The rising expectations of Nigerians that the National Conference which ended abruptly on Monday July 14, would solve many of the nation’s burning issues was dashed following its inability to tackle issues relating to fiscal federalism
| By Olu Ojewale | Jul. 28, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE national conference delegates knew within themselves that some national issues slated for discussion were very volatile and emotional. Hence, they were pushed to the tail end of the plenary. But the tactics did not work. The conference plenary which ended abruptly on Monday, July 14, refused to reach an agreement on certain issues among them derivation, national intervention fund and the sharing formula for the three tiers of government from the federation account. Instead, the conference decided to push the issues to the court of the federal government by resolving that it should set up a technical committee to handle them.
Initially, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, chairman of the conference, had thought that the matter could be resolved and therefore, gave a 50-man committee of the conference two hours to reach a consensus on the controversy surrounding the proposed 18 percent derivation principle, five percent solid mineral fund and five percent insurgency fund, that had torn the conference apart. But the two-hour meeting lasted for about five hours and yet the members were unable to reach a consensus.
Perhaps, as a face saving measure, the 50-wise men, chairmen and deputy chairmen of the committees established by the conference, resolved that the federal government should set up a technical committee to address the contentious issues. This was communicated to the conference when it reconvened after about five hours of deliberation. Kutigi told the conference that the select committee, after a critical examination of the contentious issues, recognised the need to: “review the percentage of revenue allocation to states producing oil and other resources; reconstruct and rehabilitate areas affected by problems of insurgencies and internal conflicts; and diversify the economy by first tracking the development of the solid minerals sector.” Besides, he said the conference “also notes that assigning percentages for the increase in derivation principle and setting up special intervention fund to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development requires some technical details and considerations. Conference, therefore, recommends that government should set up a Technical Committee to determine appropriate percentage on the three key issues and advise government accordingly.” This was greeted by clapping of hands by some delegates while others shouted “no, no.” As the tension was rising, the conference chairman hurriedly put the decisions to voice vote. What followed was a thunderous “aye”. Hence, Kutigi ruled that the decisions and others had been duly adopted.
It was the third time that a national talk-shop of such magnitude would end abruptly in Nigeria. In 1978, the Constituent Assembly headed by the late Justice Egbert Udo Udoma, ended abruptly because the delegates failed reach an agreement on constitutional provision for a Sharia Court of Appeal. In 2005, a similar scenario played out at the National Political Reform Conference, NPRC, when delegates from the South-South staged a walkout over resource control controversy. Kutigi said, the 2014 national conference would reconvene on August 4, to adopt its report before submitting it to the federal government. But that has not stopped the wagging of tongues.
Sola Ebiseni, a delegate from Ondo State, has faulted the decision of the conference to refer the contentious issues to the federal government. He said the conference had abdicated its responsibility by tasking the government with setting up of a technical committee to examine the unresolved issues. “What we did today was simply to abdicate our responsibility by throwing the issue back at Mr. President, who sent us here to assist him in proffering solutions to some of our national challenges,” he said.
Mohammed Kumaila, a delegate from Borno and a member of the 50-man committee set up by the conference, said recommending certain percentages to be allocated from the federation account without data and facts on revenue accruable to the government, was responsible for the decision to allow government to shoulder the responsibility.
In his opinion, Femi Falana, SAN, and member of the conference, said that a nation and people that depended on sharing resources would always end up in such a manner. “In view of the reality that the conference is composed of people whose preoccupation is the collection and sharing of rent and not production of wealth, it was therefore not strange that there was no consensus on the part of the members,” he said.
Victor Umeh, chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, said there was nothing wrong in asking the federal government to set up the committee. However, Dan Nwanyanwu, national chairman, Labour Party, LP, said the inability of the conference to reach an agreement on contentious issues was an act of cowardice. “It is an act of cowardice by arriving at that decision, especially on the issue of derivation. We have agreed on 18 per cent on this. It is badly managed by the leadership. We couldn’t agree on these issues because some people were here to scuttle it. Governors were busy calling them not to agree and to disrupt the conference,” Nwanyanwu said.
