Different Strokes

Different Strokes

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 4:32 pm

Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja

National Conference committees round off their work with many falling short of expectations of Nigerians

After weeks of committee work, delegates to the National Conference are expected to reconvene for plenary this week. Each of the 20 committees is expected to turn in its report, which will eventually be subjected to further debates and consideration by all the delegates.

Indications last week were that some of the committees still have a long way to go and may not be able to turn in their report. What is however certain is that going by what transpired during their meetings, Nigerians should expect robust, headline-grabbing sessions as the delegates debate the recommendations contained in the reports of the different committees.

And one of such committees whose work will certainly attract interests is the committee on devolution of power, considered to be one of the most critical among the 20 committees. The committee had grabbed headlines in the course of its work as a result of the North-South divide among members during debates, which sometimes degenerate to verbal insults. Members of the committee headed by former governor Victor Attah and Ibrahim Coomasie, former inspector-general of police, have barely avoided exchanging blows as tempers flare during debates on issues of resource control, fiscal federalism and devolution of powers. While the southern delegates advocated for a radical restructuring of the constitutional provision that will give more responsibilities to the states in the three areas, their northern counterparts not only want to maintain the status quo, but were unabashedly interested in rolling back some of the gains that have been made in the area of resource control by the oil producing areas of the country.

•Kutigi Idris

•Kutigi Idris

As at the time of writing this story last week, members of the committee were still arguing on issues like principle and resource control. Members of the committee had last Monday failed to reach a decision on the two critical issues even after a seven-hour closed-door meeting. Another issue of contention is the argument canvassed, especially by delegates from the North, that the onshore-offshore oil dichotomy be reintroduced in states where minerals are located off the coasts. Northern delegates who are members of the committee had argued for either a reduction or at best, retention of 13 per cent being paid to oil producing states as derivation while members from the South, particularly those from the South-South geo-political zone, wanted an increment to 50 per cent. Members of the committee finally reached what could at best be termed “a convenient consensus” on the issues last Wednesday.

The members agreed to retain the 13 per cent derivation principle for every mineral producing area, while also affirming that any upward review can only be done after amendment of Section 44(3) of the Constitution which it had earlier recommended.

“While the issue of resource control attracted passionate arguments from a section of the delegates and an equally passionate opposition from others, it was finally resolved thatwith the amendment of Item 39 of the Exclusive Legislative List, certain aspects of resource control have been taken care of,” said Attah.

The former governor of Akwa Ibom old journalists that the amendment empowers every part of the country to develop and exploit its resources in accordance with Federal Government licensing and use the resources to develop the people. He added that if approved, the amendment will enable every state of the federation to benefit from the derivation principle instead of the present widespread belief that derivation benefits are meant for the oil-producing states only. He added with the arrangement, every part of Nigeria will also support upward review of the percentages of funds being paid as derivation because they also stand to benefit.

The committee had also recommended the establishment of a solid mineral development fund to be sourced from the monthly remittance of 4.5 per cent Federal Government’s revenue dedicated for the purpose of development. The committee has also recommended the establishment of National Wealth Fund; an equivalent of the Sovereign Wealth Fund, creation of an office of the Accountant General of the Federation which would be different from the existing Accountant General of the Federal Government among others. The Committee had initially disappointed Nigerians when it requested the demand for state police. One other committee whose work has grabbed media headlines is the committee on Political Reforms and Forms of Government co-chaired by Alhaji Mohammed Kumalia and General Ike Nwachukwu (retd).

The committee had in a voice vote last Tuesday recommended that zoning policy should be observed in the emergence of candidates for election in all the tiers of government in Nigeria. This was after a robust debate in whch some members of the committee argued that the policy should be included in the constitution while others said the issue should be left for political parties to decide. Philip Salawu, a former deputy governor of Kogi State, who led debate on the issue, argued that zoning principle should be put to practice at the centre, states and local government level. At the presidential level, he argued that power should alternate between North and South on the basis of the country’s six geo-political zones. “If you entrench zoning in our constitution, the quest for state creation would not be necessary anymore,” Salawu argued.

