By Osuolale Alalade
The National Conference ended its characteristically rowdy plenary sessions on July 17, 2014. It would reconvene in August 2014 as was predicted by its many critics, the legacy of the conference now constitutes a major set-back that will pose significant challenges to the realignments that are imperative to assure the future of the Nigerian State. The mainly napping gerontocratic drivers of the conference shied away from confronting the fundamental challenges bedeviling the future of the Nigerian state and society. With no new futuristic visions, the conference resorted to old panaceas that are dangerously obsolete and inadequate to meet the challenges of the future.
Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, 75, retired Chief Justice of the Federation, led a conference that seemed fixated in the past and weaned on the entrenched deleterious axioms and assumptions that had brought Nigeria to its current impasse. The interventions at the conference appeared completely alienated from the realities of Nigeria of 2014. Cynics had noted that the mainly great grandfathers who participated at the conference reflected a deeper cynicism on the part of the President. It was a sort of gratification to the old horses to bolster their sense of continued relevance in national affairs. It was also a safe bet that they would change nothing. Their concerns were far at variance with the burning structural challenges, and associated security problems, identified by key constituencies whose interests are critical for the longevity and resuscitation of any hopes for a future Nigeria.
The political evolution of Nigeria since amalgamation to date has been premised on how to share money. In fact, the Lugardian experiment to amalgamate northern and southern colonies that gave birth to Nigeria was born out of the warped necessity to transfer resources from the rich lady of the south to the poor north. The logic of appropriation of available resources for exploitation by the most powerful internal force has been the dominant motif of Nigeria’s turbulent existence. The beneficiary had always turned out to be the north, notwithstanding the nebulousness of the concept of a monolithic north. A profound reorientation of the fundamental logic governing the operation of the Nigerians state, including instituting fiscal federalism, was envisioned by the south as a necessary outcome of the conference to balance the federation structurally. Also, the south was agreed that the contracting units of the federation would be the ethnic nationalities grouped in six geo-regional zones attained through the consolidation of Nigeria current unwieldy and unviable 36 state structure.
Accordingly, from the onset, the Ethnic Nationalities Forum rejected the Federal Government’s decision that the proposed national conference could not discuss matters related to the corporate existence of Nigeria. The Forum argued that whilst the number of ethnic nationalities characterized by a common traditional territory, common indigenous language and other distinction, cultural traits that set each apart from other groups is a matter of disputation, the ethnic nationalities are a sociological reality. It affirmed that the ethnic nationalities are the sociological and cultural foundation of the Nigerian State; that the Nigerian State has no territory other than or different from the territories of the various ethnic nationalities comprised within it. That the ethnic nationalities are the original and primary stakeholders of the Nigerian State, having existed long before colonialism and are the primary targets and sufferers from marginalization, oppression and injustice which abound in the country. Accordingly and because they are the heart and soul of the Nigerian State, the Ethnic Nationalities Forum demanded as their inalienable right that they should be given legal recognition in the Constitution and their status as separate nation or nationalities should also be recognized.
The Forum proposed that efforts should be made to harmonize the recognition of ethnic nationalities and their inherent rights on the one hand and the citizenship rights of the individual Nigerian by the state, federal, and local governments, discharging fairly, justly and equitably the duties laid on it by Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of the state in Chapter two of the 1999 Constitution. The Forum further affirmed that recognition of their right was not inconsistent with the indissolubility or the perpetuity of the Nigerian State. Mutual understanding, respect, cooperation and solidarity between the ethnic nationalities was needed to enable Nigeria’s many and seemingly intractable problems to be addressed and for the ethnic groups to coalesce into one nation, the Forum emphasized.
In a paper, the South West zone defined the very concept of Nigeria as the problem. It accused the federal government of constantly driving toward the maximization of power, reducing the states to impotent and incapable structures. The federal government, it suggested, was stunting growth and development of the southwest. The Yoruba of the South West unanimously demanded regional autonomy or nothing from the conference.
From the South East, Igbo leaders of thought, led by eminent Constitutional lawyer, Professor Ben Nwabueze, advanced a strong proposal for the inclusion of the right of secession or self- determination in the new constitution. Prof. Nwabueze said that Ndigbo was proposing the inclusion of the right of secession or self-determination in the new constitution; adoption of the regions as the basis of the federating units and establishment of regional or state police to enable the governors or regional leaders enforce their authority and law. The position paper of Igbo leaders of thought reduced the items in the exclusive legislative list as currently contained in the 1999 Constitution, from 68 to 36, adding that the current constitution is abhorrent to true federalism where a commissioner of police has overriding power over a state governor and chief security officer of the state.
The Igbo leaders of thought affirmed that the right of self-determination is contained in the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which he said was domesticated into the Nigerian Constitution by National Assembly enactment. He asserted further the African Charter is the only international treaty that has been incorporated as part of Nigeria’s domestic law. “So it’s nothing new; all that we are now saying is that it should be elevated from being part of the ordinary law of the country into a right enshrined in the constitution, that’s all that we are saying now”, he stressed.
The North mainly decided to pursue the consolidation of the current arrangement with a strong federal government and more money to redress its underdevelopment. In a paper circulated by the north during the conference, it claimed 80 per cent of the landmass of the country and threatened that in the event of a breakup, the north would occupy all the territory it had appropriated to itself, including territories South of the Niger River. In the event of a break-up, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, 70, noted that Ilorin would become the Kashmir of Nigeria. The South South, the main producers of Nigeria’s oil that had suffered environmental devastation, sought to keep a 100 per cent of revenue from mineral resources from its area on the policy of derivation with tax paid to the federal government.
