Re­turn of the Na­tional Con­fer­ence De­bate

Daily Trust - - DAILY TRUST -

The de­bate over the Na­tional Con­fer­ence has resur­faced re­cently. The dis­mis­sive com­ments of the Sec­re­tary to the Gov­ern­ment that it was merely “jobs for the boys” ir­ri­tated many Con­fer­ence sup­port­ers who would like to see the rec­om­men­da­tions adopted. The an­gry re­sponse of Pro­fes­sor Bo­laji Akinyemi that they were not “boys” but se­ri­ous, ex­pe­ri­enced and com­mit­ted Nige­ri­ans was in or­der and made the point clearly that the Con­fer­ence out­come should be taken se­ri­ously. It is the un­will­ing­ness of the Buhari Ad­min­is­tra­tion to take the Con­fer­ence se­ri­ously that is partly fu­elling the cur­rent de­bate. Of course re­cent ac­tiv­i­ties on the re­vival of the Bi­afran agenda and resur­gence of mil­i­tancy in the Niger Delta have all placed the ques­tion of po­lit­i­cal re­struc­tur­ing back on the ta­ble. The Brexit vote pro­vided fur­ther fillip to the de­mands.

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Spe­cial Ad Hoc Com­mit­tee on the Re­view of the 1999 Con­sti­tu­tion last week adopted the 2014 re­port of the Na­tional Con­fer­ence as one of its work­ing doc­u­ments. It ap­pears that the de­ci­sion by the Com­mit­tee is in de­fi­ance of the op­po­si­tion of the Buhari Ad­min­is­tra­tion to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the re­port. It would be re­called that the APC and its can­di­date, Muham­madu Buhari had ob­jected to the con­ven­ing of the Con­fer­ence just months be­fore the gen­eral elec­tions and ques­tioned its com­po­si­tion. All the 53 mem­bers of the Con­sti­tu­tion Re­view Com­mit­tee of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are ex­pected to study the re­port and make rec­om­men­da­tions of what el­e­ments within it should be carried for­ward. There are cer­tainly use­ful el­e­ments of the work to pick and carry for­ward.

My ba­sic view how­ever re­mains that on the whole, the Na­tional Con­fer­ence lacked le­git­i­macy. At the end of the Con­fer­ence, I had pub­lished my col­umn of 17th Au­gust 2014 with the ti­tle: “The Na­tional Con­fer­ence: They Dared, They Failed” I was shocked at the fact that they tried to con­clude the Con­fer­ence with an agenda of ten­ure elon­ga­tion. It would be re­called that del­e­gates turned up on the last week of the Con­fer­ence to find in their pack­age a brand new 2014 Draft Con­sti­tu­tion they had not dis­cussed and had not been man­dated to pro­duce. They were not a con­stituent as­sem­bly and their terms of ref­er­ence did not in­clude giv­ing unto Nige­ri­ans a new 2014 Con­sti­tu­tion. When chal­lenged on the origins of his Con­sti­tu­tion, the Con­fer­ence Chair­man, Jus­tice Idris Kutigi con­fessed that he had been “man­dated by Pres­i­dent Jonathan to write a new Con­sti­tu­tion” (Daily Trust, 14/8/2014). The ques­tion that was posed then was if Pres­i­dent Jonathan had wanted a new con­sti­tu­tion, why did he not in­clude it in the terms of ref­er­ence of the Con­fer­ence. When some North­ern Del­e­gates threat­ened to walk out if Kutigi in­sisted on im­pos­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion, he en­cour­aged them to walk out, pre­sum­ably so that he could ful­fil his prom­ise to give unto Pres­i­dent Jonathan a new con­sti­tu­tion.

Ev­ery­body knew the slimy pur­pose of hav­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion. Fol­low­ing the judg­ment by Jus­tice Ades­ola Ogun­tade, when there is a new con­sti­tu­tion, people who had held of­fice pre­vi­ously could re-con­test with­out prej­u­dice to their ear­lier of­fice. With a new 2014 Con­sti­tu­tion, Pres­i­dent Jonathan would then have had the right to not just one, but also two more tenures. Of course at that time, no one had told him that Nige­ri­ans were fed up with him and there was no way he could have won one, not to talk of two elec­tions.

