Recent upsurge in agitations by several groups in the country has again brought to the fore the imperative of revisiting the report of the 2014 national conference, writes MIKE ODIAKOSE
The respite that came the way of Nigerian by the success recorded in decimating the activities of the Boko Haram sect by the military has gradually evaporated as Nigeria has recorded an upsurge in restiveness across the country in the past few months.
In the North cattle rustlers are having a field day, Fulani herdsmen are unleashing terror from the middle belt to the South West, South East and South South. Lately, a new group called the Niger Delta Avengers, emerged from the oil rich South South zone and has been wrecking havoc on oil facilities in the Niger Delta states.
Nigeria has equally recorded street protest within and outside country by Nigerians from the South East zone following the arrest and continued detention of the director of Radio Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu.
Most of those behind the agitations across the country have been calling on the government to take steps to redefine the bases of Nigerians continued co-existence as a united country over alleged marginalization of some sections of the country.
Coincidentally, most of the demands being made today by various groups were captured and adequately addressed by delegates to the 2014 National Conference.
This development has again brought the contention issue of the implementation of the 2014 national conference report. The conference was organized by former President Goodluck Jonathan and had 490 eminent Nigerians as delegates. The conference made far reaching decisions and over 400 recommendations that are aimed at restructuring the polity.
In the final report of the conference, the delegates had recommended creation of additional 19 states to bring the total number to 54 states, with all the zones having equal number of states.
The confab delegates agreed on the creation of a mayoral status for the Federal Capital City; that the Minister of Finance, not the President will now present the annual budget to the National Assembly; that power should be shared and rotated at all levels of government and that the presidency should rotate between North and South and among the six geo-political zones in the country. Likewise, governorship should rotate among the three senatorial zones in each state.
Equally recommended by the conference is proposes reduction in the shares of the national income going to the federal government and increase in the shares of the states. It also recommended modified presidential system of government that combines the presidential and parliamentary forms of government. In this instance, the president picks the vice president from the legislature.
The President elected under the new system shall exercise full responsibility for his government and shall select ministers, not more than 18 of them, from the six geo-political zones of the country, and in the modified presidential system.
On local government administration, the conference also voted that states should own their own constitutions while the functions of local governments as contained in schedule 4 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) has been transferred to the states subject to the power of the state Houses of Assembly to add or reduce the said functions of the local governments.
Conference also voted against the local government as a different tier of government, saying that the House of Assembly of a state may confer other functions on local government and agreed that the constitution shall fix the tenures for local government councils.
Delegates approved the scrapping of joint state and local government accounts; to be replaced with a State Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, adding that the body would be expected to have as members, representatives of local government areas and a chairman nominated by the state governor for confirmation by the state House of Assembly.
In addition to the functions conferred on the local government councils as specified in the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended, a state House of Assembly may by law, confer other functions on the local government. The conference also conferred financial autonomy on state Houses of Assembly as a way of freeing them from direct control by the executive and voted that for functionality, local government should be politically and economically independent.
The confab report recommended that there should be complete abolition of the concept of plea bargain by accused public functionaries and also agreed for the establishment of special courts, for instance, anti-corruption courts to handle cases involving corrupt practices.
Another significant recommendation of the National Conference was the provision for independent candidates which the National Assembly has already incorporated in the proposed constitutional amendment.
Though the delegates to the National Conference were not directly elected, their recommendations were very much in tandem with the wishes of Nigerians nationwide that are desirous of the implementation of the recommendations of the report of the conference.
For instance, the South West elders under the auspices of the Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, have never relented in their clamour for the implementation of the confab report. Several months ago at a meeting of the YCE, the Governor of Ondo state Dr Olusegun Mimiko, said “convening the 2014 National Conference was indeed a historic assignment that we are proud of and as a people; we must do everything possible to ensure that the Confab recommendations get implemented.
He added that “No doubt, Nigeria has passed through various stages of national dialogues before without being able to emplace a constitutional and political arrangement that is accommodating enough to sustain the dedication and patriotism of many. The Constitutional and governmental experiments that we have had seem inadequate to capture the essence of those things that have the inherent capacity to unite us despite our ethnic and religious cleavages.
“The Confab report when implemented, will create room for each State to have its own constitution, its own police force, its own prison service, can create its own local governments, can build its own Airports, Seaports and Railways and in addition; in the economic domain, solid minerals that had been the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government since independence, have now been brought to the concurrent list. States can now create employment and develop at their own pace. With all that, it liberates everybody, it opens up the political space,” he said.
Some months ago the wife of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, Feyisetan, called for the implementation of the report of the Justice Legbo Kutigi-led National Conference convened by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan.
She lamented the reluctance of President Muhammadu Buhari to take a look at the report, saying it is the way out of the present economic challenges facing most of the states in the federation.
In a statement on Friday by her Special Assistant on Media, Gbenga Ariyibi, in Ado Ekiti, Mrs. Fayose noted that some of the resolutions reached at the conference, especially the one that has to do with the devolution of power and the adjustment of the sharing formula of federal allocation, would help in rectifying the anomaly in the system.
Mrs. Fayose made the statement while distributing N100, 000 each to a widow, an orphan and a physically-challenged person.
She noted that the gesture would help alleviate the economic crunch being experienced by the beneficiaries.
According to her, the empowerment programme was at the instance of her husband, Mr. Fayose, to further boost his “stomach infrastructure programme”.
Mrs. Fayose said she could have expanded the gesture to other poor people, but for the lean resources available to the state.
“It is a matter of regret that the resolutions reached during the last national confab is yet to be implemented by the federal government,” she said.
“If this has been done, it would have gone a long way in solving most of the teething problems being faced by the states and each of the 774 local governments we are having in the country.”
However, the ruling APC had all along rejected the National Conference even before it was inaugurated. On the reason for the rejection of the National conference, the former National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alhaji Lai Mohammed declared that former President Jonathan lack focus and the credibility required to organize that kind of conference.
“What we see today is that this government has lost focus, it has lost credibility, it has lost control of the economy, security, corruption has attained uncontrollable proportion and at this point in time, this government lacks the credibility to organise a real meaningful national conference.
“In any event, we see this thing as nothing but a diversion and what are we talking about a national conference for when even the President himself has said that the outcome of that conference would be subjected to the approval of the National Assembly?”
In spite of the fact that the there is rising clamour for the implementation of the report of the National Conference to checkmate agitations by several groups in the country, it is uncertain if the ruling APC will shift ground from its earlier position on the confab which it described as a jamboree despite the fact that its own governors sent representatives to the confab. The APC came into power promising Nigerians change but the party, so far, has not changed anything and one document that will see far reaching changes in the country is the abandoned 2014 national conference report.