- Last week, a group from the North held a summit where they canvassed for another national conference. Assistant Editor,Mike Odiakose, X-rays the demand of the group and the possibility of holding another conference when the report of the 2014 has not been implemented.
The demand for another national political conference by a hitherto unknown socio-political group called Northern Reawakening Forum, NRF, led by a former member of the House of Representatives from Borno State, Mohammed Kumalia, took Nigerians by surprise. The surprise element is more interesting considering the fact that Kumaila, who is arrowhead of the NRF, was a prominent member of the 2014 National Confab. Kumaila was the co-chairman of the National Conference Committee on Political Reforms and Forms of Government, which is one of the most important committees of the 2014 Confab. He co-chaired the committee with the respected elder statesman, General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd).
While Nigerians are awaiting the implementation of the far-reaching recommendations of the 2014 National Conference, which was put together by the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration to seek a way forward for the Nigerian project, Kumaila and members of his group are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to discard the report.
In denouncing the 2014 Confab report Kumaila said since it was the brainchild of a PDP administration Buhari should distance himself from the report.
According to Kumaila, “The last conference was convened by the PDP government. You do not expect this government to take hook, line and sinker what was put in place by the last government. It was convoked by the PDP government and unfortunately, the PDP lost election. You do not expect the opposition to accept the resolution of the previous government, which has its own objectives which this government is not aware of.”
Though Kumaila and members of the NRF claimed they represent the interest of the people of the entire 19 northern states, most of the reasons they are calling for fresh national conference is centred on how to tackle the problems in the insurgent-ravaged North East zone where Kumaila came from.
His words, “What are the problems in the North East? Has anybody tried to ascertain the problems in the North East? The essence of the national conference is to analyze the extent of damage done to the North East. The working document would be used to rebuild the region. There is no resemblance between the conference we are proposing and the 2014 National Conference. Many things have been destroyed and we need people with experience to discuss how the area will be settled.”
“The North has the highest number of people below $2.00 a day. 71.5 percent of the population in the North East lives in poverty and more than half are malnourished. A 2013 World Bank Report showed that poverty in 16 out of the 19 Northern states has doubled since 1980.
“The north has the lowest literacy rate in the country. Lagos is at 92 percent, Kano 49 per cent and Borno less than 15 per cent. Sixty-five per cent of northern girls and 53 per cent of boys are not in school compared to only 20 per cent for the South-East,” Kumalia pointed out in the communiqué issued by the group.”
Since the Northern Reawakening Forum came up with the demand for a new National Conference, the group has received bashing from all over the country for suggesting the 2014 Confab report should be consigned to the waste bin.
A delegate to the 2014 Confab and National Coordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Otunba Gani Adams, expressed dismay at the rejection of the report of the last year’s National Conference saying that the rejection by a section of the country “is not only an attempt to overheat the polity, it is also politically-motivated.”
According to him, “The conference had over 490 delegates and these were prominent personalities who gave their time, energy and thorough contribution.”
“Those asking for another conference should be informed that a national conference is not a party; it is not an event meant to be organised every year. Before the one of last year, we had in 2005, 1996, 1979 and 1963.
“Most of the 2014 resolutions were accepted by more than 95 per cent of delegates. The only contentious issue that we didn’t really finalise was that of derivation formula or resource control as mostly called, which we agreed that the presidency act upon.
“I urge those calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to ignore the recommendations
to go through again and study carefully.”
“I will continue to restate the position of the Oodua Peoples Congress on this subject: The only way Nigeria will move forward is to adopt recommendations of the 2014 National Conference convened by President Goodluck Jonathan.”
Also reacting to the demand for new National Conference President of Aka-Ikenga, Godwin Uwazuruike, who was a delegate at the national conference insisted that the Kumalia group was not speaking for the North.
“They are not speaking for the North or northern leaders. They are speaking for themselves. At the national conference, we had a similar incident where some people came and addressed a press conference.
