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Nigeria National Conference: It Is Time To Forge Ahead – By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje.


By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje

Since the announcement of the proposed convocation of a national conference by President Jonathan Ebele Good luck there has been mixed bag of reactions and expectations in the minds of Nigeria from all divides. Nonetheless, the conference should be seen as a strategic move to a robust people – driven democracy parley. Additionally, it should be noted that national conferences all over the world are broadly inclusive forums for the renegotiation of contentious state-people relationships and Nigeria should not be an exception in its quest to discuss its future based on its political antecedents particularly on the account of the reality that confront it as a nation today.

National conference are generally peaceful and in my view, is intended to launch national reconciliation and rebirth efforts or processes that will help to stimulate the intense political activism for a nation in search a true federal state devoid frustration and suspicion from all groups and interest.

Indeed participants at National Conferences or dialogue usually claim sweeping sovereign powers to rewrite constitutions and election laws in order to promote political pluralism and guarantee better protection of human rights and political freedoms. Although, national conferences in Nigeria in the past might have seemed frenzied or unending, but as an ordinary Nigerians, we should take advantage of this initiative as rare opportunities for us to re – define our own rules of political engagement and to take full ownership of our political futures.

This article looks at some of the fundamental issues that the national conference should discuss amongst others, governments should move away from the extremely centralized and expensive presidential and gubernatorial systems inherited from the 1979 Nigeria Constitution to more balanced semi-presidential or semi-parliamentary systems that should institutionalize the position of prime minister and provide for the holder of that office to be backed by a legislative majority. This proposed arrangement should also include any opposition parties, civil society, market women and community associations to be elected on yearly basis.  In addition, this will close the existing gaps between the democratic aspirations of Nigerian citizens and the maneuvers by incumbent political leaders to preserve their stay in power.

Nigeria’s political experience over the last five decades or so has been characterised by lack of genuine democratization. Genuine democratization in my view should entail a deliberate broadening of the political space, an expansion of opportunities for political participation and mobilization, and the establishment of credible processes and institutions that allow for the change or renewal of political leadership through people driven elections from communities’ representatives on part- time basis. This would also allow citizens to enjoy greater rights and freedoms. Furthermore, Nigeria’s constitution should be a direct result of the government deliberately pursuing a policy of ethnic or regional democracy. Ethnicity has always serves as the foundation for Nigeria’s political parties since independence.

In addition to the national government, there should be regional states whose borders trace ethnic lines for national development aspiration purposes.
Admittedly, over the last twenty years or so, myriad nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have played a vital role in promoting political participation and good governance in Nigeria particularly at the grass root levels. National associations or associations for human rights, associations of retired jurists, and politically activist bar associations, with independent journalists and other civil society groups would act as crucial watchdogs within the new structures to safeguard rights and freedoms and to foster further democratization and development. Increasingly, civil society and community associations should become an accurate barometer for the people and political leaders.

Community organizations should find the space to conduct advocacy activities for their respective communities, develop better channels of communication with the executive and legislative branches of government at the local, state and national, and provide input into the governance process based on the community development aspirations and needs.

The judiciary to very large extent has played a unique role as an independent arbiter for political issues in Nigeria. The Supreme Court in particular tended to hold final jurisdiction over administrative, criminal, constitutional, civil, and commercial matters. However there is need to create constitutional and peoples courts to handle litigation pertaining to the constitutionality of laws or acts of government. The proposed courts should assume jurisdiction over election-related disputes and the conditions of eligibility for public office. The eligibility criteria to public office should be at the centre of the debate in the conference.

Elected officials, party leaders, and, in many cases, ordinary citizens of voting age also may petition constitutional courts. Allowing citizens access to institutions that can pass judgment on the executive branch acts or omissions is likely to curb flagrant abuses of state resources and power. The conference should also introduce another important level of oversight regarding budget and expenditure and state – community relations mechanism to enhance accountability and community development.

Advocacy for a constitutional provision and requirement calling for 85 percent of its members to be elected by their peers and associations throughout the country and by extension, at the end of the dialogue, should be made  as constitutional mandate for representation in parliament from local, state  then to the national levels of governance.

Furthermore, the  electoral systems should moved away from closed party and Godfather structure to other forms of proportional representation or to multi-member constituencies, elected representatives must live and resides with the people they wish to represent, so that they can more responsive and accountable to their constituent needs and should push for loosened relationships to party hierarchies and supremacy. These developments in my view would empower communities to quarterly legislative parley and meetings to initiate hearings, legislative inquiries, budget debates, and motions to censure governmental policies and inactions that would not be beneficial to the people or constituents. Communities – legislative and budget debates will help to tone down executive branch bills and the reckless spending by governments and its agencies.

Also, the recalcitrant and bogus bureaucracies must also be renegotiated to favour ordinary citizens. The civil service remains in my opinion, conservative and heavily indebted to the patronage and rent – seeking system that encourages profligacy and contract through over invoicing. This is especially evident in the jurisdictional conflicts that have emerged between agencies and ministries, and in the reluctance of presidential and gubernatorial appointees and auxiliaries, such as governors and their cronies to respect the rule of law and due process in the management of the people resources.  The challenge lies in the national conference persuading the bureaucratic elites to embrace people’s aspirations and to tie their performance with community driven projects.

Finally, it is instructive to note that Ethiopia in 1991 conducted a national conference and came out with far reaching a peoples constitution in 1994 with a clause that creates a two-tiered federal structure, which, at least in principle, emphasized ethnic groups’ rights and the right to self-determination which are necessary ingredient for a stable democracy and on the other hand, Nigeria should not also be in a hurry forget the case of  the former Yugoslavia in Europe with similar historical trajectories like us disintegrated in  1992 – 1999 respectively.

Therefore, the national conference should facilitate a deep-rooted and inclusive democracy where all minorities are protected. Irrespective of the outcome, a referendum that would provide for a thriving and inclusive local democracy is necessary to secure the interests of all local peoples and not only the political elites and representatives of the people at the discourse.

