Monday Discourse

The Senate’s decision to consider the  report of the 2014 National Conference will go a long way in dousing tension among Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities, writes Shola Oyeyipo 

As agitation for Nigeria to be restructured continues to get louder, those in government are finding innovative ways to counter the agitators.

In this wise, Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo reduced the restructuring argument to economic issue when he said “Even if states are given half of the resources of the federal government, the situation will not change. The only change is to diversify the economy,” 

His principal, President Muhammadu Buhari was very blunt. He had literally foreclosed the possibility of implementing the recommendations of the 2014 national conference when he said “…I haven’t even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives.”

Not bothered by the president’s position, people continue to make the call that the present structural arrangement bequeathed on the country by the military is unsustainable. The agitation is becoming louder and those in government may not have a choice but to give some concession. 

Like no time in the annals of its political history, Nigeria is exhibiting a  rather dangerous fault line embedded in sectional agitations that require urgent attention before it degenerates into issue that may lead to eventual destabilisation of the country, and for many, the reliable solution is still the adoption of the 2014 constitutional conference recommendations.    

The no-love-lost relationships between various ethnic groups in Nigeria, particularly between the northern part of the country and its southern  counterpart took a dramatic turn recently when some northern youths gave an October 1, 2017 ultimatum to the Igbos to quit the entire north.  Before, the northern youths issued the ultimatum, leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu had been making statements that, not only threatened the corporate existence of the country but also sought to undermine the authorities of the government. 

The ultimatum given to the Igbos jolted the country. While many condemned the position taken by the northern youth, few voices spoke in the youth’s favour. But the import of the message was not lost on anyone. If the intention of the northern youth was to let the Igbos know that no group has a monopoly of dishing out threat, then the ultimatum was a success. 

In defence of the south-east and to ensure that no counter threat was issued by other regions, the entire country came together to condemn the ultimatum. In doing so, the threats issued by IPOB, hitherto ignored by all, also came under consideration. 

Even with the uproar and the unaddressed demand for the arrest of those behind the ultimatum, the northern youths who are members of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF) did a follow-up to their threat by writing to Osinbajo to allow the south-east secede as being agitated by IPOB, MASSOB and others. In another reaction, a coalition of Southern youths under the umbrella of SNYC also vowed secession from Nigeria if anyone from any part of the south was violently expelled from the country.

The implication of threats and counter threats flying around is that the unity of the country is under threat. The marriage of inconvenience into which the constituent parts of Nigeria are subjected to is facing imminent divorce. 

Many Nigerians have questioned the basis of Nigeria unity arguing that  the structure of the unity has been faulty from day one – drawing resources of a section to operate the entire country. Whereas the country opted for federation because of its diversity. But because of the enormous powers wielded by the Federal Government – the federation is nothing but a unitary government. Most of the states created by the military can not generate enough resources to survive on their own. They have to largely depend on the federal government for their survival. This practice, many believed, is unsustainable.

To many Nigerians, breaking up is not in anybody’s interest. But they don’t mind sitting down to discuss how power should be shared among between the federating units and the centre.  What the people actually wish for is true federalism. A situation that guarantees that federating units are able to grow at their pace – with a weaker center. That was done in 2014 which culminated in the 2014 report.

The nation’s constitutional development history can broadly be divided into two; pre-independence era, which covers the 1914, 1922, 1946, 1951, 1954 and 1960; and the post-independence constitutional era comprising 1963, 1979 and 1999 constitutions. While the pre-independence constitutional instrument was enacted through an order-in-council of the British monarch, their post-independence ones were enacted in two ways; an act of parliament (1963 constitution) and military decrees (1979 and 1999). The structure of the country as it is now was a military creation. That explains why the people are agitating for an arrangements negotiated by them and no the one foisted on them by the military.

The 2014 Constitution Conference

The closest to that at the moment is the 2014 national conference convoked by former president Goodluck Jonathan where 494 Nigerian delegates deliberated for five months on the political system that would work better for the country.  Their aim was to find lasting solutions to bitter conflicts among its numerous ethnic, religious and other sectional interests. 

The conference came up with over 600  recommendations including the creation of 18 new states; Apa, Edu, Kainji, Katagum, Savannah, Amana, Gurara, Ghari, Etiti (South East zone), Aba, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Orashi, Ogoja, Ijebu and New Oyo. The conference also recommended one new states for the south-east  to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the north-west which has seven.

There was the issue of resource control/derivation where the conference recommended that government should set up a technical committee to determine the appropriate percentage on the issue and advise government accordingly. The conference suggested that the sharing of the funds to the federation account among the three tiers of government should be that the federal government gets 42.5 percent, state governments  35 percent and local governments 22.5 percent.

In the area of forms of government, the 2014 national conference recommended the modified presidential system, that would be a home-grown government that will effectively combine the presidential and parliamentary systems of government.

The president would pick his vice president from the legislature, not more than 18 ministers would be selected from the six geopolitical zones and not more than 30 percent of his ministers from outside the legislature. This is expected to reduce cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary. Elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government are to serve on part-time basis.

As regards power sharing, the 2014 national conference recommended that the presidential power should rotate between the north and the south and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.

If the 2014 constitutional conference sees the light of the day, local government will cease to be the third tier of government as federal and state governments will be the only tiers of government but states can now create as many local governments as they want. The immunity clause would be removed if the offences attract criminal charges. Nigerians who meet the specified condition in the Electoral Act would be free to contest elections as an independent candidate. Special courts would be set up to handle corruption cases. And the land tenure act would remain in the constitution but be amended to take care of those concerns, particularly on compensation in Section 29 (4) of the Act to read “land owners should determine the price and value of their land based on open market value” and there was provision for state police among others.

The Senate to the Rescue

Many Nigerians have insisted that the best way for Nigeria to go was to implement the recommendations of the national conference as a way to address the plethora of problems confronting the nation. Hence the  encomiums received by the National Assembly when the Senate upper Wednesday asked the acting president to urgently forward the report of 2014 National Conference report for appropriate legislative action. 

Leading debate on the motion which was eventually unanimously adopted by the senators, former Kebbi State governor, Adamu Aliero (Kebbi-Central), who was a member of the conference, said the report of the 494 member conference was the best option available to resolve the problems affecting the country.

He said: “We have to live together and the corporate existence of this country cannot be negotiated. Nigeria must remain one indivisible and indissoluble entity. I agree that there are problems; there are challenges and those challenges should be addressed. That was why in 2014 the then president, Goodluck Jonathan, decided to convoke what was called a national conference and it was a conference where all the ethnic nationalities, states and geopolitical zones were represented.

“All the issues affecting the unity and stability of this country were thoroughly discussed under the leadership of Justice Idris Kutigi (rtd) and co-chaired by Bolaji Akinyemi. A lot of recommendations were made to address these challenges.

“I will recommend that the Senate should ask for those recommendations to be tabled before the National Assembly because a lot of recommendations on all the agitations in all the geopolitical zones were addressed. I don’t know why we are not asking for those recommendations to be brought to us. They should be implemented where necessary.”

  Former Plateau State governor and a veteran of the Nigerian civil war,  Senator Jonah Jang, who supported the motion feared that no nation survived two civil wars, warning that Nigeria would not be a different case. All the other lawmakers, including the deputy president of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, admitted that Nigeria faced challenges that could be corrected by the conference recommendations. Ekweremadu also explained that the reason why the seventh assembly which received the report was unable to take action on it was because it was received towards the end of the legislature.

  The request for the 2014 confab reports followed submissions made to that effect by senators mostly of  All Progressives Congress, APC, during the debate on a motion, entitled: “The need for National Unity and Peaceful Coexistence in Nigeria,” sponsored by Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan (APC, Yobe), and co-sponsored by 106 others. Senator Lawan’s motion had four prayers which were all taken, but there was an additional prayer by Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP, Abia North), that the federal government be urged to urgently forward the report of the 2014 Conference to the National Assembly for deliberation. According to him, “we must, as a nation, address those issues that gave rise to agitation, Nigeria must be a nation that is based on justice and equity.”

But must the Senate wait for the executive to forward the report to them? The answer is no. 

Position of 2014 Conference Advocates

So many well-meaning Nigerians are in the frontline of the campaign for restructuring the country to protect its future but one of the crusaders was the convener himself, former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. He called for the implementation of the report during the Rivers State 50 year anniversary in Port Harcourt where he said: “This will allow states to assume control of the exploitation of their natural resources and mandate them to pay adequate taxes to the federal government.”

According to him, fiscal federalism will initiate faster development borne out of a comparison between the intervention agencies and the 13 percent derivation. 

He said: “From the days of Special Funds, through OMPADEC to now NDDC, the federal government has provided funds for the development of the oil bearing communities but with very little physical infrastructure to show for it.

