On the National Conference Report
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.