By Levinus Nwabughiogu
At its twilight, the 2014 National Conference in Abuja heads for the precipice. Read the account of a week long stalemated session on resource control and derivation principle.
It was originally meant to be a National Intervention Fund, but they called it a National Intervention Fund for North East, North West and North Central.
This is, for now, the impression a presentation made by an elder statesman to the ongoing 2014 National Conference, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, on Wednesday, has created. The presentation followed the deliberation by an intervention committee christened “Elders’ Committee” set up by the leadership of the conference to work out a consensus on the contentious and vexatious oil derivation principle and percentage for the Niger Delta states.
The setting up of the Elders Committee became pertinent following anticipated imbroglio on the report of the conference’s Devolution of Power Committee which recommended the retention of the status quo ante, that is, the 13 percent derivation enjoyed by the oil producing states of the Niger Delta.
The submission of the main report of the committee a few weeks ago witnessed a minority report by Ms. Annkio Briggs, a member of the committee and Federal Government delegate to the conference. She had protested that she was not a signatory to the main report of the committee which resource ownership, control and derivation principle. But the conference traditionally jettisoned her minority report, saying it wasn’t in its totem to accept minority reports and went ahead with discussion on the reports of the rest 19 committees of the conference.
Meanwhile, aware of the volatility of the issues contained in the main report of the Devolution of Power Committee, the conference leadership, in its wisdom, scheduled the report of the committee as the last to be discussed. Now, done with others, it was obligated to open talks on the recommendations of Devolution of P.ower Committee. But how would it have proceeded amid thunderous agitations and threats by Niger Delta/ South South delegates who insisted on a substantial increase of the derivation fund from 13 percent otherwise the battle will return to the creeks?
Therefore, in a bid to broker a truce, chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi (rtd), set up the Elders Committee on Tuesday. This was, however, after the delegates had waited with bated breath on Monday for the commencement of debate on the report.
The membership of the Elders Committee cut across the six geopolitical zones of the country featuring three delegates each. But it later got enlarged following protest by delegates on the platform of Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, Organized Labour, women groups and professional bodies, among others.
The members are Bashir Dalhatu; Dr. Fatima Lami Adamu; IGP Ibrahim Coomasie for North West Zone; Mohammed Kumalia; Kashim Imam; Adamu Maina Waziri for North East; Senator Iyorchia Ayu; Prof. Ibrahim Gambari; Prof. Jerry Gana for North Central; Gen. Alani Akinrinade and Dr. Kunle Olajide for South West.
Others are Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Raymond Dokpesi and Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga for South-South; Gen. Ike Nwachukwu; Prof. Anya O. Anya and Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife for South East.
On Tuesday, many had anticipated that the Consensus Committee would end its assignment. But that was not to be. The discussion sprawled into the next day, Wednesday.
But just when the patience of many delegates upon waiting for the outcome of the meeting of the 37 “wise men” was about wearing out, the `Elders’ made a sudden entry into the hall.
Time was about 2.45 pm when the leader, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, an elder statesman from the South-east, and others came in from the caucus meeting.
Recognized, Nwachukwu told the house that a delegate on the platform of elder statesmen category, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, would read the position of the Elders Consensus Committee.
Gambari, who presented the report at about 2.50 pm, said: “After two days and two nights, here is what we arrived at: We arrived at this conclusions and in doing that among us, there have been shift of positions on the parts of the two positions already taken by our members in the spirit of compromise and putting Nigeria first and above the interest of our respective zones and constituencies, recognising that status quo is not sustainable. We have always felt that anytime we reduce our discussion to our village level, primordial level, state level, zonal level, we are likely to run into problem.
“Now one pole began with the position that was embodied in the recommendations of the Committee on Devolution of Powers all the way from 13% to 15% to 17% and not less than 18%. Another position shifted from the high figure of 100%, 50% to 21.5% to 20% and finally to not less than 18% to be reviewed every 10 years.
“Therefore, this group adopted a position and to recommend to the plenary not less than 18% as the derivation formula but the group did not end there. As a package, we propose two recommendations: One, for 5% revenue allocation to be made for solid minerals development; we know we are over-relying on oil and the time has come to pay attention to other resources throughout the country.