Orovwuje, Founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

 

We’ll not support autonomy for ethnic nationalities at confab — ACF.


The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, has said that the North would not  support autonomy for ethnic nationalities during the proposed National  Conference in the country.

ACF, however, expressed support for devolution of power from the centre  to the states in such a way that ”the centre is strong enough to keep  the country one, but, not too strong as to push the country towards a  unitary system.”

The National Publicity Secretary of ACF, Mr. Anthony Sani made this known in a statement in Kaduna, yesterday.
Sani was reacting to reports that the Yoruba would push for ”ethnic autonomy” during the conference.

The statement read: ”We have read the reports that the Yoruba will push  for some form of ethnic autonomy during the coming National Conference  that is reminiscent of con-federal arrangement.
“As we have repeatedly made clear, ACF did not canvass for the Conference.

”This is because of the forum’s belief that the problems of Nigeria lie  on the collapse of national ideals, fall in moral values, collapse in  social contract and fall in sense of what is right and what is wrong.
There is no problem in the structure of the country in the constitution  and in the form of government or in the type in ethnic nationalism that  promotes cleavages of the country.

”But since some sections of the country believe that coming together in  the conference is capable of furthering the cause of a united Nigeria  when issues of national importance or  real issues of real concern to  Nigerians are discussed; we have said, so be it.

”Surely, if such issues are raised in the conference, delegates from the  North will not lack what to say. It must be noted that there is no  system of true federalism that is accepted universally. And that is why  no two federal systems are clones of each other.

”This is because, a federal system has a lot to do with the  circumstances of its emergence. For examples, the 13 American Colonies  came together to form USA while in Nigeria, the national government  formed the federating units.

Source: Radio Biafra.

The National Conference; Opportunity Or Distraction? A Program Of Action By Jaye Gaskia.


By Jaye Gaskia

Since I wrote the piece of the National Conference and the January Uprising, and particularly since the press briefing of which I was a key part announcing the intention for a robust engagement with the National Conference process while welcoming it as an opportunity, a lot of views have been expressed both for and against the National Conference, and any form of engagement with it as a process.

While I do not intend to enter into any direct debate with any one single critic and or critique of engagement in this piece, I however intend to provide some more clarity on my position, and on the positioning of others with whom we made the declaration of engagement.

So I will here engage with the general trend of the body of critique, not with individual critics! The first issue for me is that of whether this particular National Conference process is a distraction or is an opportunity as some of believe and assert. This is the primary issue for me, because it goes to the heart of the debate. It is a strategic issue at least for those who wish to engage in a frank but also genuine debate, and not for those who think they have particular axes to grind with particular individuals.

The first thing to state very clearly is that it is both a distraction as well as an opportunity. How is this so? For the presidency for instance, it is an attempt to distract popular attention from a failing and failed presidency, as well as from the problems and rapidly declining fortunes of the once very dominant ruling party. But it also represents an opportunity to reclaim some popular support and good will, by seeming acceding to the long standing demands of the popular movements.

For ordinary Nigerians, the ordinary citizens, and their organisations, who since the January Uprising of 2012 have achieved an altered balance of class forces, not yet completely in their favour, but so much so that it can at least no longer be business as usual for some time to come; the National Conference becomes a distraction if we stand aloof from it, and allow that space to be occupied and dominated exclusively by the representatives of the factitious light fingered ruling class, whether they go by the appellation of ‘ConservaThieves’ or ‘ProgressThieves’.

It becomes an opportunity however if these organised popular forces intrude on this space, seize it, and impose their demands and their aspirations on the National Conference as a process.

Furthermore, let there be no doubt about it; the National Conference is not a gift from a benevolent ruling class or presidency, neither was it willingly given; it is a concession wrested from the hands of a ruling class that is now witnessing an internal crisis of existential proportions, a ruling class whose antagonistic competitive drive towards treasury looting and primitive accumulation of wealth is now precipitating an implosion.

And because this concession was wrested out on the eve of a general election is actually much more an indication of the weakness of the ruling class, than of its strength. It is a measure of its internal crisis.

The treasury looting ruling class is in the throes of self immolation, a crisis that is shifting the balance of power within the ruling class, while also generally temporarily accelerating the general weakness of the class rule.

It is because of all of these reasons and factors that the National Conference represents an opportunity, rather than a distraction.

Now let us also very quickly take on the issue of a Sovereign National Conference; or the Sovereignty of this particular National Conference. It is important to state clearly that this is not a sovereign national conference, which is what we have always demanded for. Nevertheless, we have always been very clear too that no regime that is still in power convenes a Conference or assembly whose authority is going to be sovereign, and which therefore constitutes a new centre of power, and alternative power to the regime. We have always insisted that a Sovereign National Conference can only be convened by a victorious uprising, and it is in this sense that we have always insisted that the demand for a Sovereign National Conference is an insurrectionary demand, a legitimate demand, which can only be actualised by mass movement which is at the head of an uprising that is poised to take power.

Nevertheless, let us also take a quick look at history, the history of national and or similar conferences. Every National Conference that has eventually declared itself sovereign were called by weakening and weakened regimes, who were making concessions to the mass movement. And as the crisis in society, within, and between the main classes deepened in the course of the conference deliberations, the balance of power between the social forces became altered enough for the conference to declare its sovereignty, and go ahead to assert its autonomy from the government of the day.

This was the case with the National Conferences in Benin Republic, as well as in DRC, formerly  Zaire – which by the way had to be dispersed by the force of arms.

Our contention is that the balance of power between contending social forces was significantly altered by the January Uprising; and that is why we have witnessed heightened levels of popular awareness and increased popular consciousness, and spikes in acts of protests and successful workers’ strikes since then.

This altered balance of power within and between contending social forces manifests in a weakened presidency and declining ruling party, the rise of an opposition that is still weak with respect to its internal structures and cohesion; the rise in confidence levels of ordinary citizens and workers in challenging the excesses of the system; and the general atmosphere of popular disaffection and dissent.