Afenifere chieftain, Senator Femi Okunrounmu, joined those that berated northern leaders calling for a fresh National Conference and stressed that it was unfortunate that northern leaders could denigrate the conference.
Okunrounmu said the leader of the group, Kumalia, was a member of the committee on political reforms and wondered why he would utter such words.
He said, “Kumalia was a co-chairman of the National Conference Committee on Political Restructuring and Form of Government that deliberated on many of the political reforms. He and Gen. Ike Nwachwukwu were the co-chairmen and I was a member of the committee.
“He (Kumalia) signed the report of the committee. So, for him to be saying the conference was a Goodluck Jonathan agenda is very dishonest. To begin with Jonathan was very clear that he had no agenda when he inaugurated it.
“The conference determined its own agenda unlike other conferences. This is the first time that the government gave the delegates a free hand to determine its agenda and so on.
“So it is very dishonest of Kumalia to say the conference was a Jonathan agenda,” Okunrounmu said.
Similarly, from the North there is warm embrace for the Kumaila-led NRF as the National President of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum, Alhaji Yerima Shettima described the action as deceitful.
“They (northern leaders) must take responsibility because in the first place, some of us were against the conference. Why did they participate in the conference when they know they will reject the recommendations of the report?
“They cannot attend the conference at the expense of taxpayers and thereafter distance themselves from it. I see that as deceit, they must take responsibility.
Political analysts, opinion leaders and new media contributors are unanimous that the idea of another national conference as suggested by the NRF cannot see the light of the day in view of the narrow prism from which they are demanding for the talk shop.
The NRF destroyed whatever merit their demand may have by focusing only on challenges confronting one region of the country as could be depicted from the theme of the NRF summit, “Rebuilding a safe, secure and economically inclusive Northern Nigeria” where the demand was made. They rather unwittingly raised the question of who is responsible for the problems of the north as enumerated by Kumaila.
The response to that question has been placed on the public domain by the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, who is also the chairman of the Northern Governors Forum.
Speaking at a recent meeting of the Northern Governors Forum in Kaduna, Governor Shetimma said the North is dragging the entire country down.
His words: ‘’Things have become so bad, so much so that we can say without fear of contradiction that in Nigeria today, poverty glaringly wears a bold northern face. We have turned our region into a laughing stock, derided by friends and foes alike, and, not without justification, as having dragged the rest of the country down with us.
‘’Regrettably today, our region has become a thriving nest for war, terrorism, deep seated social divisions, senseless violence, mind-boggling intolerance, injustice, destitution, joblessness, and all manners of other social vices, the height of which is the madness called Boko Haram.
Shettima added that ‘’No amount of lamentation will, of course, solve our many problems. We need to act, and fast too. This generation of northern leaders, led by us the Governors, has both a moral and constitutional responsibility as well as a historic opportunity to reverse the negative fortunes of our people.
‘’We must firmly and decisively commit ourselves to fighting poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, terrorism and other forms violent crimes in the north.”
‘’I urge us to take full advantage of this development and dedicate ourselves to, beginning from this meeting and within the shortest possible time, developing a comprehensive blueprint that will take our region and its long suffering people out of the woods,” Governor Shettima said.
Political observers are of the view that if Kumaila and members of the NRF are sincerely concerned about the pathetic situation in the north to warrant their calling for a National Conference to address the issues they should take a cue from the admonitions of Governor Shettimma instead of waiting for a national conference to solve the problems in the North.
However, some critics are of the view that the call for another National Conference is to create an avenue for some idle hands to gain access to the national treasury through the payment of the huge allowances to delegates at the conference. The huge allowances collected by some of the delegates to the 2014 Confab turned around their fortune as they smiled to the bank throughout the duration of the confab.
Unfortunately, even if Buhari gives nod for another conference the would-be delegates will be daydreaming if they are hoping to collect same allowance 2014 delegates collected. Buhari is known to be very Spartan and will certainly not open the national vault to anyone in the name of a national conference.