Can the 2014 Confab Report Change Anything?

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With growing agitations across the country, the call for consideration of the 2014 National Conference recommendations is good and in collective interest. Shola Oyeyipo writes

Against the backdrop of the clamour for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference recommendations, the big question is, if eventually implemented, what do the recommendations portend for Nigeria? Can it really birth the new Nigeria of everyone’s dream? Most of the proponents of the National Conference, who are also some of the leading advocates of its implementation, believe that the exercise offered two things.

First is that it could bring about a constitution that has the input of Nigerians as against the 1999 constitution imposed on the nation by the military and second, it is capable of bringing about a just society through genuine federalism. Although it is not clear why those opposed to the idea are persistent, a major fear is that it could be a prelude to disintegrating Nigeria.

Whichever side of the divide anyone is, what is constant is that at the close of the 2014 national conference, the delegates passed more than 630 resolutions and produced a 10,335-page report, which was submitted to the former president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who convoked the national discourse and promised to implement them.

To Jonathan and others, who believe in the conference, it was the best option to addressing the structural defects and the cosmetic federalism the country currently practices, which they have continued to blame for the plethora of problems confronting Nigeria, particularly sectional agitations, militancy and terrorism.

The recommendations were eventually not adopted and as such, the protests for the implementation have been sustained. The agitation is more stringent now following agitations by pro-Biafra groups in the the South-east and the quit notice issued on Igbo in the North by Arewa Youth.

But, as it is, some northern political elite are favourably disposed to the idea of considering the conference recommendations, even though some delegates from the region recently advised President Muhammdu Buhari to jettison the report. But most Southern agitators have maintained that without true federalism, which the conference recommendations offer, there was a high possibility that the country might not survive much longer.

That much was postulated by a former governor of the old Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, during a chat with THISAY after a meeting of a coalition of prominent Southern leaders held at the Lagos residence of Professor Pat Utomi lastTuesday, when he advised that a committee to commence the processes that would culminate in the restructuring of the nation be setup to ensure that the country was restructured or else there was the risk of losing the country altogether.

“At a meeting recently held at Ladi Kwali Hall, I told them that time is running out for Nigeria. If we don’t get restructuring by mid next year, we may be losing the country. The federal government should finish with restructuring the country by mid next year, even if it will involve referendum. We should go back to what was given to us by our forefathers,” he said.

This position canvassed by Ezeife could be said to be nearing realisation with Senate already asking the executive to forward the conference report to it for consideration, yet, it runs contrary to that of Dr. Akintunde Adeyemo, a US-trained Nigerian born political scientist, who is currently serving as a legal extern at the Office of the General Counsel, Michigan National Guard, Joint Forces Headquarters. In his view, now is not the best time to tinker with the idea of restructuring because of the delicate level of peace in the country.

According to him, “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.”

While these opposing views dominate discussions, some pertinent issues such as the removal of immunity clause, creation of 18 additional states, derivation, creation of state police and other sensitive issues already approved at the conference are still silently some of the reasons behind the disquiet in the minds of the adherents of the national conference.

The event commemorating the 241 years of the US independence held in Ikoyi, Lagos residence of the Consul General, Mr. John Bray, and attended by various former heads of state and heads of government, members of the diplomatic corps, business, political, and traditional leaders, serving and former state governors, cabinet members, senior government officials, senior media executives, civil society representatives and leaders at other levels, provided a platform to verify the opinion of Nigerians on the burning issue of implementation of the 2014 conference recommendations.

For instance, the Coordinator, Southern Professionals, Mr. Mr. Emeka Ugwu-Oju, was one of those who held the opinion that since the 2014 conference had the inputs of every section of Nigeria, it was better than anything else, except Nigeria went back to pre-1966.

“I think we should get something straight. The 2014 National Conference is not a magic wand to solve Nigerian problems. I think the way I see it and the way it is, it is like a starting point. Many people, rightly or wrongly, but I am one of those who think rightly, we don’t have a nation and we need to have a nation.

“And how do we have a nation? Our founding fathers came and said this is what we wanted. That was what gave birth to what we had until the military intervention. After that, it is the whims and caprices of the military Commander-in-Chief. So, it is like if we want to be on the right path, we should go back to where people had a consensus.

“That consensus doesn’t have to be perfect but at least, there was a consensus. They can then start asking, do we rejig it or we don’t? When we talk about 2014; some people could say Jonathan did this or did that but we had people from all over the country. And if people start analysing each of the characters that were there, they all had constituencies and they reached an agreement. So, let’s start implementing these agreements. Then if we need to make changes, we start making changes. But if we don’t go back to pre-1966, then you could say the nearest to it is the 2014. That is the basis, because the resolutions they have were reached by consensus.”

