By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—THE planned showdown between southern and northern delegates at the ongoing National Conference over reshaping the power configuration in the country, turned into an anti-climax, yesterday, after conference chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi ruled against reversion of positions adopted last week.
The planned confrontation followed the mobilisation by Northern delegates for a repeal of the conference’s position on the creation of new states and local governments as a way of balancing the superiority enjoyed by the North.
The stage for battle was set as the conference resumed, yesterday, after the opening prayers when Alhaji Muhammad Maigari Dingyadi, a delegate from Sokoto State raised objections to the procedures used in adopting the resolution on the creation of new states. According to him, the procedures were full of errors.
While he was still on his feet that the decision on local governments was faulty, the hall was enveloped in shouts “No, no,’ ‘name the page properly.’
With their voices almost being drowned out, some northern delegates hinted on crippling the conference by walking out if their position on state creation and local governments were not met, insisting that the only thing the conference could do was to set the criteria for state creation and not to announce those that should be created.
In his contribution, a delegate on the platform of Elder statesmen category, Abdullahi Ohoimah called for the creation of another state from the Central Zone. He said that the zone was cheated in the list produced last Thursday. A delegate representing North Central Zone, John Dara explained that the proposed Kainji State is composed of emirates from Niger and Kebbi, with the bulk of the new state in Niger, which explains why the proposed state is in the North Central. He added that there will be no additional state from the North Central.
In his contribution, a delegate representing the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Comrade Issa Aremu kicked against the proposal for new states, saying that the present ones were not viable, not implementable and would make a mockery of the conference if approved at the end of the day.
There were shouts of “Point of Order” which forced Aremu to stop.
Also in his contribution, a delegate on the platform of National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria and the Alayemore of Ido Osun, Oba Aderemi Adedapo, made a strong case for the creation of Oduduwa State with capital in Ile Ife as one of the three to be created out of the Southwest.
Noting that the demand for Oduduwa State has been on for more than 30 years, he said the proposed state would have a total population of 1.7 million besides the rich cultural legacy of the people.
According to him, the Council of Obas in Yoruba land commenced the campaign for the creation of the state 30 years ago. He said Oduduwa means a lot to the people of South West zone and the proposed Oduduwa State has a total of 1. 7 million people with land mass of 8,000 square kilometres.
Oba Adedapo’s intervention was only one of the few times that the meeting removed itself from a shouting match as northern and southern delegates squabbled over the issues debated last Thursday.
Erstwhile Nigerian diplomat Professor Ibrahim Gambari helped calm passions, yesterday, when he called for decorum in the plenary, warning against abuse of voice vote in the conference especially on issues that affect unity and security of the country.
Professor Gambari, who reminded delegates of efforts made by some elders of the conference to reconcile decisions of the conference to ensure transparency and accountability, stressed that steps must be taken to take the conference to its conclusion, hinting that “all northern delegates are committed to the progress and success of this conference”.
According to him, Northern Elders met with the leadership of the Conference to complain of abuse of voice vote, especially on very serious issues, adding that at the end of the meeting which he termed very constructive, there were promises from the management that corrections would be made as well as reconcile where there were conflicts.
We’re no slaves to anyone — Clark
But comments by Gambari did not go down well with a delegate under the Elder Statesmen category and South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark.
In his reaction, Chief Clark reiterated his warning that no part of the country should think it was in any way superior to others, even as no one was inferior to the other. He added that it was sad and unfortunate that the Northern Elders could meet with the management without carrying along other leaders and elders especially from the South South zone. He said: ”It was sad that issues are now being raised almost when we are at the end of the conference. We have considered 19 reports and we have just one to go and issues are now being raised”.
Explaining that delegates consulted among themselves to have pre-conference meetings of an 18-man committee to resolve contentious issues before coming to the conference, Chief Clark, who specifically named Professor Auwalu Yadudu as gate-crashing into the meeting of the delegates and despite being welcomed, moved to discredit the conference because his point of view was not accepted.
He said that the pre-conference meetings were approved by leaders of the geo-political zones, noting that it was wrong for any group to send a delegation to leadership of the conference in the bid to seek reversal of decisions taken. He opined that the best such aggrieved persons could do was to liaise with delegates from other zones to see how compromise could be reached for the good of all, just as he appealed to delegates to be more united in the interest of Nigeria and progress of the country.
Chief Clark said: “Let me say this, this country called Nigeria which was amalgamated North and South was made up of equal citizens. That is, we all belong to a country where we are all equal. Nobody is superior to the other. That was the basis of our coming together. If I know any moment that you are superior in this country and I am inferior, then I do not argue with you.
“We came to this conference in order to have harmonization, consensus and some of us came out and consulted our fellow leaders. Can we have a meeting, a pre-conference meeting? This was up to last week. I consulted Alhaji Gambo Jimeta, I consulted with Alhaji Coomassie, I consulted with Jerry Gana, and we met Olu Falae, Jerry Gana, Gen Ike Nwachukwu and others, and we set up an 18-man committee to meet and resolve issues before we come to the floor. They met once in AIT conference room. After that, there are people who believe they know so much. Some of us here also have children who went to some of the best universities in the world, and no one should come to flaunt his professorship to others here.
“Professor Yadudu, who was not selected by the North, came there and objected to everything. He wrote a letter to Dokpesi that they have withdrawn, that no surrender. So we said; can we meet so that we can resolve issues? Then we came to the open here, it is very unfair. Who defines important matters and who defines matters that are not important? Nobody!”
Following his speech, delegates urged the leadership of the conference to stop entertaining private delegates from the zones.
Soon after Chief Clark, a delegate representing Kebbi State and former Minister of Defence, Dr. Haliru Bello Mohammed in his contribution called for the sustenance of voice vote and consensus in deciding the final report. However, his assertion that some decisions earlier taken should be suspended until further consensus was reached was followed by shouts of ‘no, no, no’.
Reiterating his point, he said: “I propose we allow time instead of saying these decisions are sacrosanct”, and again, chants of ‘no, no, no’ filled the hall.
Confab: Delegates back increase in derivation
Meanwhile, majority of delegates, yesterday, gave heed to an increase in the minimum level of derivation proceeds accruable to mineral producing areas of the country.
Delegates speaking ahead of the consideration of the part of the report dealing with derivation scheduled for today, urged for an increase in minimum derivation, saying such was necessary to enable states in the Niger Delta adequately tackle challenges in the region occasioned by oil exploration.
That was, however, not without opposition from delegates primarily from the core northern states, who said that such measure would be amounting to giving much to the Niger Delta states at the expense of non oil producing states.
While most delegates from the South, particularly, the South South and South East said derivation should be increased from the present 13 percent to between 21.5 and 50 per cent, the delegates from the core north insisted that it should rather be reduced further from where it is now.
The committee co-chaired by Obong Victor Attah, former governor of Akwa Ibom State; and Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie, the former Inspector General of Police, had after weeks of disagreements and inability of its members to shift positions, recommended that the existing 13 percent be maintained.