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Published On: Thu, Jul 17th, 2014

National Conference: A fruitless search?

Justice Legbo Kutigi, Prof. Bolaji AkinyemiNational Conference ended its plenary last week with certain critical issues remaining controversial, making Nigerians to wonder whether the conference will end up being an exercise in futility; Ochiaka Ugwu writes.

When President Goodluck Jonathan defied the overwhelming popular demand for visible dividends of democracy and good governance inaugurated what he oddly tagged National Conference, most Nigerians who were ogling for a better condition of living cried foul and resolved to go ahead to work for the actualisation of the people’s demand. Even when Mr. President attempted to give it some facelift by naming eminent Nigerians and some progressive forces as representatives of Federal Government and Civil Society Groups, some still dismissed it with a wave of hand.

Except feeble and incoherent opposition by a few members of the political class, like the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) which was allotted two slots but refused to nominate delegates sighting insincerity on the part of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led Government, just like the PDP, other political parties without any special prodding, nominated their allotted delegates.

Even the Labour Union was not left out of this show of “Oneness”. As far as they are concerned, National Conference may not fully meet the aspirations of ordinary Nigerians.

Upon that, they still hold the belief that their own co-operation and participation in the confab can further tilt the scale in favour of the masses.

Before and after its inauguration, the confab had emerged as one issue that overwhelmingly dominated the media and public discussion in general, particularly among the elite and political observers as well.

For most political pundits, Justice Idris Kutigi led Conference represents a turning point in the political development of the nation.

Expectedly, President Jonathan himself has been waxing eloquent on the wonderful things that are expected to be achieved by the conference. According to him, “The most compelling task ahead and in contemplating what our nation will be at the end of its second century, is to lay a much stronger foundation for faster development by building a more inclusive national consensus on the structure and guiding principles of the state that will guarantee our emergence as a more united, progressive and prosperous nation”.

Hopes were raised about the emergence of a new nation that will be a shining light throughout Africa. However, giving the way the plenary ended last week; it left many Nigerians asking whether the conference will achieve the desired result. Some have even concluded that it is a “Journey Without Destination”.

However, as the conference plans to reconvene in August to consider the whole reports, speculations are rife that delegates are planning to reopen debate on some issues by claiming that votes were not properly taken at the plenary.

PeoplesDaily investigation gathered that apart from derivation principles which ended in a stalemate, prominent among the issues that will resurface are the issues of state creation, statues of local government and Land Use Act.

On the state creation and the status of local government, the conference Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government, Co-Chaired by General Ike Nwachukwu and Hon. Mohammed Kumaila, earlier recommended that the following states should be created. The states are Edu, Apa, Kaninji, Katagum, Sardauna, Amana, Ghari, Etiti, Savanna, Ada, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Ogoja, Ijebu, New Oyo, and new state to be created from the South-south would be named later. It further recommended that provision for creation of state should be relaxed.

At the plenary, the conference voted in support of the new state to be created for the South-East to be at parity with other zones. They also endorsed the recommendation that says “subsequently, any new state shall have a minimum of one million population and that the viability of the new states must be ascertained in order not to put undue pressure on the existing ones”.

At the committee stage, the former governor of Niger State, Engr.

Abubakar Kure canvassed for the creation of more regions making a special case for North West region. It was based on this that northern delegates opposed the creation of new states and demanded that if states should be created at all there should be four more states from the north-west. This caused serious uproar at the plenary. Prominent among the movers was a delegate, Maigari Dingyadi, who revealed that northern delegates had written to the conference leadership raising concerns on some issues. He said if the minutes are adopted, the issues they raised would have become void. He said it was imperative that the leadership took a decision on the letter first

written and further raised a point of order on the issue of local governments’ funding which he said should be funded from the centre.

It will not be surprising if northern delegates decide to bring it up when they reconvene in August. Land Use Act is another issue that may weep up sentiment. It could be recalled that initial discussion on this, pitched delegates against each other at the plenary forcing the principle officers to keep it in view. It was however, settled when delegates resolved to retain the

Act in the Nigerian constitution but with some necessary amendments to its content.

It became controversial when most delegates contributing their views on the report by the committee on Land Tenure Matters were divided along regional lines. This led to the issue being put on hold and later referred to a consensus building committee of elders to try and find amicable resolution to the disagreement.

Respite came when Deputy Chairman of the conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi announced to the plenary that the issues around the Land Use Act have finally been resolved.

He said the consensus committee report has reconciled all differences in the debate on the Land Use Act and thus urged the delegates to approve it.

Akinyemi called for a motion for the formal adoption of the whole report which was moved and adopted by the majority of the delegates through a voice vote.

While arriving at a consensus to retain the Land Use Act in the Nigerian constitution, conference delegates resolved that the Act be amended to take care of those concerns especially on the issue of compensation as is provided in Section 29(4) of the Act. The amendment provides that owners of land should determine the price and value of their land and that government should henceforth negotiate with land owners and not just to compensate land owners.

