The Presidency has once again made it clear that it would not consider the 2014 Confab report despite calls from some quarters that the report should be considered and implemented.
Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mr Garba Shehu, ruled out the implantation of the report on Sunday when he appeared on Channels Television’s programme for Nigeria’s 57th Independence anniversary celebrations.
Asked why the Federal Government would not consider the report, Mr Shehu said, “Because it was not an inclusive conference. You very well recall that the leaders of our own party – whether ACN and all of that and the governors were missing from that conference.”
To make matters worse, the confab was heavily criticised but the Goodluck Jonathan administration went on with it.
This (the confab) was lopsided in terms of representation, ethnically, religiously, regionally; and they were insensitive to all of these things and then they want to force it down the throats of everyone. That is why it’s a problem.
President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration have called on aggrieved people in the country to take their grievances to the National Assembly which it said had the Constitutional backing to address such concerns.
But there have been concerns that it would be impossible to get the National Assembly to make laws in line with the desires and wishes of Nigerians, especially as such laws may be detrimental to the lawmakers.
Mr Shehu is however not bordered by such concerns.
He said, “The members of the Nigerian National Assembly are not aliens and they don’t come from the moon. They are Nigerians and they are representing definite constituencies in some of the states. So, they are serving the purpose of representation. Why can’t they be trusted?”
The Presidential aide suggested that those behind the agitation in the country where those who had failed the nation in the past.
“It is not like I have no respect for older people. But there are people who think that they have messed up this country so much that they now want to resolve the problems that they created and they are in a hurry to do that,” he said.
The Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has called on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to begin the implementation of the report of the just concluded National Conference.
The Governor, who made the call in Ado Ekiti on Wednesday while receiving reports of Ekiti Delegates at the Confab, said that Nigeria has reached a critical point where citizens and government must act fast in order to prevent the looming danger that necessitated the National Conference.
Gov.Fayemi, while stressing the need for a referendum on the report, expressed optimism that the report would yield positive results that would produce a new Nigeria and give a new lease of life to Nigerians.
“I hope this would go beyond just another report as we have seen many ending up as mere reports; but something tells me that we have reached a point of no return that we either do something about this or God help Nigeria.
“This calls for immediate attention of the National Assembly and Nigerians of the need for a referendum”, he said.
Governor Fayemi, while commending the Ekiti delegates for giving the state quality representation at the confab, noted that many of the decisions taken at the conference were from the mandate given the state delegate by the people of the state at a mini-conference organized before commencement of the main National Conference.
Fayemi highlighted issues that were adopted from the position of Ekiti State to include fiscal federalism, devolution of power and gender equality among others.
Speaking on devolution, Governor Fayemi said that there was no two-tier state which runs a three-tier government because Local Government should be the business of the State Government and not the Federal Government, adding that the Confab decision has strengthened his belief in fiscal federalism.
The leader of the delegation, Dr Kunle Olajide, had commended Fayemi for painstakingly selecting the state delegation which actually drove the conference in a positive direction, especially in the areas of gender and fiscal federalism.
Olajide expressed optimism that the Federal Government would have the political will to implement the report of the conference in order to make Nigeria a better place.
A Member of the Committee on Public Service at the National Conference, Akin Arinkawe, says that the recommendation by some delegates in Public Service Committee at the National Conference was a way of making the government spend less and more efficient.
The recommendations adopted by some delegates in the Public Service Committee at the National Conference had been that legislators at the National Assembly and state level should function on part time basis to reduce the cost of governance.
He said that the issue was not an isolated issue but a broad way of suggestive reforms which would help in the development of the country.
Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise, Mr. Arinkawe explained that the Committee on Revenue on Government had also recommended that the recurrent expenditure should be reduced to 40% of the budget annually and the capital expenditure that hovers around 30% to be increased to 60% with a period of 3-5years.
He further advised that government should maintain a balance by investing in development not only the recurrent expenditure.
Two Delegates at the National Conference, Tony Nyiam and Bisi Adegbuyi, have both said that their recommendation at the conference is a restructuring of Nigerian government to practice the federalism that accommodates its ethnic peculiarities.
Mr Nyiam said that ethnicity is an important part of Nigeria which cannot be separated from its existence. He said that Nigerians had been carried away by the federalism as practised in America but he believed that Nigeria should have an “Ethnic Federalism” where people’s ethnicities are well recognized.
He noted that America is a country of immigrants and Nigeria should not compare itself to such country. You cannot stop a Buku man from being one. He emphasized that Nigeria needs a return to the federalism that recognises its ethnicity.
Adegbuyi, although differed on the call for “Ethnic Federalism” as he said that “federalism is federalism all over the world” but he acknowledged that indeed, the way to go was for Nigeria to try and understand the agenda of each ethnicity and not to tag ethnicity as a divisive factor.
He noted that Nigeria’s past leaders and the colonial masters knew that Nigeria was made up of different nations and the country in its current state should not pretend about this reality. Citing the developments recorded by regional leaders in the 1960s, he said that empowering regional leadership would be more productive.
Nyiam also emphasized the need to move “from Fiscal Centralism to Fiscal Federalism”, a situation whereby the count
ry moves from the culture of sharing resources at the Federal level and focus on creating those resources.
He agreed with Mr Adegbuyi’s earlier statement on the need to decentralize the government and empower regional governance. He agreed that the system of governance as practised in Nigeria in the 1960s gave Nigeria its best records of development.
Secretary of the Arewa Youth, Ahmed Tijani, representing his organisation’s position on the programme, however, said that they were supporting the
conference because they believed that “half bread is better than none” noting that what they had called for was a sovereign national conference.
He further said, “There is no point in time that Nigeria should experience a breakup”, so “whoever is in the driving seat”
would need support to ensure this. He said that he hoped that at the end of the conference, something good would come out.
One of the delegates, Tony Nyiam, while expressing confidence in the conference and in the sincerity of President Jonathan was of the view that Nigerians were paying too much attention to the nomenclature of the conference.
Mr Adegbuyi, who is a legal practitioner, quoted Section 14 Subsection 2 of the 1999 Constitution which he said, gives the sovereignty of the country to the people, stating that this was also acknowledged by the President.
He stated that there was nothing that makes the ongoing conference less sovereign and that the misconception about the sovereignty of the country having been given to the National Assembly was an exaggeration of their roles.
Northern Elders’ Forum
Reference was also made to the position taken by the Northern Elders’ Forum, who have expressed their stance not to support the conference and dissociated themselves from the delegates at the conference.
Tijani said that the difference in their positions from the elders’ was because the elders are conservative while the youths are progressive. He added that while they do not totally disagree with the elders’ views, they would not tow same line because they are young, “We want change and we have to be for the conference so that things can move on”
On the possibility of the delegates having a unified discourse without ethnic sentiments, Tijani said that the Nigerian President should have made fixing the identity issues of Nigerians a priority ahead of the national Conference, citing the branding of all Northerners as Boko Haram as one of the examples of how many Nigerians still feel different from other Nigerians.
He also complained about the representation of youths at the conference as being too low for a country whose youth population is very high.
Although Adegbuyi disagreed on the youth representation, Nyiam agreed that the youths should be given focus especially in terms of empowerment. He said that the main sectors in which Nigeria derived pride had been held by the youths – entertainment, sports. Therefore, the country needs to go back to the system that allows the youths to flourish.
Adegbuyi, in conclusion, believes that the National Conference has the capacity to move Nigeria forward but the major focus should be how to achieve unity without sacrificing autonomy.
As the debate on the proposed National Conference continues, a former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, is lending a strong voice to the talks in the interest of national unity.
When Channels Television asked what his views were on the subject, General Gowon said that he hoped the participants at the conference would indeed represent the people in their negotiations.
“If they want to talk in order to keep the country one, united, peaceful and well for the people of the country, then yes, go and talk but talk in the love of your country.
“As far as the country is concerned, there is nothing that can replace it, but when you go there thinking if things do not go the way I want, therefore the country should go to hell, I hope that that is not the way they are going to talk.
“I hope they are going to talk about the wellbeing of Nigeria; how Nigeria can stay together whereby we can love each other no matter from which part of the country or which religion that you have, that you love your country and you love everybody in your country”, he said.
A Legal Practitioner, Chukwuma Ezeala, has recommended that the National Conference must have real representation of Nigeria’s 6 geo-political zones, for it to truly address the issues confronting the country.
While speaking on Channels Televison flagship breakfast programme, ‘Sunrise Daily’, he noted that since the year 1964, the main issues confronting Nigeria had bothered on corruption and ethnic differences.
While admitting that leadership was also an issue, he argued that one of the reasons Nigeria has not had good leadership was because of the ethnic problems, explaining that the ethnic problems affect the way the leaders emerge.
He explained how ethnic groups determine who should be the Nigerian President and also influence who would be Ministers to work with him. He claimed that it has also been ethnicity that had shielded corruption over the years.
