Delegates came from every corner of Nigeria, armed with a myriad of agenda all aimed at changing the course of the Nigerian nation. And as the whole nation waited with heated breath for five months to get the outcome of the conference, passionate discussions ensued at the National Judicial Institute – venue of the conference – with news reports diffusing the heat into almost every home in Nigeria as events unfolded on a daily basis.
The number of ideas and proposals were as many as the groups that the delegates represented. Accusations and counter-accusations were not in short supply. And of course, the conspiracy theory played up not a few times during the conference. The age-long dichotomy between southern Nigeria and northern Nigeria got a prominence seat at the confab.
Now that the conference has rounded off its sitting and the reports have been submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan, this piece examines the pains and the gains. Was the five-month confab a good expenditure of tax payers’ money? Did it achieve its set objectives?
Consequent upon loads of agitation for the convening of the National Conference, President Goodluck Jonathan, in his Independence Day broadcast to the nation on October 1, 2013, declared the intention of his government to organise a National Dialogue as a way of resolving the intractable security and political crises in the country.
To prove his commitment, the President set up a 13-member Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue with Senator Femi Okurounmu as chairman and Dr Akilu Indabawa as secretary.
The committee, which was charged with designing the framework for the National Dialogue toured 13 cities, 2 in each geo-political zone and the FCT Abuja and interacted with more than 7,000 Nigerians. It also received thousands of memoranda from individuals, groups and professional associations.
The committee submitted its report to the President in December 2013 after which the President accepted the committee’s recommendation for the convening of a National Conference.
When the conference eventually commenced, many Nigerians questioned the N7billion budgeted for the conference for the conference of 492 delegates. The outcry against the N7billion budget is not unconnected to the level of poverty in the country. Many believe that the funds could be channelled to sectors of the Nigerian economy which would make life more bearable to the teeming Nigerian masses who are wallowing in poverty.
Despite the huge budget reserved for delegates, some of them skipped sittings at will. This prompted the National Conference secretariat to issue a warning that the secretariat would stop paying allowances to delegates who were absent at plenary without genuine reasons.
The message which was convened to the delegates by the conference vice chairman said that some of the delegates did not appreciate the importance of attending plenary.
“We don’t want to be treating delegates as secondary school pupils. As from Monday, delegates who don’t show up will not be paid sitting allowance unless on medical reasons,” he said.
“We want you to know that this is because we are all adults and we must be seen to be responsible. Government is worried that 50 per cent of the delegates don’t show up for debate. It is shown live and this is not good.
“They [Government officials] are now reminding us that there are government rules; and that when we are being paid sitting allowance, it must be seen to be so.”
Each delegate of the conference pocketed N4 million as monthly allowance.
Despite the shortcomings, the conference was not a tale of woes after all, as there were lots of positive outcomes that emanated from the conference.
The conference provided a platform for Nigerians from all backgrounds to come together and dialogue on issues bedevilling the nation instead of resorting to violence. Also, the conference provided a platform for Nigerians from various regions and sectors to get to know one another better.
And after five months of deliberations, the conference produced over 800 pages of reports which cover all areas of the Nigerian nation. All the recommendations reached at the conference were reached based on consensus and not once was voting done even on contentious issues like religion, political restructuring and resource control.
The conference report came in three volumes. Some of the conference recommendations are:
The creation of 18 new states including Apa, Edu, Kainji, Katagum, Savannah, Amana, Gurara, Ghari, Etiti (South East zone), Aba, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Orashi, Ogoja, Ijebu and New Oyo. Apart from the 18 proposed states, the Conference also recommended one new state for the South East to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North West which has seven.
The conference recommended the Modified Presidential System that will combine the presidential and parliamentary systems of government.
The conference also recommended that the legislature should serve on part-time basis. On power sharing/rotation the conference recommended that the presidential power should rotate between the North and the South and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.
For Local Government administration, the conference was of the opinion that the Local Government should no longer be the third tier of government. The federal government and state government would then be the only tiers of government with states having the power to create as many local governments as they wanted.
The conference also recommended the scrapping of the joint state/local government account, and in its place, the establishment of state Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) with representatives of local governments and a chairman nominated by the governor. In addition to fixing the tenure for local government councils at three years, the National Conference recommended the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs).
The immunity clause which has become a licence to commit criminal acts by elected officials was removed by the conference if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy.
Another issue that will excite Nigerians is that of independent candidacy. The conference recommended that every Nigerian who meets the specified conditions in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections as an independent candidate.
In line with the burden to fight corruption, the conference recommended the establishment of a special court to handle corruption cases in light of undue prolongation in the trials and prosecution of corruption cases in the regular courts.
The conference also recommended that a non-conviction-based asset forfeiture law be enacted with broad provisions to deal with all issues of proceeds of crimes by the anti-graft agencies and the courts.
Furthermore, it was unanimously agreed that Land Tenure Act be retained in the Nigerian Constitution but amended to take care of identified concerns, particularly on compensation in section 29 (4) of the act which should read: “Land owners should determine the price and value of their land based on open market value.”