Hopes that the recommendations of the 2014 Constitutional Conference could be accepted by the Federal Government to provide solutions to the myriads of problems plaguing the Nigerian nation, were raised last week when the Senate requested the presidency to submit the reports of the confab to the upper chamber “for legislative action.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, in what was seen as fallout of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s opposition to the convocation of the conference during the preparations for the 2015 general elections, was reported to have said that the reports were only fit for the archives.
The then opposition APC had alleged that former President Goodluck Jonathan and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) only wanted to use the conference as a diversionary tactic to shift attention from the failures of the administration and seek the favour of Nigerians clamouring for a restructuring of the federation.
While the move may have provided added political advantage for the Jonathan administration which was able to draw the sympathy of many Nigerians especially the old breed politicians who are always in the forefront in the quest for true federalism, the polity was also provided an opportunity of representatives of diverse political, economic and social interests sitting down to chart a new course for the country.
For about three months, 492 delegates met and discussed identified obstacles to national development and reasons for ethnic agitation and came out with almost 600 recommendations that charted a new course of nationhood for the country.
Several far-reaching decisions were taken on resource control, revenue allocation, judicial and legislative systems, states creation, local government administration, security challenges, structure of government and many other socio-economic and political challenges to move the country forward and strengthen the nation’s weak bond of unity.
Although the APC was against the conference, obviously because it didn’t want to confer any legitimacy or capability on the PDP, several of its key leaders were known to be strong advocates of restructuring and true federalism, two of the basic elements that the conference set out to address.
Recently, the duo of the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Lagos governor and national leader of the APC and Abubakar Atiku, former Vice-President, added their voices to the now strident call for restructuring of the federation although they were not specific on the adoption of the 2014 conference for the way forward.
While asking the presidency for the reports, Deputy-Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session, said the request was imperative because the submission made by Jonathan to the 7th Senate had lapsed.
Although the last session of the National Assembly had copies of the reports, the political environment at the twilight of Jonathan administration when the conference was convoked, was clearly antagonistic as many politicians, even from within the ruling party, were united in their resolution to prevent the president from having a second term.
While the conspiracy of the elite, mutual distrust, selfish politicking and insincerity may have been responsible for throwing the baby away with the bathwater in the rejection, the unimpressive acceptance and lack of political will to implement the confab reports, the change in the socio-political and economic landscape has made its recognition imperative.
In the last two years, increased ethnic agitations, economic challenges in the failure of the state to provide the most basic necessities of life and increased insecurity in the spate of herdsmen attacks and communal clashes in almost all the states of the federation, have once again raised questions about the desirability of a country where the unity of ethnic nationalities is a rare commodity.
The delicate fabric of unity was stretched to the limit with the call of secession by separatist groups in the Southeast who were crying of regional marginalization, the sit-at-home protest against the state by sympathizers of separatist groups in the Igbo heartland and subsequent quit order handed by some northern youth groups on Southeasterners to leave the north before October 1, Nigeria’s Independence Day.
The matter was made worst by a counter quit order by some militants groups in the Niger Delta region on northerners with the deadline also put as October 1, a date that should serve as a rallying point to celebrate national harmony and peaceful co-existence rather than disunity and threats of bloodshed.
AS the foundation of Nigerian nationhood continues to be assaulted from several fronts, pushing the country towards political disintegration, the Senate, being the body that holds the sovereignty of the people as direct representative of the population, may have found in the conference reports, the only panacea to save the country from crumbling.
Expectedly, the Senate request, which many see as a way to create a confluence for the nations rivers of unity that are flowing in several uncoordinated directions, is generating positive responses and raising hopes that all may not have been lost after all.
Several of the delegates who participated in the conference have commended the Senate for the move and expressed the hope that the upper chamber would handle the issue with the seriousness that it deserves to save the country.
One of them, Otunba Gani Adams, the National Coordinator of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) said the Senate decision “was a demonstration of true leadership and commitment to the growth and development of the country, which the generation unborn would remember them for if implemented.
“Every delegate to the conference would feel fulfilled by the Senators’ decision. Those who wanted the progress of Nigeria would be happy because the implementation of the 2014 conference reports is the only way through which secession could be stopped.
“I can say without fear that unless the country takes the step towards implementing the conference report, I cannot guarantee the continuity of Nigeria in the next five years.”
Another delegate, Dr. Kunle Olajide of the Yoruba Unity Front (YUF) said of the Senate decision, “It is better late than never. The over 600 recommendations arrived at the 2014 Conference would lead to proper restructuring and better reformation of the Nigeria system if implemented.
“The composition of the conference membership was the best for the country. Apart from the few nominations of elders by the government, the entire sectors and sections of the country were well represented by quality, responsible, committed and tested people and it was by far superior to any electoral process in the country.
