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On the National Conference Report

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National Conference.

National Conference.

AGAINST the backdrop of the disappointing content as well as conduct of campaigns for the 2015 elections by the major political parties, the report of the 2014 National Conference is one issue they cannot and must not ignore.

It is write to say that widespread dissatisfaction with Nigeria as is has heightened the urgent need for a re-engineering of the structure and a new constitution. Yet, the manifestos, the official statement of intentions and principles of actions, of the main contenders to govern Nigeria are either silent or not sufficiently categorical on this. But, regardless of which political party wins the  elections,  that  conference did take place and cannot be  ignored for,  at least, two reasons: It is noteworthy that despite the diversity of the conferees, the 600-plus resolutions were consensually reached. That speaks for some measure of trust and respect for one another in Nigeria. Secondly, the issues addressed were wide-ranging and very crucial to the stability of Nigeria. Therefore the Report of the 2014 National Conference cannot but be factored into the process of governance by the next government.

A look into the manifesto of the  ruling  Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives  Congress (APC)  reveal, where mentioned at all,  what could be described as platitudinous statements on such  fundamental concerns as  the devolution of powers within this federalism,  resource control, fiscal federalism, and  the decentralisation of  the police system.  On governance, the PDP manifesto says the ‘the party shall be committed to the promotion and defence of  the  Nigerian Federal system of government.’  On the structure of the economy, it  promises ‘the pursuit of a strong, virile, and diversified  economy…’ and talks of  creating ‘a market-based economy driven  by small  and medium based businesses…’ On its party, the APC admits in its manifesto that ‘our nation needs fundamental political reform and improvement in governance…’ [so the party  will] initiate  action to  amend the Constitution  with a view to  devolving  powers, duties, and responsibilities to states and local  governments in order to entrench Federalism and the Federal spirit.’ The party commits itself to ‘investing heavily in the abundant solid mineral resources in all parts of the  Nigeria’; it will ‘take three  major  sectors of the  economy  and in tackling  them, resolve  the problem  of poverty eradication, food shortage, and provision of housing…’; it promises to  ‘begin  widespread  consultations to amend  the Constitution  to decentralise  the police  command  and expand  local content by including  community policing.’ This is where the Report of the 2014 National Conference comes into focus for the reason that  many but not all of the burning issues that agitate Nigerians  have been settled in the  resolutions of the conference 22-volume  report.

The four and a half  month-long  conference of  nearly  500 respectable  citizens and  held at a cost of  close to N10 billion offered  to Nigerians  more than 600 resolutions that were  arrived at by consensus. While  a number of  burning issues were sidestepped and pushed to government to handle, there were, nevertheless, many other  critical  national  matters that  were agreed  upon and which  can be  implemented with no rancour.

Although President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP  passed up a golden opportunity to  score possibly the most  important  goal of his political career by  pushing through  those  settled  issues, it boggles the mind that  the PDP  is not forceful in exploiting the implementation of the  report as its unique campaign point. Instead, the president has, characteristically, consigned the documents to the care and scrutiny of an inter-ministerial committee.  And there they are to date, despite his displayed enthusiasm about the conference.

On its part, the APC leadership refused to participate in the conference because it considered it ill-timed and opportunistic.  However, because the issues concerned have for long  been loci of agitation in the polity, no one can  deny that the  conferees showed courage in tackling  substantial and fundamental issues and Nigeria  will be  better served  by the  implementation of  the  resolutions  contained in the report.

Take revenue sharing for example. The conference recommended with specific figures that it be reviewed such that the states and local governments get more and the federal gets less. This is a popular decision on which a campaigning political party would endear itself to the electorate.  The Conference recommended that elected legislators should serve on part-time basis, and that the number of political appointees and aides be ‘drastically reduced’, and proposed for the country ‘not more than 18 ministers from the six geopolitical zones’.

Take the matter of state police on which a two-tier policing system was proposed such that, besides the federal police, states with the resources to establish, fund, and control their own police can do so.  Furthermore, it was resolved that  police officers of  the ranks of  deputy superintendent of police (DSP) and below should be  deployed to their states of origin where they can better relate  to the  socio-cultural  setting. It makes for more effective policing.

The 2014 National Conference may not have shown sufficient ‘courage’ on  such fundamental matters as fiscal federalism and the principle of derivation, it suggested, though inadequately, that ‘to achieve true federalism, in Nigeria, the legislative powers and duties of the respective tiers of government should be clearly spelt out.’  However,  the conferees advanced  the discourse a bit further by recommending that ‘states  that  wish to  merge  may do so in accordance with  [the  extant constitution]  as and  four other conditions it  suggested;  states may  also  create  zonal  commissions  to promote  economic development,  good governance,  equity, peace and security…’ Besides these, 18 new states were recommended.

The chicanery in party politics in recent times, however, indicates that political parties may not necessarily be credible vehicles for achieving good governance. The conference was absolutely right, therefore, to  provide for independent candidacy and to that end  stated that  Section 221 of the extant  Constitution be repealed;  the  immunity  in civil and criminal  matters as  enshrined in  Section  308 of the  constitution  was  recommended for removal and  relevant cases of corruption and misconduct  by public officers be  investigated by  an Independent Grand Jury; to strengthen the capacity and confidence of the  Press to  function as constitutionally mandated, the  Conference  resolved that ‘ the provisions of  Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution  should be  made justiciable…’

On religion, the conference said that ‘governments at all levels shall not utilise public funds to sponsor any religious pilgrimage for any category of citizens and government functionaries.’ To make  government more responsive to and  responsible  for the  citizenry,  it was  resolved that  the provisions of  Chapter II of the  constitution on the   Fundamental Objectives  and Directive Principles of State Policy shall be made justiciable.

On education, it was recommended that the Federal Government should focus  on tertiary education while  state governments  regulate and control  secondary  education and  local governments  do the same for primary education. Besides, ‘the teaching of History should be made mandatory in secondary schools to sustain our historical heritage.’

The 2014 Conference Report contains much of what are required to enable Nigeria begin on a new slate and begin its march to greatness. At the close of the conference, President Jonathan told the participants ‘I assure you that your work is not going to  be a waste of time and  resources.’ If, really, the  goal of a democratic government is to serve the  greatest good of the people, it bears repeating that whichever party forms the next government has only one duty to Nigeria and its people: implement this report. It would be a good point to begin the regeneration of this country.



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