“This is so because these bodies are highly political and lack continuity as tenures are hardly completed. New federal government administrations appoint new teams who award new contracts hence the zone is littered with abandoned projects. I believe that without the 13 percent derivation, action governors like Wike would not have the capital to drive his ambitious developmental projects. With fiscal federalism, the pace of development will be even faster.

“Our people want us to improve on the way we govern ourselves. That was why in 2014 I set up the National Conference to examine the grey areas and proffer viable options that will accelerate our political, social and economic development. 

“I am convinced that implementation of the report will help resolve some of the problems in our country. It is also my conviction that the future of democracy, not only in Nigeria but across the entire continent of Africa, lies in putting the people first. 

”This will entail not only working to improve their lives but also respecting their rights to freely choose who to represent them, without let or hindrance. That way, they will be able to wrap their hope and future around the certainty of the declaration that real power belongs to them, and that the maxim of one man one vote is not just mere platitude.”

It was in this light that immediately after the Senate showed favourable disposition towards the much-talked-about 2014 conference, the lawmakers received a node of approval from Yoruba socio-cultural group, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), which considered it as the wisest move towards dousing the mounting tension in the country 

YCE Secretary General, Dr Kunle Olajide, in a communique at the end of a meeting of the elders’ council at Ibadan, Oyo State capital last week said, “The YCE commends the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for its resolution and we urge the executive to forward the report of the 2014 National Conference to the National Assembly as an Executive Bill.

“The YCE urges all Nigerians to support the initiative of the National Assembly in its decision to work on the report.”

He also commended the efforts of Osinbajo in holding consultation with the leaders and elders of the six zones of the country to douse tension in the country, noting that “we assure him of our support.” 

According to him, calls for restructuring of the country would continue until the needful was done.

The leader of the Oodua People Congress (OPC) and one of the delegates to the conference, Chief Gani Adams sees no reason why the executive should delay any process that would bring about the implementation of the report of the conference because in his views, as most others, it is in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.

Speaking with THISDAY in an exclusive interview, Adams said: “The Jonathan conference experience was a very good experience. For me, I am a student of history. I may be born in 1970 but I have done research a lot about our race and Nigeria from the Portuguese explorers in 14th century. So, I know what I can say within every decade. So, from my history; the MacPherson constitution, the Republican constitution of 1963 and even the constitution given to us by the colonial masters in 1960; the only constitution that is nearer to what we did by our recommendations in 2014 was the 1963 constitution. As a matter of fact, we don’t even need to waste time. If Nigerians lift the 1963 constitution and adopt it, the country will change within two years. Not even going back to our 2014 constitution. 

“We recommended 633 modest demands that can solve the Nigerians problem. Some of the best brains in Nigeria were in that conference. We had more than 11 Senior Advocates who are best in their fields. We had three retired Appeal Court and Supreme Court justices. About 52 professors from different fields. No fewer than seven permanent secretaries from different ministries. All the service chiefs. The generals we had in that conference was between 18 and 20. And we had the good products of the civil societies. All of them were well represented. 

“When we started the conference we first agreed on two-third majority voting pattern. It took us about three weeks to agree on the percentage of voting. The recommendation of the committee was that three-quarter should be the majority on decision but we now fought that all over the world you cannot be expecting three-quarter to agree. We wouldn’t move forward until we agreed on two-third majority. It nearly truncated the conference. Fortunately, 99 percent of our decisions were based on consensus. No voting. The only thing was derivation principle. About oil. Not solid mineral. It took us about three weeks. 

“You know anything about oil, Nigerians will raise eyebrow to it. People like us said they should give Niger Deltans, who own those oil 25 percent but funny enough, some of our lazy politicians in the South-west said no! We will not be able to pay salaries again if we pay them 25 percent. We told them that we had agreed that the states should control solid minerals and there is no state in Nigeria that does not have solid minerals. Even the northern states have more solid minerals than the South.”

To pan-South-west sociopolitical group, Afenifere, restructuring Nigeria is the only panacea to solving the problems facing the country and arriving t true peace.

Depicting the retrogressive level of Nigeria’s political development without true federalism, Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr Yinka Odumakin, in a statement to commemorate 24 Years After June 12, argued that the only way for Nigeria to fulfill its destiny as one country is to ensure “a restructured polity that practices federalism in its truest form.” 