It is this altered balance of power that renders this National Conference an opportunity for a Robust, Sceptical, and Critical engagement with the process in order to influence its outcome while also ensuring that we build a mass movement that is sufficiently strong enough to run with the popular issues that will be raised at the conference, and that will be strong enough to dictate the agenda for the 2015 General Election.

So what is our program of action to engage with the National Conference: Raise the banner of all our historic popular demands on the floor of the conference; contest every anti-people issue with the ruling class; insist on a Social Charter that will be based on a comprehensive listing of the entire body of Human Rights; civil, political, economic, and socio-cultural, in the same chapter of the constitution; enforceability of every human right.

This is our minimum transitional demand to the conference; in addition to which we add the nonnegotiable requirement that the outcome of the conference can be validated only through a general referendum of eligible Nigerian citizens, who are registered to vote in any normal general election.

The fact that the regime has left the decision on how to deal with the outcome of conference to  the conference itself, is also a clear indication of the relative weakness of the regime, and a clear indication of the level of concessions that are being, and that can be, wrested from this regime and the ruling class.

Let there be no doubts about it, all fractions of the ruling class, including the APC will eventually take part in this National Conference, because they understand that no political space can be left uncontested. Part of our goal is to ensure that this time around when Nigeria is being discussed, unlike at all the previous times since the 1914 amalgamation, ordinary Nigerians will be part of these discussions, not just merely the objects of the discussions.

This is our program of action. We challenge those critical of our engagement to present their own alternative program of action.

Finally it is preposterous and indeed smirks of insincerity to promote and actively engage with the APC, the current Labour Party or APGA who are mere appendages of the presidency and the rump PDP; while insisting that a robust, critical, and skeptical engagement with the National Conference amounts to some sort of betrayal. The National Conference is a contested space, one that will be contested not just by political parties and politicians, but also by citizens’ organisations and their activist leaderships.

Follow me on Twitter: @jayegaskia & [DPSR]protesttopower; Interact with me on FaceBook: Jaye Gaskia & Take Back Nigeria.

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters 

Sunday Musings: And What Shall We Discuss At The National Conference, Where, And For How Long? By Mobolaji E. Aluko.


By Mobolaji E. Aluko
My People: When the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue (PACND) submitted its report to President Goodluck Jonathan in December 2013, in addition to suggesting modalities for the National Conference itself, it recommended thirty-eight main topics (sub-divided into seventy-eight sub-topics).Now in accepting (in January 2014) and then beginning to act upon the PACND’s report, the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) specifically “accepted” only one non-topic – indivisibility of Nigeria – which “No-Go Area”  (in Nigerian parlance) I have now taken the liberty of actually making the thirty-ninth topic (See Table 2 below).

One presumes that the NC will discuss all the topics – and possibly more that are thrown up during the discussions.  However, the burning questions to me at this time when I read all of the suggested topics are:

(1) is the NC going to be a mere talk-shop – an EVENT in a hotel in Abuja  – to end in a report that might or might not see the light of day? or

(2) a serious PROCESS across the nation, at various venues,  sometimes week-days, sometimes week-ends, that will eventually end up in a Popular Constitution approved by a Referendum; and

(3) will three months (the recommended length of time for the NC), six months (my recommended period) or even twelve months be enough to discuss all-and-sundry topics?

Finally:

(4)  if it is an Abuja hotel event, which employed persons (self- or otherwise employed) will be able to devote three months of his or her time to this event – or is this an event planned for the IDLE RICH, and/or the un-employed, and/or the un-employable?

These questions are rhetorical.  Assuming therefore that the National Conference being proposed is a SERIOUS EVENT that will lead to a Popular Constitution within a period of time that serious-minded (and otherwise busy) persons can participate in within a reasonable period of time – and episodically go off to engage their constituencies as well as their primary jobs – I have outlined in Table 1, an 18-block, 38-topic list of suggested discussion topics culled from PACND’s list.  It is not that the other topics that I have cut out are not important, but they can be considered AOB – Any Other Business – and can be discussed TIME- PERMITTING.

Let the National Conference begin….after the delegates are chosen somehow, which is a separate challenge.

And there you have it.   Your thoughts are welcome.

Bolaji Aluko

 

 

————— TABLE 1:  Suggested Priority Topics to be Discussed (in order of importance) – Aluko suggestions

 

Block Priority Topic for Discussion
1 1 (No)Go Area: (in)Divisibility/Dissolution/Disunity of Nigeria
  2 Definition of Federating Units: States or Geo-Political Zones
2 3 Political Federalism
  4 Fiscal Federalism
3 5 Presidential system
  6 Parliamentary system
4 7 Choice between Uni-cameral or Bi-cameral legislature
  8 Choice between full-time or part-time legislature.
5 9 Fundamental human rights
  10 Justiciability of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy
6 11 Diversification of the economy
  12 Oil and other Mineral Resources Management  (Resource Control)
  13 Poverty and wealth creation
7 14 Tenure of Public officials: President, Governors, etc
  15 Immunity of political office holders
8 16 Local (State) Policing
  17 Security Agencies: Review and re-design of national security apparatus
9 18 Fighting corruption and anti-corruption agencies — ICPC, EFCC
10 19 National Census Policy
  20 National Electoral System (INEC, SIEC, etc.)
  21 Federal Character
11 22 Review of judicial institutions
  23 Religion, Secularism and the Secularity of the Nigerian State
  24 Sharia and Customary legal system
12 25 Land use Act
  26 Citizenship/indigenes — Settlers dichotomy
  27 Boundary adjustment
  28 State Creation and Merger of States
13 29 National Education Policy
  30 National Science and Technology Education Policy
  31 National Research and Development Policy
  32 National Health Policy
14 33 National Defence Policy
15 34 Gender,  Youth and Vulnerable  Citizens issues
  35 National Youth Service Corps (NYSC)
16 36 Role of Traditional Rulers and Institution in governance
17 37 Administrative/Legislative Structures for FCT, Abuja (and Lagos? Calabar?)
18 38 Languages and Language Policy

 

 

 