Olu Falae, leader of the Southwest delegation and a member of the Elders’ Committee, said the final decision was the most reasonable thing for the conference to do. Falae said although the conference was unable to resolve the issues bordering on derivation, he was happy that the conference did not end in chaos.
The knotty issues almost led to fisticuffs on Friday, July 11, when the report was first tabled at the plenary. Before the plenary, reports said the ‘‘wise men’’ and the leadership of the 20 committees had agreed that “the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less than 18 percent of the revenue accruing to the federation account directly from any natural resource and that not less than 50 percent of the total derivation funds accruable to a mineral bearing state shall be due and payable to the host communities within the state where the resources are derived in accordance with the production quota contributed by such communities.” And that: “There shall be established a Solid Mineral Development Fund, which is currently three percent of federal government account referred to by the committee on page 40 of its report, it shall be increased to five percent and will be applied to solid minerals development in the states.”
While presenting the report, Falae said it was the “agreement of the committee” but this was disputed by Ibrahim Coomasie, chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF. The former inspector general of Police said he and other delegates from the North were not part of the agreement. Coomassie said: “I’m involved in the meetings and as the Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, I can tell you that we have not reached any agreement yet. “We have met up to this morning, there was no agreement. Any report submitted to you has no support from the northern delegates.”
His submission threw the plenary into confusion as delegates started making sundry allegations against each other. Apart from the issue of resource control, the delegates were unable to agree on the zones that would benefit from the proposed five percent insurgency fund. While the northern delegates insisted that the fund must be enjoyed by the three zones in the region, namely North-East, North-West and North-Central, the southern delegates insisted that the fund must be made available to all the zones in the country.
Kutigi had first tried to get the delegates to resolve all the knotty issues on Friday, July 11, when he called for a meeting of the 50 wise men, chairmen and deputy chairmen of all the 20 committees. But the meeting could not hold because more than 60 of the delegates did not turn up. As if that was not serious enough, even some delegates from the northern states also refused to sign the agreement read by Kutigi on Monday.
That notwithstanding, the conference chairman said the next plenary session would be on August 4, 2014, when the delegates would reassemble to consider and approve the final reports of the conference for presentation to the federal government.
Apart from the contentious issues shifted to the federal government to resolve, the conference , however, was able to reach some landmark decisions which, if implemented, would bring about a lot of changes to the political structure of the country. But some of the far-reaching decisions were also controversial and would dominate public discourse for a long time. For instance, the conference decided that the presidency should be rotated among the six geo-political zones of the country. According to conference “the office of the President of Nigeria shall now rotate between the North and South and revolve among the six geopolitical zones of the country.” Similarly, it resolved that “the office of the state governors shall be rotated among the three senatorial districts of each state, while that of the local government chairmen shall be rotated within the local government areas.” Sponsors of the resolution, in their wisdom, believe that this would stop the domination of political power by a section of the country.
But opponents of the recommendation have argued that the country should go for merit rather than being tied to the apron string of geo-political rotation of elective political offices. On the opposite side are those who argue that there is no zone without people with great leadership qualities and that they are only needed to be identified and given a chance. It is also believed that this would reduce undue political tension in the country and save many lives that would have been lost in the fierce struggle for power. Besides, in the event that the president dies in office, or is incapacitated, impeached or resigns, the conference recommended that the vice-president should serve in an acting capacity for a period of 90 days, during which an election to the same office would be conducted. The decision was taken to help each zone run the full course of the constitutionally allowed tenure without undue disruption.
It was similarly agreed that the six geopolitical zones should be enshrined in the constitution of the country. It was also agreed that the president and his deputy should run on a joint ticket, thereby rejecting the recommendation that the president should pick his deputy among the members of the National Assembly after he must have won an election. The conference also endorsed the present two terms of four years as against the proposed single term of six years.