The lead­er­ship of the Na­tional Con­fer­ence carried out vile, self­serv­ing po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vres, which, like Ibrahim Coomassie said at the time, “was ca­pa­ble of plung­ing Nige­ria into an­other cy­cle of po­lit­i­cal chaos with po­ten­tial of vi­o­lence and an­ar­chy”. It was the height of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity for the Con­fer­ence lead­er­ship to have ac­cepted to play this de­spi­ca­ble role of try­ing to de­stroy our democ­racy. It was un­for­tu­nate that the people in power at that time pushed them in that direc­tion. The cur­rent at­tempts to white­wash the work of the Con­fer­ence should there­fore be con­tested.

Nige­ria was saved be­cause many mem­bers of the Na­tional Con­fer­ence re­sisted the process of po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion that was or­gan­ised. We must not for­get that many people who have been re­cently ex­posed as re­cip­i­ents of Col Sambo Da­suki’s $2.1 bil­lion largesse re­ceived the money to or­gan­ise late night meet­ings where they were sharing out money to fa­cil­i­tate the Jonathan Agenda. Luck­ily, there are many Nige­ri­ans who could not be bought with money who re­jected the of­fers they re­ceived and fought for the ed­i­fi­ca­tion of democ­racy.

I have al­ways ar­gued that the Na­tional Con­fer­ence should be sup­ported as an op­por­tu­nity for Nige­ri­ans to talk about our problems. I have al­ways be­lieved also that just talk­ing about our problems is ther­a­peu­tic and will even­tu­ally lead us, at some fu­ture date, to try to solve the problems. It’s true that with an ex­pen­di­ture of over 7 bil­lion Naira, it was ex­pen­sive chat­ting. Pre­cisely be­cause it recorded ideas by Nige­ri­ans talk­ing about our fu­ture, it is use­ful to re­view it to pick what is use­ful and throw out the rub­bish. The pro­posal for the cre­ation of 18 more states was for ex­am­ple one of the sense­less propo­si­tions made by the Con­fer­ence. At a time when so many States were un­able to meet their obli­ga­tions, in­clud­ing pay­ment of salaries, it was clearly ir­re­spon­si­ble to have made that pro­posal. Fol­low­ing the 2005 Na­tional Po­lit­i­cal Re­form Con­fer­ence con­vened by Oluse­gun Obasanjo, the baby was thrown out with the birth wa­ter be­cause there was a ten­ure elon­ga­tion plan. Es­sen­tially the same thing re­curred with the Re­port of the Na­tional Con­fer­ence.

The tragedy of the Fourth Repub­lic is that we have had pres­i­dents who from day one have been pre-oc­cu­pied with ten­ure elon­ga­tion rather than what they could achieve within their le­gal ten­ure. This at­ti­tude has harmed the process of po­lit­i­cal re­form. As I have ar­gued pre­vi­ously, the Jonathan Na­tional Con­fer­ence took off on the ba­sis of an orig­i­nal sin, ma­nip­u­lat­ing the com­po­si­tion to se­cure a pre­de­ter­mined ma­jor­ity that would ap­prove an agenda that is not in the terms of ref­er­ence of the Con­fer­ence. We all re­mem­ber the de­bates at the be­gin­ning of the Con­fer­ence about the num­bers re­quired for de­ci­sion­mak­ing. When a com­pro­mise num­ber for the de­ci­sion-mak­ing was agreed to, the Con­fer­ence lead­er­ship in their wis­dom de­cided de­ci­sions will be taken by voice vote rather than vot­ing in con­form­ity with the req­ui­site num­ber agreed to in the rules es­tab­lished. What this meant was that the en­tire de­ci­sions taken at the Con­fer­ence were not only il­le­git­i­mate, they were also il­le­gal. There is there­fore no obli­ga­tion to carry the de­ci­sions for­ward. The qual­ity of the gen­eral mem­ber­ship of the Con­fer­ence was how­ever high and some of their pro­pos­als are good. It is on this ba­sis alone that I ac­cept it is still use­ful to look at the re­port and pick cher­ries.

The one pos­i­tive mes­sage that emerged from the Na­tional Con­fer­ence was that many people of good­will worked tire­lessly to forge con­sen­sus when ex­trem­ist de­mands and po­si­tions were proposed. They tried very hard to forge agree­ments out of di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed po­si­tions. Their ef­forts were how­ever of­ten un­suc­cess­ful be­cause they tried too much to go along the path of give and take. They did not seem to re­al­ize that when a demand is un­rea­son­able, you have to re­ject it out­right rather than try to do give and take. Yes let the de­bate about the Con­fer­ence con­tinue but let’s not for­get that it was a very prob­lem­atic Na­tional Con­fer­ence with­out le­git­i­macy.

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