Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, academic and former diplomat, was
Nigeria’s Minister of External Affairs and subsequently, a senior official of the United Nation’s bureaucracy, rising to the post of  Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations (USG) for the Department of Political Affairs (DPA).

Gambari is presently the Special Adviser on the International Compact with Iraq and Other Issues for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and at the same time, the Chancellor of the newly established Kwara State University.

Gambari was a nominee of the Federal Government to the National Conference in the category of elder-statesmen and was one of the leaders of the Consensus Group that worked to unify positions of the various stakeholders at the conference.

Ibrahim Gambari
Ibrahim Gambari

In this interview he speaks on the controversies at the conference, the conduct of the delegates and the next course of action for the country. Excerpts:

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

How would you assess the conference?

First of all, many people at the beginning didn’t think much will come out of this conference for good reasons. First, we were not elected. Two, they have seen the history of conferences in this country because almost all the previous conferences mostly ended in disarray.

Three, there is always the suspicion of hidden agenda by people who convened the conference. Four, there is the feeling that the National Assembly is there and so, why should there be another, almost a legislative body to discuss and make recommendations on the governance of Nigeria when we have the National Assembly.

So, all those misgivings and suspicions and the history of such conferences have not been always a happy one. Now, against that background, the conference convened on March 17, didn’t have much chance of success. Don’t forget also that we are 492 delegates, who for the most part are meeting themselves for the first time and two, representing various interests.

I think, it is only one group that is not really interest- based and those are the Elder Statesmen. They were picked one from each state but not actually representing the state. I belong to that group. But then, at the beginning we had a rough time which was to be expected because we couldn’t  pass the rules.

But wisdom prevailed, there was a committee of 50 wise men and women and a consensus was arrived at on how to pass the rules.  I am happy to say that the spirit of consensus was tested in the committees and overwhelmingly, almost all the committees adopted their reports.

Specifically, what will you highlight as major achievements of the conference?

If you look at some of the issues, the most contentious is state police and because it is a fact of life that the Nigerian Police as constituted are incapable of addressing all the security challenges facing this country alone. A proof of this is the number of soldiers that are now doing essentially police work.

Secondly, almost all the states of the federation are in some ways supporting the activities in their states or in some cases have an auxiliary arrangement. This is Federal Republic of Nigeria. I think, the time has come to really look at how to complement the work of Nigeria Police Force, strengthen and also compliment their work. Secondly, the issue of immunity clause.

In my view, one of the biggest challenges that this country has is not ethnicity, not so much religion but poor governance and impunity and lack of accountability in government.

And this is anchored on this immunity. We have to hold our leaders accountable even while in office. What in my view will address the issues of poor governance, corruption, and promote transparency is really removing the immunity clause, not impeachment.

Thirdly, look at the form of government. The conference has agreed to retain the presidential system but modified such that we will be closer to the model in France, South Africa where the Legislature and the Executive are brought much closer and two; where most of the ministers will be appointed from the legislature because right now, you have a presidential system where all the ministers are appointed by the president but representing no particular constituency in the parliamentary sense and therefore, they don’t feel a sense of responsibility to any constituency other than the president once they pass the screening and the confirmation process. Now, you have the ministers answerable on a continuous, consistent basis, to the legislators. Again, if you look at the committee which I was privileged to chair, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, we have three major achievements.

One is that we have agreed to reprofessionalize the diplomats and diplomacy of the country by creating a separate foreign service and separate foreign service commission . The commission will appoint, promote, discipline the staff of the ministry and therefore enhance professionalism.

Two, funding. If you look at countries of similar status in the world, the proportion of the budget that is devoted to foreign affairs is extremely low. We have recommended an increase. More important, on the diaspora issue. We have recommended the right of Nigerians in diaspora to vote. Of course, subject to enhancing the capability of INEC and using our embassies abroad to be able to permit them to vote.

It is done for the Europeans, the Chinese, Indians and all the countries that have allowed their people in diaspora to be able to exercise the right to vote and also, of course, we supported the acceleration of the process for the establishment of the diaspora commission. Finally, I will say perhaps on one of the most contentious issues: religion, we reached consensus. Then we had the issue of derivation.

