By HENRY UMORU & LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
THE governors of the 19 northern states yesterday charged northern delegates to protect the interest of the region at the National Conference by ensuring that issues like security occasioned by the raging Boko Haram insurgency, revenue allocation, rule of law and corruption among others are tackled squarely.
The governors, who met their delegates on the plank of the Northern Governors’ Forum, urged them to ensure that they tackle the interest and aspirations of the North and the nation at large.
This came on a day that commotion heralded proceedings as the 492 delegates, for the second time, failed to reach agreement on the 75 per cent majority clause needed to pass decisions at the conference. Further discussions on the issue have been adjourned till next week to enable further consultations.
Drawing up an agenda for their delegates, the governors stressed that the issue of security must be on the front burner.
Addressing Journalists at the end of the two-hour meeting, which took place at the Niger State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, Abuja, Governor of Niger State and Chairman, Northern Governors’ Forum , Alhaji Muazu Babangida Aliyu, said they urged their delegates to vigorously pursue the issue of strict observance of rule of law, corruption and revenue mobilization.
The governors discussed the issue of revenue mobilization and kicked against the 52 per cent being collected by the Federal Government.
In a communiqué, the governors said: “The forum noted that the National Conference was intended to provide a more inclusive and focused forum for candid discourse on the daunting challenges confronting the nation and its citizens, such as security, observance of rule of law and corruption, amongst other issues. Therefore, the Forum came up with a common agenda that would put the Northern delegates in a better position to tackle the interest and aspirations of the North and the nation at large.”
According to Babangida Aliyu, as part of moves to nip in the bud the insurgency in the country, the governors called for the identification of culprits and sponsors of Boko Haram insurgency in other places, even as they urged all member states to establish Security Trust Fund in their states to ensure that funds were available to address the problem, in addition to articulating “a coordinated approach towards fighting insurgency in the north.”
“The crime rate and general insecurity in the region, in particular and the a country in general are increasingly becoming a growing concern, ranging from mayhem being perpetrated by insurgents characterised by sporadic killings and attacks on schools and communities leading to several deaths and thousands being displaced.”
As part of moves to consolidate on the security symposium organised by the United States Institute of Peace, USIP, between March 17 and 19, 2014 in Washington DC, the governors resolved to set up a six member committee to articulate issues of common concern for a follow up and implementation with the agencies through Nigerian Embassy in Washington.
Members of the committee are secretaries to the state governments of Niger, Zamfara, Borno and Kogi, Commissioner for Information, Niger and a representative of the Nigerian Embassy in the United States.
The governors at the end of the meeting drove to Kano State Governor’s Lodge for a meeting with Northern delegates.
Present at the meeting were governors of Niger, Kaduna, Adamawa, Zamfara, Kwara, Kano, Kogi, acting governor of Taraba, Deputy governors of Borno, Kebbi, Katsina and Jigawa, and SSGs of Sokoto and Plateau.
At the conference, delegates, who had successfully debated other issues on rules and procedures failed to reach a common ground on Order Xi (1) and (2) of the Procedure Rules of the conference, which states that, all decisions of the conference at plenary and committee stage shall be reached by consensus, or in the absence of that, the chairman shall at his discretion adjourn proceedings to allow for further consultations. In case of failure to reach a resolution on the matter by consensus, it shall be decided by vote of three quarter majority.
Delegates had successfully deliberated on all other matters except the voting pattern and proceeded for the lunch break.
With the break over, the Chairman, Justice Legbo Kutigi called for the adoption of the rules. But members objected to the idea.
Amid deafening interjections, a Federal Government delegate, Mr. Mike Ozokeheme (SAN) got up and questioned the wisdom behind adopting an inclusive matter.
At this juncture, the issue was revisited without being resolved. While some favoured the presidential proposal of reaching consensus or three quarter majority, many advocated and pitched tent with the two-third majority, stressing that it was more conventional and reasonable.
The issue elicited heated debates which stalled further proceedings and eventually forced the conference to close shop before the closing time of 6 pm.
Debating the issue earlier, a delegate under the platform of the elder statesmen, Chief Edwin Clark cautioned the conference not to further associate President Goodluck Jonathan with the 75 per cent clause, emphasizing that issues of rules and order should not stop the congress.