Table 2: Committee-recommended Specified Items For Inclusion on the Agenda of the National Conference

 

Main Section Sub-

Section

Topic for Discussion
1   Political Restructuring of the country:
  1 a. Political Federalism
  2 b. Fiscal Federalism,
  3 c. Definition of Federating Units: States or Geo-Political Zones
2   Forms of Democratic Governance:
  4 a. Presidential system.               
  5 b. Parliamentary system;
  6 c. Choice between Uni-cameral or Bi-cameral legislature;
  7 d. Choice between full-time or part-time legislature.
3   Good Governance;
  8 a. Cost of governance;
  9 b. Corruption and National Development;
  10 c. Fighting corruption and anti-corruption agencies — ICPC, EFCC;
  11 d. Immunity of political office holders;
  12 e. Citizenship/indigenes — Settlers dichotomy;
  13 f. Justiciability of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy;
4   Judicature:
  14 a. Fundamental human rights;
  15 b. Impunity of judicial officers;
  16 c. Review of judicial institutions;
  17 d. Sharia and Customary legal system;
  18 d. Delays in the administration of justice.
5   Democratization
  19 a. Deepening democracy;
  20 b. De-militarization of national psyche,
  21 c. Democratic culture and orientation;
  22 d. Mechanisms for a more inclusive participatory democracy.
6 23 Political parties, God-fatherism and the challenges of internal Democracy:
7   National Security and Security Challenges:
  24 a Security Agencies: Review and re-design of national security apparatus,
  25 b Local Policing,
  26 c Other security agencies.
8 27 State Creation and Merger of States
9   Education:
  28 a. Investment in education;
  29 b. Decentralisation and National Education policy;
  30 c. Return of Missionary and Private schools to original owners;
  31 d. Institutionalizing Tsangaya/Almajiri education system
  32 e. Nomadic Education.
10   Health
  33 a. Health Policy
  34 b. Investment in Health
  35 c. Healthcare Delivery
11   Science, Technology and Development:
  36 a. Science and Technology Education;
  37 b. Technological Adaptations and the National Economy;
  38 c .Research and Development;
  39 d. Promotion and Improvement of indigenous Technological innovations;
12 40 Restoring the National Ethics, Morals and Core Values
13 41 Religion, Secularism and the Secularity of the Nigerian State
14   Agriculture, Food Security and Rural Development
  42 a. Decentralisation of National Agricultural Policy;
  43 b. Grazing Reserves and Cattle Routes Demarcation
15   The Environment
  44 a. Environmental Degradation – flooding, soil erosion, oil spillage and desertification;
  45 b. Climate change.
16   Defence
  46 a. Nigeria’s defence policy and posture at home and abroad;
  47 b.The Nigerian Armed forces and multi-lingual challenges;
  48 c. Nigeria and International peace-keeping operations.
17 49 Tenure of Public officials: President, Governors, etc
18 50 The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the challenges of conducting free and fair elections.
19 51 Population and Credible National Census;
20 52 Land use Act;
21 53 Role of Traditional Rulers and Institution in governance at national and local levels;
22   The Economy:
  54 a. Poverty and wealth creation;
  55 b. Productivity;
  56 c. Diversification of the economy;
  57 d. Industries and Industrialisation
23 58 Oil and other Mineral Resources Management, Exploration and Sharing mechanism;
24 59 Revenue Generation and Mobilization
25 60 National Youth Service Corps (NYSC);
26 61 Gender issues;
27 62 Youth Unemployment and Development issue;
28 63 Physically Challenged Persons and National Development;
29 64 Investment in Sports
30 65 Boundary adjustment;
31 66 National inland waterways issues;
32 67 Elective Mayorality Administrative/Legislative Structures for FCT, Abuja
33 68 Special status for Lagos;
34 69 Unsettled issues of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970);
35 70 Revising Bakassi;
36 71 Languages and Language Policy;
37 72 Pension Matters and Rights of Senior Citizens;
38 73 Federal Character
39 74 (No)Go Area: (in)Divisibility/Dissolution/Disunity of Nigeria

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

National Conference just before another jamboree.


national-conference-001

President Goodluck Jonathan has released the modalities for the convocation of a National Conference with limited powers.

Expectedly, criticisms have been trailing the modalities. The seriousness of the Federal Government has been questioned by many stakeholders. The consensus of opinion is that, for another three months or more, delegates will participate in a government-sponsored jamboree in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Since the premise for the national dialogue is not the ethnic nationalities, many have also argued that the exercise is an imposition.

However, pro-Jonathan forces have a contrary view. They believe that the conference will chart a new course for the country. Hailing the President for acceding to the popular request for a national debate, they also said that the conference will lay a better constitutional future.

When the President unfolded his plan for the conference on October 1, last year, many stakeholders queried his real intention. There were speculations that the idea was sold the option to the embattled leader to douse the mounting national tension. But, the sudden change of heart by the Commander-in-Chief still came as a surprise. In the past, Dr. Jonathan had objected to it, saying that a democratic government was in place. The proposal polarised the polity. A section said that the Federal Government was trying to divert attention from its gross failure to restore hope to the beleaguered country. In particular, the advocates of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) were not amused. In their view, the proposal fell below expectation.

Public enthusiasm has been waning since the Presidential Advisory Committee headed by Senator Femi Okurounmu submitted its report to the President. It was a divided committee. A minority report surfaced. It was written by a member of the committee, Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN). The bone of contention was the method proposed for the ratification of the conference report. While the majority report hammered on parliamentary ratification, the minority report emphasised the import of ratification by a referendum. The majority report on the mode of ratification reflected the President’s view. Last year, Dr. Jonathan told the nation that the report will be sent to the National Assembly for ratification. The implication is that the decisions reached at the conference may or may not be approved by the National Assembly.

The fear expressed by critics were confirmed last week when the Secretary to the Federal Government, Senator Pius Ayim, released the guidelines. 492 delegates are expected at the talk show. They are to be drawn from the strata of the society: government, traditional institution, political parties, judiciary, and civil societies. They are to be nominated by local, state and federal governments. Thus, it is “guided conference”.