What’s your take on the recommendation to create 18 additional states?

You know when a conference decision is made by consensus, it doesn’t mean everybody is happy with it. I have my reservations about 18 additional states. Although, I supported it in principle, the idea of an additional state for the south east for equity purposes, though, the idea is not always popular in this part of the country but I am in support of that. I have reservations about that large number of states.

Recall that the conference recommended that those states that want to come together, provided that the allocation they will receive from the federal government is not increased.

You stirred up controversy  when you presented the report of the special committee that intervened on derivation. Some felt you misrepresented the position of the committee by saying that the 5% of the special fund which was for national emergencies was for the Northeast, Northwest and North-Central zones. How was that?

This group is a voluntary group of what we call consensus bridge-building group and we have been meeting almost through out the conference to promote the spirit of consensus. We have northern delegates, southern delegates, south south, south east, middle belt.

Of course, we have Muslims, Christians, civil society groups, the youth groups etc. So, the idea is to promote consensus because we know that if we don’t do that and we go to vote on every item, it will give a very bad impression of the conference and the decision of the conference will not carry weight with Nigerians. For the three months we met and I was privileged to be the chair and co-convener of that group.

Now, we realised that one of the most contentious issues was going to be the issue of derivation. People forget that there is actually a conference committee on that headed by former Governor Victor Attah, co-chaired by former IGP, Ibrahim Coomassie. These are the officials.

Now, many delegates particularly from the South-South were very unhappy because in 2005 conference, before it went katakata, there was actually a promise of 18% derivation. We were represented by 3 persons each from the six geo-political zones of which I was a member.

So, we began to work on this. We got to the point where we were willing to recommend the following: 18% for derivation, 5% for solid mineral development and 5 % for intervention fund for the stabilization, rehabilitation and reconstruction of those parts of the country affected by Boko Haram and insurgency. Now, that was the general agreement.

When I made an oral presentation which was supposed to be followed by the written presentation, it was not clear that this was a national intervention fund but in the first instance, it has to be for those who are most affected by it. And I didn’t get an opportunity to also explain to delegates.

They saw it as another fund. You know, typically, everybody wants some share of the fund. But why do you want a situation where you will actually have access to that fund? Who wants insurrection? Who wants Boko Haram? And this fund is not supposed to be forever.

So, we went back when we saw how people reacted and said, OK, let us now redefine what I presented orally and submit it in a written form because it has to be in form of an amendment of the report of the committee on Devolution of Power. They were some  very innovative things we agreed. One: 18 percent of the revenue accrued to the federation account directly from any micro resources.

Two: not less than 50 percent of the total derivation fund accruable to the mineral bearing states shall be due and payable to the host communities within states where the resources were derived in accordance with the production quota contributed by such communities. Then, we said there should be established a solid mineral development fund.

Actually such exists at 3%. But we said it should be moved to 5% and should be applied to solid mineral developments in the states so that we will begin to get away a little bit from the concentration on oil.

This is where there was a problem. And the refined formulation was that there shall be a national intervention fund which shall be 5% of the national revenue accruable to the account of the federal government, not federation account, for the stabilization, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the areas affected by terrorism and insurgency in the first instance, in the north east of Nigeria and any other part of the country.

Where there was a disagreement within the group was whether to just limit it in the first instance to the Northeast of Nigeria and any other part of the country or to spell it out to include Northeast of Nigeria, North-Central, Northwest and any other part of the country.

And we were going to now present it to the plenary but by that time, all hell had broken loose. So, you know the rest of the story. The “wise men” met on this issue and they decided in their wisdom to leave the percentage of the intervention fund to the President to possibly appoint a technical committee to handle.

What is your take on President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term ambition in 2015 and the north’s agitation?

For  me, the most important thing is that there should be free and fair elections in this country. This is very important. If President Jonathan who has the constitutional right to contest wins in a free and fair elections, I have no problem with that. But up till now, no one has declared.

The president himself has not said he is going for re-election. But if he decides to run as he has  constitutional right  to do so and  other parties nominate their candidates; what is most important is to have a free and fair election. Any Nigerian has a right,  under the constitution, to run. I can run also. But we must insist on free and fair election.

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