Mr. Yinka Odumakin, Publicity Secretary of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organization, Afenifere and a delegate to the National Conference. In this interview he speaks among others on the gains of the confab and why it may be difficult to scuttle the report as being allegedly planned by some people. Excerpts:
By Clifford Ndujihe
FIVE months into the confab, what has been your experience?
I think it is a mixed bag. For those of us who have over the years agitated that we
need to discuss the future of this country, it was a dream come true when President Goodluck Jonathan on March 17, 2014 inaugurated the conference and he gave us the charge to discuss every issue as regards the future of Nigeria and to reach a consensus on how Nigeria should be rebuilt. And there he turned to the National Assembly and said, ‘I hope you are talking about a referendum? Even though you are amending the constitution, if there is a need for a new constitution, do not shy away from it.’
We spent the first few days of the conference over rules and procedures. And the conference was going to break up over voting pattern, first it was 75 per cent, then later we had to settle for 70 per cent. After that we broke into committees. We broke into 20 committees in all. There are many of us who thought the committees were unwieldy and to be honest with you many of the issues came out under policy issues. Many of these policy issues are what a presidential candidate can commission a team to prepare for him in a manifesto-light, road, etc. Some of us believe the conference should discuss hardware, the policy issues are software.
When we came back from the committees we spent quality time looking at the policy issues and left the critical issues towards the end. With benefit of hindsight, I think it was a good decision because if we had put devolution first, maybe it would have been the end of the conference.
This conference is a major improvement on past conferences. It discussed the issues of Nigeria in depth. The quality of delegates was quite impressive. Most of the delegates would not have got to the conference if we had gone through the kind of elections we hold in Nigeria. There was quality debate. We dealt with reports of 19 committees, passed about 500 resolutions and three-quarters of devolution until we got to the thorny issue of derivation, which had always been the Achilles heels of every conference since 1988. Eventually, we passed the buck to the president because centrifugal forces, who are suddenly aroused by the governors, came and tried to cause confusion after being asked: What are you doing? Why did you allow local government to be de-listed? Why did you allow state police, state constitution, etc?
How did it happen?
When we got to the conference some of us were invited to a meeting called Consensus Building Group which was facilitated by Prof Agboola Gambari and Dr Raymond Dokpesi. We were delegates across the zones. We tried to build consensus around the various committees. We took the report of a committee, discussed and reached a consensus. Eventually, this developed into a meeting of minds, first between the South and the Middle belt. So a document was produced detailing the points and the position of the various zones on each point. At a point, it was agreed that the entire six zones should have that kind of consensus and a report was drafted.
Delegates from the South put a motion before the conference, which was moved by Senator Aniete Okon and I seconded it. It was signed by major leaders from the South – E.K Clark, General Akinrinade, Olu Falae, etc. that was the time they were trying to shut down debate and said now there should be no more debate, that we should adopt every report.
We said no and the leadership agreed that we should continue the debate on reports. That was the day Gambari sent a message to Dokpesi that they would no longer attend the meeting. The next meeting that was called, it was only the South and Middle Belt that attended.
The next thing we saw was that they started sponsoring all kinds of publications in northern papers-that there is a hidden agenda, there is an already prepared constitution, Dokpesi has been circulating the constitution, that Prof Bolaji Akinyemi, the deputy chairman had called some northern leaders to persuade them, that money was being shared, etc.
That was how the issue came to the floor of the conference and the conference was going to have a lock down again. Prof Akinyemi explained what he had been doing-to call all sides involved in knotty issues and resolve them before it comes to the plenary.
Dokpesi gave the background to the whole meeting and pointed out that Prof Gambari and his team were trying to scuttle the conference, that the document has nothing to do with constitution but consensus built around issues discussed.
By the time we crossed that hurdle, they now came back to say the position we took in adopting some critical issues was not right. We should not have used voice vote, we should have voted using 70:30 and we should reopen issues we had taken decisions on.
The rule of the conference is very clear: any matter on which decision has been taken cannot be reopened.
