By Henry Umoru
WITH his determination to expand the space for political and social discourse, to determine the future of Nigeria and to create a new political direction for Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan announced the setting up of the Presidential Advisory Committee, saddled with, among others, the responsibility of fashioning out modalities for a National Conference where Nigerians would brainstorm on the future of the country as well as proffer solutions to knotty national issues.
Senator Femi Okurounmu was the Chairman of the 13- member body which laid the foundation for the conference.
At the end of its three-month brainstorming, travelling round the country, the Okurounmu Committee, in January 2014, submitted its 69-page report.
The decision to have the conference was unfolded during the President’s independence anniversary broadcast where he, among other national issues raised, said: “In demonstration of my avowed belief in the positive power of dialogue in charting the way forward, I have decided to set up an advisory committee whose mandate is to establish the modalities for a national dialogue or conference. The committee will also design a framework and come up with recommendations, as to the form, structure and mechanism of the process.”
Prior to the conference, there were the 1987 Constituent Assembly, organised by the military government of President Ibrahim Babangida, and the 1995 Constitutional Conference by the Abacha regime but which did not produce any tangible result. The most recent was the National Political Reform Conference of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.
The conference ended, but not well as the report that emanated from it was thrown out by the Senate against the backdrop of the section which sought to extend the term limit for elected government officials, tagged, “Third Term Agenda.”
Matching his words with action, barely two months after the submission of the report by the Okuruonmu Committee, Jonathan nominated a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, as the Chairman of the National Conference and his deputy, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi. Consequently, the president rolled out 492 names as delegates.
On March 17, 2014, at the National Judicial Institute, NJI, Jonathan inaugurated the National Conference.
The delegates were drawn from different sections of the society. They include: Elder Statesmen (37), military and security (18), traditional rulers (13), retired civil servants (13), Organised Labour (24), Organised Private Sector (8), youths (18), women (24), political parties (10), Christian and Muslim leaders (12), Civil Society Organisations (24) and Nigerians in the Diaspora ((8).
While the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Accord Party, Labour Party, LP and All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, had representatives,the main opposition party, All Progressives Congress (APC), pooh-poohed the idea of a National Conference and did not send any representative.
Some of the big names who were delegates include the South-south leader, Chief Edwin Clark; Dr. Tunji Braithwaite; Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie; Chief Nosakhare Ishekure,the Chief Priest of Benin Kingdom; Mrs Patricia Ogbonnaya; Prof. Jubril Aminu; Chief Richard Akinjide; Chief Olu Falae; Erelu Olusola Obada; Gani Adams; General Ike Nwachukwu; Achike Udenwa; Chief Olusegun Osoba; Nduka Obaigbena; Chief Raymond Dokpesi; Senator Jim Nwobodo; Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN; Senator Azu Agboti; Chief Peter Odili; King Alfred Diete Spiff; Prof. Jerry Gana; Gen. Jonathan Temlong; Alhaji Ahmadu Adamu Muazu; Arc. Ibrahim Bunu; General A. B. Mamman; General Alani Akinrinade (rtd; former Senate Presidents Adolphus Wabara, Iyorchia Ayu; Ken Nnamani; Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN; Femi Falana; Commodore Olabode George, rtd; General Zamani Lekwot (rtd); Gen Jerry T. Useni (rtd); Sen Daisy Danjuma, Charles Edosomwan, SAN; Ambassador Hassan Adamu; Umar Ghali Naaba; Iyom Josephine Anenih; Mohammed Umara Kumalia; Lt. Gen. Jerry Useni; Prof. Iyorchia Ayu; Bashir Dalhatu; Gen. Salihu Ibrahim; Amb. Ibrahim Gambari; Air Vice Marshal Mutari Mohammed; Emir of Askira and Alhaji Abdullahi Ibn Muhammed.
The Committees were as follows:
Delegates commenced the assignment with 20 committees set up by the leadership of the conference Devolution of powers, national security; environment; politics and governance; political restructuring and forms of government; social sector; transportation; science technology and development; agriculture; civil society, labour and sports; public service; foreign policy and diaspora matters; political parties and electoral matters; land tenure and national boundaries; economy, trade and investment; energy; religion; public finance and revenue; immigration and related matters as well as that of law, judiciary, human rights and legal reform.
After weeks of brainstorming, with memoranda from the public, summoning of ministers, heads of parastatals, government agencies, among others, delegates, through the committees, churned out reports. The recommendations were subjected to debates, voting, approval and adoption, with the conference, at the end of the day, dealing with very thorny issues. After intrigues and compromises, delegates came out with a 22-volume report and adopted about 600 resolutions.