The ethnic nationalities may not command a strong voice there. Observers have argued that nominees may not have the mind of their own. Since he who plays the piper dictates the tune, the presidential nominees will be his eye and ear at the conference. The delegates may therefore, be manipulated by the government to achieved a pre-determined goal.

The official name of the dialogue is The National Conference. This is antithetical to a Sovereign National Conference. There is a no-go area. The Federal Government is sensitive to the warning by a foreign body that the country may disintegrate next year. Therefore, it stated that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. The time frame is also suspect. The government has proposed three months. But, it is evident that the conference will coincide with preparations for the 2015 general elections.

The timeframe for the nomination of delegates is between now and February 20. Wide consultations may not herald the nominations. In outlook, the proposed conference is elitist. The President may have also played a fast game. He is not indifferent to the position of the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), on the vexed issue. Therefore, if the 17 APC governors refuse to nominate delegates, Dr. Jonathan, an Ijaw from the Southsouth, will nominate delegates on their behalf. These delegates may come from the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP). Critics will describe their assignments as “jobs for the boys”.

The delegates are expected to receive remuneration. But, funding for the conference is another hurdle. Although the conference is expected to commence proceedings this month, there is no assurance that the budget would have been passed before next month.

The script was carefully written at Aso Villa, the seat of government. But, The President needed an ally to sell the dummy. He found one in Senate President David Mark, who was saddled with flying the cart. The retired General, who had frowned at the agitation for the conference in the past, based on his belief in the legitimacy of the National Assembly as the anchor of popular rule, suddenly retraced his steps. Thus, many believed that the conference propaganda was designed to gage the public mood.

Historically, at critical points in national history, past governments have resorted to camouflage national debate, talk or dialogue to douse the tension. Indeed, when the dreadful dictator, the late Gen. Sani Abacha, set up a constitutional conference in 1994, the uprising in the Niger Delta stopped for one year. The Abacha conference was made up of 396 delegates. The late head of State nominated 96 members. Although the report of the 1994/95 conference did not see the light of the day, the delegates succeeded in dividing Nigeria into six geo-political zones. The six geo-political regions are not backed by law, but the structure is respected by the political class. Also, when former President Olusegun Obasanjo inaugurated the Abuja Reforms Conference, expectations were high that it would usher in a new dawn. The conference collapsed on the altar of the third term agenda. Of 400 delegates, Obasanjo nominated 50 delegates. Many delegates, who have reflected on the report, have called for the implementation of the report. Former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu, who also nominated delegates, has backed the call for the retrieval of the report from the dustbin. He said since resolutions have been passed on many of the issues that the delegates are going to debate in Abuja, the Federal Government should have the courage to implement the 2005 report.

Shortly after he assumed the reins, the first military Head of State, the late Gen. Thomas Auguyi-Ironsi, set up an ad hoc constitutional committee to debate the contentious issues tearing apart the country. The committee was dead on arrival. At the inception of the military rule, soldiers in power lacked the political skills to handle those sensitive issues and problems which the military intervention had compounded. When the Muritala/Obasanjo set up the Constitutional Drafting Committee and Constituent Assembly, the transition to civil rule programme of the regime received a popular acclaim. Even, when the former President Ibrahim Babangida set up the Constituent Assembly in 1989, it calmed down the nerves. But, the report also did not see the light of the day.

President Jonathan’s first step at implementing the proposal was confusing. He named an advocate of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC), Dr. Okurounmu, as the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee to prepare the ground for the talk. But, the committee was on tour of the six geo-political regions to collate views on modalities, the President announced that the National Assembly will debate the conference report. The statement irked many people. But, the members of the committee became deviated from their terms of reference when they were defending the President. When the team led by Okurounmu visited Benin, the capital of Edo State, for consultation with the Southsouth stakeholders, a committee member, Col. Tony Nyiam, took on Governor Adams Oshiomhole. Thus, the committee was censoring public opinion on the conference.

During the debate on the proposed conference, members of the National Assembly were not aloof. In the beginning, they loathed the idea of conference, pointing out that the nation should not waste time on another Constituent Assembly that will be saddled with the business of constitution making at a time the National Assembly is also reviewing the constitution. But, when reality dawned on them that the conference would be inevitable, they indicated a deeper interest. Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said in Lagos that it will not be a bad idea, if the legislators are also delegates. He explained that federal lawmakers are also stakeholders. However, the agitation for the inclusion of the legislators was doused when the President announced that the report will be ratified by the National Assembly.

According rights activists and leaders of the ethnic nationalities, a conference, on its merit, is not a bad idea. The obstacle to its success in the past was the lack of sincerity by the government. Since it is not going to be a SNC, many rights activists have submitted that the scope of the national dialogue will be essentially limited. There are some puzzles: If a constitution is expected to be fashioned out by the conference, should there be no-go areas? Can a national conference produce a truly peoples’ constitution? Should the government insist that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable in a country that has not become a nation, 100 years after the amalgamation? How will the suitability and competence of delegates be determined? If they are nominated or appointed by the government and influential elite as it is being proposed by the Federal Government, will their nominations meet the criteria for representativeness and legitimacy? How popular are the delegates at the grassroots? Would they have the mandate of the people who are emotionally attached to the ethnic nationalities? Now that the nomination is based partially on the ethnic nationalities, states, local governments or constituencies, what will be the ratio of representation? Will the proposed single term of six or seven years resurface at the conference for debate?

There are other questions: since delegates be appointed by the governors, what is the criteria? What will be the terms of reference? How will they emerge across the states? Will the conference resolutions be subjected to referendum? If it is not subjected to a referendum, how will the report or resolutions be validated? If it is not validated by a referendum, will it be legitimate? Will recommendations be accepted by the government, if delegates oppose the proposed ratification by the National Assembly? Will the report be thrown into the dustbin as usual? The Federal Government has said that resolutions on contentious issues would be taken, based on the approval of 75 percent of delegates. 75 percent of 492 is 369 delegates. How about resolutions that mainly touch on the lives of the minority tribes, who may not be adequately represented? Will the majority not trample on the wish of the minority?

Since the eighties, the agitation for a Sovereign National Conference had gained prominence. It was first articulated by the legal luminary, the late Chief Alao Aka-Bashorun. The deceased human rights lawyer said that it was possible to hold the conference in Nigeria. He urged the government to tap from the experience of the Soviet Union and the Republic of Benin, which resolved some of its problems by convoking conferences. Throughout the military rule, Aka-Bashorun was harassed for his principled position on the national question and agitation for a Sovereign National Conference.

Also, in the nineties, the former Oyo State governor, Chief Bola Ige, who summed up the arguments for the national conference, raised two questions: “Do we want to remain as one country? If the answer is yes, under what conditions?”. The implication is that a debate is necessary to determine the basis for peaceful co-existence and harmony. Ige said that many national problems could be resolve by debate, instead of resorting to the barrels of gun.

Following the annulment of the historic June 12, 1993 presidential election won by the late Chief Moshood Abiola, there was disillusionment. The cancellation disputed the basis for peaceful co-existence among the competing tribes. The advocates of the SNC expanded the national question. Discussion on the resolution of the identity, integration, participation and distribution crises came to the front burner. Stakeholders came to the conclusion that Nigeria was hanging on a flawed or defective federal system. The unitary system foisted on the polity by the military had created strains. But the interlopers opposed the struggle for a new order with brute force.

Up to now, these questions remained unsolved: Is state or community police not desirable in a big, diverse, heterogeneous country characterised by multiplicity of traditions, customs, and languages? Should the governors, who are the chief security officers of their states, continue to obtain permission from the distant Inspector-General of Police to maintain law and order? Should an Igbo or Yoruba, who was born and bred in the North be denied political and economic rights, owing to the tension between indigeneship and residency? Should a Fulani/Hausa, who had lived in the South for 30 years be edged out of the participatory political process? It remains to be seen if these questions will be answered by Jonathan’s National Conference, which has limitations. Does the President needs a conference to fight the infrastructure battle, tar the roads and fund education and public hospitals efficiently? Does the President needs a conference to build refineries, fight corruption and resolve the crises that have engulfed his party? Does he need a conference to guarantee power supply?

Posted by: EMMANUEL OLADESU

Source: Radio Biafra

Lobby for confab delegates intensifies.