Mr Ezeala, however, suggested that this situation does not require that the National Conference be tagged ethnic. He said that what Nigerians must ensure is that issues of ethnicity are discussed. He said: “If we already have accepted to 6 geo-political zones, why don’t we make sure that there is real representation of those 6 geo-political zones, which represents the ethnic issues and which has fairly equal representation?”
On the issues of a “no go area”, the lawyer said: “If we must discuss how we are going to live, first thing will be to affirm that we want to live as one country. I think that 90% of Nigerians want us to be together, so why are you avoiding it?
“Let it be that for the first time, Nigerians have said they want to live together.
“Now, the next question is yes we want to live together but how do we live together? Is it possible for an Ondo man to come to Lagos and become the Governor of Lagos State? I think it should be possible if he is the most qualified…but we need to agree because my own view should not be the view of Nigerians.
“We should come in, discuss, decide this and we now give it a print of authority to say this is what Nigerians have done, and any president and any leader can now enforce it and not say that it was Decree 24 that brought us together and decreed how we should live.”
In a show of cautious optimism, Mr Ezeala expressed confidence that the constitution of the National Conference has the ingredients to address the Nigerian issues once and for all, provided that at the end of the conference there is a written agreement which would make it easy for political leaders to enforce the people’s resolution.
He also suggested that the National Assembly should pass a law that would enable the outcomes of the National Conference to go through a referendum, and if they are not ready to do so, the Conference could recommend or decide that what they had done should go through a referendum.
He also spoke about the structure of the representation at the conference as it affects the body of lawyers in Nigeria.
Representatives of Nigeria’s major ethnic groups have commended the Federal Government for the planned National Conference, but not without some clamouring that resolutions at the conference be subjected to a referendum by the people and not the National Assembly.
Politics Today on Channels Television played host to the President of Igbo socio-political group, Aka-Ikenga, Mr, Goddy Uwazuruike; the President of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima and the Spokesperson for Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin.
Odumakin commended the Federal Government for the structure of the modalities for the conference as he referred to it as “a big improvement from the initial recommendation” by the presidential committee.
He noted that if the government had followed the recommendations of the Presidential Committee, the essence of the National Conference would have been lost. He said that the panel’s recommendation was faulty. “Asking that representation at the conference should be by Federal Constituencies is a blunder, as the make-up of these Federal Constituencies is one of the reasons why the country needs the conference in the first place,” he stressed.
Mr. Uwazuruike, while agreeing with Odumakin, also said that the basis for the conference was the dissatisfaction of various people who are seeking to know where they stand in the state of affairs insisting that the beauty of the National Conference, as planned by the Government, was that what the Executive and Legislature believed would be of no impact but what the people want.
No Go Area
Mr Shettima, while also commending the Federal Government for accepting that there was need for Nigerians to discuss, also supported the clause that the indivisibility of Nigeria would not be discussed; acknowledging that the Government had a right to determine how they want the conference to go.
Although, Odumakin also agreed that it was a good idea that the Federal Government wants to protect the unity of Nigeria, he however frowned at the statement credited to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, that the unity of Nigeria was not negotiable.
He said: “That is not right.” He argued that Nigeria had been together for so long and that the people must be able to negotiate the terms of their unity. According to him, “Discussing our differences will not break us. We should not be afraid”.
Odumakin warned that what could lead to the breakup was “when we do not discuss the terms of our unity.” He added: “Pretending that we are united is like postponing the evil day.”
Mr Uwazuruike, who is also a lawyer, provided the legal framework for the decision of the Presidency. He explained that according to the Nigerian Constitution, “a President swears an oath to not initiate the divisibility of Nigeria, and President Jonathan is bound by his oath of office to ensure the continued unity of the country.
“Initiating a gathering to discuss the matter, therefore, will be going against the Nigerian Constitution and his oath of office.
“Also, it will mean asking for a revolution and when that happens, it is his office and the parliament that will first have to go,” the lawyer said.
He submitted that Mr. President was on the right track and that if anyone wanted a revolution, it would not be the President that should instigate it.
Shettima called on Nigerians to take advantage of the whole conference even if it was not the solution to all of Nigerians’ problems, as he was sure that the country would move forward from where it was.
There are questions about the criteria for the selection of representatives at the National Conference expected to have 492 representatives from different parts of the country.
Mr Shettima said that the makeup of the representation cannot be perfect since the whole idea was for it to be all inclusive, adding that the inclusion of the civil society makes it good enough.