“We arrived at the resolutions without rancour and distrust. I am not in doubt at all that if we refer to the resolutions, Nigeria would be better otherwise we would continue to take one step forward and 10 backwards. There is no way we could have run away from the report of the conference.”
In his reaction, another delegate from the South-South geo-political zone, Tony Nyiam, a retired Colonel, also commended the senate for the decision, saying it was a welcome development that would led to expected reformation and restructuring of the country, if properly implemented.
According to him, “What the Senate had done was a sign of responsible leadership that is ready to listen to the yawning of its people. There is no way Nigeria could have run away from the recommendations of the conference due to the myriads of challenges confronting it on daily basis.”
He noted that several previous efforts to address issues facing the country since the 1966 military incursion into politics and distortion of the federal system have not yielded the expected result “rather the country is continually being plunged into more crisis. But for the senate to think in this direction shows that some elements that were initially against the agitation to restructure Nigeria are now beginning to see reason why it should be done.”
The National Secretary of National Summit Group (NSG), Tony Uranta who was also a delegate at the conference said, “There could be nothing better than what the Senate had done by demanding for the resubmission of the 2014 Conference reports to it for legislative purposes.”
He urged Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo to ensure that government adopts the recommendations saying, “This is a point in time when we really want to know who is in charge of government, adopts the recommendations We expect the Acting President to wake up to his responsibilities, otherwise we would rescind our fate that a fascist government is in place.”
The Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural group that had been advocating for true federalism for a long time, Yinka Odumakin said the country is at present on the edge of precipice and that “we can only hope they are serious about it and not that they are playing games to just douse tension.
“If they do the right thing which Nigerians have been expecting them to do all along, all of us will benefit tremendously from a prosperous and peaceful country that the confab, through the recommendations, designed Nigeria to be.
“We can only hope that the step towards redeeming the country from the myriad of problems that had plagued us since the years of independence, has been taken by the current Senate.”
Another delegate and General Overseer of Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare, like Odumakin, also commented with a tinge of pessimism when he said, “It was a good step but I wonder if the Senate is not playing to the gallery. In the first instance, the report was submitted to the National Assembly, which didn’t do anything. But if it deemed it right to act on it now, my take is everything that this country needed to be reformed and reorganize are embedded in the 2014 Conference recommendations.”
Another prominent Nigerian and National Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralph Nwosu said the Senate “must have finally woken up to its responsibilities as we look up to the executive arm to do the needful in regard to the subject in discussion.
“The fact that the Senate made such demand was an indication it must have seen where Nigeria is heading and it is now ready to lead by example. The present situation of Nigeria, where separatist groups are beginning to threaten the foundation of the country necessitated that any reasonable person would think deeply on how to save its soul. The country is currently at a point of dissonance.”
However, a political analyst and former National Chairman of the defunct National Transformation Party (NTP), Emmanuel Mok said it is good to commend the Senate on one hand and on the other, query the sincerity of the upper chamber because of its antecedents.
He asked, “Could it have been that the Senate, which has majority northern members, is now pushed to the wall because of the Arewa Youths ultimatum? Could it also be that some elements in the Senate are trying to use the development to play politics ahead of the 2019 elections, like Jonathan was accused that he simply intended to use the 2014 parley to gain popularity just a year to the 2015 elections?”
Mok further cautioned Nigerians particularly those from the South not to fall for the development referring to the way and manner the North used its numerical strength in the National Assembly to eventually whittled Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which it withheld for years.
According to him, “I would rather suggest that the 2014 recommendation be subjected to a referendum instead of going to the Senate otherwise I see no way some of the cogent aspects of the recommendations would not be tampered with.”
For the Senate to ride the wave of pessimism in its handling of the matter, observers urged the senior lawmakers to have a time-line for the submission and subsequent deliberations so that Nigerians will not wait in vain to see the steps being taken to arrive at proper nationhood.
Only two days ago, leaders drawn from the three southern geo-political zones gathered in Lagos and declared that “the cry for self-determination will continue unabated and become much more strident unless the Federal Government sincerely address the issues of restructuring of Nigeria.”
In a communiqué signed at the end of the parley hosted by Afenifere chieftain, Ayo Adebanjo by the trio of Adebanjo who was also a 2014 Conference delegate for the Southwest, former Chief of General Staff, Ebitu Ukiwe for the Southeast and Albert Horsefall for the South-South, the leaders said, “We affirm and resolve in the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference aimed at complete transformation and restructuring of our country and to build and confederate Nigeria unity through peaceful and harmonious unity, progress and genuine development.
“We want concrete steps taken on the implementation of 2014 National Conference Report before 1st October 2017,” as it concluded on the resolve to reawaken once more the spirit of friendship and mutual respect among its people and extol common determination to pursue peace, progress and enhance the continued existence of Nigeria.”