confab ctt

ABUJA—FOLLOWING last Thursday’s release of  modalities for the proposed National Conference, an intense lobby by politicians and other people, who want to be nominated as delegates has ensued.To be part of the 492 wise men and women to be saddled with the task of reshaping Nigeria, some serving commissioners are currently pressuring their state governors for a slot. According to the modalities, each of the 36 state governors is expected to nominate three delegates. The presidency, which is expected to nominate about 70 delegates is also being pressured, Vanguard gathered. Already, some ministers considered to be in President Goodluck Jonathan’s good books are being bombarded with phone calls by people angling for a seat at the confab table.The civil society organisations, political parties, ethnic nationalities and other stakeholders are not left out. Many of them will hold crucial meetings on the issue this week.Leaders of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) will meet today to deliberate on whether or not to participate in the conference. APC is one of the five parties slated to nominate 10 delegates.The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), which is in support of the conference, said it would meet to nominate its two delegates, once it gets a letter from the Federal Government on the matter.
The apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, said last week that it would convene a meeting soon to pick its nominees just as the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) urged all stakeholders to send their First Eleven to deepen deliberations at the conference. President of the South-East, South-South Professionals of Nigeria (SESSPN),  Mr. Emeka Ugwu-Oju, who disclosed that the group will also meet this week, to take a position on the dialogue modalities, said “it will be sad if the governors nominate their houseboys as delegates because their states and geo-political zones will lose out. They must endeavour to nominate people who can represent their states well.”Meanwhile, to get the proposed dialogue going, the Presidency will, this week, write stakeholders, who are expected to nominate their delegates on or before February 20.A presidency source told Vanguard, yesterday, that the Presidency will look at the issue today and start writing the letters to drive the process.The disclosure came as the World Igbo Congress (WIC), the apex organization representing Ndigbo all over the world backed the stance of the Professor Ben Nwabueze-led Igbo Leaders of Thought that the modalities released by the government did not meet the expectations of most Nigerians for convening a confab that will address the multifarious problems of the country.Asked if APC would take part in the conference, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party’s interim publicity scribe, said: “The party will meet tomorrow (today) to take a decision on it” and declined further comments.Select your delegates, prepare agenda, FG tells Nigerians
The Federal Government advised the various interest groups in the country to prepare their agenda to be presented at the conference rather than dissipate energy on whether the President Jonathan administration had a hidden agenda.Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Alhaji Ahmed Ali Gulak, said “we have to advise every interest group that has the interest of Nigeria as its agenda to go and do their home work and take it to the national conference. We have a feeling that those attacking the proposed conference are those who have nothing to offer and would be the first to jump up to claim that the other ethnic groups have outsmarted them.”According to Gulak, the Federal Government has no other agenda than “to secure the peace, stability and unity of the Nigerian state. As the government in power, the Federal Government, will not abdicate its responsibility and allow anarchists to take reins of the country. We are committed to the welfare of Nigerians, the President swore an oath to accomplish these things. It is an open agenda which is not the subject of the conference.”He continued: “We want people to do their home work and present their best team because when they fail to do so, they will not blame the President for their failure.”APGA ‘ll participate –Umeh
Speaking on the conference, APGA  National Chairman, Chief Victor Umeh, okayed the modalities and assured that the party would participate in the exercise.His words: “APGA will participate in the conference. We support the modalities released by the government. We cannot miss this opportunity of helping to save the country. The Nigerian situation is becoming very serious and the national conference has become imperative. Let people come together, let’s dialogue, look at Nigeria and things that are making the country unstable and find solutions to them. We are happy with President Jonathan’s commitment to the National Conference.”Asked when the party would nominate its delegates, he said: “We are waiting for the letter from the Federal Government. When we get the letter from the Federal Government, which is the official line of communication, we will meet and pick our nominees.“We welcome the programme for the conference. We urge all Nigerians to participate. The Federal Government has made it a broad all-inclusive conference. All segments of the society are involved. Those opposing the national conference are not patriotic enough. We cannot pretend we can get our acts together without dialogue.”On whether the requirement of 75 per cent majority of delegates to resolve contentious issues would not undermine the exercise, Umeh said: “The conference will proceed with the unity of Nigeria as no-go area. Other things will be discussed. There are open wounds, which only the truth and good conscience will heal. There are issues that will be tabled and people will see the glaring injustice. If delegates at the conference fail to address such open wounds, it means clearly they want Nigeria to divide. Only unreasonable people will oppose good demands.”Youths seek more slots
Meantime, Nigerian Youths, weekend, protested 18 slots given to them, saying if truly the conference is to reposition the future of Nigeria, 18 delegates cannot represent over 60 percent of the country’s population.
Consequently, a group known as Re-Orientation Advocates of Nigeria (RAN) tasked the Federal Government on the nomination of more youths. The President of RAN, Mr. Charles Folayan in a statement in Abuja, said the reserving 18 slots for over 70 million youths was unacceptable.According to him, “We agitated earlier for 30-50% representation in our communiqué at the National Youth Summit on Peace and Security held in November last year, we are also very much concerned on how the government is going about it even now that the youth council is in crisis as giving priority to any faction of the council will be out of place.“The president had earlier said that the conference is meant for the younger generation, so the selection of the younger generation must not only be credible, but also significant, we are so much concerned that the number stipulated on the plan for the youth is insignificant. Youth group should be given up to 100 delegates not 18.”WIC backs Igbo Leaders of Thought’s stance
Picking holes in the modalities, Engineer Obi Barth Oyibo Thompson, a member of WIC Board of Trustees, said: “Although there are defects in the modalities released by the Federal Government, the World Igbo Congress supports that Ndigbo should participate in the proposed National Conference.”He advised against Ndigbo boycotting the Confab, but rather should go there and insist on the terms  of association of Ndigbo with other nationalities as articulated by the Prof Nwabueze–led Igbo Leaders of Thought. “The Igbo predicament in Nigeria is a challenge to the conscience of all ethnic nationalities and geo-political zones or Regions in Nigeria. It is a moral wound, inflicted over a long time by injustice, that must be cured. What is important is the quality of Ndigbo representation and that is why Igbo Leaders of Thought are going ahead to complete the task of articulating the Igbo position. There is nothing absolutely sacrosanct as to how an existing Constitution may be replaced by a new one.”Obi Thompson  advised that “although nobody should go to the conference to seek dissolution of Nigeria, it should be emphasized that the right of self determination is a fundamental sacred human right. The Conference should therefore be about discussing conditions whereby it is attractive for each stakeholder to happily and freely exercise this right within the framework of one sovereign Nigerian nation.”On selection of South-East delegates, Obi Thompson said  “nobody is contesting the collectively cherished ideal of Ndigbo speaking with one voice through Ohanaeze” but since the issue of leadership of Ohanaeze appeared currently subjudice, a  better approach might be a conciliatory process whereby all other socio-political cum cultural groups come together with all factions within Ohanaeze for the purpose of selecting their delegates.On Igbo support for President Jonathan, he said: “If the Conference successfully gives birth to a new Constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Jonathan would have built for himself a formidable and appreciative constituency across the length and breadth of Nigeria whose support will overwhelm the combined opposition of APC and PDP and sweep him into land slide second term victory. The President should note that our objective is to ensure that he succeeds in this undertaking. If he achieves this, he becomes the undisputed father of modern Nigeria, thus sharing the same spot of honour in our history as accorded to Sir Herbert Macauley and Rt. the Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe, as the genuine protagonists and patriots of a true and sincere One Nigeria.”This is another jamboree –Tsav
Speaking on the confab in Makurdi, the Benue State Capital, former Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, said  it is “another jamboree by the federal government that would serve no useful purpose.”
According to him, the conference will serve as a conduit pipe for wastage and siphoning of the nation’s scarce resources.His words: “The proponents of the conference are only doing it to distract Nigerians from the avalanche of challenges that we face as a people. As far as I’m concerned, the conference is a misplaced priority. The critical problem facing the country and derailing its growth and development is nothing but corruption which is the reason why we are all lamenting and crying in this country.“How can anyone suggest the convocation of another conference in Nigeria when the recommendations of previous ones that were held by past governments in this country have not been implemented. The bane of the development, peace and progress of this country is corruption, if this is tackled every other thing will fall into place.“How can a government that encourages high level corruption convince Nigerians that it is sincere with its policies and programmes when we all know that people who have been declared wanted for corruption charges are being daily celebrated by this administration. As far as I am concerned, the Jonathan’s conference will not be different from the previous ones, nothing new will come out of it. In fact, it will provide a basis for looting and another reason for wastage and drainage of the nation’s scarce resources.”Ex-minister advocates six-year single termAhead of the conference, former Minister of Science and Technology, General Sam Momah, has advocated for a six-year single term in office  for the president and governors.Noting that after every four years the government spends huge sums of tax payers’ money to conduct elections at the expense of the needed socio-economic development by the people, he said apart from huge costs of conducting the elections,  the “ four-year term does not give any executive enough room to complete or conclude any programme it starts. In Africa, no incumbent loses an election, even though it happens, it is difficult, because he makes sure he spends state money to win that election. So, if he knows he has a single term he does his best and leaves.”He further stated that issues the national conference would address had overtaken the constitution amendment by the National Assembly, since the constitution amendment was temporal, but he urged the National Assembly to continue with what they were doing as it was their assignment.”
BY  HUGO ODIOGOR, CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, PETER DURU, GABRIEL EWEPU & CALEB AYANSINA.

Source: Radio Biafra.

The National Conference, The January Uprising And The Labour Civil Society Coalition By Jaye Gaskia.


