Nigeria News

492 ‘Wise Men’ Shape Nigeria’s Future

The Monday Discourse
Today, 492 delegates from across the country will be inaugurated in Abuja, the nation’s capital for a talkathon, otherwise called the National Conference, on Nigeria’s future, write Olawale Olaleye, Ademola Adeyemo, Shola Oyeyipo and Ojo M. Maduekwe
It is not by accident that the making of Nigeria’s history is being put to work, starting from today. The three-month assignment to be carried out by carefully selected delegates nationwide, who reflected the variegated nature of the Nigerian nation, is meant to define the future of the country. For many years, Nigerians, regardless of creed and faith, had craved to talk so that they can voice out their opinions on how the ethnic mosaic that were cobbled together in 1914 by Sir Frederick Lord Lugard to form the country could co-exist on a mutually-acceptable term.
The desire is borne out of the realisation that the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates to form Nigeria did not have the input of the people and the anomaly had bred mutual distrust that has threatened the fabric of the nation’s unity. The fault lines, especially of ethnicity and religion that daily typify the existence of the Nigerian people, have strengthened the compelling need to review the basis of their co-existence, thus eliciting the agitation for a dialogue.
But successive administrations had their fears for such a dialogue as being propounded by different ethnic groups and had usually shied away from encouraging any move towards that direction.  It was therefore not surprising that when this latest initiative was mooted and announced by President Goodluck Jonathan on October 1, last year, it was greeted with mixed feelings. But a determined Jonathan went ahead to appoint Senator Femi Okunrounmu, a frontline Afenifere leader, as chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee which advised the government on the modalities for the convocation of the national conference, starting today.
Within a few weeks, the Okunrounmu committee, having gone round different parts of the country consulting stakeholders, produced a report as expected of it. However, its assignment did not dispel the criticism and fears over the desirability or otherwise of holding a national discourse on Nigeria’s future, especially at this critical period when the nation is approaching the general election.
Jonathan, on receiving the report of the committee, reiterated his commitment to the conference and insisted it would hold this year, notwithstanding the misgivings expressed in certain quarters by its opponents. With the presidential assurance given, the federal government announced the modalities for the selection of the 492 delegate who will participate in the conference. This however caused some stir following what many people described as a distinct disparity between what the committee had recommended and the approved guidelines.
For instance, the committee was said to have recommended that the conference would have no ‘no-go-areas’ and to be managed by a 13-member secretariat under an executive secretary with two members from each geo-political zone. It also recommended that a majority of delegates would be elected directly on the principles of universal adult suffrage and that each senatorial zone would send four elected delegates while the state governments would nominate one delegate each.
In addition, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was to nominate one delegate and the president to nominate delegates for key interest groups, but the nominated delegates are not to exceed one-third of the total number. Importantly, the conference, the committee recommended, should hold for at least three months and not more than six months.
The committee, according to the report, proposed that the conference should hold between February and July 2014, and that the president should send a bill to the National Assembly for an enabling law, or alternatively, that the president convenes the conference via provisions of Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution, while the emergence of delegates would be based on any of the four options. But in its wisdom, the federal government, according to its White Paper, nominated 20 delegates, which include at least six women, while state governors and the FCT administration nominated 109 delegates, three from each state and one from the FCT.
Also, bodies such as the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the judiciary, the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Nigerian Environmental Society, National Youth Council of Nigeria and National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) were also to nominate members to represent their interests at the conference.
Others sending representatives are the National Council of Women Societies, Market Women Associations, the International Federation of Women Lawyers, the National Association of Women Journalists, the Academies of Science, Engineering, Education, Letters and Social Sciences, civil society organisations, religious leaders, Nigerians in the Diaspora, political parties that have representation in the National Assembly and people living with disabilities.
Equally represented are the Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and political/cultural and ethnic groups among others. Other nominations include 37 elder statesmen, one per state and the FCT, made by the president. These nominees will include retired officers of the military, the police and the State Security Service (SSS) from each of the nation’s six geopolitical zones.
Representatives of the traditional rulers (two per zone and one for the FCT), retired civil servants (one from each of the zones and the FCT), the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the organised private sector will also join others to take part in the national talk shop.
