•It’s your biggest mistake —Mike Ozekhome, SAN
•You are wrong, Delegates
By Henry Umoru & Levinus Nwabughiogu
The 2014 National Constitutional Conference was one of the boldest attempts in recent times in appraising the operational structure and system on which the country is run. The conference which was convened by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 however faced many controversies, the first of which was its acceptance. The 492 delegates of the conference following months of brainstorming finally came up with a report which among others sought the creation of nearly 18 more states, the systematic restructuring of the polity, rotational presidency, the creation of state police, the scrapping of state/local government joint accounts among several others.
The conference officially cost the Federal Government N9 billion which was besides incidental costs by state governments and other agencies of the administration. The report of the conference was submitted to President Jonathan who before he left office, handed them over to his successor, President Muhammadu Buhari as being among the major unfinished issues of his administration which he would want the new president to deal with.
However, his successor who had been largely mute on it finally responded during newspaper interviews to mark his first anniversary in office last week. President Buhari said despite the persuasion of his predecessor that he had not even read the confab report and that it would remain in the archives where according to him it rightly belongs.
He said: “I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9billion to organise that meeting (National Conference), and some (members) were complaining that they hadn’t even been paid. I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that what the National Assembly could have handled was handed to the Conference, while the more important job of keeping our children in schools was abandoned. That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives.”
Responding to the president’s assertion, some prominent members of the conference, styled as delegates in various responses tackled the president, pointing out what they claimed as major highlights of the conference that should be implemented.
General Zamani Lekwot, rtd,
The 2014 National Conference report is the real formula to restructure this country, implementing the report is a solution to the nation’s problems. Ignoring the entire report would amount to asking where Nigeria is going because, during the conference, we had the best of Nigerians, all professions, age and class of people who represented various groups as well as the group of elder statesmen.
The implementation of the report can be done in phases, but throwing away the entire report will not help the country. Implementing the report will boost our economy, it would boost investment as that would help create a very conducive atmosphere for businesses to thrive and investors will come to the country.
Implementing the report will also boost agriculture which used to be our mainstay, water would be improved, the inflation would be checked as well as lay a solid foundation for the development of the country. Implementing the conference report will address the issue of insecurity in the land. During the National Conference, I learnt a lot from other Nigerians, who were delegates.”
Former Permanent Secretary in Rivers State and a delegate to the conference, Dr. Patricia Ogbonnaya
It is being narrow-minded and unpatriotic because the president cannot claim that the report is entirely useless to the development of our country Nigeria. He should be reminded of the calibre of Nigerians who were at the conference. They were men and women who have excelled in their various fields of endeavour, including good performance as public and civil servants from the teething period of this country. Mr. President should know that no single individual has a monopoly of knowledge. He should take the good parts of the report and discard the so-called bad parts if he so wishes.
Former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Senator Aniete Okon
Throwing away the 2014 CONFAB report is a way of postponing the obvious. The President is living in denial of the reality of the country today which is to get the Nigeria project working properly. The return to true federalism is an inevitable panacea for the country’s problems which Nigeria is struggling with. The President should be encouraged to stop living in denial in stark reality of our country.
Former Presidential Candidate of the National Transformation Party, NTP, Deacon John Dara
The 2014 National Conference was an improvement in many ways on the previous Conferences and Constituent Assemblies. It was a compilation of resolutions on which Nigerians have, by and large, built consensus. It is unfortunate that the President has not read the report because I believe that it will be a useful guide for good governance in Nigeria for a long time to come. Unless the government wants to reinvent the wheel, it is wasteful to ignore the report. It may, in fact, become an albatross for any government that chooses not to implement the report because new movements and new leadership will rise to truly renew and re-engineer Nigeria.
Former Minister of Women Affairs, Iyom Josephine Anenih
The truth is that I did not hear him speak about it because I have not been around for some time. However if it is true that he said so by himself – that he will not consider the report – I would humbly advise him to reverse his decision. The President knows more than anybody else that government is a continuum. Successive governments strive to build on what the previous governments started building and not to dismantle and start again. The money spent on convening and running the 2014 National Conference is Nigerian tax payers’ money which must not be wasted.
