Controversy over 2014 Confab Report

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Former President Goodluck Jonathan set up a National Conference in 2014 to find solutions to political and socio-economic challenges confronting the country. Five years after, the report has not been implemented. LEKE SALAUDEEN examines what the country stands to gain from its implementation.

Five years after the Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi-led National Conference submitted its report, no step has been taken towards its implementation.

The conference convoked by the former President Goodluck Jonathan took off on a wide spread suspicion as to the motive of the convener. To the regions in the South, the conference report, if implemented, would restructure the country and make it a true federal state. The North is vehemently opposed to the report for what the region described as the hidden agenda of the convener and under representation.

President Muhammadu Buhari had dismissed the report, shortly after his inauguration. He stated that the investments in the conference would have been used for more compelling and important national issues. Thus, the report has continued to generate controversy among Nigerians.

Afenifere chieftain Ayo Adebanjo, urged President Buhari to dust up the report for immediate implementation. He said its implementation will lead to solution to the insecurity raging in the country.

Adebanjo, who was a delegate to the conference, insisted that, if President Buhari is committed to the nation’s progress, the report is the panacea to the myriads of problems confronting the nation. He said that the report was a by-product of the articulated deliberations of the 492 delegates, adding that the composition of the conference was a true reflection of the country’s structure.

He said rather than consign the report to the archives as President Buhari has done, he can remove certain aspects he is not comfortable with.

According to him, “if Buhari is serious about addressing insecurity in the country, he has no choice than to implement the confab report. If he is serious that this country must not break under his rule, then, he should implement the report. If he is sincere that there are killings, then, he has no choice. Any other thing such as setting up a security committee is just going round the circle. It does not show seriousness.”

The Afenifere leader said about 500 Nigerians recommended a new constitution unanimously and nobody has come out to contradict the suggestions.

But, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) faulted Adebanjo’s claim and vowed not to support the implementation of the report. It alleged that the composition of the delegates was skewed to the disadvantage of the North.

ACF admitted that the North participated in the conference, but argued that constitution of its membership was lopsided and skewed to favour the South over the North. “The selection of delegates by former President Jonathan administration to the confab made the north, that has a population of 75, 268 686 people (NPC2006) with a land mass of 730,885 square km (80 percent) as a minority with 189 delegates while the South with a population 65, 151 458 people (NPC 2006) with a land mass of 193, 438 square km (20 percent) as a majority with 303 delegates.

“Despite this glaring injustice and disadvantage, the North , as a region did not only participate in the overall national interest of Nigeria, but also stabilised the conference on crucial issues of national unity. The 2014 Confab was, therefore, not a platform for constitution making and did not unanimously recommend a new constitution for Nigeria.

“As a lawyer, Adebanjo knows better the process of constitution making and certainly, the delegates to the 2014 Confab did not qualify for such process, as they were not elected as representatives of the people, but selected or nominated by government and interest groups. The delegates therefore did not have the legitimate mandate of the people to draft or recommend a new constitution for Nigeria and did not even do so.”

The ACF wondered whether it was the fault of the North that Jonathan, who had ample time to implement the recommendations of the confab failed to do so. “Was it the northern interest that stopped him, being a southerner or a southern interest? The Confab report, being a public property, is subject to the usual due process of implementation through the three arms of government and not singularly by President Buhari as Chief Adebanjo is canvassing.

“ The 2014 Confab, in which ACF fully participated made about 600 far reaching recommendations on policy issues, legal and constitutional amendments to the 1999 Constitution as amended and submitted the report to the former President on August 21, 2014, and not a new Constitution, the forum added.

Jonathan explained why his administration could not implement the recommendations. He blamed it on time constraint as the 2015 electioneering had reached its peak when the report was submitted. He urged Nigerians to set aside political differences to implement the report. He said most of the problems facing the country would be addressed, if the confab report was implemented.

His words: “I believe the constitutional conference will solve our immediate challenges. My administration was prepared to change the narrative of our constitutional democracy with the assurance that sovereignty belongs to the people. However, we were time constrained. The conference was conducted one year to the end of my tenure. We did not have the time, even the National Assembly which supposed to validate the report was busy with political survival.

“Those who say that my administration should have implemented the confab recommendations forget that I received the report a few months before the last general elections and at the time the National Assembly was on break. Also, this was when the National Assembly was engulfed by so much tension and distrust. The Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal had led some members to defect to the APC, the then main opposition party. The Senate also suffered a number of defections.

“At the time, the National Assembly was, therefore, not conducive to healthy deliberations and consideration of such an important document. It was obvious that some members of the National Assembly and their collaborators were ready to shoot down anything that in their thinking would improve the image of my government.

“I did not insist on rushed implementation because my administration did not set out to achieve political popularity but to genuinely advance the course of nation building”, Jonathan added.

But, an elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, called on President Muhammadu Buhari administration to implement the report. He blamed Jonathan for his inaction over the report before he left office.