He said: “Consensus should be the order of the day, but where we disagree, are we going to stop this meeting? We should not allow rules or orders to stop us from proceeding. All over the world, the practice is two third majority. No one here should deceive us that, that is the mindset of Mr. President. This matter has come to an end. We should decide it. So, Mr. Chairman, let’s put Nigeria first. Whether we are talking about two third majority or 75 percent, we are all Nigerians. Let’s put it to vote if you cannot decide.”
Also speaking, another delegate from North, Mohammed Bello said that the issue of majority or minority does not arise.
“We have opportunity now to look at the issues and decide on what way to go. The conference is not about majority or minority. What we are talking about is consensus. Before the president thought about consensus, he must have thought about it seriously. If it is about majority or minority, we would not have been here. Let us forget about our sentiments. If we insist that people will use their numbers to intimidate others, it will cause problem in this country,” he said.
Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, a delegate from South-South geopolitical zone also lent a voice saying that two third majority was the answer.
He said: “We were here when the president spoke to us. He said the interest of the Conference is Nigeria, not your tribe. The president said we are re-launching Nigeria. We want two third so that we can move along.”
Similarly, another delegate from the platform of retired state security and NIA Officers, Chief Jerry Okwuonu, challenged the leadership and insisted on two third majority.
“I come from a part of the country where even before the white men came, we had reached consensus. But time has changed. We are taking two third so that we can have something to take to Nigerians.”
Chidinma Uwajumogu, an Imo State delegate said, “Three quarter will not suffice. Two third, sir.”
When it become obvious that reaching a compromise was almost impossible given the number of hands that indicated interests to speak contrary to the proposal, a northern delegate, Yusuf Garba advised against a division that may derail the conference.
“I pray that we will not look for division in this hallowed chambers. Whatever, let’s go back to Mr. President and do something that will give us a name,” he said.
What looked like a fight among the delegates later ensued in the heated atmosphere. A delegate who was desperate to make a speech, after a while, could not bear it any longer. He moved from his seat to an usher to collect the microphone.
When denied, he began to shout at the usher.
This attracted attention and also temporarily disrupted the activities of the conference so much that the repeated shouts of “gentlemen, please, your seats, take your seats, please. Please, be seated,” by the chairman made no impact.
Delegates were not ready to give up on the debate. It resumed with Yusuf Hamisu Abubakar, federal government delegate from Kaduna saying, “We all believe that we have come here for Nigeria. Consensus should guide our decision. Where that is not possible then, three quarter should guide us.”
Another delegate, Bashiru Albasu, retired Police AIG for the Association of Retired Police Officers of Nigeria seeing the rowdy atmosphere advised that it would be futile to continue debate on the matter.
“There is tendency that people are not ready to give way. Let’s take the matter to the authority that convened this conference,” he said.
Kutigi, however, was persuaded by the members to shift grounds and do more consultations
Heeding the advice, he said, “we have spoken enough. We are getting disorganized on this debate. I think we will adjourn on this issue till next week for further consultations.”
He went on to call for the consideration of the work plan for the conference. But Prof. Nsongurua Udombana interjected, saying “It is not possible for us to discuss anything even the work plan. We should adjourn today since we can’t reach a consensus on the fraction.”
Akin Ajibode, Ekiti representative and Professor of Jurisprudence and International law supported Udombana saying “We don’t have the legal standing to continue the debate. I will indulge the suggestion and sleep on the proceeding, so that by tomorrow we reconvene.”
At this juncture, Fola Adiola, Ogun State delegate advised that when a matter becomes heated, an escape route has to be taken
“When a matter becomes this heated, it is difficult for 492 people to agree. Is it possible to seek the consent of the leaders of the zones? Emotions are just been whipped. We are digging deep,” he said.
The prayers eventually prompted the Deputy Chairman of the conference, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi to ask for the patience of the members while the chairman sought more consultations on the matter.
With that, the chairman threw a question to the crowd, saying “do You want to adjourn so that you can cool off before tomorrow?
A resounding “yes” from the members adjourned plenary to today.