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CONFERENCE ROUNDUP: A Week of Fundamental Recommendations

 The national conference last week adopted some recommendations that could cause fundamental changes in socio-economic and political relations in the country. Chuks Okocha and Onyebuchi Ezigbo report

The national conference on Thursday adopted the recommendation of the Committee on Politics and Governance that Nigeria should adopt a truly federal structure with the states as the federating units. With this, it was agreed that the creation of local government areas should be done by the states as they deem necessary. But the conference agreed that the federal government should continue to fund the old 774 local governments, but no decision was taken on the creation of new local governments.
However, decision on the establishment of structure, composition, finance and functions of local government councils was put on hold pending discussions on the report of the Committee on Political Restructuring.

Self-determination
On the right to self-determination, the conference agreed that minority groups that wish to exist as separate states and meet the criteria for state creation should be allowed to do so under the relevant laws. In making this proposal, the conference said it recognised the unconditional rights and freedoms of every ethnic nationality that considered itself as unjustly subjected to real and perceived injustice and marginalisation to join their kith and kin through the relevant laws.
But, for the second time, the delegates rejected the right of self-determination for ethnic nationality.

Towards a Better Electoral System
The conference proposed stiff penalties for elected public office holders who move from one political party to another before the expiration of their mandates. It said such office holders who abandoned their parties midway for new ones without cogent reasons were to lose their seats.
It was also resolved that inducement of voters with money and materials on election day should be treated as a criminal offence and perpetrators should severely punished.
The Independent National Electoral Commission and the State Independent Electoral Commissions, the conference said, should device ways to ensure that physically challenged persons, especially lepers, are registered and allowed to vote in elections.
These were some of the recommendations adopted by the conference during the debate and consideration of the report of the Committee on Politics and Governance headed by Professor Jerry Gana with Chief Olu Falae as co-chairman.

The conference also accepted the proposal that government should not fund any political party. It said parties should be funded through membership subscriptions, levies, donations, investments, sales of party cards, and other fund raising activities. It also recommended that INEC should place a peg on campaign funding and expenditure.
The proposal that unelected chairmen of local governments, often referred to as transitional committee chairmen, should be sanctioned by withholding the statutory allocations of the affected councils pending the conduct of elections into them, was accepted by the conference.

More Proactive Anticorruption War
On anticorruption and ethics in governance, the conference accepted the proposal that anticorruption agencies, especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, should take up any corruption case that is in the public domain without waiting for a petition. It said refusal by the anticorruption agencies to act on corruption cases that have come to their knowledge shall constitute an act of misconduct, criminal negligence or dereliction of duty that will attract appropriate sanctions.

The conference also accepted the proposal that all anticorruption agencies should be empowered to invite anybody living above their means to explain their source of wealth, and if the agencies are not satisfied with explanations to the acquisition of such wealth, the person shall be charged to court. Upon conviction, the person shall forfeit the entire proceeds from corruption and be sentenced to half the prison term attached to the sum of the money or its equivalent.   
It also resolved that asset declaration form submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau should be made accessible to the general public. Such declaration of assets by public office holders should be before and after assumption of office.

The proposal that a special account be opened and designated as Infrastructure Development Fund into which all recovered proceeds of corruption shall be paid into was adopted.
The conference also agreed to transfer the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the Freedom of Information Act from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to the National Human Rights Commission.            
It accepted the proposal for the establishment of a National Council of Traditional Rulers.

State and Community Police
In an apparent move to tackle the current security crisis and insurgency in the country, the conference recommended the decentralisation of the Nigeria Police to make room for the creation of state police and community police.
By implication, the police was removed from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List to allow both the federal and state governments address adequately issues of security and policing.
These were the highpoints of the recommendation by the National Security Committee headed by former Inspector General of Police, Gambo Jimeta, and former Director General of the Department of the State Security, Albert Horsefal.
Though newsmen were barred from the plenary session where the general principle of the National Security Report was debated, they were allowed to cover the debate on the recommendations of the committee.

In approving the recommendations for state and community police, the delegates said the federal police should concentrate on the enforcement federal laws, while state police should enforce state laws. The delegates also said that the issue of state police should be optional to states.
The conference further recommended that state governors should be involved in the running of the police commands in their states and that 70 per cent of deployment of police officers from Deputy Superintendent of Police to the rank of Constable should be to their states of origin.

But the conference rejected the proposal that state governors should be consulted before a Commissioner of Police is posted to any state and said governors should not control the state police.
The conference rejected the expansion of the State Security Council to include the Immigration, Customs, civil defense, etc. It also rejected the expansion of the local government security council.
The conference recommended that vigilante groups should operate under the police, while rejecting the recommendations that there should be Very Important Persons units to be created in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The conference adopted the recommendation that retired military personnel should be trained and engaged in the fight against Boko Haram. It, however, rejected the recommendation that the National Security Adviser should establish a Homeland Security Force. It also rejected the recommendation to merge the Federal Road Safety Corps with the police. Delegates adopted a recommendation for a life insurance scheme to be created for all armed security personnel in the country.

The conference rejected the recommendation for the establishment Police Complaints Authority. It also rejected that the recommendation to merge the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps with the police.
The conference also rejected the recommendation to bar the Nigerian Army from being drafted for electoral duties as well as the recommendation that the NSCDC.