It also resolved that the customary rights of occupancy in Section 21 of the Act be amended to ensure that it enjoys this same status as the statutory right of occupancy. It said the new measure will be extended to urban land.

In the same vein, Section 7 of the Land Act which provided for the restriction on right of persons under the age of 21 to be granted statutory right of occupancy is to be amended to allow the lowering of the age limit to 18 years. According to the conference, since Child Rights Act had provided that persons who have attained the age of 18 can be considered as an adult.

Those who were advocating for the abrogation of the Land Use Act from the constitution pointed to the difficult and cumbersome procedure in effecting needed amendments to the provisions of the Act.

For instance, the delegates said, at present, amendments on the Act would require in addition to the National Assembly approval, a concurrence of two-thirds of the State Houses of Assembly in the country.

Apart from lamenting the injustice done to original land owners through the poor compensation paid by governments, they said only 3% of land in Nigeria are titled.

Further arguments supporting radical ammendments to the Land Use Act stated that there is an apparent lack of fluidity in the land market arising from the requirement that governors must give their consent for all land transfer transactions.

This group of delegates also alleged that governors normally abuse the powers veted on them and allocate land arbitrarily without payment of adequate compensation.

However most of the delegates who opposed the abrogation of the Act from the constitution had expressed fears over the likelihood that land speculators may use the opportunity of any loose end in the Act to take over poor people’s land.

They said the proposed abrogation was a grand design of land merchants to grab lands at cheap price and over time make such lands more expensive for the poor to acquire. These delegates that belong to this school of thought may as well be spoiling for a showdown when the conference reconvenes.

Although, the issue of derivation principle has been shifted to technical committee that is expected to be set up by federal government, but an inside source said that it is likely to be

reopened by delegates as well. According to the source, a certain South South governor, has reported one of his colleagues to a North Central governor saying that he has amassed so much wealth from the state coffers to the extent that he has become richer than the state.

He, therefore, queried the rational of reviewing derivation upwards when the beneficiaries are busy feasting on the people’s common patrimony.

It could also be recalled that Alhaji Sidi Ali at the plenary, while the debate was going on, alleged that the biggest hospital in Abuja was owned by a former Rivers governor. Dr. Peter Odili who felt it was directed to him stoutly denied owing such property in Abuja. He even threatened to sue Ali if he fails to substantiate his allegation. It took the intervention of Justice Kutigi to settle the matter as the revered jurist made it clear to Odili that Ali did not mention his name.

Speaking to PeoplesDaily on the stalemate that ended the Confab, a Public Affairs Analyst, Alhaji Yakubu Musa said that when all the issues and circumstances surrounding 2014 confab are critically examined, it is not very difficult to see that the whole exercise is no more than the packaging of an expired wine in a contaminated container.

Musa, who wondered what Nigerians will expect from the confab, noted that a mere glance at the antecedents of most members of the confab reveals a horrified catalogue of those elements that have ruled and ruined Nigeria before, plus a large dose of some that were actually disgraced out of power for one fraudulent conduct or another.

This was to find an expression in the words of a confab delegate representing Civil Society Groups, Mr. Anwal Musa Rafasanjani, while contributing on the President’s Inaugural speech, said that they were “gathered at the conference to correct the rot done by prominent Nigerians sitting in this plenary”.

Rafasanjani’s position was collaborated by another conferee from Kano State, Naseer Kura, who alleged that most delegates have in one way or the other contributed to the country’s woes.

Another delegate who doesn’t want his name in print said with the manner the conference ended its plenary, it is becoming obvious to an average conscious Nigerian that President Jonathan’s confab is no more than a political project designed to find a platform to place himself within the political process against 2015 contest in one hand, and to rehabilitate prominent politician that had held power before but had been elbowed aside or that have not been that much relevant in the current dispensation.

“Right from beginning, the regime has left no one in doubt that its confab is a grand design for the perpetuation of the hateful status quo.

“This explains why its 492 member confab is completely made up of handpicked and appointed prominent members of the ruling class across the country.

“For Jonathan and his men the stake is so high that it could not even trust a highly manipulated election to produce the required delegates that will work in accordance with its own pre-conceived conclusions.

Here, it should be stressed that President Jonathan’s game plan is to forge, as much as possible, some kind of unity among the elites in lieu of 2015 general elections” he said.

But a delegate representing civil society group, Mr. Festus Okoye, while speaking to newsmen said that it is wrong to say that the conference has failed just because we couldn’t come to a consensus on one particular issue. Okoye informed that out of 20 committees set up by the conference, only one has issues, referring to committee on Devolution of Power, saying that is sjust the issue of derivation principle. He was however, optimistic that the outcome of the conference will prove critics wrong.

With the anticipated reopening of some contentious issues when the conference reconvenes to consider the reports in August, reaching a consensus by the delegates may as well be a wishful thinking. Whether this conference will achieve the purpose of which it was set up by the presidency or not, only time will tell.


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