By Soni Daniel, Northern Regional Editor, Henry Umoru, Levinus Nwabughiogu & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—UNABLE to reach an agreement on three major fund-related issues, the National Conference, yesterday, threw back the key issues to the Federal Government to work out and adjourned till August 4.
The delegates, who were sharply divided over what percentage increments should be added to oil-producing states, crisis-torn North-East and solid mineral-producing areas, recommended the Federal Government raise a technical committee to work out a new revenue formula for the controversial areas.
Although by implication, the delegates have concluded deliberations arising from the 20 standing committees of the conference, they will nevertheless consider and approve the final reports of the confab for presentation to the government on August 4.
Specifically, Conference formally adopted the Report of the Committee on Devolution of Power but without conclusive decision on the vital issue of derivation principle and what percentage should be paid mineral producing areas.
After days of fruitless discussion by leaders of geo-political zones at the conference, Justice Kutigi and other principal officers met with selected leaders of delegations, chairmen and deputy chairmen of all the standing committees to decide on the matter.
The first meeting scheduled for Friday, last week, did not hold as most of the selected delegates had already concluded their travel plans in view of the imminent closure of Abuja airport that Friday afternoon for maintenance work on the runway.
As soon as the Conference resumed yesterday, Justice Kutigi said: “I’m still of the view that the committee that is handling the matter of coming to a compromise will still do their job. We couldn’t have the meeting on Friday. So, I am proposing that we give them two hours to meet with us.”
He then invited the “50 wise men, committee co-chairmen and deputy chairmen to meet now in our usual place.”
After five hours of closed-door deliberations with the leadership of the conference, southern and northern delegates refused to agree on some of the issues thrown up in the initial meetings of some regional leaders.
Areas of disagreement
The issues were: 18 per cent derivation for mineral producing areas, five per cent for the development of solid minerals areas and five per cent for the reconstruction of states in the northern region ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts.
The last seemed to have been the point of controversy as some of the leaders insisted that the intervention fund should be for the entire country where such was required.
The issue split the delegates along the North/South divide, but during the meeting of selected delegates and principal officers, it was suggested that since there were other areas that funds were being allocated from the Federation Account outside the issues being considered, it would be proper to have a technical committee to take a global look at the revenue allocation framework and determine the appropriate percentages on the the issues under consideration and advise the government accordingly.
But before endorsing that decision, the meeting had critically examined the issues in contention and recognised the need to review the percentage of revenue allocation to oil producing states, including those producing other resources; to reconstruct and rehabilitate areas affected by problems of insurgency and internal conflicts; and the diversification of the economy by fast-tracking the development of solid minerals.
Conference chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi then conveyed the decision of the leaders to delegates at resumption of plenary.
Although some delegates kicked against the decision, lamenting the irreconcilable positions of the delegates from both sides, majority of them agreed that the decision was not just a compromise position but a reasonable one in view of the technical nature of the revenue allocation structure.
As delegates started re-opening debate on the issue, the chairman declared, in line with the Rules of Procedure that having adopted the report of the Committee, “this effectively brings us to the end of this debate.”
The Resolution reached at the meeting of the leaders and principal officers of the conference reads thus:
“Having critically examined the issues in contention, Conference recognizes the need to review the percentage of revenue to states producing oil (and other resources), reconstruct and rehabilitate areas affected by problems of insurgency and internal conflicts and diversify the economy by fast-tracking the development of the solid minerals sector.
“The Conference also notes that assigning percentages for the increase in derivation principle, and setting up Special Intervention funds to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development, requires some technical details and considerations.
“Conference, therefore, recommends that Government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentages on the three issues and advise government accordingly,” the chairman announced.
Soon after the chairman’s presentation, a delegate representing Bayelsa State, Francis Doukpolagha raised a Point of Order, citing Order 9, Rule 9 which reads “it shall be out of order to attempt to reconsider any specific question upon which the Conference has come to a conclusion.”
Doukpolagha said: “Mr. Chairman, on the third of July which was a Thursday, this honourable house took a decision to adopt fiscal federalism for the nation and the implication is that the producing states should manage their resources and pay taxes to the Federal Government. Therefore, this issue of 13 per cent or one per cent does not arise anymore. What this conference is expected to do now is to approve the percentage of tax that will be paid by the producing states. I rest my case, the records are there.”
He was, however, overruled by Justice Kutigi, who called on South-South delegate, Senator Musa Adede to move a motion for the adoption of the report of Devolution of Power Committee and seconded by a delegate representing Ebonyi State, Dr. Adaeze Nwuzor.
The session finally closed with a motion of adjournment until August 4 by a delegate on the platform of Elder statesmen category, Senator Ibrahim Ida seconded by a delegate representing the South-South Zone, Okon Osung.
Resolutions okay – Victor Umeh
Reacting to the decisions, Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chief Victor Umeh said: “The conclusion of the plenary today recommends to the President to appoint a technical committee to look at the issue of derivation, special funds, solid mineral development and establishment of special intervention fund. The way it ended today is the best way out. The delegates failed to reach agreement on this very important issue. But the resolution as read out captured the essence and minds of everybody. The resolution recognizes the need to increase derivation from 13 per cent upward.
We’re postponing what will come to pass —Sen. Okon
Also reacting, a delegate representing Akwa Ibom State, Senator Anietie Okon, said: “We are merely postponing what will come to pass. There is no question about the fact that we are in fiscal federalism and the basic principles that are enshrined in fiscal federalism and which is that there will be resource ownership and that attribution will be to those states that own the resources. We have a reverse arrangement of federalism here, states own them but the Federal Government collects revenue on their behalf and begins to allocate.
“We have a situation where a lot of states don’t contribute anything to the federation account. Now, what we are trying to do is to engineer a situation where revenue contribution to the national treasury will be widespread. I do believe that we can come up with the sense of having non-stop significant achievements because of a sheer ostrich type of denial, we have had to leave the onus; we passed the buck back to the Presidency on the core issues of federalism.
Conference has shirked its responsibility —Ebiseni
On his part, a delegate from Ondo State on the platform of Local government system, Sola Ebiseni, faulted the decision of the Conference to refer the decision to the Government, saying it shirked its responsibility.
“As far as I am concerned, there was no decision taken today. What we did today was simply to abdicate our responsibility by throwing the issue back at Mr. President, who sent us here to assist in proffering solutions to some of our national challenges.”
“What we fully failed to appreciate about what a National Conference is that it is an extra-constitutional assembly of the people to critically examine all the issues that were pushed to us in a federation like ours where we have to constantly review the terms of our national engagement as a country.”
“To now come at the tail end of considering critical issue and say we couldn’t take a decision and push it back to the President is a crafty way of adopting the status quo and refusing to talk about it.”