Tobi, Kukah declare confab a huge success
FAR from accepting a verdict of lacklustre performance passed on the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) in some quarters, the leaders of the meeting rose in its stout defence yesterday.
To the chairman of the confab, Justice Nike Tobi and the Secretary, Rev. Fr. Matthew Kukah, the event was a huge success.
Speaking in Abuja at a surprise reception organised by the delegates and the NPRC secretariat to mark the chairman's 65th birthday, Tobi said in spite of all odds, the confab had achieved its aim.
He noted that those who said the confab had failed were uncharitable, saying that the dialogue had achieved a great deal.
"We have done very well and we have succeeded. There can never be a better success than this. For the first time, we are receiving a majority and a minority opinion," he said.
Tobi pointed out that since his birth, 65 years ago, he had never celebrated his birthday and thanked all the secretariat staff and some delegates for the surprise package.
Speaking in the same vein, Bola Ajibola, a delegate, said that the conference was a success. "No matter what the media reports, good things have been flowing from it."
Kukah said the ceremony was a joyful day, noting that history was the best judge of delegates' activities at the conference.
"History will be on our side.
The media write history in a hurry but history will definitely judge us," he added.
The Chairman of Business Committee, Alhaji Ibrahim Abdullahi (SAN), also described the outcome of the conference as positive, and congratulated the chairman on a job well done.
Tobi had urged delegates at resumed session of the conference on Monday that the adoption of the conference's reports was an enough birthday package for him.
The adoption of the report precipitated the deadlock at the conference over percentage to be allocated to derivation from the federally collected revenue and terms of office of governors and the President.
But Tobi, who hurriedly announced an indefinite adjournment of the conference after barely two hours into its resumed plenary, which had been on break since June 15 following the deadlock over the two contentious issues, said the latest break was needed for the secretariat to conclude all necessary work ahead of the endorsement of its report by the delegates.
And in what was his first reaction to developments which led to the deadlock, Tobi acknowledged that the conference might not have complied appropriately with the procedures. He said: "I took the procedure, which is a subject of the problem because of information available to me."
He said he was erroneously informed by the leadership of the Committee of Leaders that "everything was agreed upon (and) that there was consensus.
"And if there was agreement or consensus, there was no need for any further debate," he added.
He, however, promised to "say it more permanently in another forum."
Before adjourning sine die, the conference adopted the report of the Committee of Leaders, which attempted without success to break the deadlock occasioned by rejection of the Irukwu Committee, especially as it relates to 17 per cent derivation and preferred tenure for the President and governors. The adoption of the report was, however, not without some drama and controversy.
Before the recommendations of Committee of Leaders was adopted, Tobi made a passionate appeal to delegates to see the endorsement of the report as their 65th birthday present to him.
"I want to appeal to your sentiments. Please, let us get what we have done passed. My secretary will read it to you because we have done so much work. Even if you don't agree that one 'F' or 'X' should be there, please, let's pass this thing, come to us and we will deal with the clerical error.
"We have tried our best. I will tell you something, three days from now will be my birthday. I will be 65 and very seriously I need a birthday present from you, not a card, but the birthday present I want from you is what Father Matthew Kukah will read," he said.
Kukah then proceeded to read out the recommendations to the conference:
- that all the recommendations of the 19 committees of the conference, except those relating to the contentious issues, which were later referred to the Committee of Leaders of State Delegations for further consideration, be adopted as the recommendations of the conference.
- that the recommendations of the Committee of Leaders of State Delegations on the contentious issues on which the State Leaders reached agreement, excluding the issues of resource control and the tenure of the office of the President and governors be adopted as the recommendations of the conference on the said nine issues;
- that on resource control, in addition to the points on which agreement was reached in the Committee on Revenue Allocation and Fiscal Federalism, the conference recommended the following package:
- a clear affirmation of the inherent right of the people of the oil producing areas of the country not to remain mere spectators but to be actively involved in the management and control of the resources in their place by having assured places in the Federal Government mechanisms for the management of the oil and gas exploration and marketing;
- an expert commission should be appointed by the Federal Government to study all the ramifications of the industry, including revenue allocation with a view to reporting within a period of not more than six months, how the mineral resources concerned can best be controlled and managed to the benefit of the people of both the states where the resources are located and of the country as a whole;
- an increase in the level of derivation from the present 13 per cent to 17 per cent, in the interim pending the report of the expert commission. Delegates from the South-South and other oil producing states insisted on 50 per cent as the irreducible minimum.