The south canvased a radical restructuring of the federation as a critical movement away from the current understanding and perception of Nigeria as an instrumental institution for partisan hegemonic control of the most ascendant constituent group and internal force in its fractious system and process. The ascendant region had always been the north. Many saw this lop sided arrangement as a threat to the corporate existence of the country in the medium to long term.
Former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, perceived as a liberal from the North East, summed it up as follows: “We must stop assuming that anyone calling for the restructuring of our federation is working for the breakup of the country. And the notion that over-centralization and an excessively powerful center is equivalent to national unity is false. If anything, it has made our unity more fragile and our government more unstable. We must renegotiate our union in order to make it stronger. Greater autonomy, power and resources for states and local authorities will unleash our people’s creative energies and spur more development. It will help with improving security. It will help give the federating units and the local governments greater freedom and flexibility to address local issues, priorities and peculiarities. It will promote healthy rivalries among the federating units and local authorities. It will help make us richer and stronger as a nation”.
His pleas feel on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, the conference took off against a backdrop of pervasive cynicism about the real intentions of the President and serious doubts about the capacity, implying personal strength of character and political clout of the President, to deliver the radical restructuring that was necessary to resolve the fundamental problem of the legitimacy of the Nigeria project. This bleak assessment was proven right as main decisions of the conference was to create eighteen more states in the federation. In effect, Nigeria would have a stronger center, as eighteen more states in addition to the current 36 would reduce them to no more than glorified local governments at the mercy of the central government.
Much of the squabble over security was how the north was going to collect more revenue from the fortified federal government to address the consequences of insurgency in the northern states. The northern delegates went their different ways as the three states most impacted by the insurgency sought to claim those funds for its exclusive use. Southern delegates were clear that a proposed 5 per cent was earmarked for all the states and not exclusively for the north. The north would deny the oil producing states any increase of revenue through the review of the percentage attributed to derivation. The states, 54 of them eventually, glorified local governments, now have a local police. In effect, the tiers of government in Nigeria are two; the central government and the local governments that have been rechristened as states. No local government as previously known. Effectively, Nigeria had been effectively turned into a unitary administration, dominated by a federal government. By the new arrangement, the states in Nigeria will now have 57 per cent of the money coming in from the Federation Account while the Federal Government has 42 per cent. The 57 per cent to 54 local governments that pass for states would on the average be entitled to just about 1 percent of the national revenue that can only be dedicated to recurrent expenditure of the glorified local government. This would be at the expense at developments at all levels.
Against this background, when the plenary session of the National Conference ended on Thursday, 17 July 2014, it was without a final decision on critical issues of revenue sharing formula from the Federation Account and derivation principle. The conferees were not left out in the scramble for Naira. For the delegates fasting, it was agreed to monetize their lunch; an additional boost to the monthly allowance of N12 million Naira.
Reactions to the emerging outcomes of the conference have been swift. Prominent leaders of the South-South reflecting the mood in the south have called on delegates from the region at the national conference to walk out on the next sitting if the confab was not ready to adapt to true federalism by allowing the regions to control their resources. They insisted that the North could not continue to dictate to the rest of the country and rejected the 18 per cent derivation proposed for mineral producing areas. They also ruled out the suggestion of five per cent derivation for the reconstruction of states in the northern region ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts. The northern concern they stressed was a non-issue.
It was important to get Nigeria away from the logic of the entrenched struggle of all its constituents to appropriate the available resources for partisan exploitation, instead of the constituent regions generating resources to advance their legitimate goals with the federal government left to manage clearly specified matters of common interest. At the end, the Conference has further consolidated the logic of operations that has brought Nigeria to the very precipice. As it is, the main achievement of the Conference has been to have raised to an unprecedented levels of renewed questioning of the legitimacy of the Nigeria project that the Conference was required to address. In the words of the paramount ruler of Siembiri Kingdom in Delta State, HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu, “It is really disappointing that people went to the confab to turn the truth on its head.” Meanwhile, strong indications are emerging that northern delegates are moving to kill the yet-to-be adopted final report of the l Conference. The new move is part of a wider campaign against the resolutions of the conference and its leadership which some northern delegates had described as a failure. In the final analysis, the Conference remains unable to transcend the challenge of entrenched differences over sharing of the federal cake. The recommendations on revenue allocation, derivation and allocation of five per cent of federal revenue to insurgency ravaged North-East geo-political zone and other parts of the north was deepened a very sharp division between northern and southern delegates.
More ominously, as the Conference squabbled over money sharing, the fundamental challenge to the integrity of the Nigeria project reared its head. Reports in the same week highlighted that the Arewa (Northern) Youth Development Foundation had charged all governors in the region to compel southerners residing in the north to register and to immediately be issued settlers permit. The request was contained in a petition presented to the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi 11, following a rally to protest alleged intimidation and harassment of northerners living in the south. They also challenged their governors to take practical steps to ensure the immediate release of northerners currently detained in the south while asking the Federal Government to bring an end to the killings and destruction in the region.
Completely detached from contemporary realities of Nigeria, the Justice Idris Kutigi led Conference went off a different tangent from the compelling excruciating burdens of the Nigeria project. It was indeed a forlorn conference that only opened up old wounds. Those whose prognosis includes heightened agitations for a restructured Nigeria cannot be said to be completely unrealistic. The alternative to a radical structural realignment of Nigeria may be more devastating.