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ODJE: Political Parties Must Pay Critical Attention To Confab Recommendations

By Editor
15 March 2015   |   1:07 am
Dr. Akpo Mudiaga Odje is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. Speaking with HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE, in Asaba, he said the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference should be in the front burner of the 2015 election campaign.

ODJEWhat is your general overview of the 2014 National Conference?

THE Confab was constituted with over 450 delegates by the government. There was a consensus clause, which stated that three quarter majority was required to reach a decision if there was no consensus. It paid way for negotiations and frayed nerves. It brought a glimmer of hope, but it was not without controversies. There was the issue of composition, structure and finance. There was also the issue of the legality or otherwise of the powers of the president to also constitute a committee that will touch on this matter. Having passed these initial hurdles, a lot of people, like Dr. Tunji Abayomi, went to court to challenge the right of the President to do so. Section 5 of the Constitution empowers the president to do so.

The delegates raised issues like state police, raising derivation from 15 percent to 18 percent or whichever percent revenue allocation, a far cry from the 50 percent that would have brought some glimmer of hope. True federalism, restructuring of the government, independent candidature, were all included. These are landmarks, but because of the timing of setting the National Confab, it was at the winding down of the first phase of this administration.
Are you surprised that not much is said of the Confab report in the camaign?

The All Progressives Congress (APC) is supposed to be a progressive party but unfortunately they boycotted the Confab. APC leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, was a man who talked about the restructuring of the federation. The APC national leader was at the forefront of those advocating positive change. Now, he has glossed over it and thinking of the formation of a national government.

I think the managers of the presidency and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not take a good look at the importance of the result of the Confab on the polity. The Confab was by far one of the best things under President Jonathan and I thought the president and the ruling party could have hammered on it. It is one of his greatest legacies, because he has laid a foundation that can debate the future of Nigeria. He told the delegates that there were no no-go areas. They reached a consensus and produced a document, at least. Let us work on that. I think that by now the President ought to have made the recommendation of the Confab his campaign key points, especially in the six geo-political zones with his foot soldiers marching everywhere with leaflets to tell people what is visions are.

His vision forms the report of the National Confab. By now, I expect President Jonathan to be telling Nigerians that this is what he has for Nigerians and will be implemented and that they will form the bedrock of a new Nigeria. It is unfortunate that the PDP and the President do not realise the importance of the National Confab for his government. It appears that it has been deliberately obfuscated. It is a weakening of the impact of that report on the society. With the extension of the polls, I think they should go back to their drawing board and sensitise people about the recommendation of that Confab.
Are you bothered that the presidential election could determine the fate of the Confab report?

The opposition is not going to implement it. But I believe they are going to choose the decent aspect of it and implement. That they boycotted it in the first place shows that it would be an endangered document in the eye of the progressives. It showed that they didn’t recognize the structure, composition and outcome of that body, but we will impress it upon them that there are materials, which are inside that document. They should ignore the messenger and look at the message involved in the report of that Confab as a matter of national interest, because the PDP, APC just like the Conservative and Labour, Democratic and Republican Parties, in the United Kingdom and United States respectively, pick from each other, they must also pick from each other what is good for the common interest of the society.

It doesn’t mean that because I am in PDP, and I am seeing that this structure has been built nicely by APC, when I come I destroy it. That is not politics. I believe what you do is to capitalize and pick up from where the man left and move on. If the PDP was to win Lagos State, I believe they should go on with the works of Fashola. They should not come and scatter or set the arm of the clock back because it is a new political party.

That is why we are saying that as for the report of the National Confab, if APC wins, it must look at it critically and select the areas that are beneficial to the people. It should not be based on party lines at all, because those who were in the Confab were not party members.
Do you foresee crisis between the Confab Report and the works of the National Assembly?

The Senate and the House of Representatives were also amending the Constitution as the Confab was going on. When I look at that, I thought that there ought to have been a synergy between the Presidency and the National Assembly, so that they could put on hold their proposed amendment and take it en bloc from the one received from the National Confab and move for a comprehensive amendment.

That was not the case. What we had was a polarised amendment of the Constitution. The National Confab was carrying out its own reform and the National Assembly was doing its own. The National Assembly was a little bit restive when they discovered that the National Confab was established. They felt that it was taking the shine off their activities. With this mutual suspicion, the document from the National Confab report did not really hit the bar as was expected. It was climaxed and obfuscated by politics, intrigues and indeed the winding down of the electioneering process.

However, the report is still a tangible document for us to work and look at the nation whether we are still operating within a federal structure or a unitary state. Compromises here and there but it still served as a basis for the documentation of the future of Nigeria.
Looking at some of the recommendations of the Confab, are you comfortable with the revenue sharing proposal?

The Confab Report did not go well as it did not give increased derivation to the people of the Niger Delta. The Confab itself did not come out strictly to reduce the bulk of the 68 items in the exclusive legislative list. I see no reason why the issue of public holiday should still be on the exclusive legislative list. I see no reason why mineral mines, oil wells should still be in the exclusive list. All these should have gone to the concurrent legislative list in practice of true federalism. During the First Republic, we had 44 items in the exclusive list and 22 in the concurrent list. These 22 were very solid. They had issue of navigation, arms and ammunition, which were in the concurrent list. From 44, it has become 68 on the exclusive list with 24 more powers being added to the central.

What of the question on state Police?

The National Confab did not as it were depart from the emasculation of the states by the federal government. It is just infinitesimal powers that were given to the states. Now, you are talking of state police. Are we really right to maintain state police? There are some things, which are theoretical in the practice of true federalism and there are things, which are practical within the operation of the people. These things, in theory, are very good for true federalism, but in practice may not turn out good for a country like Nigeria with a budding democracy.

Not that many people do not like the theory of state police, but are afraid that it could become a tool in the hands of the governors. That will be a danger to the entire state if not to the entire federation. That is why some people are saying for the purpose of the unity of Nigeria, the Police should be with the Federal Government just like the army. These institutions should not be localised or politicised. In theory, there is nothing wrong, but just like everything; there is fear and danger. You can imagine the fear and crisis going on during the election. If the state governments really had state police, you can imagine what would have happened. We saw a situation where a state governor was even trying to prevent the President from using the stadium in his state for a rally. If that man had state police, what do you think would have happened?

Politics should be done decently in line with the Constitution. There are issues that are clear for us to implement. State police is out. Now, look at the revenue allocation and sharing, which gives the Federal Government over 50 percent. Since 1999 till date after the return to democratic rule, this democracy has not enacted a new revenue allocation formula for the country. We have been relying on the revenue allocation Act 106, which was a decree but was re-christened as an Act by the Obasanjo-led government in 2002.

It was a decree promulgated by the Babangida-led military regime in 1992. That is the Act that we are still using to share revenue. This democracy has not enacted its own. Shagari did it in 1981 but was voided. He went back and did a better one. He enacted a democratically recognised revenue allocation Act. President Jonathan should save us the embarrassment of using a decree to divide our federation account.