By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor

One of the issues President Goodluck Jonathan campaigned with for his botched re-election, penultimate Saturday, is the implementation of the 633 recommendations of the 2014 National Conference.

However, following his loss to Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), what becomes of the confab recommendations is an issue agitating the minds of pro-democracy activists and others who were in the thick of the struggle for the convocation of a National Conference.

The pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, and the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) anchored their support for Jonathan in the presidential election on the implementation of the confab  recommendations.

Major recommendations

The National Conference came up with a number of far-reaching recommendations which, if implemented, will pave the way for rapid development of the country. The recommendations include:

Part-time legislature

The confab recommended bi-cameral legislature, but all elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government should serve on part-time basis.

Power rotation among the six geo-political zones

It also recommended that 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.

Abolishing local govt as a tier of govt

According to the confab, the Local Government will no longer be the third tier of government. The federal and state governments are now to be the only tiers of government. States can now create as many local governments as 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 recommends the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission, SIECs.

No immunity for criminal charges

The immunity clause for president, vice-president, governors and deputy governors should be removed if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability.

No more govt sponsorship of pilgrimages

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 taxes.

Creation of new states

Another recommendation is the creation of 18 new states (three per geo-political zone) and 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.

Resource control/derivation principle/fiscal federalism

The Conference noted that assigning percentage 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, require some technical details and consideration. The Conference therefore recommends that Government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentage on the three issues and advise government accordingly.

Reduction of FG allocation to 42.5%

It also recommended 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%

That the percentage given to population and equality of states in the existing sharing formula be reduced while that assigned to Social Development sector be increased to a much higher percentage so as to ensure accelerated development of all parts of the country.

Forms of govt

Delegates recommended the Modified Presidential System, a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government. The president shall pick the vice president from the Legislature. The President should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo -political zones and not more than 30 per cent 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.

Anti-corruption special courts

A 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.

Other recommendations

Other recommendations include the re-introduction of the old National Anthem, state police, independent candidacy and establishment of special courts to handle corruption cases as well as supreme courts at the state level.

Hard won battle

Hard in coming, the National Confab was the first of its kind since political activists and elders, especially from the South-West, kick-started the campaign in 1992. Some have likened it to the pre-independence constitutional conferences of our founding fathers who discussed without being teleguided.

The clamour for a Sovereign National  (SNC) got more impetus following the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election presumably won by the late business tycoon, Chief MKO Abiola.

The 1994 Abacha National Constitutional Conference (NCC) fell short of what the South-West leading lights and activists across the country, like the late Senator Abraham Adesanya, demanded. They consequently boycotted the exercise and left the field for what they described as the Third Eleven of Yoruba leaders. Though the Abacha conference was said to have been ‘teleguided’ by the then Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), it, nevertheless, came up with a number of good recommendations such as the six geo-political zones, 13 per cent derivation and rotational presidency between the North and South.

However, Nigerians were taken aback when the report of the NCC was tinkered with by a series of committees and never really became a constitution until Abacha died on June 8, 1998 paving the way for General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) to take over and ran the fastest transition to civil rule

ever witnessed in the country. At the time Abubakar handed over to President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999, more than 11months later, Nigerians knew next to nothing about the contents of the 1999 Constitution. Even  Obasanjo was said to have opened the code-book after his swearing-in. It was therefore not surprising that the preamble: ‘We the people…’ elicited controversy from  political activists, who insisted that the Nigerian people were never part of the making of the 1999 Constitution and restated their demand for SNC.

Yielding to the demands, Obasanjo, in 2005, held the National Political Reforms Conference (NPRC), which ended in a stalemate over resource control. While Niger Delta delegates insisted on 25 per cent derivation and later staged a walkout, the conference elders agreed to make derivation 18 per cent.

Whatever gains that could have accrued from the NPRC died with Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda and the clamour for a genuine confab of the people continued.

Road to 2014 confab

On October 1, 2013, in his 53rd independence anniversary, the President said he would convene a National Conference for Nigerians to discuss their grievances and hammer out best ways of living together as one united people. He set up the Senator Femi Okurounmu Committee to tour all parts of the country and prepare the grounds for the exercise. The exercise took off in March 2014 and ended four months later with far-reaching recommendations that can accelerate the country’s development, if implemented.

