Wednesday, 8 October 2014

National Conference: The status quo remains

                                      Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi

The desire of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to send the resolutions and recommendations of the defunct National Conference to the National Assembly for further deliberations and ratification will definitely retain the country in the same status quo. To take the recommendations of the National Conference to the National Assembly will in no doubt erode some of good recommendations taken by the National Conference. Though the delegates to defunct National Conference did not meet the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians, they took certain resolutions if adopted into the envisioned new constitution will put the country in a right footing.
All this will indeed be jettisoned if they are taken to the National Assembly as promised by Mr. President. To subject these recommendations to the National Assembly for ratification will confer on the legislators the status of a judge in their own case. No judge determines a case to his condemnation. Thus, the National Assembly will not adopt some of the recommendations that will affect them directly or indirectly. If the members of the National Assembly could to fashion a new, acceptable and workable constitution would there have been any need to convey a National Conference to discuss the modalities for a new constitution? If Nigerians had confidence in the ability of the National Assembly to give the country a new constitution, why was the National Conference constituted and N7 billion expended on it?
 For instance, how does President Jonathan expect the members of the National Assembly to adopt the recommendation that will compel them to operate on part time and be entitled to only sitting allowance? Will the legislators agree to operate on part time and forfeit their gargantuan salary and constituency allowances? Though, at the moment, the National Assembly sits only 180 days of the 365 days in a year and use the remaining 185 days for their private businesses, yet they claim to be operating on full time! Therefore, they sit for only six months in a year and spend the remaining six months in their businesses but enjoy all the benefits as if they operate on full time. This is strange! How many Nigerians apart from the members of the National Assembly work for only six months in a year and spend the remaining six months in their personal businesses?
Furthermore, before the National Conference began, Nigerians proposed to the delegates that they should ensure to make politics less attractive as politics provoke tensions in the land owing to the huge financial benefits involved. It was suggested that the salary and allowances of elected and political office holders should equate those of civil servants; that is they should be on grade levels. It was thought, this would discourage greedy persons from contesting elective offices and also reduce tensions since there will be no longer be easy money to make from such offices. But the National Conference did not touch this all important aspect of the Nigerian body polity! Now, politics in the country will remain business as usual since there are no meaningful changes to the Nigerian polity before and after the National Conference. This is sad nonetheless. 
The National Conference could not agree to expunge from our statue books the repressive Land Use Decree No 6 of 1978 which empowers the government to control all lands in the country! This law has rendered the ordinary Nigerians who are the true owners of the lands to tenants in their own country while government officials thereafter convert their lands to private property under the guise of wanting to use them for development and public good! Examples of such abound all over the country as serving and former political leaders confiscated millions of lands that hitherto belonged to the aboriginals! This is the reason why ordinary Nigerians do not have land titles with which they can obtain loans from banks to set up cottage industries! Any constitution that retains The Land Use Decree No 6 of 1978 is not the people’s constitution and will not be acceptable to the people.
The defunct National Conference failed to touch the major things that engender confusion and acrimonies in the country one of them is derivation. No doubt, derivation is the most daunting issue confronting the country at the moment. The National Conference could not take a unanimous decision on derivation as delegates from the South proposed the increase in derivation from 13 % to 18% but delegates from the North opposed this suggestion as they maintained the status quo of 13% derivation. Thus, the defunct National Conference asked President Jonathan to set up a committee to look dispassionately on this all important issue and take a decision on it. If the National Conference could not adopt a new derivation formula for the country is it a committee that will be able to do that? Again, having spent N7 billion on the National Conference, will it be wise to expend another sum of money on a committee that will look at derivation? Why couldn’t the National Conference take a consensus on derivation?
 The National Conference couldn’t arrive at a new derivation formula simply because many states in the country are not producing anything. If all the states were producing something, wouldn’t all the delegates had agreed on an acceptable derivation of say 50% or more as it was in the First Republic? Additionally, if all the states were producing something, will they concede 87% derivation to the Federal Government while they get only 13% of their wealth? It is simply because the states are not producing anything that is why they are against the increase in derivation! Two vital questions plague the minds of discerning Nigerians. First, how long can we continue to delude ourselves? Second, is this current derivation sustainable and can it provoke competition among the states? In a situation where some states will do nothing but go to Abuja at the end of every month and collect allocation will not encourage competition among the states.
The National Conference also failed to expunge the major albatross to the growth of the economy of this country such as the draconian Petroleum Act of 1990. The Petroleum Act goes thus: “An Act to provide for the exploration of petroleum from the territorial waters and the continental shelf of Nigeria and vest the ownership of, and all on-shore and off-shore revenue from petroleum resources derivable therefrom in the Federal Government and for all other matter incidental thereto”. This Act entrust the sole right to explore and exploit petroleum to the Federal Government even though the Federal Government does not own land or waters except the Federal Capital Territory; all other lands and body of waters belong to the states. Thus, National Conference should have recommended repeal of this obnoxious law to allow the states explore and exploit their oil and gas so they can generate their revenues!
 Likewise, the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007: “The entire property in and control of all mineral resources in, under or upon any land in Nigeria, its contiguous continental shelf and all rivers, streams and watercourses throughout Nigeria, any area covered by its territorial waters or constituency and the Exclusive Economic Zone is and shall be vested in the Government of the Federation for and on behalf of the people of Nigeria”. This is another law that has hinders the progress of the states over the years. This strangulating Act of 2007 should not be enshrined in the new constitution that Nigerians envisaged. Though, the defunct National Conference recommended the states should control their resources but the delegates did not propose the expulsion of the Petroleum Act of 1990 and the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 from our statue books. And without repealing these two Acts from our statue books; there will never be resources control. How will there be resource control if these two laws remain in our statue books since they prevent the states from exploring and exploiting petroleum and other minerals in their states?
In addition, the National Conference couldn’t recommend the building of national interest and national consciousness. This could have deemphasized ethnicity, religion and regionalism through the scrapping from all official documents: state of origin, religion and ethnicity. These are the factors that have kept us divided over the years and as longer as these factors remain with us it is apparent that there can never be unity of purpose among Nigerians with which they can pursue a common goal.
Above all, the greatest undoing of the National Conference is the willingness of President Jonathan to subject the recommendations of the National Conference to the National Assembly for ratification! To allow the National Assembly ratify the recommendations of the National Conference will undoubtedly be an exercise in futility as nothing positive will emanate from it. If Nigerians had confidence in the ability of the National Assembly to give the country a new constitution, why was the National Conference constituted and N7 billion expended on it? President Jonathan should never take the recommendations from the National Conference to the National Assembly for ratification as this will amount to exercise in futility. Nigerians do not have confidence in the National Assembly as the legislators do not have the integrity and honesty to give us a workable constitution. The recommendations from the National Conference should be subjected to a referendum rather than the National Assembly.

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