The conference itself was a test of leadership on the part of Kutigi and Akinyemi. The first major challenge they handled was the adoption of 70% majority vote benchmark as the issue almost marred the exercise. The bone of contention was whether voting pattern should be by two third, three quarter or 75% of delegates.
Debates were robust and almost resulted in fighting, but Kutigi and Akinyemi had firm control of plenary; they did not give room for critics to achieve their mischief on the rumoured secret agenda on the conference. Even when a delegate, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, raised a point of order that there were publications that Akinyemi was lobbying northern delegates to smuggle in a new Constitution, in their transparent manner, Kutigi asked his deputy to explain his own side of the story. They understood the fact that they were leading people of different ages and backgrounds.
One issue that proved contentious at the conference was the 13 percent derivation. The conference could not agree on the increase of the derivation fund accruable to oil producing states. The issue was referred to the president to resolve through a technical committee to be set up for that purpose. Before the delegates arrived at the conclusion that a technical committee be set up, it could not be resolved by the delegates even with the intervention of the Elder Statesmen Committee.
The elder statesmen came up with harmonised position of 18 percent derivation resource control as against the present 13. 5 percent for exploration and development of all mineral resources, not solid minerals as against the present 4.5 percent and 5 percent federal revenue for rehabilitation, stabilisation of and construction of areas affected by insurgency in the North East. They had also recommended, as part of the consensus, that 50 percent of money allocated to each state on derivation must go directly to the communities from which the mineral resources are extracted.
Leadership of the conference was able to handle the North – South divide by ignoring distractive points of order when voting on reports and recommendations commenced and it did not also give room for reversal of decisions reached.
The National Conference initially had a time frame of three months, but there was an additional one month as it could not round off its work on schedule. It concluded committee sittings and plenary sessions in mid-July after which delegates went on a short break to enable the conference’s secretariat compile the report.
After 151 days of serious work, the conference, which started March 17, ended on Thursday, August 21, 2014. The main report, which is in two volumes with volume one made up of 528 pages, volume two, 906 pages, had the Draft Constitution made up of 357 pages while the bill is 47 pages.
Initially, the 357-page Draft Constitution, as produced by the Secretariat, did not go down well with northern delegates who described it as a plot to introduce a Third Term Agenda. At the end of the day, however, all issues were resolved through consensus.
After receiving the report, President Goodluck Jonathan, in September 2014, approved the composition of a Presidential Committee, with the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, as Chairman and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, as Secretary.
The committee was saddled with the responsibility of studying and drawing up the implementation strategy.
Its terms of reference include studying the report of the National Conference; articulating the recommendations therein and developing appropriate strategies for its implementation and advising the Federal Government on all matters necessary for the effective implementation.
As a follow up to this, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, last Wednesday, approved the main report of the National Conference.
The Presidency, while describing the council’s approval as the first leg of concrete steps aimed at implementing the conference report, however recalled that, apart from the report, the National Conference had recommended to government how to implement the resolutions.
According to Anyim, what FEC did was to approve that those modalities be adopted in implementing the report, just as he stressed that recommendations and resolutions which require constitution amendment and enactment of new laws would be forwarded to the National Assembly for promulgation into law, adding that he had been asked to compile, vet and make such recommendations available to the President for onward transmission to the National Assembly for enactment into law.
The SGF explained that agencies’ policy matters in the report shall be referred to the affected agencies and the tier of government concerned for action.
With the action of President Jonathan, analysts say he has shamed doubting Thomases who have concluded that the report would go the same way of previous conferences.
- The National Conference recommended, among others, that anybody aspiring to become the country’s President must be a degree holder.
- It approved the rotation of Presidency between the North and South and governorship among three senatorial districts of each state.
- Creation of 18 new states: The conference recommended the creation of 18 new states (three per geo-political zone). The proposed states are Aba State to be created from Abia State; Adada State from Enugu State; Amana State from Adamawa State; Anioma State from the present Delta State; Appa State from Benue State and Edu State from Niger State.
Others are Etiti from the present South-Eastern Nigeria; Ghari to be created from the present Kano State; Gurara out of Kaduna State; Kanji from Kebbi and Niger states; Katagum from Bauchi State and Ijebu from Ogun State.
Other expected new states are New Oyo from Oyo State, Akana-Anim from Anambra and Imo states; Ogoja out of Cross River State; Oil Rivers out of Akwa Ibom State; Ose from Ondo State and Savanna from the present Borno State.
Apart from the 18 proposed states, the conference also recommended one new state for the South East to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North West which has seven.
- It also recommended that states willing to merge can also do so based on certain conditions.