This would disappoint proponents of a single term of six years who had argued that it would save the nation billions of Naira of tax payers’ money and state resources which the incumbent executive often wastes in seeking re-election. The second term, some had argued, is principally used to recoup the huge ‘investments’ made in getting re-elected and amassing wealth that would be used after leaving office, including generous pensions.
Another controversial decision of the conference was its recommendation for the creation of 18 additional states across the country, which it said: “is a way of meeting the yearnings and aspirations of the people.” This was apparently in contrast to the South West proposal that Nigeria should go back to the regional system of government because most of the existing states are unviable and largely depend on the federation account to survive. Ironically, the same conference rooted for a unicameral legislature to enhance ‘cost-effective governance,’ and also make legislation a part-time affair.
On the question of immunity, the conference on June 12, finally voted to strip the president, state governors and their deputies of immunity from prosecution in criminal and civil cases. The conference delegates voted overwhelmingly for the removal of the clause from the nation’s constitution while considering the report of the Committee on Economy, Trade and Investment. Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution provides that no civil or criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the president, vice-president, governor and deputy governor. The committee chaired by Bola Shagaya representing Women in Business, WINBIZ, and Fola Adeola, an Ogun State delegate, had recommend that the immunity clause be removed if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy.
On Thursday, June 26, the conference, in its wisdom, voted for the establishment of a state police in the country. Prior to this, there was a protracted argument by the delegates which resulted in the adoption of a recommendation that at least, 70 percent of federal police officers from the rank of deputy superintendent to constable, should be allowed to serve in their states of origin. There were also arguments on the mode of operation of the state police and whether there would not be any superiority battle between the federal police and their state counterpart. Some delegates feared that there would be conflict of command and operations between the federal and state police which might work against the interest of the country. They argued that there was no way both could work together without rancour. They specifically raised concern over the possibility of a harmonious coexistence of both federal and state police in states, especially when their duties overlap.
Ayo Adebanjo, one of the delegates, said that state police should be autonomous and should operate as a coordinate with the federal police. On his part, Falana said: “The state police will police and maintain state laws while the federal police will maintain federal laws.” Above all, the conference, however, said only states that had the financial capacity to fund state police should establish it.
All said, the conference seemed to have proffered useful recommendations towards solving some of the nation’s multi-faceted socio-political challenges. As said earlier, some of the issues tackled by the conference would remain contentious for a long time. For instance, Mohammed Abubakar, inspector-general of police, in a recent interview, said the nation was not yet ripe for the establishment of a state police. He said: “We are not yet ripe for the state police. I am not saying there shouldn’t be a state police; we are not yet ripe for it.
“I will cite several examples. Check countries of the world, which are operating the state police. How many years have they had their independence? Take Britain. Take the United States, and take any European country that you can call. We are talking of 2,000 years in the United States. How old are we? Do they have the challenges we have? Do they have the issue of where are you from? Do they have the challenges of ‘I was born in Lagos, but I’m not a Lagosian?’ Do they have the religious crisis that we have: I’m a Muslim, you’re a Christian? Do they have the level of tribal differences in the states; that I’m Ijaw, you’re Itsekiri, you’re Igbo, or you’re Eka-Igbo? Do they have such challenges? So, these are the issues that should be put into consideration.
“Do they have the same political issues that we have; the same political problems; that I want to contest as president, but because you are not from the North, you cannot contest, or because you’re not from the South or West or South-South or South-East you cannot contest, or it’s not your turn? And I continue to ask questions. Tell me one state in Nigeria today, where you have ‘A’ party in power and local government election is conducted and ‘B’ party wins all the seats. Why is it so?
“It’s not state police. Now what happens, when you have a commissioner of Police appointed by the state governor? In Imo State, we arrested 230 persons from Osun State with voter cards, with ID cards of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. The commissioner of police arrested them, went to a hotel, based on intelligence information; searched for them; got them. Tell me what would have happened if the commissioner of Police was appointed by the governor of Imo State? Would he have arrested them? Would he have prosecuted them? These are germane issues that we should consider very seriously.”