Besides, there is the belief that the conference is a national distraction. Many people and organisations, the opposition especially, see it as a jamboree being put in place by the president to ease his way into a second term in 2015. Some even criticised the sum of N7 billion voted for the conference, describing it as a sheer waste of public funds. 
Regardless of all these, some Nigerians still crave a national conference that will discuss key issues and push for a renegotiation of the basis of the country’s unity. Such issues include the structure of the country, devolution of powers, fiscal federalism and system of government to operate among others.
Most geo-political zones are going to the conference armed with a demand for a return to regional government, which Nigeria practised before the first military coup in 1966. They believe that a return to the regional system of government could help reduce the cost of governance and reduce the tension associated with the desperate jockeying for power at the centre.
Another issue being pondered is the system of government to be operated under such a regional government. Some, for example, are in favour of a parliamentary system of government where lawmakers would serve on a part-time basis. This, they argue, could help reduce the cost of governance, given the point that the extant presidential system of government is expensive to run and to maintain.
At par with the issue of fiscal federalism is the clamour for devolution of power to the regions or states. The general belief is that there is too much concentration of resources at the centre which makes the federal government unduly attractive and unnecessarily attractive to political jobbers. Those who share this belief argue that more resources should be allocated to the federating units so as to make the centre less attractive. 

However, with the president’s insistence on going ahead with the national conference despite the strident opposition from its critics, another issue that became germane is what becomes of the outcome?  Jonathan had stated that the document produced by the delegates would be passed to the National Assembly along with several other previous documents for its consideration in the constitutional amendment process. Some, however, are of the opinion that the outcome of the conference should produce a new constitution, ultimately.

Although the Okunrounmu committee recommended alterations to the 1999 Constitution and not a new one, some people want a new constitution outright. Whilst government has said the outcome of the conference will be by consensus, in the case where a consensus is not achieved, it will be by a 75 per cent majority after which, the conference will advise the government on the legal framework, procedures and options for integrating its decisions and outcomes into the 1999 Constitution and other laws of the country.
Therefore, as Nigeria makes history today with the inauguration of a national conference delegates, it is expected that government would ensure that the talks were carried out under an atmosphere that allows for genuine discussion without undue pressure and influence.
Importantly, many expect that the outcome of the conference should be subjected to a referendum otherwise the whole exercise would amount to a waste of time and resources, as feared by the critics.
Flashback on Previous Experiences
The Abacha Constitutional Conference: Assuming power on November 17, 1993, the then Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, now deceased, said: “We must lay a very solid foundation for the growth of true democracy; we should abhor any ad hoc or temporary solutions, and the problem must be addressed firmly, objectively, decisively and with all sincerity of purpose.” A year after, he constituted a constitutional conference, where delegates were elected based on a direct universal adult suffrage. In electing the delegates, adults of 18 years and above were free to vote without restriction of a voter card.
At the 35th anniversary of Nigeria’s independence on October 1, 1995, Abacha said: “It was our generation that fought in the field of battle and buried its young to keep Nigeria one; our generation undertook the sensitive task of reconciliation and reconstruction. Today, it is our generation that is trying to facilitate the political regeneration of our country after several failures and misdirection.”
Representatives of all ethnic nationalities converged on Abuja for the national conference, which among other things, agreed on the “retention of a united, indivisible and indissoluble nation built on a federal arrangement that recognises a three-tier government.”
Delegates also debated the monopoly of power by the majority ethnic groups, and agreed to have the position of the president, governors, and chairman of local governments rotate amongst the zones. Some even canvassed for the position of the president to be made less attractive and that more power should be relinquished to the states and local governments.
Under the Abacha conference, delegates agreed, according to the draft constitution to have a fixed percentage of 13% of all revenue accruing to the Federation Account from natural resources given to host communities.
It is believed that thought during the Abacha constitutional conference, some well-meaning decisions were taken and documented in the original report of the conference, immediately after the conference, most of such recommendations were altered, rendering the conference and exercise in futility.
