As the national conference entered its 13th week, the discussions focused on interventions in the economic, energy and social sectors with particular emphasis on the power sector reforms, corruption and strategies to curb unemployment in the country. Chuks Okocha and Onyebuchi Ezigbo report The national conference last week urged the federal government to declare a state of emergency in the power sector as part of strategies to arrest the deteriorating state of electricity supply in the country.
While voting on the recommendations of the Committee on Energy chaired by ex-governor of Oyo State, Chief Rasheed Ladoja, the delegates directed owners of the privatised power sector firms to work hard to improve power supply within the next two years. As a matter of urgency, the conference recommended that government should take steps to review the current national electricity policy to make the sector more result-oriented.
The conference demanded full implementation of the provisions of the Electric Power Reform Act 2005, but it advised that government should not leave it to the private sector alone but should also have a stake in its operation.
In further amendments, the conference recommended that the power sector should be put on the Concurrent List.
While rejecting calls for the reversal of privatisation of the generation sub-sector of the electricity industry, delegates voted in support of an amendment giving the power sector companies a two-year time frame to drastically improve power supply in the country.
The proposal on refineries had initially generated debate when some opposed the provision for only the Niger Delta region until a compromise was reached that it should be established in all the states. The conference plenary, which was moderated by the deputy chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, also urged government to implement a deliberate policy to ensure local development of spare parts and all materials needed by the Nigerian electricity industry. It said Nigerian engineers should be adequately involved in the development of the power sector.
However, delegates rejected a proposal to ban the use of generators in the country. In opposing the move to ban generators as alternative power supply source, most delegates said it served a useful purpose for now. They suggested that the use of generators could be minimised with the improvement on power generation and supply.
Tracing the genesis of the power sector reform, the committee had said, "Due to the decay in the power sector starting from the mid-1980s, government decided to embark on power sector reforms. This gave birth to National Electric Power Policy in 2002, the policy document which in turn led to the Electric Power Sector Reforms Act 2005 and the eventual privatisation of the unbundled successor companies of NEPA."
The current transmission capacity as submitted by the Federal Minister of Power is 6870MW while the distribution is said to be 7325MW. Technical losses are reported to be at 12 per cent. The current installed generation capacity is said to be 9,920MW with available generation at 6,000MW. However, the peak generation standing at 3,962MW as at April 28 is below the reported available generation of 6,000MW.
In a special address to the delegates last week, Akinyemi lamented that more than half of the seats at the conference were empty, explaining that government was worried that 50 per cent of delegates do not turn up for plenary. He said federal government had written the conference secretariat to express displeasure at the issue. Akinyemi said, "They are reminding us that when members of an intervention agency are being paid sitting allowances, they should sit. We are considering not paying allowances to those, who do not turn up for plenary. We don't want to be pushed to a situation where we treat esteemed delegates like secondary school students. We don't want it to get to that. We are all very responsible people and we should show that here.
"With effect from Monday, delegates who don't show up will not be paid sitting allowance except on health reasons."
Foreign Medical Treatment
In a bid to reduce the current negative effect of medical tourism on the image of Nigeria, the national conference last week set strict procedures that must be observed by public officers seeking medical treatment outside Nigeria. Delegates argued that the unchecked practice of rushing for medical treatment abroad had resulted in immense capital flight and drain on Nigeria's economy. It cited abuse of existing processes for screening of referrals for foreign medical treatment as one of the reasons. Consequently, the conference resolved that henceforth, there should be restriction of government sponsorship of public officers for foreign medical care. It said except for cases that require referral abroad, all public officers should mandatorily utilise local health facilities. These exceptional cases, the conference said, must be screened by a medical board made up of appropriate medical and healthcare professionals. It said in addition, the recommendations of the board should be subject to the approval of the Minister of Health, who is the chief medical adviser to the federal government.
Most delegates talked about the need for improvement in the quality of healthcare services in Nigeria by adopting a deliberate effort to refocus the attitude of healthcare workers to patients and getting government to show more commitment in funding the sector. The recommendations followed the debate on report of the Committee on the Social Sector presented by the committee chairman, Iyom Josephine Anenih, supported by the deputy chairman, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai.
Other recommendations included instituting free-healthcare for children aged 0-5 years, senior citizens from the age of 65, and persons living with disability or the physically challenged persons, as well as free maternal services and free school health programmes.
After another round of heated debate last week, the conference recommended that government and owners of mission/private schools should dialogue to facilitate the handover of all mission and private schools to their original owners. In returning the schools, it was agreed that owners must ensure that they are affordable and able to serve wider variety of the public in line with the original concept of the mission schools.
The conference recommended that there should be regulation of fees charged by the schools; the schools should provide assistance to the local communities through scholarships and other services; and that children from other denominations should not be marginalised in the admission process. It agreed that staff of such schools should have the option of remaining with the institutions or being absorbed into government service in the case of the return of the mission and private schools to their original owners.
Still on schools, it was unanimously decided that government should convert all Almajiri schools to normal schools and integrate Quranic education curriculum to absorb the millions of out-of-school children.
The conference said government should provide free basic education with free uniforms, books and midday meals for all children from Primary One to Junior Secondary Three. It was also resolved that government should build additional Almajiri schools to bring them up to 400 as originally planned while a 10-year-plan of sustained implementation should be put in place with a view to providing access for all children.
Proceedings at the conference were, however, nearly halted last week as female delegates and some of their male counterparts protested attempts to vote against the application of the affirmative action demanding that 35 per cent of elective offices at all levels be reserved for women. As soon as delegates voted to reduce the percentage from 35 per cent to 30 per cent, almost all the women in the hall, including some men stood up and started singing and threatening to stage a walk-out if the decision was not reversed.
