Recently, officials from the presidency led by the vice president, Prof Yemi Osinbajo have been touring some states organizing what they described as town hall meetings where they interact with selected audience on the activities of the government. The meetings also accord the government an opportunity to get feedback from the handpicked audience but the impact of the meetings has remained subject of debate.
Most Nigerians, however, are suspect of the intent of the federal government in organizing the town hall meetings. A public Affair analyst, Vic¬tor Ohai, however described the town hall meeting a charade because according to him, the meeting lacked resourceful peo¬ple and suspected pre-arrange¬ment, a selective engagement that lacked any strong voice.
He said that the gathering should have been called a press conference rather a town hall meeting. Ohai was speaking on a television discussion pro¬gramme in Lagos.
It is generally believed the meetings are organised to douse rising tension in the country, especially with rising agitations by various interest groups in the country. The meetings are coming at a time when there are street protest within and outside country by Nigerians from the South East zone following the arrest and detention of the director of Radio Biafra.
The resort to town hall meetings by the government to address various challenges and agitations in the country 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 implenetation of the confab report. Earlier this year 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.
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 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.
There is a general consensus that the town hall meetings being organised by the government is cosmetic and cannot be an alternative to implementation of the 2014 national conference report. Solutions to the problems bedevilling the country are embedded in the conference report as recommended by the eminent Nigerians that sacrificed their time to attend the conference. It has been suggested in several quarters that the federal government should put politics and sentiments aside and dust up the report of the 2014 conference. While no one expects the government to implement the report wholesale, it will not be out of place if some of the recurring issues like fiscal federalism, land use Act, local government autonomy, etc is addressed as recommended by the conference as a step towards restructuring the country, especially with the cash crunch affecting the three tiers of government.

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