While speaking in his support, Jonathan Temlong, another delegate, argued that rotation of power among the regions would give every Nigerian the opportunity of occupying the highest political office in the country. But Temlong argued that the principle should not be institutionalised in the constitution. Rather, every political party should be encouraged to observe it when choosing their candidates for the various positions.

•Victor Attah

•Victor Attah

There are also members of the committee who are totally opposed to the suggestion. Alhaji Adamu Waziri, a former minister, argued for instance that rotation of power may encourage mediocrity in governance. Instead, he argued for a level playing field in which everybody regardless of their ethnic groups and religion can contest for any position. “The strength of the nation is not in the quantity but in the quality of the candidate. Goodluck was elected against the zoning formula. Obasanjo was elected not on any sentiment in 1999 but because of certain attributes that he possessed,” argued Waziri.

Another delegate, Professor Anya Anya, supported Waziri with the argument that the best candidate should always be chosen for the office of the president. At the end of the discussion, the members, through a voice vote agree to support the rotational principle. The committee recommended that the principle should be entrenched in the Electoral Act and the constitutions of the registered parties with a clear definition of how it would operate at states and federal level.

Also, the National Conference committee on Political Parties and Electoral Matters last week recommended the unbundling of the Independent National Electoral Commission which, if approved, will result in the Commission losing some of its powers.

The committee recommended the establishment of a new body that would be saddled with the responsibility of handling political parties’ administration, monitoring, auditing and electoral offences while INEC should be left to handle registration of political parties, conduct of elections and delimitation of constituencies. In the same vein, the committee also approved a proposal that all electoral offenders must be disqualified from contesting or holding any public office for a minimum of 10 years. However, the committee refused to strip the President of powers to appoint the chairman of INEC. The committee also recommended that there should be provisions for independent candidacy in the constitution. However, anyone the committee said anyone that wants to contest election as independent candidate must be nominated by at least five people from each ward within the constituency.

The committee also approved the removal of the residency clause in the Electoral Act to allow voting by Nigerians in the Diaspora. And even before it submitted its report to the plenary, some of the recommendations of the committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government are already generating controversies. The committee had rejected the adoption of regions as federating units. But it recommended that the 774 local governments should be removed and transferred to the states; a recommendation which has not gone down well with members of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE. Malam Ibrahim Khaleel, NULGE President, said last week that the union would resist any attempt to abrogate the local government as the third tier of government in Nigeria. The committee had also recommended the creation of an additional state for the South-East to bring the region at par with the other parts of the country.

But last week, Pastor Tunde Bakare, a member of the committee, raised alarm that about 31 ethnic nationalities across the six geo-political zones have submitted memoranda to the committee demanding state creation. The Lagos cleric lamented despite the fact that it has been agreed that no more request for creation of states will be entertained, some members are arguing for the consideration of the new demands. A delegate representing Delta State and a former deputy governor of the state, Chief Benjamin Elue, had moved the motion that the committee should recommend 12 additional states to bring the number of states to 48, which he said was in the spirit of equity.

The delegates were divided along ideological and tribal lines as they debated whether to honour the new requests or not. Some of the states being demanded by the ethnic nationalities, according to the document obtained last Wednesday in Abuja, included Oduduwa, Aba, Orimili, Ijebu, Adada, Yemen, Amana, Apa, New Delta, Okun, Anioma and Savannah Edu, Lagoon, South Plateau, Confluence, Etiti, Anim, Njaba, Oke-Ogun and Toru-Ebe, New Oyo, Hadejia, Ose, Ogoja, Okura, Ugwuaku, Ghari, Sombreiro and Old Calabar. The debates for state creation embarked upon by the committee pitted delegates along ideological and tribal lines. The committee, like the 20 others, was trying to patch up such divisions in their ranks to be able to submit their reports to the plenary this week.

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