By SONI DANIEL, CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & HENRY UMORU
ABUJA — WITH 13 reports and documents of past constitutional amendment exercises in their kitty, the 492 delegates to the on-going National Conference are ready for business as they resume today.
Fresh from their five-day recess, they are also expected to discuss clause by clause the 28-page Rules of Procedure entitled: “National Conference Procedure Rules, 2014’’, dated March 10, 2014 and agree or effect changes through two-third majority. Discussion of the rules will pave the way for effective dialogue to take off.
According to a statement issued yesterday by Conference Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications, Akpandem James, the documents supplied the delegates by the Secretariat include: Report of the Constitutional Conference, 1995 (Containing the Draft Constitution) Vol 1; Report of the Constitutional Conference, 1995 (Containing the Resolutions and Recommendations) Vol 2; Report of the Political Bureau (March, 1987); Main Report of the National Political Reform Conference, 2005; Implementation Guide of the National Political Reform Conference, 2005; Report of the Presidential Committee on Review of Outstanding Issues from Recent Constitutional Conferences (Main Report) July 2012; and Report of the Presidential Committee on Review of Outstanding Issues from Recent Constitutional Conferences (Executive Summary) July 2012.
Others are Policy Recommendations of the Presidential Committee to Review Outstanding issues from recent Constitutional Conferences July 2012; President Goodluck Jonathan’s Speech on the occasion of Nigeria’s centenary celebrations; President Goodluck Jonathan’s Speech at the inauguration of the National Dialogue Advisory Committee (Monday 7th October, 2013); President Goodluck Jonathan’s Speech at the inauguration of the 2014 National Conference of the People of Nigeria (Monday 17th March, 2014; The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 and the Draft Rules of Procedure for the Conference.
Said Akpandem: “Delegates to the National Conference will tomorrow (today), Monday March 24, 2014, resume plenary sitting after a short adjournment, which was to allow them study the various working documents that were supplied (to them) on Tuesday, March 18, 2014, shortly after the inaugural sitting. Two more documents – The draft Rules of Procedure for the Conference and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 were also supplied to the delegates on Thursday, March 20, 2014.’’
Vanguard gathered that highlights of the Rules of Procedure include how delegates should present issues.
• For instance, delegates who wish to address the session on issues that must be relevant to subject of discourse, must write to the Secretary, then it will be gazetted and shared to delegates at every sitting.
• Delegates must arrive at a consensus on issues but in the absence of consensus, there will voice vote.
• Every member must be present at each session, but when a case of ill-health occurs, the delegate must write to the Secretary to obtain permission to be absent.
• A delegate risks 14 days suspension if found using offensive language against another delegate or obstruct proceedings at plenary or at Committee level.
• Delegates are barred from assaulting or obstructing one another within the Conference Room or precincts of the Conference.
• Representative bodies shall speak in alphabetical order while a delegate shall not read his speech unless he is moving a motion.
• A delegate may only read short extracts from books or papers in support of his argument and may refresh his memory by reference to notes.
• A delegate must confine his contributions to the subject under discussion and may not introduce matters irrelevant thereto.
• It shall be out of order to attempt to reconsider any specific question upon which the Conference has come to a conclusion.
• It shall be out of order to use offensive and insulting language during sittings either at plenary or in Committees.
• No delegate shall impute improper motives to any other delegate.
• Delegates are prohibited from smoking or drinking on the floor of the Conference.
• The use of mobile phones shall not be allowed during sittings.
• A delegate desiring to speak shall submit his name to the Secretary on a paper to be provided and if called upon shall stand and address his observations to the Chairman or the Chairman of Committee.
• All committees shall forward their report to the Secretary at the conclusion of its sitting. The secretary shall at her discretion determine determine when such reports of Committee shall be brought up at Plenary for deliberation.”
At the last sitting of the confab last Tuesday, delegates agreed that the second stanza of the National Anthem should be adopted as the opening and closing prayer for all sittings of the Conference. Faith-based prayers were ruled out.
Delegates also agreed that except for very special cases of physical incapacity and serious health concerns, sitting arrangement in the chamber of the conference should be in alphabetical order. Although a delegate raised the issue of allowances for aides of delegates, it did not achieve popular acclamation.
Delegates set up zonal secretariats, reach out to others
Meanwhile, ahead of today’s resumption of proceedings, some of the six geo-political zones have set up secretariats where their delegates congregate to compare notes, brainstorm and firm up demands to be canvassed at the National Conference.
The secretariats will also help delegates reach out to other zones for horse-trading. With the endorsement of 369 delegates (75 per cent) needed for any issue to sail through, the various zones and stakeholders will need to do a lot of consultation, horse-trading and networking to get their various demands accepted.
And for any issue to win the sympathy of three-quarter of the delegates, it must be seriously and cerebrally canvassed, which will necessitate unity of purpose on the part of the canvassers.
One of the zones that have set up a secretariat in Abuja is the South-East geo-political zone. An Igbo leader told Vanguard that the South-East secretariat has been opened and so far the delegates are doing fine.
Nwachukwu leads S’East delegates not Ndigbo – Ohanaeze
These came as apex Igbo socio-cultural organization, Ohanaeze, picked holes in comments that General Ike Nwachukwu is leading Igbo delegates at the confab.
Ohanaeze Secretary General, Dr Joe Nwaorgu, who is also a delegate said: “General Ike Nwachukwu was not nominated to lead Igbo delegates. He was nominated to lead South-East delegates. Ndigbo are not limited to the South-East. Ndigbo cut across the five South-East states, Rivers and Anioma (in Delta State.)”
On alleged discordant tunes in the Igbo camp, the Nwaorgu assured that Igbo delegates would enter the confab as one and would not disappoint their people and the country.
Delegates may raise 20 committees
Also, indications emerged, yesterday, that the confab may break into about 20 standing committees for the purpose of doing an effective job.
Conference sources said that President Jonathan’s inaugural speech partly set the tone for the number of committees to be raised and the issues to be tackled by the delegates.
The President’s speech notwithstanding, the delegates are expected to agree on the types and number of committees to be raised for the conference.
President Jonathan had indirectly set the tone for the delegates when he declared in his epoch speech that the issues to be addressed ranged from form of government, structures of government, devolution of powers, revenue sharing and resource control.
Other issues, the President expects the conference to look at include, state and local government creation, boundary adjustment, state police and fiscal federalism, local government elections, indigeneship, gender equality and children’s rights.
Sources said that the delegates would be made to fast-track the deliberations in order to cover as many areas of national interest as possible within the 90-day period provided by the Federal Government.
“We want to see how this assignment can be concluded within the three-month time-frame so that it does not eat into the election period. That is why the delegates may soon break into no fewer than 20 committees with a view to tackling all the issues raised in the President’s inaugural speech and others that may be of interest to members. The point that must be made however is that the conference will do all that is possible to ensure that the deliberations are concluded on time and the purpose for which the confab was set up, realised,” the source said.
The Obasanjo’s Political Reform Conference of 2005 had fewer committees than the 19, which the Abacha conference of 1994/95 operated with.
The committees were those of States and local government creation, National Defence, Political Parties, Economy, Population and Revenue Generation, Judiciary, the Executive and Legislature and Legislative Duties.
Other committees handled Law, order and national security, revenue allocation, power sharing, political parties, election and electoral process, foreign policies, national values and Linga Franca, Civil Service and parastatals as well as social welfare for Nigerians.
But the current conference may get committees on Fiscal Federalism, Resource Control, State and LG creation and boundary adjustment among others.