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, a foremost Yoruba Oba, was of the opinion that the responsibility of prospecting for lasting peace lies with every Nigerian, more so that Nigerians are not faced with rejection outside their shores.

“If the Europeans are coming back together, there is the European Union (EU). Now if you go to Chad, if you go to all the African countries like Ghana, everywhere, there are Yorubas, Igbos and there are Hausas; they are tolerating us, why is it that in our country we are not going to tolerate ourselves? It is an irony.

“We should find a way of addressing the perceived problems that component parts of Nigeria are having. I think we should sit down and have a roundtable conference. The report of the 2014 National Conference should be published – where every section of the country met for almost five months – 492 delegates met and they came out with a report.

“That report should be published, because in that report there was nobody that said they wanted to disintegrate. We do not want this country to disintegrate. In unity lies strength and with the potential of this country, if we live together, with our population, our mineral endowments backed with manpower, we have what it takes to become one of the greatest nations around the world.”

On what Nigeria stands to learn from the United States, former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, said Nigeria did not need to wait as long as it took the US to stabilise, adding that what Nigeria needed most was an equitable society.

“We talk about federating units, America has federated properly and I think if we also federated properly in the true sense of federating, I think we would get to the promise land. It is evident that the structure that we run in Nigeria should be broken in a manner that America broke their own. There is city government, there is a county government, there is state government and there is a federal government. And all their four tiers function in proper manners without any overbearing influence from other levels. So, I think once we can recognise this and make the necessary sacrifices to make it work, we are not too far from development.

“A situation where our federal government runs a secondary school, to me, is not acceptable. These are things I think we can learn from the US and make our own society a better place for all of us and all the noise about breaking up the country, about this side not being fair to the other side will reduce drastically once we run a system that is just and equitable,” he said.

Former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, was not to keen in discussing political issues. His lack of interest in discussing any issues bothering on disunity and threat to Nigeria’s peaceful coexistent was equally profound. In fact, he proffered solution to some of Nigeria’s problems.

“You know we are here to celebrate the 241 anniversary of the United States of America. 241 years of struggle. The lesson for any democracy; any country in the world that has managed to make it in spite of their diversity, in spite of being a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, albeit dominantly Christians society is that every society, every democracy is a product of continued struggle.

“It never comes fully made. No country ever comes fully made. It is a product of ongoing – continuous struggle by the citizens to make a more perfect union. There is no society that is perfect but every society continues to endeavour to forge and move towards a more perfect union and you never really get there. There is no perfect union. There is no perfect society.

“So, the lesson from America’s independence for Nigeria is that it is 56 years, we are heading for 57 by October – we have been together for slightly over a hundred years – we must begin to think about the next Nigeria and that next Nigeria must be everything the first Nigeria has not done and that is, in a process of creating a more perfect, a more prosperous and I would dare to say a more united country – trying to forge a nation out of the disparage nationalities. It is not an easy thing.”

According to him, “It would require a lot of dialogue. It would require a lot of contestation but I think where there is the will, there will always be a way. Nigeria has all it takes to be the – of course, it is already the greatest black nation on earth in terms of its population. It has all human and material resources.

“By 2050, it will be the third largest country by way of population. If we can get our acts economically, Nigeria would by 2050, be ahead of UK and France economically, in terms of the size of its economy. But the big issue is, if we can get our acts together. And that is where the work begins. The work is cut out for all of us.”

Afenifere’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, who is one of the most prominent Nigerians on the vanguard for restructuring of the country, said while the agitation was not that all the recommendations of the National Conference should be adopted, there are some that hold the prospect of unlocking the full potential of the country.

Reacting to some critics, who said the provision that approved 18 additional states was unnecessary, Odumakin argued that “The reason we agreed on the additional 18 states was the fear of the minorities. When we got to the National Conference, we were for six regions but that did not get the support of the minorities. They felt that they would be sentenced to marginalisation under the existing six zonal structures and that was why we recommended those 18 states so that all those minorities can have their own states.

“But it has a caveat – that states can merge and they can form themselves to zones without being forced on them as it currently is. It was those states approved for the minorities that made it possible for the over 600 resolutions at the conference to be passed without any voting.

“Out of those 600 resolutions, nobody is saying we should implement everything now but there are key provisions there that can take Nigeria out of the woods. For instance, that conference recommended that we use five per cent of our federal budget every year, to prospect solid mineral deposits of Nigeria and they are large – all the states have them.

“If we do that, a study has shown that Nigeria would have N60trn economy annually as against N6trn that we are making from oil and gas. Added to that is that we should move solid minerals from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. Believe you me, if we do that, all the cries of marginalisation; it is our turn, will go away, because every section of Nigeria has an island of prosperity.

