In his Independence broadcast on Sunday, President Muhammadu Buhari foreclosed the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference, which some analysts contend could address some ills in the country if implemented. JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH examines some salient issues raised for and against fecundity of the report.
President Muhammadu Buhari has never hidden his intention not to implement the 2014 report of the National Conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan. According to Buhari, it is a report meant for the archives. His stance is that the last administration didn't get its priorities right. Instead of addressing the demands of the Academic Staff Union Of Universities ( ASUU) who were on strike then, that government was busy spending billions to organise the conference.
"I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9billion to organise that meeting (National Conference), and some (members) were complaining that they hadn't even been paid. I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that what the National Assembly could have handled was handed to the Conference, while the more important job of keeping our children in schools was abandoned. That is why I haven't even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives", Buhari stated.
The president's remarks elicited reactions from some of the delegates who advised the president to implement the key recommendations of the conference. This was moreso when the suspended Secretary to the Government of the federation, Babachir David Lawal, described the conference as job for the boys.
Towing President Buhari's line of thought, some, keen observers of the polity argued that former President Jonathan had no intention of implementing the report of the conference in the first place. They wondered why he kept the report of the conference almost a year without doing anything about it. Some went as far as alleging that Jonathan was keeping the report as a campaign tool for his second term.
Key Recommendations Of The Conference
Creation of 18 New States
The conference recommended the creation of 18 new states (three per geo-political zone). Among them are Apa, Edu, Kainji, Katagum, Savannah, Amana, Gurara, Ghari, Etiti (South East zone), Aba, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Orashi, Ogoja, Ijebu and New Oyo. Apart from the 18 proposed states, the Conference also recommended one new states for the South East to make the zone have equal number of states with the other zones except the North West which has seven. It also recommended that states willing to merge can also do so based on certain conditions.
Resource Control/Derivation Principle/Fiscal Federalism
The conference noted that assigning percentage for the increase in derivation principle and setting up Special Intervention Funds to address issues of reconstruction and rehabilitation of areas ravaged by insurgency and internal conflicts as well as solid minerals development, require some technical details and consideration. The Conference therefore recommended that government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentage on the three issues and advise government accordingly.
Public Finance/Revenue Allocation
The confab held that the sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be done in the following manner: Federal Government - 42.5%, State Governments - 35% and Local Governments 22.5%.
It recommended that the percentage given to population and equality of states in the existing sharing formula be reduced, while that assigned to Social Development sector be increased to a much higher percentage so as to ensure accelerated development of all parts of the country.
Forms of Government
It recommended the Modified Presidential System, a home-made model of government that effectively combines the presidential and parliamentary systems of government, in which the president shall pick the vice president from the Legislature.
The confab recommended that the President should select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo -political zones and not more than 30% of his ministers from outside the Legislature, as well as reduce cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary.
The 2014 National Conference recommended Bi-cameral legislature, but held that all elected members of the legislative arms of all the tiers of government should serve on part-time basis
It recommended that the presidential power should rotate between the North and the South and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.
Local Government will no longer be the third tier of government, according to the confab. It said the federal and states are now to be the only tiers of government. States can now create as many local governments they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account be scrapped and in its place the establishment of a State RMAFC with representatives of LG and a Chairman nominated by the Governor. The Constitution should fix the tenure for Local Government Councils at three years. The conference recommended the scrapping of State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs).
The confab held that the immunity clause should be removed if the offences attract criminal charges to encourage accountability by those managing the economy. It adopted the recommandation of the 2005 National Political Reforms Conference that immunity clause as enshrined in Section 308 should be amended to remove immunity provision for crimes bothering on corrupt practices, economic and financial crimes and other serious offences such as suicide and murder.
It recommended that every Nigerian who meets the specified condition in the Electoral Act should be free to contest elections as an independent candidate.
The creation of the office of the Accountant General (Director-General) of the Federation as a distinct and separate office from the Office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government. The Office of the Accountant General of the Federation shall oversee the accruals of revenue into and disbursement from the Federation Account as and when due; and shall administer these funds as required by the Constitution, while the office of the Accountant General of the Federal Government shall oversee the accounts of the Federal Government.