We appreciate that there are a lot of issues on his plate to tackle right now, what with the increasing spate of insecurity and restiveness all over the country and the looming famine in the land. He may feel that considering the report may distract him. Paradoxically, implementing the far-reaching, well-considered resolutions which were consensually reached by representatives of every segment and delineation of this country, will prove to be the answer he is seeking right now. Even the monster called corruption that he is seriously fighting now was discussed and recommendations on how to destroy it were advanced.
Can we really say that the 2014 report will not be implemented, when several recommendations are already being implemented like the rehabilitation of the North East and a few others? If you read the report, there are recommendations for the Executive to implement, and there are recommendations that only the National Assembly can deal with.
It’s his discretion to consider the report or not to, suffice to say that there are very important recommendations therein that could be useful in resolving the myriad of challenges facing the government. There are plethora of reports that never got attended to, the Oputa, Lemu, Uwais committees and all that.
Constitutional Lawyer, Professor Auwalu Yadudu
The report had three components; one, requires executive attention and the President is entitled to endorse or not and another is legislative intervention and it belongs to the National Assembly. If the National Assembly chooses to act on the report, nothing stops them.
I had a problem with the basis for convoking the conference; it did not go through the legal process of having a law backing it. It is a dignified presidential advisory Committee. Jonathan did not help matters; time was not enough, there was no white paper to indicate which or which one not to accept. They played politics with it. A report that has three components cannot be kept in the archives. If the National Assembly decides to look at it, they can, and if the presidency decides not to implement, they may have their reasons.”
Yinka Odumakin, Spokesperson of Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG
The comment by the president shows a total disconnect with the Nigerian reality. The country is fast disintegrating and like Max Siollun wrote in the New York Times after the 2015 elections ‘Nigeria needs a reconstructive surgeon and not a bulldozer.’ If a leader is presiding over 52% of his country, he should know that something has to be done to improve on governance structure in an inclusive arrangement. That is the imperative of what Atiku captured succinctly in his recent intervention.
The recommendations of the 2014 National Conference are the panacea to elongate the tenure of Nigeria, which has practically entered a terminal crisis. And if any leader thinks he can use the force of arms to keep a dysfunctional country together, he should learn from the Soviet Union which collapsed without a single shot being fired with all its military might.
Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN
For the president to attempt thrashing the 2014 National Conference report, to me, will be the biggest mistake of his administration. It will be ill advised and if you listen to the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar two days ago, you will notice that the issue of restructuring the country is even now more urgent than it was in 2014 when former president Jonathan instituted the national confab. The issues will simply not go away because it borders on what is called the national question. It is at the very heart and soul of our nationhood experimentation. Nigeria is still seeking nationhood because of the disparate nationalities, cultures, religious, languages, gender, tribes and idiosyncrasies all of which have led to great mutual suspicion and antagonism.
“It amounts to throwing away the baby with the bath water by rejecting in toto the conference report simply because it was authored during Jonathan’s government and simply because Jonathan was the one who convened the national conference. It is therefore critical that you look at the message and not thld look beyond Jonathan as a former president and beyond his government and look at the report itself which was the collective product of eminent Nigerians drawn from across the nooks and crannies of this country.
“In fact, there were times when almost fisticuffs were involved. There were abuses, insults, laughters, disagreements and then agreements.
“The report was not just full and holistic, it took care of the challenges of Nigeria from amalgamation in 1914 up till now and how retool and re-engineer Nigerian so that we can become stronger not this one of disparite groups where Niger Delta Avengers wants a larger Niger Delta Federation; where IPOB wants a Biafra federation. We discovered that the agitations would continue to resurface. They are like sleeping magma which normally are dormant but grow up later into serious volcanic eruption. Because some people still feel shortchanged. Every region cries about marginalization. All Nigerians must be inward looking.