“Unlike what we are doing now that we are concentrating on oil and gas, between May 2016 and May 2017, all Nigeria received from oil was $6.9bn, within that period, Disney Land made $30.8bn. Today, Ireland does not have a barrel of oil, their GDP is $239bn and their population is 4.5 million people.

“With oil and gas, Nigeria’s population is about 200 million people, our GDP $481bn. So, even if we stop corruption, Nigeria will still be poor for the sake of oil and gas. And that key provision of the National Conference will make Nigeria a key country, where every section of the country will be engaged in production activities and nobody will have time for acrimony.”

However, advising Nigerians to hold dear what they have, the US Ambassador, Stuart Symington, urged the people to forge ahead in the unity that has been the foundation of the country, on which platform the US is growing.

“When I ask Nigerians, what do you like best about Nigeria – I have asked over a thousand people and I got almost the same answer, they say I like me, I like my friends, I like our diversity, I like Nigeria. I may not be a Nigerian but I would answer the question the same way,” Symington said.

In the same spirit, prominent Yoruba leaders, a few days ago gathered in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, at a retreat organised by Yoruba Leadership and Peace Initiative and called on the federal government to commence the process of implementing the report of the 2014 national conference. They emphasised the unity of the Yoruba people and maintained that Nigeria was overdue for restructuring.
They urged the federal government and the National Assembly to ensure that the process of reviewing the constitution took place before the 2019 general election.

Former Deputy National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Bode George, warned that the mistakes of the past should not be repeated to truncate the unity of Yoruba. He said that the thoughts of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, former Premier of the defunct Western Region, should be revisited in administering South-west states.

“I have read Awolowo’s methodology in education, health, politics and others, if it is utilised by any governor in the region, it will help in managing the states.”

Former governor of Ogun State, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, who described the report of the 2014 confab as “a good document” urged the federal government to begin the process of restructuring the country.

Convener of the retreat, Chief Deji Osinbogun, said Nigerians must come together to agree on the modalities for restructuring the polity.

He said that the National Political Reform Conference convened in 2005 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo did not douse the agitation for restructuring.

Generally, there is something a majority of the people appears to have come to terms with and it is the fact that the current structure is inherently defective and can no longer address the inadequacies of the various tendencies that make up Nigeria. Therefore, whether it is a reconsideration of the 2014 conference report or a fresh confab is convoked, what is not missing is that Nigerians must unanimously agree on the way forward as a people, without any section boasting undue advantage over another.

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS AT A GLANCE

Creation of 18 New States
The conference recommended the creation of 18 new states – three per geo-political zone. They include Apa, Edu, Kainji, Katagum, Savannah, Amana, Gurara, Ghari, Etiti (South East zone), Aba, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Orashi, Ogoja, Ijebu and New Oyo.

Resource Control/Derivation Principle/Fiscal Federalism
The conference held that assigning percentage for the increase in derivation principle, and setting up Special Intervention Funds to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development, require some technical details and consideration.

Public Finance/Revenue Allocation
The conference noted that the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5%, State Governments – 35% and Local Governments 22.5%

Forms of Government
The conference recommended the Modified Presidential System, a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. The president shall pick the vice president from the Legislature and should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo -political zones and not more than 30% of his ministers from outside the Legislature.

Legislature
The conference proposed a Bi-cameral legislature, but noted that members should serve on part-time basis

Power Sharing/Rotation
The 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.

Local Government
Local Governments, the conference recommended, will no longer be the third tier of government. The federal and states are now to be the only tiers of government. States can now create as many local governments they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped and in its place the establishment of a State RMAFC with representatives of LG and a Chairman nominated by the Governor.

Immunity Clause
One of the critical issues discussed is the immunity clause and it was agreed that it should be removed if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy.

Independent Candidacy
To open up the political space, the conference recommended that every Nigerian who meets the specified condition in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections as an independent candidate.

Governance
The creation of the office of the Accountant General (Director-General) of the Federation as a distinct and separate office from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government was recommended. The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation shall oversee the accruals of revenue into and disbursement from the Federation Account as and when due; and shall administer these funds as required by the Constitution, while the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government shall oversee the accounts of the Federal Government, the conference inferred.

Anti-corruption
The conference proposed Special Courts to handle corruption cases in the light of undue prolongation in the trials and prosecution of corruption cases in the regular courts.

Land Tenure Act
The Land Tenure Act, according to the conference, should remain in the Constitution but be amended to take care of certain 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”.

National Anthem
The conference also proposed the re-introduction of the old National Anthem

Religion
The Conference recommended that would no longer be any government sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands. It also resolved that churches and mosques should begin to pay tax to government.