Having regard to national unity, peace and stability, they agreed to accept, in the interim, 25 per cent derivation with a gradual increase to attain the 50 per cent over a period of five years.
- that on the tenure of office of the President and the governors, the conference should consider and adopt the following recommendation:
The majority decision of the conference was the retention of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulate a term of four years for the President and the governors, including a possible re-election of an incumbent for another term of four years. However, the minority favoured the adoption of a single term of six years for the President and a single term of five years for governors without the possibility of re-election.
A conference and its stalemate
By Jide Ajani, Political Editor
Posted to the Web: Friday, July 15, 2005
Whereas some people had foreswore that the National Political Reforms Conference, NPRC, would not turn up with any good, as appears to be the case with the stalemate which climaxed it, there are still some lessons yearning to be learnt from the entire exercise as the derivation allocation which tore the conference to shreds should have been seen for the benefit it was meant to do to all resource-bearing states in the country. This report looks at the Babangida and Abacha conferences and attempts to draw some parallel with the NPRC, if any.
To the skeptics, the stalemate did not come as a surprise.
To the optimists, the conference has been able to bring to the fore the burning issues within the polity.
But this is the first time a conference of this nature would be coming to a close with so much ill-will and ill feeling. It was bound to happen. Because all the ingredients were there right from inception - the composition of the conference, agitation for the convocation of a sovereign national conference, cries of marginalisation from the South South geo-political zone, threat of imminent disintegration, et al.
And once President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed to convoke the conference, other matters cropped up which made some skeptics more disillusioned.
For instance, President Obasanjo simply told Nigerians that his administration would convoke a National Political reforms Conference.
In a January 18, 2005 letter to the Senate President put the total budget of the dialogue at N931 million. President Obasanjo in his letter asked the Senate to include the funding of the National Dialogue under the approvals for the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation: “The conference is scheduled to commence in mid-February this year for a period of three months and the proposed budget is N931,721,615.28. As there was no provision for it in the budget already forwarded to the National Assembly, I am forwarding the budget for inclusion under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in the 2005 Appropriation Bill,” President Obasanjo said.
But five months after, it appears the conference has been bungled by petty intransigence over the issue of derivation. The matter was sensitive enough to command the desired sensitivity from leaders from all the zones but it turned out that sensitivity simply took flight.
Developments that have resulted in postponement of the commencement of the conference signposted deep-seated animosities that have been allowed to fester, in the sharing of proceeds from Nigeria’s resources, with minimal concerns for the people and environment of the producing areas.
The hardening of positions finally ruined the conference. The oil-producing States of the South South had wanted 50 per cent derivation. The conference committee proposed 17 per cent. It appeared the South South would have accepted 25 per cent after their delegates stormed out of the conference. These were before protestations from the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, which is adamant on retention of the present 13 per cent enshrined in the Constitution.
Youths and pressure groups in the Niger Delta are bent on 50 per cent. The disagreements border on fears that find expression in how Nigeria is governed. An off-hand dismissal of the obviously genuine and righteous supplication of the South South by the ACF did not help matters. The South South still has a duty to keep explaining its position to those opposed to it. But it should be understood that the demand of the South South was made in isolation. It is a demand that represents a pan-Nigeria derivation formula. The South South move, should it succeed at some point, would be in the interest of every State. All resource-bearing States would benefit from the agreed formula. There is no State without resources.
The anxiety that increased derivation would mean less money to the other States can then be handled by exploration of solid and other minerals that abound in the North. Those States would be beneficiaries of the South South position.
