Confab: Knotty national question back to sender!

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Jonathan and the Technical Committee controversy

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

They came, they debated, they disagreed. This was the situation at the 2014 National Conference which had 492 delegates in attendance. The intrigues and hiccups arguably made the conference seemingly deadlocked.

The conference has been adjudged the best in the political history of Nigeria, given the rich assemblage of the delegates. But virulently divided along ethnic lines of North and South with some vestiges of religiosity at play, they failed on where it mattered most.

Yet again, the issue was the contentious and vexatious resource control and derivation principle for Niger-Delta states as contained in the main report of the Conference committee on Devolution of Power. Though there were two new issues which included a proposed 5% each for the development of mineral resources across the federation and special intervention fund for national emergencies, the   essentiality, however, was derivation. In fact,   through out the life of the conference, the issue kept many delegates on their toes and hopes were alive that an enduring solution would be found but that was not to happen.

This was the dilemma of Idris Legbo Kutigi, a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, who was re-engaged by President Goodluck Jonathan to chair the National Conference that  concluded its plenary in Abuja on Monday.
Kutigi might have spent some good years of his life at the bench where there must be a response to any issues in form of judgement, whether savory or unsavory.

But in the case of the conference, he ended up on a note of frustration without  any piece of “judgement” on a matter so serious and important. Instead, he, in a manner that conveys an impression of subdued competency and technical finesse, announced a retreat  to the door step of the Presidency to resolve the derivation impasse.
The retired CJN said: “Conference therefore recommends that government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentages on the three issues and advise government accordingly”.

Events before
The week before, Kutigi was encumbered to set up a committee of some 37 elders to reach a consensus on  improved percentage to be appropriated to the Niger Delta states in addition to the current 13 percent derivation  enjoyed by the zone. This came amid the agitation for a substantial increase or a complete resource ownership by Niger Delta delegates who vehemently kicked against an earlier recommendation of status quo on the derivation principle by the conference   Devolution of Power Committee.

To stem rising tempers, the elders committee jerked up the percentage from 13 to 18. In its wisdom, it further recommended that 5% of the national income be reserved for immediate development of the untapped abundant mineral resources national wide. Also, going a little further, the committee set aside another 5% as special intervention funds for national emergencies.

All these seemed accepted by the delegates. But in a dramatic turn, a member of the elders committee and elder states man, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, who was asked to present the communique reached at the committee at plenary on Wednesday, last week allegedly brought in a clause. He announced that the proposed 5 % for national emergencies was for the rehabilitation of North-east, North-west and North-central, starting from the Boko Haram ravaged North-east. Then the lid was let open and anger flayed inflammably.

Torn between the ethnic lines of North and South, the conference adjourned till the next day, Thursday. Even on Thursday, there was no love lost. No compromises. This made Kutigi to announce an expanded meeting of the conference leadership with the 50 “wise men” who had at the beginning of the conference resolved a voting procedure crisis, the chairmen of the standing 20 committees and their deputies on Friday.

The agenda was to further pursue a consensus on the outstanding matters. But, unfortunately, the meeting suffered a drastic boycott by the chosen ones. Reasons were later given that many licensed to take part in the meeting had already booked their flight tickets for a weekend trip outside Abuja.

The last straw
At the resumption of plenary on  Monday, a disappointed Kutigi said: “I am still of the view that the committee that is handling the matter of coming to a compromise will still do their job. We couldn’t have the meeting on Friday. So, I am proposing that we give them two hours to meet with us”.

Two hours stretched to five hours and, when eventually the conference came alive again, the delegates who had waited with bated breath got what they never bargained for:

“Having critically examined the issues in contention, conference recognizes the need to review the percentage of revenue to states producing oil (and other resources), reconstruct and rehabilitate areas affected by problems of insurgency and internal conflicts and diversify the economy by fast tracking the development of the solid mineral sector,”Kutigi told them.

“The conference also notes that assigning percentages for the increase in derivation principle, and setting special intervention fund to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgence and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development, requires some technic details and considerations.
“Conference, therefore, recommends that government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentages on the three issues and advise government accordingly”.

With this, all debates became concluded and the conference stood adjourned to August 4 when it shall resume to adopt the entire report which would be eventually be submitted to President Jonathan.

Other matters
North’s insistence that what many regarded as self-inflicted devastation in the North-east must be paid for with the proposed 5% special intervention fund prompted more agitations from other zones. For instance, the South- east rose up, pressing for reparation for injustices meted to it and a portion of the present South-south in the 1967-1970 civil war.

Delegates at the on-going national conference

Delegates at the national conference

They reasoned that despite General Yakubu Gowon’s promise of 3 “Rs”, Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation of the zone, the Federal Government has not remembered the zone, 44 years after the war.
In a document entitled: “ Atrocities and Injustices against Ndigbo: Ohanaeze demands for   Reparation,” they said:   “The case of the South-east, which bore the full brunt of the civil war for 30 months, is particularly tragic.

Most of it remained a wasteland, despite General (Yakubu) Gowon’s declaration of the three ‘Rs’, Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reconciliation.
“The Federal Government should pay N400 billion each to the five states of the South-east as compensation to those who lost loved ones and properties and those still suffering dislocation today in Nigeria. The same amount should also be paid to the government of Delta State for the benefit of Anioma area of the state.”