The Obasanjo Political Reform Conference: After that phase came the Olusegun Obasanjo National Political Reform Conference, mandated to “reassess, refocus, redefine and redesign (the country’s) political landscape in a direction that would strengthen the bonds of unity, enhance the processes of democratic consolidation, and strengthen the structures so as to solidify those values that promote democracy, good governance and good neighbourliness.”
Indeed, the conference held and the talks went on for as long as it lasted and at the end of the day, it was no better than the Abacha experience as everything put into it ended up a waste.
Small wonder, Professor Ijomah of the Centre for Policy Studies and Research, Asaba, Delta State, said: “In the Obasanjo conference, the participants did not make any mistake in showing that they had come there to champion their local interests. Northern delegates stood for everything that would protect Northern interests.
“The South-south stood for the South-southern interests. The Yorubas supported with keen interest what would promote the Oduduwa interest. All said and done, it was clear that there was no more one Nigeria. All the sloganisations for one Nigeria in the presence of so many Nigerians show that this Jonathan’s conference was overdue.”
It was also alleged that Obasanjo constituted the conference in a way to promote his third term agenda. Interestingly, Jonathan is facing a similar allegation. There is the belief that Jonathan eventually bought into the idea of holding a national conference to buy more time and worm himself into the hearts of the people to pave the way for his second term ambition. For a man who was initially opposed to a Sovereign National Conference to suddenly come down to the idea of a national conference, the opposition thought his rethink was suspect and subsequently raised the alarm.
But because like others before him, he also demanded a right to the benefit of the doubt, Nigerians, despite the initial apathy, seemed to have bought into the initiative. They have not only elected to be part of the initiative, they have also propounded different ideas, which they believed could help focus the conference, albeit from the ethnic point of views.
The Ethnic Groups and their Agenda
South-West: The General Alani Akinrinade-led delegates to the national conference would be pushing for the common position reached by the Yoruba ethnic group after a painstaking and wide range consultation. One of such positions is to maintain the current six regional structures. However, there is the underlying call for a delineation of boundaries to allow the Yorubas in Kogi, Kwara, Delta and Edo States realign with their kinsmen in other Yoruba speaking states and that every region should have equal representation in the National Assembly. 
Regional autonomy which would allow every constituent region in Nigeria grow independent of other regions is also top on the Yoruba agenda. This position will be complemented by the demand for a true federal system of government and its component characteristics, such that it is different from the current federal structure, especially as regards power devolution from the centre to the federating units.
The Yorubas are also pushing for the English model of parliamentary system of government, resource control and that revenue allocation should be reviewed in accordance with the devolution of power.
On the issue of immunity for elected officials, the Yoruba leaders opined that immunity should be limited to civil cases such that where a prima facie criminal case is established against an elected officer by a court of competent jurisdiction, such officer shall vacate office during the trial. This is openly against the present practice where elected officers are excused from criminal charges. 
The region would also advocate for the establishment of regional police, but with clearly defined roles and relationship with the federal police. While defence remains the duty of the central government, military commands which are to consist mainly of indigenes of the region are to be headed by the indigenes of the region. There is the call for the entrenchment of the right to secession and self determination.
The Yorubas want a new constitution since far-reaching decisions are expected to be taken at the conference. They will request for a special status for Lagos State and insist that Abuja must not be treated as a federating unit, state or region.
South-east: In its position paper which would guide the Igbo delegates at the proposed national conference, the Igbos will be making a strong case for the inclusion of the right to secession or self determination. They would also push for the adoption of the regions as the basis of the federating units as well as the establishment of regional or state police to enable the governors or regional leaders enforce their authority and law.
The Igbos position paper states that the items in the exclusive legislative list as currently contained in the 1999 Constitution should be reduced from 68 to 36.
It is the belief of the Igbos that the current Nigerian constitution is the opposite of true federalism, especially considering the recent anomaly in Rivers State where the former Commissioner of Police, Mr. Joseph Mbu, had an overriding power over a state governor and Chief Security Officer of the state.
The North: The Hausa-Fulani group is said to have commissioned the Oxford University, and several other universities in England to come up with an agenda for the region to be canvassed at the National Conference. Ironically, representations to the conference were not based on states or geopolitical regions but on the basis of ethnic nationalities groups.