He however noted that asides the issues of composition, there were more important problems that needed to be fixed one of which was the legitimacy of the 1999 Constitution. He said that the National Conference must be seen as an exercise towards building a brand new constitution for Nigeria.
Barrister Uwazuruike also added that the 1999 constitution truly tells a lie and offered an explanation on how the resolution of the constitution can be changed
The SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim, in an earlier interview with Channels Television, had said that only the National Assembly had the powers to amend the Constitution and there was nothing that could be done about it.
Mr Odumakin further berated Mr Anyim as being ignorant. He stressed that the referendum is the key thing in the forthcoming conference, going down history lane to validate his argument.
Shettima also stressed that “as long as Nigeria retains the Constitution that gives all the power to President, with everything centralized in Abuja, things will not be better in Nigeria”. He said that all resolution at the conference must be subjected to a referendum.
“We are not asking for an amendment of the constitution, what we need is a totally new constitution,” he stressed.
In further response to Mr Anyim’s interview, Mr Odumakin assured that there could not be chaos, as Nigerians had been together for too long that there was need to discuss. He said: “We cannot put our faith in the hands of those who created that same 1999 constitution for us after all they have done to us since.
“They have been serving themselves and now it is time for them to do what we want.” He said, adding that sovereignty lies in the people and not the National Assembly.
Uwazuruike however warned that the same 1999 Constitution was the basis for convening the conference and that it gave the details of what should be discussed and there was no referendum in its recommendation.
He added that indeed, sovereignty was in the people as earlier argued by Odumakin, but stressed that it was to be executed on their behalf through the National Assembly. He concluded with an advice to the National Assembly to pay attention to discussions at the conference and use them according to the will of the people.
Mr Odumakin said: “What is worth doing is worth doing well.”He urged Nigerians to go into the conference with the realization that “it is not to constitute us.”
Shettima warned that if the National Conference would not be subjected to a referendum, then it would have been a waste of tax payers’ money.
The Chairman, National Advisory Committee on National Dialogue, Femi Okurounmu has expressed his committee’s joy and satisfaction at the support Nigerians have shown to them and their embrace of the National Dialogue idea.
Senator Femi Okurounmu was a guest on Channels Television breakfast programme, ‘Sunrise Daily’ where he shared his thoughts on the activities of the National Advisory Committee on National Dialogue.
Okurounmu, whose committee had just concluded a tour of all regions of the country expressed the committee’s surprise at the enthusiasm with which Nigerians welcomed them and endorsed the idea of the National Conference as well as their warm embrace of change in the country.
He stated further that the few voices of opposition that were raised initially have now been drowned by the acclamation and approbation of all Nigerians, “to the extent that those who initially were raising voices of opposition are on the retreat because they found themselves increasingly marginalized and isolated from majority of their countrymen and women.“
“It must be said that even these voices of opposition that were raised initially were by a group of governors belonging to a particular political party, some of whom in fact have been at the forefront of agitation for a national conference over the last 3 decades, who had financed agitations for national conference, who had supported it but who now find it politically opportune to oppose it simply for personal political reasons.”
“I think the interest of Nigerians, the interest of the future of Nigerian children, is far greater that the temporary interest of some handful of individuals.”
When asked what the committee has found to be the most consistent concern to majority of Nigerians, he mentioned that top among the issues is the whole structure of the Nigerian Federation which many believe is lopsided.
He also said that Nigerians are concerned about the political and fiscal federalism that the country practices. Many are of the opinion that there are too many responsibilities with the Federal Governments, while there are too little with the federating units making these units more like beggars when it comes to sharing the resources of the nation.
Reacting to President Jonathan’s declaration that the committee’s submission would be subjected to the National Assembly for input, Sen. Okurounmu said that his committee has not taken a position on it but reiterated that their mandate is to make recommendations about how to go about the conference and the involvement of the National Assembly is part of the areas they are supposed to make recommendations about.
Expectedly, questions were raised about the fears that the conference might go the way of other past conferences whose reports have been forgotten; Sen. Okurounmu expressed confidence with the process so far but added “we can only hope that this will not go the way of other committees and conferences, we must always remain optimistic…until we get it right we shall keep trying, but my hope is that this time we will get it right.”
He also spoke about the incidents leading to the committee’s rowdy session in Edo State, involving Governor Adams Oshiomole. He opined that if the members of his committee were patient enough to listen to the governor before the session, they could not have controlled the crowd to do same, since it was Oshiomole’s decision to bring to the public, the views he had shared with them in an earlier private meeting.