Indira Gandhi once asserted that, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist”.
It is because the delegates clenched their fists while expecting to shake hands that has led to the stalemate.
Which is why it is important to note that there had been other conferences before this one with their own flash points. There was the Ibrahim Babangida Constituent Assembly of 1988. There was the Sani Abacha Constitutional Conference. Each came out with a document which, to some extent was garbed in the mold of a consensus document - at least in form, even if not in content.
Justice Anthony Aniagolu and Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte presided over the national conferences convened by Bbangida and the late Abacha regimes respectively.
President Obasanjo nominated 50 of the members, in a 400 member body. It was given a no-go-area: the indissolubility of the Nigerian nation.
President Obasanjo wrote to state governors to nominate six persons each from their respective states as delegates to the confab.
The states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) accounted for 204 delegates. Ex-heads of state were expected to enjoy automatic membership of the conference - some were there on the opening day and did not turn up for other sessions.
President Obasanjo’s idea of a conference and the modalities for appointing or electing delegates has now become the latest in the series of charges against what is being proposed.
Compared with past conferences - the one by General Ibrahim Babangida and General Sani Abacha, the Obasanjo approach comes with its own flavours and style. General Babangida’s Constituent Assembly had 113. Federal Military Government nominees in an assembly of 563 members; this represents 20.07% of the 563 membership body. The Constitutional Conference of late General Abacha witnessed the participation of 94 nominees of the then Head of State in an assembly of 380 members; this represents 24.74% of the 380 membership conference.
Babangida’s assembly was asked “to design a new Constitution for future governments to operate and uphold. Its progress was disturbed by the “contentious issue of the inclusion of the Sharia Law in the new constitution. Positions quickly hardened along religious lines, and the government was compelled to step in and ban further debate on the issue. It was clear however that the civilian political class had not learned how to handle such delicate issues without heightening social tensions across the whole country.
After that, the assembly made rapid progress, and its Chairman, Justice Anthony Aniagolu, handed over the Draft Constitution to President Babangida on April 5, 1989.”
While receiving the document, Babangida again stated that “this administration will not hand over political power to any person or persons no matter how distinguished or wealthy, but rather to a virile civilian political organisation which is openly committed to the proper use of power”, and reaffirmed that “the military had hither-to set and still sets for itself the task of supervising the learning process over the period of transition.”
Whereas the General Babangida Constituent Assembly, which was inaugurated on May 11, 1988, and asked to design a new Constitution for future governments to operate and uphold, was filled with 450 elected delegates who came in through ban electoral college - local government elections had been conducted by the Professor Eme Awa-led National Electoral Commission, NEC, NEC, on December 12, 1987; the councillors who emerged from that election were the ones who constituted the electoral college.
The Abacha conference was chaired by Justice Adolphus Karibi-Whyte
The constitutional conference 1994 was established by section 1 of Decree No. 3 of 1994 which came into force on 30th April, 1994. The Decree was amended by the Constitutional Conference (Amendment) Decree No. 4 of 1994 which came into force on the 24th June, 1994. The conference was inaugurated on the 27th June, 1994 by General Abacha.
The conference consisted of 273 elected, and 94 nominated delegates. Each state of the federation elected 9 delegates. The Federal Government nominated 3 delegates for each state and 1 for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Also one delegate was nominated to represent each of the special interests such as the Nigerian Labour Congress, Nigerian Union of Students and the Nigerian Union of Teachers. There was therefore a grand total of 380 delegates.
However, Pa Anthony Enahoro’s Pro-National Conference Organisations, PRONACO, is expressing joy in the ‘we-told-you-so’ euphoria.
Today, with the seeming stalemate of the NPRC, the PRONACO initiative appears to be on the ascendancy.
But the NPRC, in the estimation of some has succeeded in bringing to the fore the burning issues of all the zones.
However, even if the NPRC has agreed on 25% or 50% derivation allocation, the fact that President Obasanjo would still doctor the recommendation before presenting the final document to the National Assembly as amendment proposals, speak volumes about the need for a plebiscite.