By Jaye Gaskia

In the last few days the FGN has released its working document for the convening of the National Conference. We now know the government is proposing 492 delegates, of which 46 will be nominated by the President, 108 by governors [that is each governor will nominate 3 delegates], 1 by the FCT [which presumably cannot be nominated without the consent of the president], and another 26 by the Federal Government [as if the President and the FCT are not part of the Federal government]. In total though the number of government nominees is 181.

We also now know that the conference will sit for no more than 3 months, and that the only thing presumably off limits is the unity of Nigeria. And to add to the ambiguity of the government, the conference is to advice the government on how its recommendations might be implemented. In other words, the government is leaving the decision as to whether its recommendations should be processed by the NASS or validated through a open referendum.

There is so much to be said about the way and manner that number of delegates have been allocated to different organisations and constituencies. Nevertheless, my focus today is on the dialectical and unbroken connection between the demands we made during the anti-military struggle, as well as the implicit demands we made during the January Uprising; and the current concession in playing to the gallery by the current regime and dangling the national conference, in this symbolic year of the centenary of the amalgamation.

The same forces which formed the core, the driving and most consistent force of the anti-military and June 12 revalidation struggles, were also central to the January Uprising; in fact by the time of the January Uprising of 2012, they had reached a position, where they were in direct and actual leadership of the uprising.

These alliance of social forces and formations, had come to be known as the Labour Civil Society Coalition, by the time of the January Uprising, and it was as thus that the alliance waged the battles inherent in that uprising. For the avoidance of doubt, and for reasons of historical clarity, these alliance of social forces, these labour civil society coalition, is made up of the two Labour Centres [the NLC and TUC] and two pro-labour citizens’ coalitions [JAF and UAD].

The government, and the entire ruling class [including those of them who became emergency activists and came to plead for podium space during the uprising] recognised that the government and the order over which it was presiding was almost overthrown by the deepening ferment of uprising in January 2012. And somehow in the event of the overthrow, a Sovereign National Conference could very well have been convened by the victorious uprising to fill the vacuum in governance and reorganise society.

Much more than ourselves however, the government and the entire ruling class does recognise and seem to be fully aware of the potency of the power of the mass movement. And this recognition and awareness is now demonstrated in the concessions made to the popular masses and exploited subordinated classes and their organisations, not only with the offer of convening a national conference [cheeky as that offer is], but also in rejecting for all intents and purposes the idea of an ethnic conference, and embracing the position of ordinary Nigerians that we are first and foremost defined by our material condition of existence and not by our ethnicity.

But even more significant is the implicit, if not explicit recognition of the labour civil society coalition. In our recent history, this is the alliance of social forces that has consistently challenged the exploitative misrule of the ruling class, and their treasury looting spree. This was the coalition that coordinated and prepared for the January Uprising, it was the coalition that negotiated on behalf of the Uprising with the Government [the whole government, including state and federal government as well as executive and legislative delegations; with all the major political parties also represented].

To this historic coalition, the current regime has conceded 48 of the 492 delegates positions; 12 to the NLC, 12 to the TUC, and 24 to Civil Society  – that is 12 each to JAF and UAD].

In the first instance although this is a concession to the popular movement, the arrangement and mathematical calculations of delegates made by the FGN is such that Pro-FGN, and therefore Pro-PDP delegates will constitute an overwhelming majority in the conference. Nevertheless, 48 is a significant minority, and if the 48 delegates of the Labour Civil Society Coalition, can conclude within the conference, a broader alliance, much as they did in 2012 during the January Uprising, then the number of pro-people delegates could very well get to up to a third of the conference.

Given that the FGN has also listed several other civil society organisations by name, including NBA, NAWOJ, NUJ, NANS, NYCN, NMA, etc among others, and given that many of these specifically named civil society organisations participated in the January Uprising and coordinated within a broader alliance with the Labour Civil Society Coalition, concluding a pro-people alliance within the conference should not be too difficult a task to undertake.

Two or three explicit facts in the government schedule lead us to make the implicit interpretation that is being made. First, government actually names other civil society organisations by name; second, it went on to now specifically mention a civil society that it allocated 24 delegates to; third, it allocated the same number of delegates, that is 24 delegates, to the combined labour team, as well as to what it referred to as civil society.

We are convinced and persuaded that these 48 delegates were a concession to the labour civil society coalition of the January Uprising [ NLC, TUC, JAF & UAD – each bloc with 12 delegates apiece].

We are not only convinced about this, we also claim this, and insist that one very sure way to actively and proactively engage with the National Conference process is to ensure we have a significant present inside the conference, as well as mount a significant mass mobilisation through mass nationwide rallies outside the conference, and throughout its duration in order to have any chance of realistically influencing its decisions and outcome.

At the very least we can come out with a minority report, with the basic building blocks for a new constitutional order, and around and upon which we can then build a popular mass political party as the real alternative to the parties of the light fingered, gluttonous and inept treasury looting ruling class – ConservaThieves and ProgressThieves alike!

There will be some ultra left radical within civil society who will insist that we should stand aloof from the conference and continue to shout powerlessly from the roof top outside. To them we say, we cannot hope to undertake the task of transforming society with the masses without being present in their most decisive battle fields.

Since hopefully they understand the language of marxism, and the recognise and respect the example revolutionary experience; to them we commend the example of the Bolsheviks in the conservative Russian Duma [assembly] during the period between the 1905 revolution and the first world war. The Bolsheviks, under Lenin’s leadership used the Duma as a revolutionary tribune to promote the cause of revolution and the people.

We are proposing an adaptation of these tactics. Just as the attitude of the Bolsheviks changed to the Duma after the 1905 revolution, our attitude to conferences such as this one ought also to have been transformed by the experience of the January Uprising. Our duty is to seize the space and use the floor of the conference as a revolutionary tribune, a tribune of the people.
It is time we take further concrete steps to Take Back Nigeria.

Follow me on Twitter: @jayegaskia & @[DPSR]protesttopower]; and interact with me on FaceBook: Jaye Gaskia & Take Back Nigeria.

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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