Abubakar argued that the best way forward is for the government to strengthen the existing security structure. He said: “What we need to do is to continue to build on our community policing projects. When it is time for state police, it will come to happen.”
That notwithstanding, what will happen to the outcome of the N7 billion national conference, is one of the major concerns of millions of Nigerians. They believe that if the conference was meant to fulfil all righteousness, it would go the same way of previous ones. Besides, it is yet unclear how the conference delegates would want their recommendations to be treated. Some advocates want Nigerians to vote on the recommendations of the conference through a referendum, while some others would like it sent to the National Assembly. Given the fact that the next general election is about six months away, observers say it would be very difficult for the INEC to organise a referendum to deal with the recommendations. Besides, for a referendum to take place, the Nigerian constitution would have to be amended.
“The President has the powers, as a Nigerian, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, to introduce bills to the National Assembly and I call them Executive Bills. I will not question the modality or the methodology which he will use in introducing his Bills I am 100 percent in support of that. But I also want to refer to the provisions of Section1, Sub-section 2 of the constitution that stipulates that any law or act contrary to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution is null and void.
“There is no room for a referendum in this country, let nobody deceive you. Sometimes, I do not want to go into the details of whether it is the people’s constitution or not, but if we are abiding by the constitution, we can accept that it is the people’s constitution. If that is the case, where is the room for a referendum? The only way out, and I make bold for anybody to challenge me, you must bring that process to the National Assembly. Under the provision of Section 68 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, it has been stated clearly the modality and methodology of making laws; it didn’t say you can make laws by a referendum,” Leo Ogor, majority leader of the House of Representatives, said. Even at that, the outcome of the conference may surfer a still birth because members of the National Assembly are equally preparing for elections, which may delay the process of looking into some of its decisions.
Also expressing fear that the whole exercise could end up a waste is Monday Ubani, former chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja branch, Lagos State. He noted that the constitution does not recognise a referendum and that President Jonathan should have provided a platform for the way the outcome of the conference would be treated if he actually wanted to change the situation in the country.
“The president should have been patient enough to tidy up and reach an agreement with the National Assembly to enact a law convoking the conference, specifying the modalities and then what will happen to the outcome. If all those things had been done before the conference, he would have put the cart before the horse. But when you put the horse before the cart, you run into problems. That the National Assembly members would be the ones to determine what will happen to the outcome of the conference, they will tell you that they are empowered by the constitution to look at the amendments of the constitution. So, with this posture, all those billions we budgeted for the conference, would have gone down the drain and even the time and the risk of all the delegates travelling, you know every Monday they are in the air travelling to Abuja and every Thursday and Friday they are back to their various states. You have risked the lives of these men and women, wasted their time and also the resources of the country,” Ubani said. He, however, warned that the conference should not be allowed to end up as a waste so as not cause more harm for the nation. “If this conference is allowed to fail God forbid, it will have adverse consequences on the Nigerian state because the agitations will never stop, the annoyance, the anger of Nigerians against the Nigerian state and some of the injustices going on will be aggravated. People will get angrier and there will be implosion and that will not be to the health of the nation,” he said (see cover box).
Sadly, similar conferences in the past had ended up in a waste. Between 1999 and 2007, the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo initially ignored calls by the Pro-National Conference Organisation, PRONACO, for a national conference before setting up the National Political Reform Conference, which did not really address the pertinent issues affecting the nation. He eventually used it for his third term agenda thereby rendering its outcome useless. But going by the series of robust discourse and sectional agendas brought unto the table by various delegates, it was obvious that the outcome would still be far away from the ‘one country, one nation’ mantra of the government propaganda machinery. Whatever would happen to the recommendations of the conference is anybody’s guess.