It recommended that special courts to handle corruption cases should be established in the light of undue prolongation in the trials and prosecution of corruption cases in the regular courts. A non-conviction-based asset forfeiture law should be enacted with broad provisions to deal with all issues of proceeds of crimes by the anti-graft agencies and the courts..
Land Tenure Act
The Land Tenure Act should remain in the Constitution but be amended to take care of those concerns, particularly on compensation in Section 29 (4) of the Act to read "land owners should determine the price and value of their land based on open market value
Re-introduce the old National Anthem
The Conference recommended that there will be no government sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands. It also resolved that churches and mosques should begin to pay tax to government.
Arguments For The Report
In recent weeks the calls for restructuring the country gained traction with former presidents, opinion leaders lending their voice to the debate on restructuring.
Political pundits posited that implementing the report will be the first step in restructuring the country in order to address some of the imbalances causing agitations for separation among the ethnic nationalities in the country.
Another school of thought posits that most of the proponents of restructuring are political jobbers looking for relevance. According to them, the problem with Nigeria is not the structure but a leadership problem. They argue that most countries in the world like Norway and China are practising the unitary system of government like Nigeria and are on the path of greatness.
It is instructive to note that some of the recommendations of the conference and what the proponents of restructuring are fighting for are completely different. While the conference is recommending the creation of 18 new states and that states shall be the federating units and shall have their respective constitutions, right to self-determination while simultaneously each ethnic group within a state shall also have a right to self-determination, proponents of restructuring are advocating for a return to the 1963 constitution where Nigeria was practicing a regional government, thereby the 36 states will be collapsed to six regions
Former President Jonathan recently said the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference organised by his administration will solve many of Nigeria's problems. Speaking at the Rivers State 50th year anniversary in Port Harcourt, Jonathan insisted that fiscal federalism was the system that would develop Nigeria.
He said, "This will allow states to assume control of the exploitation of their natural resources and mandate them to pay adequate taxes to the Federal Government. My conviction that fiscal federalism will initiate faster development is borne out of a comparison between the intervention Agencies and the 13 percent derivation.
"From the days of Special Funds, through OMPADEC to now NDDC, the Federal Government has provided funds for the development of the oil bearing communities but very little physical infrastructure to show for it.
"This is so because these bodies are highly political and lack continuity as tenures are hardly completed. New Federal Government administrations appoint new teams who award new contracts hence the zone is littered with abandoned projects.
"I believe that without the 13 percent derivation, action governors like Wike would not have the capital to drive his ambitious developmental projects. With fiscal federalism, the pace of development will be even faster.
"Our people want us to improve on the way we govern ourselves. That was why in 2014 I set up the National Conference to examine the grey areas and proffer viable options that will accelerate our political, social and economic development. I am convinced that implementation of the Report will help resolve some of the problems in our country".
Hopes were raised in June when the Senate asked the presidency tosubmit the 2014 national conference report to it for legislative action.
Adopting a motion on the need for unity and peaceful coexistence in the country, the upper legislative chamber said that although the report was sent to the National Assembly by former President Goodluck Jonathan early in 2015, exactly a week before the end of the tenure of the seventh National Assembly, the document has to be resubmitted now because the last submission was no longer valid.
Buhari Forcloses Implementation Of The Report
President Buhari, in his independence address to Nigerians, put a final nail on the coffin of the 2014 national conference. He faulted the national conference organised by former President Jonathan and others, saying national debates should be handled by the federal legislature and not some lopsided, undemocratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.
His words: "At all events, proper dialogue and any desired constitutional changes should take place in a rational manner, at the National and State Assemblies. These are the proper and legal fora for National debate, not some lop-sided, un-democratic body with pre-determined set of objectives.
On Monday, Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu echoed the same sentiments. Shehu reiterated the President's line that the Parliament as a key institution in democratic governance is the proper venue for the ventilation of, and resolution of all contentious issues.
He said, "It beats our imagination that men claiming to be democrats or having democratic credentials are asking the government to ignore an elected parliament in preference to a committee made up of presidential appointees to debate and resolve constitutional issues.
"You are either for democracy or for its opposite. For us in this government, democracy is the country's chosen system of government and we are determined to deepen and uphold it. Democracy may be slow and chaotic, but it remains the best system of government the world has got so far".