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Restructuring: 2014 National Conference to the rescue?

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Muhammadu Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

The word restructuring is fast becoming the most commonly used in the polity right now. It is on the lips of everyone, as the clamour for a review of the country’s superstructure intensifies. But the Senate took what appears a practical step forward in June when it called for the report of the 2014 National Conference. Will the implementation of the report douse the tense atmosphere in the polity? Associate Editor, TAIWO ADISA, examines some key aspects of the report in the wake of the Senate’s interest.

 

ON June 14, 2017, the Senate of the Federal Republic responded to the growing tension in the polity by debating a motion jointly sponsored by all the Senators.  Such only happened on critical instances, when the lawmakers take on the statesman-like role of speaking with one voice.

The motion, presented by Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, indicated that the chamber cannot keep watch while threats of disintegration was rife in the polity. The motion came on the heels of the October 1, 2017 quit notice issued by some Arewa Youth groups to Igbos living in the North. That threat had been followed by lots of condemnations and support, with some leaders noticeably adopting doublespeak.

Senator Lawan in the motion entitled: “The need for National Unity and Peaceful coexistence in Nigeria” told the Senate “this is the time to show leadership,” adding that the rising ethnic tension in the polity was undesirable.

But the additional prayers to the motion really carried the day. Senator Mao Ohuanbunwa raised an amendment to the prayers by asking the Senateto demand for the report of the 2014 National Conference. His position was seconded by former Governor of Kebbi State, Senator Adamu Aliero.

Senator Ohuabunwa, who spoke on the need for restructuring, while contributing to the widely accepted motion said that the chamber needs to ensure dialogue, and the implementation of the 2014 confab report.

While seconding that additional prayer, Senator Adamu Aliero and a former governor of Plateau state, Senator Jonah Jang asked the leadership of the Senate to immediately take steps to request for the report of the 2014 National Conference. The duo said that the Senate must commence work on the report immediately.

Aliero specifically said: “In 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan brought people from every ethnic nationality together in Abuja in what was called the National Conference. It was chaired by Justice Legbo Kutigi. The participants came up with beautiful recommendations.

“This is the time to implement those recommendations. The Senate should demand for the outcome of that conference and find a way to implement them. That is the solution to these ethnic agitations. The outcome of the conference should be tabled for discussion.

“We cannot continue to lie to ourselves. Many people who are speaking here will go out and support something else. They do not practise what they preach. We cannot continue to live like this. Things must change for the better.”

Senator Jang, in supporting that view, declared that the Senate must recognise the confab report and act upon it with dispatch.

He said: “I want to align with what Senator Aliero said. I remember that the Seventh Senate said it did not recognise the National Conference because they were the true representatives of the people.

“I think this is the time for the report of that conference to be debated. So many useful decisions were reached. We need to debate those recommendations and see how they can address the issues coming up now.”

Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the sitting, however, told the Senate that the 7th Senate could not do much on the confab report because former President Goodluck Jonathan forwarded it to the Assembly one week before the expiration of the Seventh Assembly in 2015.

Ekweremadu said: “To be fair, the report was sent to us in the Seventh Assembly by President Jonathan. But it was sent just one week before the end of that Assembly. There was nothing we could have done.”

In his closing remarks, Ekweremadu said that that the Senate had spoken with one voice on the motion adding: “This is not the time to look at ourselves as blacks or whites or those right and wrong. I want to call for restraints from all sides so that we can have an egalitarian society.

“This is the time to show leadership. This is not the time to leave the leadership of this country for some people. We must guide this country. Within our laws, we have sufficient laws to guide our conducts. This is the time for the government to come and apply those laws against those making unguarded statements.”

He said almost rhetorically but in line with legislative tradition of placing things on record: “By this motion, you are saying the President should forward the report again to the National Assembly for deliberations?” the chamber chorused in a loud ‘aye’

And as Ekweremadu lowered the gavel in confirmation of the positive answer, Nigerians outside the chamber hailed the historic move.

Leader of the Forum of National Conference Delegates, which is agitating for the implementation of the Conference report, Dr. John Dara, said that the forum would not wait for too long before forwarding copies of the report to the National Assembly.

“I can assure you that the National Assembly would not wait for too long before they receive the report from the Forum,” Dara said, adding that the Forum had earlier decided to meet the leadership and members of the two chambers of the Assembly to facilitate a debate of the confab report. Several other groups including the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo and a number of Middle Belt groups also praised the lawmakers for taking the decision to look at the conference report.

But can the report of the 2014 National Conference really save the country the widespread agitations and ethnic tension? The answer could come in the affirmative, especially as the issues are right now coalescing on the front of restructuring.

 

Restructuring: one word many interpretations

As the word restructuring gained currency among the political class so also the height of confusion over its real intendments.  Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, said in a television interview last week that different categories of Nigerians are using the word for different purposes. He said that some were using it for selfish and mischievous purposes, while others were the few who really believes in it.