Angry reactions
The idea of setting up a Technical Committee, instantly sparked off  arguments. While some said it was the noblest path to toe in the face of the mountainous disagreements, others said the  conference has failed to do what it was, ab initio, set up for. Recall that the president had given it the mandate of helping him solve the Nigerian problem, possibly in all its spheres. But by ostensibly taking the job back to the president, the conference, in the estimation of many people, has pooh-pooed. Meanwhile, some delegates spoke Sunday Vanguard on the issue.

Conference shirked responsibility—Hon. Sola Ebiseni, Commissioner for Environment and Ondo State Local Government delegate
“As far as I am concerned, there was no decision taken today. What we did was simply to abdicate our responsibility by throwing the issue back at Mr, who sent us here to assist in proffering solutions to some of our national challenges. What we fully failed to appreciate about what a National Conference is all about is that it is an extra-constitutional assembly of the people to critically examine all the issues that were pushed to us in a federation like ours where we have to constantly review the terms of our national engagement as a country.

“To now come at the tail end and considering critical issue and say we couldn’t take a decision and push it back to he President, to me, it is a crafty way of adopting the status quo and refuse to talk about it.
“If a Technical Committee must be set up, after all plenary has been adjourned till 4th of next month, I would have expected the Chairman to  draw the members from the conference itself.

“Without sounding immodest, I do not see anywhere in Nigeria where people with more technical know-how are assembled that those at this conference.

“The leadership and the conference should have set up the Technical Committee from within the conference itself to advise us rather than allowing government to set up a committee made up of politicians and ethnic lords. I must be quick to say that much as I disagree with the last decision of the leadership, the credibility of the final report of the conference would not be affected because it was just only one item out of scores of recommendations from 20 reports.

“The credibility of the conference won’t be affected because we have succeeded making far-reaching and lasting decisions that, if eventually implemented, would make the country better in the long run”.

It achieved the desired purpose—Chief Bode George, former Military Governor, Ondo State and PDP’s delegate to the conference.
It is not a deadlock. It was the most sensible thing to do. People looked at it. They had two options either to agree with what the committee recommended or to look at the main committee. It is far, far bigger than what we are looking at. Looking at all those various calculations and recommendations, we would never have been able to reach any decision on that because it requires more detailed calculation.

And so, in the end, people thought there was no need to vote. If we had voted, many states, now that you have more states that are non oil producing than oil producing, everybody was a bit apprehensive. So they needed more study on this issues before we can come to   conclusion. The conference absolutely achieved its purpose. No body can say it did not. What we set out to achieve, we achieved it.

All they needed was more information, technical details, more analysis. If we look at what it took government to arrive at 13 percent, you realize that it took a lot of negotiations, discussions and analysis. The most sensible thing to do was to take it further and allow so many other agencies  involved in the percentage allocation to do their job. The technical details must be taken into consideration. For me, the conference ended on a very resounding note. For the first time, those areas that were either swept under the carpet, that would have driven emotion beyond normalcy, but based on robust, super debates, we were convinced.

The conference did well by not approving exclusive funds for North-east—Mr. Christian Udechukwu, delegate to the conference representing Nigerians abroad.
The conference took a good decision by not approving an exclusive fund for the North-east because the violence and insurgency in Nigeria has affected all Nigerians and, therefore, it will be inappropriate to dedicate any fund specifically to the North- east because, ultimately, if that that is done, it might create further incentives for other insurgent groups, like OPC, MASSOP, Zionist Movement to become more violent than they already are.

Sunny side of conference
The fact that the National Conference witnessed keenly debated matters did not, however, diminish the thought of unity and democratic values in many of the delegates. To this end, some of them came together and planned what was christened, “ All Time Democrats Award”, to honor some distinguished Nigerians, dead or alive who have championed the cause of democracy in the country since independence in 1960.

This saw former President Shehu Shagari, his vice, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and the acclaimed winner of 1993 presidential election, the late Chief MKO Abiola, recognized as “All Time Democrats”.
Also honored were three elder statesmen which included, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Edwin Clark and Mbazulike Ameachi.

Others included retired Justice Mamman Nasir, Mallam Tanko Yakassai, Mallam Magaji Dambatta, Chief H.I.D Awolowo, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Chief Tunji Braithwaite, Shettima Ali Monguno, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Sultan Ibrahim Dasuki, Chief Olanihun Ajayi, Chief Richard Akinjide, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Retired Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte, Retired Justice Muhammed Lawal Uwais, Justice Usman Muhammed, Chief Benjamin Chahcha, Alhaji Inuwa Wada, Senator Franca Afegbua, Khalifa Alhassan Yusuf and Alhaji Maitama Sule were also honored.

Last line:
Indeed, a great lesson should be learnt from the debates and disagreements. But whether successful or deadlocked, many share in the view that the 2014 National Conference reached some vital decisions that, if implemented, would put the country on the road to development. For instance, many see the establishment of state police, removal of president and governors’ pension and gratuities, removal of immunity clause, etcetera, as a good omen to ridding the country of official corruption.

But, above all, what might be a worry to all and sundry is the fact that uncertainty still mounts on whether the outcome of conference will be forwarded to the National Assembly for ratification or subjected to referendum. The picture of what becomes of the conference outcome will become clearer as the days go by.

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