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and other prominent northern groups had kicked against representation modalities which recognise equality of ethnic groups. This is because states like Adamawa and Bauchi are said to have 80 and 55 ethnic groups respectively. They hope to use such a number to influence voting at the conference.
There is a growing speculation that the Hausa-Fulani might attempt to frustrate efforts to return Nigeria to true federalism, fiscal federalism, regional government and regional regimental armed forces that are some of the leading agenda of other regions.
South-south: For the people of South-south, their major concern remains resource control. The South-south, at the conference will insist that states where natural resources emanate should control their wealth, at least, fifty per cent. To them, even if this was the only issue resolved at the conference, there would be an atmosphere of peace in Nigeria.
The decision to press for resource control reverberated recently where participants, including Ijaw National Congress, Oro Ethnic Nationality from Akwa Ibom State, South-south Peoples Assembly, South-south Peoples Forum, Efik Eburutu Ethnic Nationality, amongst others met at a one-day South-south zonal conference on the National Conference held at the Cultural Centre, Calabar, the Cross River State capital, were unanimous that the conference should encourage the inclusion of resource control in the constitution.
Like most other ethnic nationalities, the South-south is also of the view that the outcome of the conference should never be subjected to scrutiny and review of the National Assembly as proposed by the president. Rather, it proposed the need for an Executive Bill to the National Assembly to enact laws to back-up the conference.
Middle Belt: The Middle Belt Forum (MBF), which is the main body mobilising the zone for the conference, in its memo to the National Conference Advisory Committee in Jos, Plateau State said the debate should discuss and analyse all issues with the objective of reaching a consensus on how best to order the affairs of the country.
On this basis, the zone will be proceeding to Abuja with a fundamental resolution that Nigeria should live together in peace and as one nation. But within that nation, it hopes for the implementation of fiscal federalism, revenue allocation and resource control, citizenship rights and protection of minority rights, recognition of indigenes, creation of states, fight against corruption, structure and funding of local governments, management of national economy and the devolution of powers among others issues. It may likely not push for regional autonomy.
Expectations and Hopes
Although the three-month long national conference starts today with the inauguration of the 492 delegates, it is not without expectations and reservations. Particularly, for an initiative fraught with the suspicion of a hidden agenda, a swirling feeling of anticipated disappointment exacerbated by the theory of redundancy is pervasive. And only a sincere conduct of the national conference and implementation of the report can allay the overhanging fear of another exercise in a wasteful talk shop.
Former military governor of the old Western State, Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo, is in support of the conference he describes as an opportunity for Nigerians, especially the Yoruba race which he claimed has been marginalised in the past 100 years to come together and air their opinions on the way forward for reshaping, revitalising and reinvigorating the country.
“There is no gainsaying the fact that the Yoruba nation, which is the largest ethnic group in Nigeria, has been the most marginalised and neglected in the scheme of governance of this country right from the time of independence in 1960.
“In its 100 years of existence, Yoruba people have been relegated from the foremost, most urbanised, most educated, most economically vibrant, most populous, and being the first in everything needed for outstanding nation-building to the state of neglect, deprivation and marginalisation.
“I make bold to say that this state of hopelessness to which Yoruba nation has been relegated, either by omission or commission, cannot continue into the second century of the existence of this country. This has to change,” he said.
Considering the opportunity offered by the dialogue, he suggested that Yoruba should fashion out a working document, present and defend it at the conference in order to ensure a change, stressing that “this will enable us to speak with one voice, for one purpose – to achieve one destiny.”
Chief Idowu Sofola (SAN), a legal luminary, said the introduction of the national dialogue would offer an opportunity for the nation to correct the ethnic diversity that seems to be separating the people instead of uniting them.
His position on the conference can be said to be in tandem with the Yoruba agenda. He advocated a critical review, and even abrogation of the present “unitary” system of governance and its replacement with a truly federal system where the federating states will be the present six geopolitical zones, and will operate a parliamentary – bi-camera system of government with each federating unit having its own constitution, security, anthem, etc.