- The conference voted in favour of drastic reduction of number ministers to 18 from the six geo- political zones of the country and not more than 30% of his ministers from outside the Legislature. Reduce Cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary. Presently, there are about 42 ministers with one coming from each of the 36 states of the country and one each from the six geo-political zones of the country.
- The conference resolved that the Minister of Finance should be be presenting annual budget to the National Assembly instead of the President as it is currently obtainable. Under the new arrangement, both the President and the ministers would be expected to appear before the National Assembly to render account of their stewardship on quarterly basis.
- Local Government will no longer be the third tier of government. The federal and states are now to be the only tiers of government. States can now create as many local governments they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped and in its place the establishment of a State RMAFC with representatives of LG and a Chairman nominated by the Governor. The Constitution should fix the tenure for Local Government Councils at three years.
- Conference recommended for the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission, SIECs.
- That the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5%, State Governments – 35% and Local Governments – 22.5%.
- Recommended the Modified Presidential System, a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government.
- Recommended that the presidential power should rotate between the North and the South and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.
With this, all the three senatorial districts would now have the opportunity of producing Governors as against the present arrangement in some states where it is close to a taboo for some senatorial districts of a Senatorial to think of it, while that of the local government chairmen shall to be rotated within the local government area. It thus means that while the Governorship would rotate among the three Senatorial Districts in the states; Local Government Chairmanship would rotate within the Wards of the local government area.
- Delegates also agreed that the President and his deputy should run on a joint ticket, thereby rejecting the Committee’s recommendation that the President should pick his deputy among the members of the National Assembly after he must have won an election.
- The conference agreed with the existing Bi-cameral legislature, but all elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government should serve on part-time basis
- Recommended that the immunity clause should be removed if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy.
- On independent candidacy, it recommended that every Nigerian who meets the specified condition in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections as an independent candidate.
- The creation of the Office of the Accountant General (Director-General) of the Federation as a distinct and separate office from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government. The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation shall oversee the accruals of revenue into and disbursement from the Federation Account as and when due; and shall administer these funds as required by the Constitution, while the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government shall oversee the accounts of the Federal Government.
- Special Courts to handle corruption cases should be established in the light of undue prolongation in the trials and prosecution of corruption cases in the regular courts. A non-conviction-based asset forfeiture law should be enacted with broad provisions to deal with all issues of proceeds of crimes by the anti-graft agencies and the courts.
- That the Land Tenure Act should remain in the Constitution but be amended to take care of those concerns, particularly on compensation in Section 29 (4) of the Act to read “land owners should determine the price and value of their land based on open market value
- That the old National Anthem be re- introduced.
- The Conference recommended that there will be no government sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands. It also resolved that churches and mosques should begin to pay tax to government.
- It was also agreed that hence forth anybody arraigned before the court by EFCC, ICPC and by any law enforcement agencies, the accused person will be regarded as guilty, unlike the present situation where he is innocent until proven guilty.
- On the issue of state police, as controversial as it appears to be, a decision was taken that those who want it should have it.
- The conference agreed that there will no sponsoring of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands, just as it resolved that churches and mosques will now pay tax to government.
- There is succour for people living with disabilities as delegates voted that government at all levels should grant allowance to them which will be equivalent of government workers on grade level 06 as that would enable them employ aides to assist them carry out domestic activities.
- Recommendation on the creation of a separate Foreign Service Commission was unanimously accepted by delegates.
- The long standing agitation for the creation of a Mayoral status for the Federal Capital City was approved.
- Two additional area councils were approved in addition to the existing six area councils with strong warning that all compensations be paid.
- It was also approved that where the President dies in office, or he is incapacitated, impeached or where he resigns, the Vice President shall operate in acting capacity for a period of 90 days during which an election to the same office would be conducted.
According to the delegates, the decision became imperative against the backdrop that each zone was expected to run the full course of the constitutionally allowed tenure without undue disruption; and it was also agreed that based on the adopted zoning formula, when a president leaves under any of the circumstances stated above, another president would be elected from the same zone where the previous one came from.
- Delegates also voted unanimously for life imprisonment for those who engage in the sale of fake drugs in the country.
- Another strong position taken by the delegates was that public schools taken over by various state governments across the country forty two years ago would henceforth be returned to the religious missions which were the original owners.
- Conference adopted a recommendation to confer financial autonomy on State Houses of Assembly as a way of freeing them from direct control by the executive. It was also voted that for functionality, local government should be politically and economically independent.
- Conference also voted for the complete abolition of the concept of plea bargain by the Federal government, just as they frowned at the level of delay of cases in the nation’s courts as this will enable criminal and corruption cases to run their full course in contrast to the present situation where people accused of corruption are set free after parting with a fraction of their looted public funds.