National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, also re-echoed the statement earlier credited to Information Minister, Lai Mohammed  that restructuring was not the priority of the incumbent administration.

But Southern leaders and opinion molders have continued to insist on the need for restructuring to safeguard the unity of the country. At least two critical and well-attended meetings of the leaders in recent weeks have restated the need to restructure Nigeria.

The United Kingdom’s chapter of Afenifere in a recent statement challenged the APC to make its position clear on the restructuring debate.

In a communique made public after a meeting in London, the chapter said that the APC actually campaigned in the build-up to 2015 election with restructuring as a slogan.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo

The communique read in part: “The meeting equally noted that it appears the APC leaders in the South West have reneged on their promise of restructuring in 2015. Did our political leaders in APC do us 419 in 2015 when they came seeking our votes when they know that our demand for restructuring which is clearly in their manifesto will not be met?

“When the APC came calling in the South-West in 2015, their promise read as follows: ‘As a change agent, APC intends to cleanse our closet to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state, with a conscious plan for post oil economy in Nigeria. To achieve this laudable programme, APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units with the best practices of federalism and eliminate all the unintended paralysis of the centre.’

“We wonder how many of our people were sucked in by this promise and deceptive it has turned out to be. Will Obafemi Awolowo behave like this?”

Former military President, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida also threw his weight behind the restructuring campaign in a sallah message to Nigerians last week. Babangida, in the statement said the time to restructure Nigeria was now, adding that the government at the centre must ensure national unity.

He said: “Restructuring has become a national appeal as we speak, whose time has come. I will strongly advocate for devolution of powers to the extent that more responsibilities be given to the states while the Federal Government is vested with the responsibility to oversee our foreign policy, defence, and economy.

“Even the idea of having Federal Roads in towns and cities has become outdated and urgently needs revisiting. That means we need to tinker with our constitution to accommodate new thoughts that will strengthen our nationality.

“Restructuring and devolution of powers will certainly not provide all the answers to our developmental challenges; it will help to reposition our mindset as we generate new ideas and initiatives that would make our union worthwhile.”

Though IBB’s statement attempted to break the debate down to manageable size, the confusion still persist especially in the North as to what restructuring really means.

For instance, a former Governor of Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa described the idea of restructuring as “nebulous.”

Former Presidential Adviser, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai also asked for a blueprint on the idea of restructuring. According to him, apostles of restructuring must provide Nigerians the blueprint on how it will be implemented.

Former Minister of Health, Professor Nwosu, who commended Babangida for his current position on restructuring, said however that Nigeria has to agree on at least three things.

“There are three things we need to agree in order to arrive on what configuration a restructured Nigeria should be. Should it be the Federal Government with states as federating units?  Or should it be the Federal Government and the new super- structure (regions or zones) as federating units? We need to agree.

“We argued over these options in 1994/1995 Abacha Conference and we had a decision. We argued over it at the 2014 National Conference which I was a part of. It is important that we agree on that decision now and stop introducing confusing configurations. We must speak with one language on what constitutes federating units.”

He also stated that Nigerians needed to agree on the powers that must go from the centre to the federating units, from the Exclusive to concurrent lists.

Besides, he said that Nigeria needs to “do the restructuring arithmetic.” By determining the percentage of resources going to the states or regions and the Federal Government.

Nwosu said: “Everybody says the states as they are presently are not viable and they cannot be viable because the Federal Government has pocketed the entire money by collecting over 50 per cent of national revenue.

“The Federal Government should not have more than 35 per cent of national revenue and the balance should go to the federating units. If that happens, the federating units will be very viable whether they are states or regions.

“So we have to really do the arithmetic to determine what percentage of national revenue will go for things such as derivation on minerals and other important functions.”

 

2014 national conference to the rescue?

The final report of the 2014 National Conference attempted to break down key issues in the polity.In an attempt to tackle the perennial problems in the polity, the Conference broke restructuring down into fiscal, political and social segments.

In tracing the challenges of the past efforts, the confab report indicated that the National Political Reforms Conference (NPRC) of 2005 organised by former President Olusegun   because “it had to adjourn sine die as a result of some irreconcilable issues, such as revenue sharing and introduction of a clause for a third term as against the usual two terms allowed by the 1979, 1989 and 1999 Constitutions.”

Former President Goodluck Jonathan had in his independence address in 2013 announced the determination of his government to organise the National Conference with the setting up of the Senator Femi Okurounmu-led 12-member Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue

The 492 delegates to the conference was inaugurated on March 17, 2014 by President Jonathan after the announcement of the six-member management team. It was headed by Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi as Chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi as Deputy Chairman and Dr.(Mrs.) Valerie-Janette Azinge as Secretary. Here are some of the key issues raised in the final report and recommendations of the conference.