“The states comprising the present zones should be retained and they should be free to create more states or local governments on the basis of the constitution of each zone. States or divisions within a zone should also be free to join states within other zones,” he suggested, even as he supported the call for the merger of Yorubas in Kogi and Kwara States with zones that have common origin and culture as theirs.
Son of the late Yoruba leader, Pa Adekunle Ajasin and leader of a pan-Yoruba group, Ataiyese, Mr. Tokunbo Ajasin, who had persistently called for a sovereign national conference, has his reservations. He was not totally convinced about the composition of the delegates. He would have preferred that they were basically people from the ethnic nationalities.
He held that a new constitution must emanate from the dialogue, arguing that it was the only precondition for the 2015 elections otherwise, he threatened to carry out his earlier threat to mobilise the South-west and the South-south to boycott the election.
“It is unfortunate. I wanted and thought that the delegates will be picked on the basis of ethnic nationalities. The use of professional bodies, elder statesmen and others who had messed up the country was wrong- if you bring them back – to come and do what?
“The way I believe in the constitutional conference is that it will come out with a new constitution before the election. If we do not have a new constitution for the 2015 election, then let’s postpone the election.
“There must be no election without a new constitution. If there is an attempt to hold an election without a new constitution, we are still prepared to mobilise the people to boycott the election in 2015. If we go ahead with the conference without arriving at any conclusion, then we are just wasting our time.
“The outcome of the conference must be subjected to a referendum. If they don’t, then what did they go there to do? You select a few people to go and sit down and say the outcome will not be subjected to a referendum to allow the people participate in the process?” he wondered,
A former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, said: “In my view, I’d say let us just have this conference, be done with it and hope it helps even though there is a good reason for strong views about its relevance.”
The senator representing Edo North, Domingo Obende, was of the view that “It will be impossible to place Nigeria on the table of discussion amongst people of diverse culture, religion and tribe and expect them to come up with a solution or near solution that will impart positively in anyway.  So, for me, the time allotted cannot be said to be enough for a National Conference.
“I have said it before and I will repeat it again that for as much it is good and necessary to discuss, it is coming at a wrong time and it’s a clear diversion from the real issues confronting us as a nation, I mean the issue of corruption, non-employment/empowerment of the youths and women. Why do we choose to chase shadows instead of confronting the challenges discovered on the substance?”
On his expectations, Senator Obende said: “I expect nothing practical and adoptable that will come out of the conference and I consider it time wasting without apology.  Honestly this is a plan to keep us busy.”
A Lagos-based lawyer and Partner at Rosberg Legal Practitioners and Arbitrators, Greg Nwakogo, said: “Personally, I would want to question the essence of the National Conference as constituted. First, because it is not sovereign hence just an advisory body whose decisions are subject to ratification and as such a mere advisory body.
“Second, the national conference as constituted seems like a parallel body set up to carry out the constitutional responsibilities of the National Assembly. The premise upon which the conference is constituted as well as its terms of reference is faulty.”
On his expectation from the conference and what effect it would have on the coming elections in 2015, Nwakogo said, “I cannot say with exactitude how this is going to affect the coming election but I do not think it is a good timing. We can only hope and pray for the best and for the stability of Nigeria. I would rather be optimistic than pessimistic but we would have to wait and see.”
A political analyst and consultant, Clem Aguiyi, said “Several people had argued and legitimately too that the time frame for the conference is short given that we are entering an election year and the life time of this administration. I think whether short time frame or long time frame we need to quit being cynical and pessimistic and get going first.”
“This conference is to me more important than 2015 election. The success of the conference is crucial to our corporate wellbeing as a nation. Nevertheless, the implication of the conference on the next election may be minimal in terms of influencing the winner though the outcome will definitely be setting agenda for the post 2015 administration.”
But Aguiyi’s concerns were that of the quality of the delegates. “Some of them are sick and old to sit through long and rigorous debate that may end into the nights. Some are getting nominated based on political patronage not because of what they will offer.”
Despite these concerns, he has high expectations that Nigeria can still as a country be restructured economically and politically and “the conference is our chance to start on a clean slate.”