APC, Buhari, Tinubu opposition

The proposal elicited criticisms from leaders of the opposition  APC which  dismissed it as political, deceptive and diversionary. The party boycotted the confab and almost got APC states to do same until the last minute.

Fresh from a medical trip abroad, on October 5, 2013, APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu,  criticized the National Conference, describing it as “deceptive” and “diversionary” and  wondered why the president was proposing a national dialogue only 15 months to the 2015 general elections.

‘’Why is the conference coming at just about 15 months to the next general election? When will it hold? Why so sudden? I see a contradiction and diversion…National conference is by whom, for whom, and at what stage? How many level of deception? These people (federal government) are not even smart at public perception and deception. I see a contradiction. I see diversion. I see deception, lack of honesty and integrity,” he said.

Though Tinubu’s litany of questions were promptly answered via the successful outcome of the dialogue, which the conferees said was devoid of government interference, the APC presidential candidate and now president-elect, Buhari, said on March 12, exactly 16 days to the presidential election that the conference was a waste.

Speaking at a town hall meeting with some youths at the MUSON Centre in Lagos, Buhari said: “This government voted N7 billion to do a national conference, which is the duty of the National Assembly. The money should have been put in education. Our students in the universities and other tertiary institutions would have had no cause to be home as a result of incessant strikes. This government does not care about the education of its people and just like in other areas of endeavour. They don’t care about what happens to us, what they care about is their own pockets.”

Whither confab recommendations?

Given the stance of APC leaders and Buhari, the questions on the lips of many observers include: Will the confab recommendations be implemented? Or, will it be consigned to the dustbin? Can the APC government deliver on their lofty promises without restructuring of the polity? How can they get resources to run the government without developing other sources of revenue apart from oil as recommended by the confab? If side-stepped when will Nigerians have another opportunity to address their problems?

Efforts to get the APC National Secretariat to comment on these issues did not yield results at the time of this report. Calls to the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, were also not answered.

PRONACO tasks Buhari on restructuring

Speaking on the issue, the Pro National Conference Organisation, PRONACO, said that the good intention and widely acclaimed integrity of Buhari may be compromised by the present constitutional structure operated by the country if a constituent assembly of the Nigeria people is not immediately set up to finish the restructuring process started by the Jonathan administration

PRONACO spokesperson, Olawale Okunniyi, urged Buhari to note his discussions with the late Chief Anthony Enahoro in 2006 on federalism and restructuring Nigeria in ensuring there is no alibi of constitutional and structural obstacles to his anti-corruption agenda

Okunniyi also said members of Enahoro political family, who stood firmly by Buhari to pivot his political movement in the CPC and later the APC, will be proud to see him hit the ground running and taking the bull by the horn to ensure drastic whittling down of Nigeria’s governance structure and paraphernalia through a popular constitutional restructuring

“But our concern is that In a constitutional democracy unlike military administration, the President elect, Muhammadu Buhari cannot be an island in cleaning up and overhauling the system, so he urgently needs a popular complimentary constitutional foundation to be able to succeed in his anti corruption stance otherwise he would soon be messed up and demystified by the existing constitutional template and conspiring political class

‘’However, by our understanding of the corrupt nature of the Nigerian constitution, any adherence to the rule of law in the present circumstance is invariably a big boost for Nigeria’s corrupt system. The President elect should seriously note this immediately technical point in ensuring that he looks at the processes started by the outgoing president and set up a constituent assembly of the Nigerian peoples to take ownership of Nigeria’s constitution once and for all,” Okunniyi advised

Implement confab report, Falae, Fasoranti urge Buhari

Also speaking,  National Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Olu Falae, on Thursday, urged  Buhari to implement the 2014 National Conference report on assumption of office. According to Falae, the implementation of the report would help to revamp and re-launch the country. “I want to advise Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari that he should see government as a continuum. I urge him that as soon as he is inaugurated and settle down to initiate action on the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference. The implementation of that report in my humble opinion is the blueprint for restructuring Nigeria, revamping Nigeria and re-launching Nigeria into a new orbit,” he said.

Afenifere Leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, also spoke in like manner and urged Buhari not to jettison the confab report. He also advised Buhari to make the people’s interest paramount in his government and the need to eschew politics of bitterness and hatred.

Will Buhari continue from where Jonathan stopped on the National Conference? Only time will tell.

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