Yakasai said: “Unfortunately, I wished that ex-President Jonathan who instituted that conference had cause to produce a white paper for the implementation of the recommendations of that conference. I know time was against him, he didn’t do it. The current government should consider the recommendations and see which one they are going to implement, by way of administrative or which or to execute by way of organising. I support the implementation. But I did for a moment understand that the recommendations of the conference urged the restructuring of the nation, which I support.

“I am speaking as a citizen of Nigeria and do not represent any northerner. Some of the delegates from the north met, but they were not mandated by the region to speak on their behalf, they only spoke as delegates. So, I think it is wrong to say that the majority of the north is against restructuring,” Yakasai added.

Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark said Nigeria is not developing because we are operating a dysfunctional constitution which does not reflect anything federal. We need a constitution where the states truly have a say, he stated.

Clark said: “Imagine that before independence, the premiers were able to develop their regions at their pace prior to the 1966 military putsch. But today we have a president who has only one constituency. I think many Nigerians do not believe that their leader is operating in their interest. Appointments are allegedly improperly handled. By implementing the confab report, we will have true federalism, as the states would strive to outwit selves in terms of development”.

He said the conference was aware that there are parts of the report that could only be achieved by means of executive decisions, while there are aspects of the report that must necessarily pass through the National Assembly, that will give rise to constitutional amendments or writing a new constitution altogether.

According to him, “the National Confab, in anticipating this scenario, went a step further to provide a draft Constitution, reflecting the aims, aspirations, principles, spirit and letter of the National Conference, which was submitted to government.”

Also, the former delegates to the Conference are pushing for the implementation of the report. They disagreed with President Buhari that it was a waste of resources and emphasised that it was needful to implement the report.

The ex-delegates, under the aegis of the 2014 National Confab Forum, promised to liaise with the Federal Executive Council, the National Assembly and other relevant stakeholders to promote the implementation of the conference recommendations. The forum stated that it would mobilise the Nigerian public to buy into the Conference recommendations.

According to the forum, the conference took a far reaching to free five per cent of the nation’s annual budget to prospect mineral resources from ll corners of Nigeria to create co-prosperity for all inhabitants of the country as the resource map showed that these resources abound in every state of the country.

They stated that it was five years after they concluded their assignment but they lamented that the report was gathering dust, while the country was daily drifting to the precipice and avoidable crises. “Many of the issues threatening our corporate existence today would have become a thing of the past if we had implemented the report of the conference. We therefore state unequivocally that implementing the report is the minimum irreducible to move Nigeria forward and build a country that works for all its citizens”, the forum stated.

The Deputy Leader of Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, said the politicians and people from the northern part of the country rejected the confab report convened by the Jonathan administration because it does not reflect the will of Nigerians.

Unongo faulted the way Jonathan handpicked friends and cronies to articulate the provisions of the confab report, stressing that the people were supposed to choose their representatives in an ideal situation.

“Jonathan handpicked his friends and cronies who have their own ideas about Nigeria and the people who gave him those ideas. I was also invited with Prof. Ango Abdullahi, my friend, Ben Nwabueze to a hotel room and we were told to write the guidelines for the national conference and I said we couldn’t do that. A national conference is not done like that.

“If we want to convene a conference, I will advise it should be a sovereign national conference, because there is too much talk, let’s hear the real Nigerians. If they come for a sovereign national conference and they fashioned out a constitution that will guide their togetherness, who are we to reject it?”

“The North is not afraid of restructuring and that whatever we can restructure that is in the interest of the unity of Nigeria that will make us more productive and love one another and develop, let us do it,” Unongo stated.

The Igbo stakeholders, at a recent meeting attended by the Southeast governors in Enugu, called for the implementation of the report. It said that “Igbo leaders supported the report of the National Conference of 2014 and implored the Federal Government to set up structures that would trigger the implementation of the report as a matter of urgency”.

The meeting reiterated that: “Igbo leaders supported the restructuring of Nigeria on the basis of fairness and equity. We are in support of a united Nigeria where peace, love, justice, equity and equality of opportunity were paramount regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender or political affiliation.”

About 500 delegates drawn from all parts of the country representing diverse deliberated for five months about the political system and future of a country which has experienced bitter conflicts among its numerous ethnic, religious and linguistic groups. At a cost of over N10 billion, the Confab produced 10, 335 pages of 22 reports and annexure and over 600 recommendations for the improvement of the political, economic,and social structures and the overall regeneration of the country. The report was submitted to former President Jonathan who promised to implement them.

Analysts said though the APC government inherited the report, it should not shy away from borrowing and implementing ideas from it. They argued that governance is a continuum and the Buhari administration should continue from where its predecessor stopped. They averred that the primary responsibility of government is the security and welfare of the people irrespective of the party in power. It is incumbent on every successive government to implement ideas and sustainable measures that benefit the country and the people, they stressed.

The conference report recommends solutions to many critical issues including revenue sharing, modified presidential system, power rotation between the North and the South, two-tiers of government, removal of immunity clause, two-tier police system, independent candidacy, special courts for corruption cases, reintroduction of the old national anthem, a ban on state funding of pilgrimage and religious matters and many others.

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