the Presidency had set aside N7 billion for the organisation of the conference, which is expected to chart a new path of socio-economic and political development for the nation.
Many have, however, doubted the sincerity of the government in organising the conference with only a few months to the commencement of activities leading to the 2015 general elections.
The Northern Eldersâ€™ Forum had said that it was not keen on taking part in the conference since the delegates were hand?picked by the President and his associates, unlike the previous ones where most of the delegates emerged through elections.
Following years of agitation for a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), President Goodluck Jonathan on October 1, 2013 indicated his readiness to organise a national conference. He set up a 13-man body led by Senator Femi Okurounmu to hammer out modalities and template for organising the dialogue.
The Okurounmu panel visited two cities in each of the six geo-political zones and Abuja to hold sittings, seeking the inputs of Nigerians and stakeholders and submitted its report last November. Based on the report, the Presidency issued modalities for the conference and invited critical stakeholders to nominate delegates on or before February 20 to enable the confab begin early this month.
The president went ahead to appoint retired Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, as chairman of the conference with Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, a former Foreign Affairs Minister as deputy chairman, and Dr Valerie Azinge as secretary.
Last Thursday, the presidency released the names of 488 delegates leaving nine slots yet to be filled.
Of the 492 delegates, the presidency nominated 25 per cent while the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and its federal and state organs nominated about 150 delegates.