 

Devolution of powers

The conference noted that the structural composition of Nigeria’s federal system has increasingly come under critical scrutiny leading to agitations for a review of the legislative lists allotted to the tiers of government. It noted that the general opinion favour reducing the legislative powers at the federal level and devolving same to the federating units.

The report stated: “As conceived, the problem is that there is an over-concentration of power at the centre to the detriment of the federating units of the country. A skewed power arrangement in favour of the federal government has greatly resulted in bloated administrative machinery at the centre; with a disconnect between the centre and its developmental policies and the intended recipients at the grass roots.”

It submitted that the “huge attraction” to the centre has exacerbated the problems of unconscionable socio-economic and political manipulations and corruption.

 

Fiscal federalism: revenue sharing, resource control and sharing formula

The Conference report defines Fiscal Federalism, one of the contentious aspects of restructuring as measures by which “revenues are generated and distributed among the federating units in a Federation.”

The report noted that the present situation in the country which the

Constitution empowers the Federal Government to determine the terms and manner of revenue allocation is generally regarded as a negation of the principles of fiscal federalism.

It therefore recommends that the sharing of the funds accruing to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government, should be done in the following manner:

  1. Federal Government- 42.5%

ii.State Governments- 35%

iii. Local Governments- 22.5%

The above will replace the existing formula which stands at:

  1. Federal Government-52.68%

ii.State Governments-26.72%

iii.Local Governments-20.60%.

While the conference recommends that Local Government Areas should be stripped of their status as the third tier of public administration, it failed to recommend whether the councils be deleted from the revenue sharing formula.

Anyaoku

Other fiscal restructuring proposed by the conference include: “That the percentages given to Population and Equality of States in the existing Sharing formula be reduced while that assigned to Social Development Factor be increased to a much higher percentage so as to ensure accelerated development of all parts of the country.”

It also recommended that the “technical” aspects and details of revenue sharing formula be referred to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission and the National Assembly for final determination.

 

Resource control

This is another critical aspect of the restructuring debate tackled by the conference. The report indicated thus:

“Having critically examined the issues in contention, Conference recognises the need to:

  1. Review the percentage of revenue allocation to States producing oil (and other resources);
  2. Reconstruct and rehabilitate areas affected by problems of insurgency and internal conflicts; and
  3. Diversify the Nigerian economy by fast-tracking the development of the solid minerals sector.

“The Conference also notes that assigning percentages 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 sometechnical details and considerations; and

Conference therefore recommends that Government should set up a Technical Committee to determine the appropriate percentages on the three (3) issues and advise government accordingly.”

 

Establishment of a special fund for the development of mineral resources

The Conference decided that the Constitution should guarantee the establishment of a Special Fund for the development of mineral resources in the country. It stated that a competent body be established to administer the Fund,

 

Sovereign wealth fund

The Conference recommends that the Sovereign Wealth Fund which is currently operating as Nigeria Sovereign Investment

Authority (NSIA), be enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

 

Power sharing/rotation:

The Conference recommends that presidential power should rotate between the North and the South and among the six geopolitical zones while the governorship of the state should rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.

 

Part -time legislature:

The Conference recommends a Bi-cameral legislature which it said would operate on a part-time basis

 

Forms of government:

The Conference also recommends a Modified Presidential System of government which will ensure that the President picks the Vice – President from the legislature. He will also be expected to name not more than 18 ministers from the six geopolitical zones and not more than 30 per cent of his Ministers from outside the Legislature to reduce the cost of governance.

 

Independent candidacy:

The conference also recommends that Nigerians should be free to contest elections as Independent candidates.

 

Immunity clause:

One other key recommendation that could shake the polity if implemented is removal of immunity clause for executive office holders.

 

Religion:

On the social front, the Conference recommends that government will no longer sponsor religious activities, including Christian and Muslim pilgrimages, while churches and mosques should begin to pay tax to government.

 

Creation of 18 new states:

The Conference recommends the creation of additional 18 states at three states from each of the six geopolitical zones. One more state is to be created from the South-East to bring it at par with most of the other zones.

 

Agricultural Restructuring

The Conference adduced options to tackle the perennial conflict between herdsmen and farmers, leading to widespread attacks by herdsmen across the country.

It recommended thus: “In the long term cattle routes and grazing reserves be phased out to lay emphasis on ranching. Cattle rustling is however a disincentive to ranching and must be brought under control by better policing. In the meantime, States which have large livestock populations should endeavour to maintain grazing reserves; and (b)The traditional institutions should be primarily responsible for the conflict resolution between the Herdsmen and Farmers, and also their respective Associations where resolutions has failed, then the

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Centre should be their last resort.”

There should not be a debate as to the fact that the 2014 Conference undertook an extensive work on the challenges of Nigerian polity. Though the report did not claim to be all-knowing, as it left some windows for further technical works on resource control and local government management, the fact remains that it has reached a great depth in seeking solutions to Nigeria’s quest for a restructured polity.

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