Mr. Akinbode Oluwafemi, an expert in international negotiation, said: “When you look at the quality of representation, you will agree with me that this conference is different from every other conference. Of course, a document that will contain agreements will be produced and circulated but the key issue is what actions are taken to implement those decisions. So Nigerians should be interested in the report of the confab and the implementation of the report. Are we just producing a report for the shelf like several other governments have done? That is key!”
On the issues that will dominate the conference, he said: “I think Nigerians are keen about having clear definition of our federalism, so issues like state police will come up. Yes, they said there are no-go-areas but I bet you, issues like a clear definition of a Nigerian citizen; state of origin versus state of residence will come out. I will also like to see issue around the environment and sustainable management of economic resources.
He also thought there would be mutual suspicions. “Of course there are suspicions already as some believe there is a Jonathan agenda. Others think opposition is planning to hijack the conference. You will see all these play out at the conference initial days but I believe the delegate will settle down and address concrete issues.”
Oluwafemi felt there was no need for a minority report, adding “Minority report is not negative but should be avoided. It only allows us to go back to issues that the conference was not able to reach consensus on, noting also that “There are already regional positions and it will get worse in Abuja. You will soon see South-south Caucus, North-east Caucus, South-west Caucus, but honestly, that is the reason for the conference.”
No doubt, the expectations and hopes are high despite the reservations. But how well the Jonathan government and members of the National Assembly handle this very experience will go a long way not only  to determine the future of the country,  which is in dire need of a redirection, but instructively on how seriously the people will henceforth take their leaders.
Table for Delegates List
Dr. Tunji Braithwaite
Chief Ayo Adebanjo
Chief Richard Akinjide
Chief Olu Falae
Erelu Olusola Obada
Chief Afe Babalola, SAN
General Ike Nwachukwu
Iyom Josephine Anenih
Senator Jim Nwobodo
Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN
Senator Azu Agboti
Chief Peter Odili
King Alfred Diete Spiff
Edwin K. Clark
Daisy Danjuma
Prof. Evara Ejemot Esu, OFR
Chief Nduese Esiene
Prof. Ambrose Okwoli
Alhaji Abdulahi Ohoimah
Prof. Ibrahim Gambari
Mr. Dogara Mark Ogbole
Prof. Jerry Gana
Gen. Jonathan Temlong
Prof. Jubril Aminu
Alhaji Ahmadu Adamu Muazu
Arc. Ibrahim Bunu
Amb. Yerima Abdullahi
Mr. John Mamman
Alhaji Adamu Waziri
Alhaji Umaru Musa Zandan
Prof. Mohammed Jumari
Mallam Tanko Yakassai
Senator Ibrahim Idah
Hon. Justice Usman Mohammed Argungu
Prof. Sambo Jinadu
Ishia Aliyu Gusau
General A. B. Mamman
Gen. Zamani Lekwot
Maj. Gen. Alex Mshelbwala
Rear Adm CS Ehanmo
Brig. Gen. (Barr.) DO Idada-Ikponmwen
Group Capt Ohadomere
Gen. Raji Rasaki
R. O. Osanaiye, AIG (rtd)
Alh. (Barr.) Mamman Misau, AIG (rtd)
Alhaji Bashiru Albasu,  AIG (rtd.)
Chief (Barr.) Nicholas Duru Nkemdeme, CP (rtd)
Barr. J. I. Ebinum, DCP (rtd)
Barr. Samuel Adetuyi, CP (rtd)
Chief Jeremiah Okwuonu
A. K. Horsfall
Mr. Iliya Danga
Chief Babatunde Ala
Amb. B. M. Sani
Amb. J. K. Shinkaiye
His Royal Highness, Alh. Dr. Zayyanu Abdullahi, Emir of Yauri
His Royal Highness, Alh. (Dr.) Nuhu Mohammed Sanusi, Emir of Dutse
His Royal Highness, Dr. Muhammadu Barkindo Mustapha, CFR, Lamido of Adamawa
His Royal Highness, Alh. Abdullahi Ibn Muhammad Askirama III, Emir of Askira
His Royal Highness, Alh. Sulu Gambari, CFR, Emir of Ilorin


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