According to him, “Nigeria marks today the 24th anniversary of the cleanest elections ever held in its checkered history. Unhappily, Nigeria marks this day still labouring under intense strain, palpable uncertainty and extreme apprehension, because Nigeria has failed to learn the lessons of history.

“To this end we Afenifere restate the Yoruba belief that the only way that Nigeria would be able to fulfill its destiny as one country is that all Nigerian nationalities should be able to run their lives according to their civilisations in a restructured polity that practices federalism in its truest form. That remains the unchangeable preference of the Yoruba nation. If, however, our compatriots from the north and the east are not averse to the continuation of Nigeria as a country, the only acceptable path toward this end is political restructuring.”

A representative at the conference, the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti Diocese, the Most Rev. Femi Ajakaiye, has maintained that the full implementation of the 2014 National Conference report is the panacea to moving Nigeria forward. The former National Chairman, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA),

Chief Victor Umeh also said “We cannot continue to sustain Nigeria on injustice. We want a Nigeria

that will be run on equity and fairness. If the president wants a Nigeria where every citizen will have confidence and faith in the country, the conference report should be implemented.” 

A close political ally to President Buhari, serving Overseer, Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, who was his vice presidential running mate in 2011, has persistently stressed the need for the president to implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, saying its outcome is in tandem with the APC manifesto.

Bakare said that despite the fact that the All Progressives Congress did not participate in the exercise, he said the report was done by Nigerians. “I appeal to Mr. President not to ignore the report of the 2014 National Conference! God went ahead of you to provide a navigational map with which you can begin to steer the ship of state to a safe destination. 

“The APC may have refused to participate in the 2014 National Conference, but the report of that conference is completely in tandem with the promise of the APC Manifesto.”

Except a few people who have been able to speak against restructuring Nigeria, most commentators consider it as the way out of the political quagmire the country has found itself.

For instance, a US-trained Nigerian born Political Scientist, Dr. Akintunde Adeyemo, who is currently serving as a legal extern at the office of the General Counsel, Michigan National Guard, Joint Forces Headquarters had noted that to restructure Nigeria now would be a risky venture because of the delicate level of unity.

“The term restructuring is subject to different interpretations. What exactly are we restructuring? Our political system? Our federal system? When people talk about restructuring, I see it as another attempt to waste time and resources. Any restructuring exercise must be thoroughly scrutinised before it is embarked upon. At this time, the country is relatively peaceful; calling for a restructuring of the country at a time when different people are actively advocating for secession is not only a bad idea, but a risky proposal,” Adeyemo said.

Another position canvassed by the Director-General (DG), Voice of Nigeria (VON), Mr. Osita Okechukwu, was that despite genuine grievances, secession is not the best option for Igbos and that yet, the idea of restructuring in the context of regionalising would be complicated. He therefore suggests that political solutions must be employed to pacify the south-east and give every Nigerian a sense of belonging.

“Let me fundamentally agree with you that there are areas like the issue of number of state because these states, none, since the civil war, was created by referendum. The states and local councils, yes! They are deliberate marginalisation of the Igbo. There is no doubt about that. But if it is whether the Igbos are accepted in this country, I would say yes, we are highly accepted. Acceptability in all nation states, especially in vast ones like ours, is measured not only by government but also by inter-personal relationship between individual where they inhabit. So, to that extent, the Igbos are accepted.

“The fault lines of tribe and religion do exist all over the world. Yes, it impact on Igbos; not as a single out, it is because of the law of what we call proportion. In about 28 states of the country, if you take an accurate census and tell everybody who is an original indigene of Lagos State – stand this side; the next tribe that lives here, stand the other side; the Igbos. I don’t know the other tribe that would come second. If you go to Kano, the same thing. If you go to Calabar, the same thing. If you go to Akwa-Ibom and Maiduguri, the same thing. It is only in Kaduna that you tell all the indigene to stay on one side that we can compete with any other tribe. Same in Kwara, Niger and Ondo State. We will beat any other person in Jos. To me, it is acceptability.”

For obvious reasons, the 2014 conference report was far from being a perfect document. If many of the states existing today can not generate enough resources to survive on their own, while calling for the creation of additional states? Those claiming that the report holds the solution to all the country’s problems are far from saying the truth. Critics of the report also say that as long as the same people who are today running the country will be the ones to operate the new structure, the desired objectives of the reform will not materialize. To this category of people, the problem is not the structure but those operating it. Nevertheless, the 2014 report comprises some useful recommendations that can make life easier for many Nigerians.