Eventually, we got to derivation. All along, there had been all kinds of discussions trying to reach consensus. The South-South came with 25 per cent; the consensus group recommended 21 per cent and by the time we got to the plenary, what was agreed was 18 per cent.
We now said the reason there is so much hues and cries over derivation is because not everybody is bringing something to the table. In the First Republic when everybody was bringing something to the table, derivation was 50 per cent. Nobody complained.
We have the geological map of Nigeria, which shows there is large deposit of mineral resources in every part of Nigeria, that if we give five per cent increase to derivation making 18 per cent, we should devote another five per cent to development of mineral resources so that we can share prosperity instead of sharing money from one part of the country. Friends from the far North said no.
Eventually after a series of meetings and discussions, they said they agreed to that but there should be another five per cent for insurgency, which was called intervention fund.
First of all, we cannot make terrorism economic feature of our life. If you say you are giving this money to terrorism, you are telling other parts of the country to go and start terrorism so that they can access money from the centre.
And the money should be called National intervention fund, to take care of problems, disaster in all parts of the country. Eventually, we agreed, let’s have this fund starting with the North-East and other parts of the country.
When we got to the floor, General Nwachukwu was called to present the report of the committee. He called Prof Gambari, who gave the report but when it got to the National Intervention Fund, he said it was meant for the North-East, North-West and North-Central. That was how the meeting broke up.
They were asked to go and come back nothing was achieved until the last minute when it became clear that some of our friends were looking forward to use this to make the conference inconclusive.
We said if that is the case let’s throw the matter back to the president to set up a technical committee.
But the truth of the matter is the president does not need a technical committee to fix derivation, he can do it by fiat. The 1999 constitution says derivation shall not be less than 13 per cent, it did not say not more than 13 per cent.
Definitely, fair is fair. You cannot deny the South-South derivation because it is in their area we are exploring now, tomorrow we may explore in other parts of the country and they will ask for these things.
But the challenge we have as a country is we have started accepting indolence as a way of life; wealth without work.
Between 2009 and 2012, four years, when you look at the revenue that accrued to this country and how it was shared, you will see that in those four years the South-South gave the federation account an average of 68 per cent; the South-West contributed 23 per cent and South-East, eight per cent.
The average for the North is zero per cent in those four years. When you go to local government allocation, the North took 54 per cent. The South that produced 100 per cent of the revenue got 46 per cent.
We now said, let’s democratise prosperity, let everybody go and look for gold, calcium, limestone, etc in his area but they said no. they want to make terrorism an item for derivation but by and large the conference management prevented people from scuttling the conference. We will now go back on August 11 to dot the ‘Is’ and cross the ‘Ts’.
But there was agreement that derivation should be increased from 13 per cent to 18 per cent. What happened to that agreement?
Some consensus was built but we had not voted on it at the plenary before they brought the issue of five per cent for terrorism.
On reports that some northerners are plotting to scuttle the report of the conference
I want to say to those our friends that you cannot do an abortion after the baby has been born. The template for new Nigeria has been laid at this conference; to now say you will abort it is to commit murder with consequences. So any attempt to scuttle this conference now is to murder the future of Nigeria and I do not know whether we will fold our hands and allow you to murder the future of Nigeria.
If there is any book that should be read in Arewa House at this moment, I will recommend Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly” where the author brilliantly showed how nations work against their enlightened self-interest.
He gave many examples, one of them was Britain. As British colony, all America was asking for was four seats in the British Parliament. In those days, it took three months to travel from America to Britain. But Britain refused.
That refusal led to one thing and one thing led to another until America fought the war of independence. So, the far North should know that there is a new dawn in Nigeria. The spirit of the people has been unleashed and you cannot hold it back, you cannot bind the people under the old order. Any attempt to do that will be courting unpleasant feelings.
The people of Nigeria have decided at this conference how they want to live as a people. If you now think because you lost on some items you want to scuttle the exercise, it is either you don’t want to be part of the new Nigeria or you want to opt out of it. To think you alone will reverse the will of Nigerians is a joke taken too far.