“The second and perhaps much more urgent is that we have recommended a new fund to be established which we will call Fund for Stabilisation, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, 5% of revenue allocation, principally for the North-East, North-West and the North Central.
“These recommendations, if endorsed, will be reflected in the Revenue Allocation Act. We have also recommended that what is happening now is not the problem of North-East but that of Nigeria but more dramatically in the North-East. We have also recommended broadly a safeguard and mechanism to ensure that monies go to those who need them most and to also enhance production of mineral resources that our country is endowed with.
“Finally, in reaching this conclusion, this group is only motivated by one thing which is just to provide an avenue to reach consensus rather than voting, we do not believe that voting will really move us forward.”
Flood of protests
Gambari had hardly finished his speech, when protests erupted on the floor. The bone of contention was that Gambari betrayed the committee and smuggled in “North-west and North-central” as beneficiaries of the 5 % National Intervention Fund. With this, the conference became instantaneously polarized.
Essentially, most delegates did not have any qualms with the new offer of 18 % from the current 13 percent even though there are still some vestiges of agitations to jerk it up to 50%. Also, there was no issue on the agreed 5% mapped out by the committee for the development of solid mineral resources across the country. Many did not also pick holes with the proposed 5% National Intervention Fund for national emergencies across the federation.
Not even with the idea of starting off with North-east where insurgency has reached its apogee. But tempers flared up mainly over a perceived, conscious attempt to make the 5% an exclusive right or reserve of the North as there was no mention of South-east, South-south and South-west.
By limiting the use of the Intervention Fund to the North, there is now an inferred thievery by the North which is seen to wanting to make the rest of the country to pay for a seemingly self-inflicted devastation in the North-east. Many delegates argued that insurgency has not yet abated in the zone despite the huge among of money spent in the last three years.
In the reckoning of the delegates, what Gambari’s move has now achieved is to resurrect unpleasant debates over a chronology of misfortunes and fates suffered by other parts of the country which were not caused by them just as many said that assimilating such a proposal would naturally prompt an unusual quest for zonal and ethnic violence with a view to always draw from the national treasury.
Why North adopted 5%
Take it or leave it, the North is wise. Even though the region does not have oil, they know the huge earnings accruing from it. And so, for them to recant their earlier stand that there would be no additional percentage to 13 percent, they must have something coming their way in the spirit of give and take. And so, their take is the juicy 5 % Intervention Fund.
Jonathan’s rehabilitation fund/campaign strategy versus southern position
President Goodluck Jonathan is not a delegate to the conference but it does appear he is working in tandem with the North to rehabilitate the zone starting with the North-east. If all goes well, the President would be formally inaugurating a special fund called Boko Haram Victims Support Fund on July 16. Already, N30bn has been earmarked for the fund. But the gesture might prompt a problem between the president and his brothers in the South.
Hot words over 5 % rehabilitation deal
Some delegates bared their minds on the issue of rehabilitating the Boko Haram ravaged North-east.
Compensate South-east over civil war killings— Group Captain Joseph Orji, first Military Governor of Gombe State and Federal Government delegate to the National Conference
As you have noticed that in the past two or three days, the conference had been, I should say, bedeviled with the decision on derivation and other associated issues. The Committee for Power Devolution recommended 13% for Niger Delta. That, in other words, means keeping the statu quo ante and further recommended 5% special fund for the development of solid minerals and other viable ventures like agriculture across the country. Those recommendations were considered on merit.
For the 5% special fund, everybody hailed it. Then the issue of derivation which the Niger Delta and quite a lot of conference delegates thought should have been an improvement on their current status of 13% derivation. This of course divided the conference and it would appear that the polarization now is along North and South dichotomy which is a bit worrisome. My take on this issue is that first of all, we must all concede that what is at stake which is petroleum products belong to Nigeria. They are located there and for other states, we are just there taking part because of one family structure kind of.
We are all Nigerians and to a reasonable extent lay claim to anything in Nigeria by further description or analysis. There was an earlier recommendation of 5% for development of solid minerals. To my mind, it is good. That will enable other states to develop what they have over a given period but the bone of contention was the insertion of another 5% tagged fund for rehabilitation and it was made to be exclusive for the three zones in the North: North-east, North-central and North-west. It didn’t go down well with other zones.