When order was eventually restored, some of the male delegates, including former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na'Abba, spoke in favour of 35 per cent. They stated that the matter was already an existing government policy.
At this point, it was unanimously decided that since the practice was already in existence, it should be allowed to remain.
The conference also decided that the federal government should put into effective use the National Policy on Women adopted in 2004, which was replaced with the National Gender Policy in 2006. Government was also asked to draft for passage and implementation a bill on the abolition of all forms of discrimination against women in Nigeria to address the issue of discrimination and violence against women and maltreatment of widows
Delegates adopted a recommendation that government should prohibit installation of telecommunication mast in residential neighbourhoods and ban practices that could negatively affect the people's health, including female genital mutilation.
Arrest Of 486 Boko Haram Suspects
The national conference was thrown into a rowdy session last week over the arrest of some suspected members of the Islamic terrorist sect, Boko Haram, by soldiers in Abia State. Before the conference went into the plenary session, a member representing Rivers State, Chief Sergeant Awuse, had raised a motion of urgent national importance in which he drew the attention of the conference to the arrest of 486 suspected terrorists in Abia State on their way to Port Harcourt. According to Awuse, "We were told that those men are members of the dreaded Boko Haram. These are happenings that make us to begin to see that we should be more proactive about these matters."
He referred to a newspaper report quoting the governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima as saying if Boko Haram succeeded in overrunning the North-east, they will try to overrun other parts of the country. "We are asking that this conference should bring to the notice of the security agencies that any attack on any of the South-south states will be felt by people all over Nigeria. We don't want Boko Haram in the South-South. From dependable security sources, we know that some of the buses had infiltrated the South-south."
But a former Minister of Steel, Bashir Dalhatu from Jigawa State, rose to castigate the arrest, stating that those arrested were migrant traders from the North to the South, explaining that it is not fair for Awuse to tag the people Boko Haram suspects.
Bashir, who was almost shouted down by fellow delegates, said while he will not support anything that would breach the security of any part of the country, he stood against any action that will alienate and criminalise northerners in the South due to the ugly incident of Boko Haram insurgency.
Another delegate, Simon Adeoye, who is a retired Commissioner of Police, called for caution, urging the delegates to allow for full investigation into the matter.
Kutigi had to intervene at a point to call off the debate and order the consideration of the report of the Committee on Labour, Civil Society and Sports.
A document by the Niger Delta Self Determination Movement presented to Kutigi insisted on 100 per cent resource control or self-determination.
But elder statesman and the leader of the South-south delegation to the conference, Chief Edwin Clark, raised the alarm on the floor of the conference over the circulation of a controversial document purported to be from the South-south delegates. He said the documents did not emanate from the delegates of the zone.
NDSDM urged the conference to address the burning issue for which there had been agitations over the years and quickly stem the drift in the country. In their 51-page document, obtained by THISDAY at the venue of the conference, the group expressed concern over the structure of the country, which they said placed the South-south at a disadvantageous position. The group also faulted the recent rejection of the minority report submitted by Ms. Annkio Briggs, a representative of the Niger Delta and member of the committee on Power Devolution at the national conference. It talked about issues of deprivation, environmental degradation, and exploitation of the Niger Delta people and called for immediate redress of the lopsidedness.
However, Clark said that the South-south had played a role towards the unity of Nigeria, as a nation and, therefore, cannot at this time be fanning the embers of war or disunity in Nigeria.
A labour delegate, Issa Aremu, called on the secretariat of the conference to monitor the circulation of documents within the conference to avoid the circulation of seditious documents like the one Clark mentioned.
Life Jail for Rapist, Pension Fund Thieves
The national conference on Thursday went tough on corruption and societal ills by voting in support of the enactment of a law to sentence any person convicted of rape to life jail. Similarly, the conference unanimously recommended life imprisonment for anyone found guilty of stealing pension funds and forfeiture of their assets to government.
One of the delegates who defended the position of the conference, Mrs. Ebele Okeke, said the offenders even ought to be shot because their action could lead to the death of the victims.
The Committee on Civil Society, Labour and Sports headed by Anenih recommended, among other interventions, the amendment of the constitution to make provision of social welfare schemes justiceable and the setting up of a National Job Creation Agency to coordinate all other employment agencies. In dealing with the social problem caused by youth restiveness, the conference recommended the floating of a Youth Employment Fund to be funded from a one per cent contribution from the Federation Account
on the judiciary's role in the fight against corruption, delegates resolved that corrupt judicial officers should be made to face 50 years jail term with no option of fine.
While considering the aspect of the committee's recommendations that dealt with youth empowerment, delegates said the National Youth Service Corps should be reinvigorated to have one month for orientation and six months for training and acquisition of special skills.
Delegates called on government to revitalise abandoned youth skills acquisition centres nationwide by providing an intervention fund to put them back on track. Also the conference voted in support of restructuring of the scheme to include skills acquisition and entrepreneurial orientation, but rejected a proposal for compulsory military training for corps members during the service year.
However, delegates voted against a recommendation for 35 per cent affirmation action for youths participation in employment and governance with five per cent reserved for persons with disability. They recommended the setting up of a National Youth Development Fund.
While considering the labour segment of the report, the conference urged that the national minimum wage law should remain as it is currently and no attempt should be made to deny workers their rightful wage. It voted in support of retention of the labour union in the Exclusive List and approved the establishment of job centres to assist unemployed people with information on job availability. Delegates expressed concern over the growing incidence of casual workers in companies and organisations and resolved that a law should be made to grant of permanent status to casual workers who have spent six months. It resolved to direct all multinational companies to henceforth ensure compliance with laws on casualisation.
The conference voted to criminalise the use of children for child labour and armed conflicts. It urged states to domesticate the National Child Rights Act to protect the interest and wellbeing of children.