Other recommendations on national security included the addition of the border patrol force to the Ministry of Defence.
There was a stalemate on the mode of operation and question of superiority between the federal police and state police, as a delegate suggested that the two police organisations existing differently would result in a conflict of command and operation.
Ayo Adebanjo from the South-west said the state police should be autonomous and should operate in coordinate capacity with the federal police, as the states are coordinate to the federal government.

Independent Candidacy
The national conference approved the recommendation for independent candidates to participate in elections in the country. By this, the conference called for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to allow individuals who may not wish to contest election on the platform of any political party to vie as independent candidates.
But it was recommended that any politician without identifiable source of wealth should be disqualified from contesting elections in the country.
   
Diaspora Voting and Prisoner Exchange
With reports that there are over 16, 300 Nigerians in foreign prisons, delegates last week   called for the exchange of prisoners between Nigeria and their host countries. They also canvassed for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to enable Nigerians in the diaspora to exercise the rights to vote during elections in Nigeria.
The report on foreign policy also recommended that Nigeria should sign extradition treaties with Eastern European countries and countries of the South, just as it has with the Western nations, to help safeguard democracy in the country. The idea, the delegates said, is to guard against the trend whereby coup plotters take refuge in countries with no extradition treaties with their home countries.

Former Minister of Education, Professor Ihechukwu Madubuike, quoting the NDLEA, said there were over 16, 300 Nigerians in foreign jails due to drug related offences. He also said that there were over 3, 719 Nigerian women in Canada alone.
Madubuike called for the exchange of prisoners, as contained in the report of the foreign policy committee. He was supported by the former governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife.

The committee called for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution, section 41(2) (ii), to facilitate the exchange of prisoners. It recommended the creation of Foreign Ministry Academy to ensure that only qualified Nigerians were recruited as staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, arguing the staff of the foreign ministry represent the image of Nigeria and, therefore, should be properly equipped.

Almost all the delegates spoke in favour of amending the constitution section 13 (1) (c) of the Electoral Act to enable Nigerians in the diaspora to exercise the right to vote. They argued that it was unfair for Nigerians in the diaspora, who contribute about $22 billion annually to the economy, to be denied the right to vote during general elections in the country.
Chairman of the committee, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, also called for a coordinated approach in the foreign affairs policy.

Provision of Social Amnesties Now Justiciable
The Committee on Civil Society, Labour and Sports, headed by Mrs. Bola Ogunrinade, recommended, among others, interventions, including amendment to the constitution, to make provision of social welfare schemes justiciable.

Journalists Barred
Chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, ordered security operatives within the National Judicial Institute to stop journalists accredited to cover the proceedings of the conference as Horsfall presented the report of the Committee on National Security at the plenary session. Horsfall, who stood in for Jimeta, had midway into his presentation advised journalists covering the conference to close their ears and shut their cameras.

“I want journalists inside here to close their ears and shut down their cameras because I am going to discuss very sensitive national security issues,” Horsfall had said. “Alternatively, Mr. Chairman, I would request that the gallery be cleared of journalists to enable us discuss the issues here.”

Kutigi elected to send out journalists. “Journalists get out now. Get out. Shut your cameras and get out of here now,” he ordered.
As the journalists were getting ready to leave the gallery, Kutigi shouted again, “Disappear from here now. Security, get them out of here immediately. Get out here.  Disappear. Get out, all of you.”

Security operatives inside the chamber rushed at journalists who were struggling to pack their equipment and threw them outside the gallery. Some overzealous security operatives, who might have been waiting for an opportunity to descend on journalists, moved swiftly to the press gallery and forced reporters to leave the hall without carrying their bags, cameras and laptop computers. As the journalists were hounded out, the security operatives packed their bags, computers and other equipment they left behind and dumped them outside the gallery.

The journalists were left outside for hours as Horsfall presented the report of his committee.
Angered by Kutigi’s action, chairman of Daar Communications, owners of Africa Independent Television and Ray Power radio station, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, came out of the chamber and directed his staff to shut down all the equipment used in giving live coverage to the conference. He went back to the chamber but later came out with the conference’s assistant secretary, media and communications, Mr. Akpandem James, and a representative of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, Sani Zoro.
They tried to pacify the journalists. James apologised for the embarrassment given to the journalists and appealed to them to be prepared to return to the gallery when the conference resumed from the executive session.

Zoro told the journalists, “We have been partners in progress in this particular exercise. Everywhere, journalists are embedded into this kind of exercise. Even if it is in a war situation, security agencies still brief journalists in confidence.
“It is even in our ethics that information obtained in confidence cannot be disclosed and we are signatory to this. This could have been avoided. We shouldn’t have had this kind of distraction at all.

“I blame the chairman for the words he used. But you can see that the conference came to a stop for about 40 minutes. The chairman and the leadership were advised and he offered an apology and said he considers the press as partners in this exercise.
“Without participation and cooperation of the media, this conference cannot be successful.”
Dokpsei said, “They made a grievous mistake and even those at the top echelon of the media threatened a walkout. Others in the civil society groups and lawyers also threatened to walk out…

“But they have recognised their error and I want to commend Mr. James. He wasn’t there when the incident happened, but immediately he came, he took prompt action. Please, let us treat this conference as a national assignment.”
But in a unanimous decision, journalists decided to boycott the conference for the day and also demanded an apology from Kutigi on Thursday morning before they could return to work.

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