For instance, South-east: what do we have to tell our people because civil war was fought there for 30 months? There was a lot of destruction, human and material. I can’t remember any of such compensation or big chunk set aside for the rehabilitation of the people since the end of the civil war. Second, it is unfortunate that this has been going on and led to Boko Haram. The Boko Haram issue is a bad omen. While we still trace the origin and who may have caused this, there are equivalent carnages in the South. So, what I am saying in effect is if 5% should be set aside for such rehabilitation, all the zones should benefit from it.
We will resist it—Annkio Briggs, Niger Delta activist and Federal Government delegate
Since we started the discussion of devolution of power, it has become clearer to the South-south people in this conference that the intention is not to understand our position. The intention is not to allow us to have access to our resources. That is the intention from the word go and we are going to resist it. It is even unbelievable to hear that the Federal Government has given N30 billion to a committee to begin the rehabilitation of the North-east.
I am sympathetic to what the people of the North-east are going through but what is happening to them is not the responsibility of Nigerians. It is not collective Nigerians that sat down and decided to destroy the North-east. As we sympathize with innocent lives that are being lost, with people whose homes, farms are being destroyed by Boko Haram, we hope that as government has set up the N30 billion fund to compensate the victims, it should also remember that there are victims of past atrocities who are still suffering today. Some of them, almost 20 years after, are suffering in Rivers State where the military came and killed people and destroyed property in communities. In Odi, Bayelsa State, the Supreme Court has actually given judgment that compensation should be paid to the people. Federal Government has not floated funds to pay.
Every zone should have access to the 5% fund—Chief Sergeant Awuse, South-south delegate
We have agreed on everything, It is just the issue of English, nomenclature, the wording of who shall benefit from the intervention fund. What we said is that the 5% intervention that will now be coming from the Federal Government account will be available for intervention activities starting from North-east where the problems are now and should be available to any other part of Nigeria that faces similar problem.
Restrict it to North—Hon. Mohammed Kumalia, a former member of the House of Representatives and North-east delegate
The way forward is: if you are creating a fund for insurgency, to cater for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the affected areas, say so. Don’t go and create a fund for the whole country. If you want to go and create a fund for the whole country, create one, Call it whatever name you want, but don’t create a fund in the name of Boko Haram insurgency to rehabilitate people and you make it a nationwide thing and then it will be another slush fund. In the last 3 years, how much has been voted for to fight Boko Haram, N3trn. What is the status of the insurgency vis-a-vis the counter insurgency? Nothing to write home about. Two hundred and seventy something girls are missing.
It will encourage insurgency—Comrade Yinka Odumakin, South-west delegate
It is vexatious to ask for 5 percent for Boko Haram devastation when the insurgency has not abated. It amounts to the glorification of insurgency. The net effect of this is that other regions are being encouraged to start insurgency in order to access the fund. No sane country should promote this kind of absurdity.
The meeting of the “50 wise men”/ what to expect from tomorrow
There were insinuations on Thursday that the North’s last line of defence in the event of its anticipated eventual loss on the 5% debate would be the cancellation of the added percentage on derivation. Feelers say it may also adopt a voting mechanism which has never been done in all recommendations taken so far. Ultimately, they may push for a redo of all decisions which however is not likely to fly.
This is in view of the fact that a delegate representing Yobe State, Engr. Buba Galadima; another delegate representing Borno State, Dr. Haruna Yerima; a member of the `Elders Committee’ and delegate from the North-west, amidst dissenting voices at the Thursday plenary, stated that the document circulated by Dr. Raymond Dokpesi, which contained the original recommendation of the committee, was not supported by them, opting for a vote.
Many keen observers of the proceedings of the National Conference believe that some rich decisions that will further the cause of Nigeria have been made and that any attempt to thwart them because of the unyielding stand of some persons would mean taking the country back to the trenches. What this means, therefore, would be that the country is not capable of charting a new forward. While this argument lasts, it is left to be seen whether such would be the case in the conference that has only four days to wind up.