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.”