Justice Idris Kutigi
Some resolutions already taken by the members of the National Conference so far will definitely cause more problems for the country in future than envisaged. This is because Nigerians thought the National Conference was a veritable platform for them to discuss the way forward for this agitated country but some of resolutions already taken by the members of the National Conference are already causing heartaches to Nigerians and if not reversed will indeed spell doom for the country.
One of such controversial resolutions is to mandate religious organizations to pay taxes in the country! This is one resolution if not reversed will throw this country into a calamitous state. All Nigerians know the sensitivity of religion in this country and to introduce laws or policies that will further create confusion will not in any manner augur well for the country. The worry of most Nigerians including this writer on this sensitive and vexatious issue is that it will be turned to a tool for oppression, victimisation and destruction of churches and mosques! The target of this recommendation when enshrined in the new constitution will be churches and mosques as tax agents will not demand tax from “Igbe”, “Olokun”, “Ayelala”, “Sango” Shrines and other traditional places of worship. Though, one is not a prophet of doom but this issue being treated with levity today when it commences will set this country on fire because as already mentioned above, it will be turned to an instrument to oppress churches and mosques. Why will it be so? It will be so because a leader may arise tomorrow who may be an atheist and will send his tax officials to close down churches and mosques flagrantly under the guise that they failed to pay their taxes even when they might have done so!
One may be tempted to ask why such a thing will happen in Nigeria when religious organizations pay taxes in other countries. You and I know too well that the things that work in other countries don’t work here. This is why we need to take caution on this matter. In countries where religious organizations pay taxes sure have good roads, electricity, potable water, functional hospitals, quality education, security etc. But do we have such infrastructures here in Nigeria in spite of the huge sums of money accruing from the sale of crude oil on a daily basis? Do we lack these things as result of shortage of funds? Certainly, the absence of these infrastructures is not because the country lacks the funds to put them in place but because of endemic corruption. How well has the government used the revenues accruing from crude oil and other sources that the National Conference is recommending the taxation of religious organizations? If the government can’t utilise the gargantuan sums of money it derives from oil and gas judiciously, is it the taxes from religious organizations it will employ in the development of the country? The National Conference should have a rethink over this delicate religious matter and withdraw the recommendation for the purpose of peace and tranquillity.
Another failure of the National Conference its inability to take a stand on derivation as delegates from the south settled for 18 percent while delegates from the north want derivation to remain on 13 percent. One would have expected the members of the National Conference to have increased derivation from the current 13 per cent to 50 per cent or more as it was in the First Republic. This would have served as a stimulant to other states of the federation to look inward as to what they can produce in order to generate enough revenues to run their governments. Many states of the federation are indolent because of the sharing of crude oil money which they do not contribute to as stated in Section 162 (2) of the 1999 Constitution. Thus, with this provision in the 1999 Constitution, the states and local government councils receive allocations without generating revenues. This is why many states are vegetating and not viable. If the National Conference cannot seize this golden opportunity and correct this anomaly then many states will continue to remain indolent and unviable. Can this sharing system be sustained when the oil wells finally dry up as predicted?
The recommendation by the National Conference requesting the Federal Government to set aside five percent as National Intervention Fund for the rehabilitation of the ravaged states in the North-East is also worrisome. Will the states in the North-East continue to receive the five percent National Intervention Fund even after they might have been rehabilitated? If this fund is finally approved for the North-Eastern States, the N2.6 trillion demanded by the South-Eastern States as compensation and reparation for the destruction of lives and property they suffered during the Civil War should also be given to them. After all the South-Eastern States suffered more devastation than the North-Eastern States and what is sauce for the geese is also sauce for the gander. But the questions on the minds of most Nigerians are where will this money be derived for this purpose? How long will the states in the South-South geopolitical zone bear the harsh burden of providing the revenues with which this country is run?
It is more disturbing that the National Conference that could not agree on a new derivation formula however recommended the creation of 19 new states! How then do the members of the National Conference expect the proposed 19 new states to survive? With 19 additional governors, state assemblies, numerous local government councils, senators, members of the House of Representatives, commissioners, ministers, chairmen of boards and agencies, ambassadors etc. where will the money be derived to run the new states without stimulating competition among them? Or, will the proposed 19 new states continue with the sharing spree that has kept the country near stagnant over the years? Even the present 36 states structure is difficult to maintain due to inadequate funds occasioned by the sharing system that does not promote competition among the states. If derivation will not be upped to 50 percent or more to stimulate competition among the federating states as it was in the First Republic, no new state should be created as that will amount to more devastating pressure on the Niger Delta region from which the revenues with which the country is run is derived.
The National Conference also rejected a unicameral legislature which would have reduced the exorbitant cost of governance in the country. There is no belabouring the fact that the country cannot continue with the bicameral legislature as it is simply too expensive to operate. At a time when other nations are deliberately reducing the high cost of governance by scrapping the bicameral legislature for a unicameral type as demonstrated by Malawi, Senegal etc. it will not be undesirable to emulate these countries that have taken this practical step. Another alarming outcome of the National Conference is that it could not take a stand on the abolition of the Land Use Act that has brought more pains than good to Nigerians as the delegates from the northern part of the country want the status quo to remain. This is unacceptable to Nigerians; the Land Use Act should be revoked to enable Nigerians have land titles with which they can access bank loans.
The recommendation by the National Conference to create state police will definitely be injurious to the corporate coexistence of Nigerians. Do the states have the capacity to fund state police? I foresee the proposed state police becoming state universities, polytechnics and colleges of education that embark on strike regularly and dragging the federal government into a problem it did not create simply because the states cannot fund them adequately. The fear of this writer on state police is that it will create more chaos for the country than good as members of the state police will no doubt take side with their indigenes against non-indigenes during crisis periods. State police will become a tool for oppression, victimisation and unprovoked killings of non-indigenes during crisis period. ‘
Another shocking recommendation by the National Conference is the abandonment of the current national anthem for the old one. But is national anthem the major problem that is confronting this country? There are more contentious problems confronting the country that deserve the attention of the National Conference than the national anthem. The recommendation to scrap the local government from the constitution and to place it under the states is ill-advised. At a time Nigerians want devolution of power from the central, why should the states have more powers? What Nigerians want is that state should create local government councils on the demand of the people but they must not be the yardstick for revenue sharing. So, states can create as many local government councils as they desire but they should be constitutionalized. Some Nigerians say a federation cannot have more than two tiers of government but this is a fallacy as a federation can have three or four tiers of government-federal, state, local government and ward. There is no law that restrict a federation to only two tiers of government-federal and state. If the people desire four tiers of government so be it.
The failure of the National Conference to recommend the abolition of the Land Use Act is pathetic. That the National Conference could not increase derivation from 13 percent to 50 percent which could have stimulated competition among the states is also regrettable. The recommendation by the National Conference to create state police will definitely cause more havocs than good for the country. Some of the recommendations by the National Conference if constitutionalised will promote chaos in the country and should never be enshrined in the proposed new constitution. From all indications, the National Conference is a monumental failure as it could not meet the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians.