NIGERIA: Discussion Continues on Critical National Issues

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Chuks Okocha and Onyebuchi Ezigbo look at the lobbying and horse-trading taking place at the national conference as the delegates continue deliberation on key national issues

In continuation to debates of the Committees’ report of the National Conference Political Restructuring and Forms of Government, delegates on Thursday resolved that the office of the President shall rotate  between the North and South and among the geopolitical zones.  Also agreed was that the office of the state governors shall be rotated among the three senatorial districts of each state while that of the local government chairmen shall to be rotated within the local government areas. Similarly, local government councils  chairman shall rotate among the various communities under the council area. It however rejected the adoption of a parliamentary system of government and a bicameral legislature.
As a means further entrenching democracy in the grassroots, delegates voted that henceforth any local government council without democratically elected officials  shall not be recognized by all authorities and persons and would not be entitled to any revenue allocation from the Federation Account or the Account of the State Government or exercise any function exercisable by local government councils.However, the national conference rejected the recommendation for a single tenure of six years for the office of the President. It recommended that in the event of  death of the President, that the Vice President shall only act for 90 days to be followed an election to chose the substantive president.

During the week, the conference delegates approved the recommendation that there shall be a referendum for states wishing to merge to be based on 75 percent approval of affirmation and also that the National Assembly shall approve the merger of states with a simple majority, but the merged states shall not exist as a region.  It further recommended that states that decide to demerge should follow the same process. It rejected a recommendation for six year tenure for President and a local government council that is not democratically elected shall not be recognized and entitled for funds and recommends three year tenure of office for the local government elected officers.
It recommended that the armed forces should be recognized along the geo political zones, but ruled that states should be allowed to have their own constitution. It recommended fiscal federalism for the purpose of creating wealth and there is the need to enshrine the modalities for referendum and financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly. It recommended that the vehicles in any government officials be reduced by 80 percent.
Though deliberations on resource control would commence next week, the delegates rejected the control of a hundred percent resource control.

Additional State for South-east
Last Thursday was a day that delegates from the south east shown like a million stars as one of the major plank of their demand at conference was surprisingly voted in by a unanimous voice vote of delegates who saw the move as way assuaging the acknowledged injustice meted to the people of Igbo extraction. Delegates voted overwhelmingly on the proposal that each state of the federation should have its own constitution which of course would be subservient to the Federal Constitution.The report held that the creation of a state for the South East will bring the zone at par with other zones that have six. The recommendation of the committee which was amended by concerned delegates read, “In the spirit of reconciliation equity and Justice there shall be created an additional state for the South East Geo-Political zone”.
While agreeing that the Constitution should be amended to allow for less onerous process for state creation, Conference specifically approved the creation of an additional state for the South East zone, in the spirit of reconciliation, equity and justice.As soon as the unanimous decision was taken, the hall erupted in celebration as delegates from the South East went around shaking hands and thanking other delegates for their support.

In same vein, following the clamour by various sections of the country for the creation of more states to balance up the current structural imbalance, the conference approved a proposal for the creation of 18 new states from the existing ones.This is apart from the additional state from the southeast zone. The states recommended are, Apa state, kaninji, Katagum, Sarduna, Amana, Gorara, Ghari, Etiti, Savanna,  Ada, Adada, Njaba-Anim,  Anioma, Ogoja, Ijebu and  New Oyo  state. The new state to be created from the South south would be named later. It further recommended that creation of state should be less tedious.  Similarly, the conference endorsed the recommendation that subsequently any new state shall have a minimum of one million populations and that the viability of the new states must be ascertained in order to put undue pressure on the existing ones.
The former Speaker House of Representatives, Hon. Ghali Umar Na’ Abbah has said that the overwhelming support received by the recommendation for the creation of additional state for South East zone was based on merit.
Yesterday’s conference plenary witnessed lost tempers as a Delegate Alhaji Dambata Magagi from Kano state,  during his contribution to the debate used the uncomplimentary phrase, ‘ the so-called South East’ to refer to the Igbo delegates.
Contributing to the debate, the delegate from Kano representing Federal Legislatures’ Forum, Na’abbah said the urgent execution of the recommendation for a new state in the south east will help address the imbalances in the zones.  He  requested that the National Assembly should expedite action towards it’s creation to enhance the much needed reconciliation.

While supporting the additional State for the South East zone, delegate representing South East Zone and the Leader of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, who said that it will be in the interest of unity and national reconciliation for one state to be given to the zone.
The Ohanaeze Chieftain further stressed the need to create more states for each zone to bring the total number of state for each geo-political to nine making the country a federation of 54 states. The Former Secretary of the Government of the Federation and an Afenifere Chieftain, Chief Olu Falaye while supporting the proposal  told those who hold the view that South East was dashed a state should have a rethink, saying that all the states in nigeria were dashed by the military. But maintained that it was unfortunate that South East was not dashed the same way others got.  He urged the delegates to always be their brother’s keepers.”We should be our brother’s keeper, you and I know that the military dashed states to all of us and forget to dash south east in equal measure. So, what is wrong in the conference dashing one to south east to correct the imbalance” the Ondo State born politician said.
However, when the recommendation was put to vote by the Vice-Chairman of the conference, Proff. Bolaji Akinyemi delegates passed it  with a resounding voice vote,thus  approving the additional state.

Kano Delegate Forced to Retract Offensive Language
Delegate Alhaji Dambata Magagi from Kano State had during his contribution to the debate referred to the South-east as the “so called”.
However, it was a delegate from the North-west, Haruna Yerima, who first faulted the action of Magaji, admonishing him that the nationalist, late Sarduana of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello would have used the language.
An infuriated Ike Nwachukwu who reminded the delegates of his sacrifices during the civil war demanded an apology from a northern delegate for referring to the South East in a derogatory  manner.
To this end the chairman of the conference, Kutigi asked the delegate to withdraw his offending statement so that proceeding would continue. Magagi stood and instead of out rightly apologizing tried to defend his position, that it is because the zones were not recognized by the constitution but was shouted down by other delegates who insisted the he should formally withdraw his statement. At the stage Magaji got up and apologized to south east delegates, saying that he was sorry for using derogatory language.

Ghali Naaba  while intervening on the matter  urged the delegates to collaborate in order to be able to produce a good report, adding the kind of language emanating from some delegate does not augur  well for peace and harmony among the various entities. He said the conference should see reason and accept a comprise position for arriving at the end report of the conference.

Modified Presidential System
Conference also voted in favour of Modified Presidential of Government as recommended by the Committee; described as home-made model of government that combines the attributes of Parliamentary and Presidential systems. The concept is believed to have the potentials of entrenching the principle of Separation of Powers as practiced in presidential system and promotion of co-operation and harmony between executive and the legislature as operated under the parliamentary system.

Where the President dies in office, is incapacitated, impeached or where he resigns, Conference agreed that the Vice President shall operate in acting capacity for a period of 90 days during which an election to the same office would be conducted. This decision was taken because each zone is expected to run the full course of the constitutionally allowed tenure without undue disruption; and it was also agreed that based on the adopted zoning formula, when a president leaves under any of the circumstances stated above, another president would be elected from the same zone where the previous one came from.
The President elected under the new system shall exercise full responsibility for his government and shall select ministers, not more than 18 of them, from the six geo-political zones of the country.
It was agreed that henceforth, the Minister of Finance and no longer the President as presently obtained, would present the annual budget to the National Assembly. Under the new arrangement, both the President and the ministers would be expected to appear before the National Assembly to render account of their stewardship on quarterly basis.Conference also voted to retain the bicameral legislative system instead of the unicameral proposed by the Committee in its report.

Local Government Autonomy
As part of reforms of the local government administration, delegates approved the scrapping of Joint State and Local Government Accounts; to be replaced with a State Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The body would be expected to have as members, representatives of local government areas and a chairman nominated by the state governor for confirmation by the state House of Assembly.

In addition to the functions conferred on the local government councils as specified in the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended, a State House of Assembly may by law, confer other functions on the local government. Henceforth, and except otherwise overturned, Conference adopted a recommendation to confer financial autonomy on State Houses of Assembly as a way of freeing them from direct control by the executive.
Conference agreed that the Constitution shall fix the tenures for local government councils. It was also voted that for functionality, local government should be politically and economically independent.

Old National Anthem
Concerned about the decay in our present affairs,  delegates sought to re-awaken old nationalistic spirit by  recommending  that the Nigeria revert to the old national anthem. As soon as delegates voted in favour of old national anthem, the plenary erupted in frenzy with delegates all rising up on their feet and singing the old national anthem to the admiration of the conference leadership.

Reform of Political Parties and Electoral System
As part of its deliberations on the Committee report on Politics and Electoral Matters, the National Conference last week made some fundamental recommendations, which includes the recommendation that electronic voting shall commence in Nigeria after the 2015 general elections but rejected the recommendation that the swearing in date for elected officials should be reverted to October 1 instead of May 29
The conference also called for the scrapping of May 29 as Democracy Day.
To ensure a speedy resolution of electoral issues, the delegates mandated INEC to seek advice where necessary from the Supreme Court on complex electoral issues, instead of doing so from the court of first instance.

In a unanimous decision, it rejected the recommendation that political parties should be allowed to appoint the INEC chairman and not the president, while rejecting that woman shall be deputies to the president and governors. The conference rejected the introduction of Option A4 as well as the use of public funds for campaigns.  It further rejected that the primaries of political parties be conducted by INEC.

Qualification for elections for presidential and governorship election shall be university first degree or its equivalent, while university degree shall be the minimum qualification for local chairmen and councilors should be secondary school education, while State Houses of Assembly minimum qualification should be university degree and that INEC shall not have the powers to determine anything to the contrary. The conference reduced the age limit for the contest of the State House of Assembly to 25 years.

It adopted the recommendation that there shall be electoral debates among candidates before any election. INEC shall accredit the body for the debate and it shall be mandatory for election debates for the presidential candidates. The conference rejected that a statutory grant be given to the body that would organise the presidential debate. It also rejected a two-party system with independent candidate, while recommending that efforts should be made to demilitarise elections in the country. According to the delegates, in the case of a run-off election for presidential elections, the conference approved a single highest majority of votes in the highest number of states or 25 per cent in the highest number of states; the second candidate for the runoff is the person who has the second highest number of votes with spread. It also said that all elected officers of the political parties involved in mergers of political parties should be allowed to retain their elected offices.

The conference approved the recommendation that the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) should be scrapped and the local government elections duties should remain in the exclusive list and its duties performed by INEC. The conference rejected the recommendation that any party that fields any unqualified candidate shall be imposed a fine according to the election in question, for instance, for federal election the fine is N5 million, while for state election, the fine is N3 million, while one million is for local government candidate. The conference adopted the recommendation that when a candidate dies, disqualified or withdraws before election, the party shall submit the name of the candidate that came second in the primary election. It further said that no candidate should be rejected till all litigations are concluded.It adopted that any candidate that aspires for any election must be a registered voter. It further adopted the recommendation that appeals should be filed within 21 days as contained in the Electoral Act as amended.

On party democracy, the conference adopted the recommendations that consensus arrangements in political parties should be discouraged and urged parties to insist on elections to arrive at the choice of its candidates in a democratic manner. The conference rejected the recommendation that no member of any political party shall concurrently hold any position in government, including board membership and political party. On INEC secretary, the conference adopted the recommendation that the person shall hold office for a period of four years and is renewable, while rejecting six years tenure for the INEC chairman. It adopted the recommendation that the electoral laws should be strengthened to monitor party conventions and congresses.  It further adopted that Nigeria should retain a multi-party system, while calling for a continuous voter registration.The delegates recommended for a law regulating campaigns and campaign funding.

Also, the delegates recommended that when an elected officer is found to have presented fraudulent documents, the person should be disqualified and the second runner up should take over and be sworn in, instead of conducting a fresh election. This, they said is to avoid what they termed as “unnecessary waste of public funds.” The conference recommended that any person removed from office due to fraudulent election should lose all privileges, while rejecting that all transaction of the political parties shall be through the new cashless policy of the federal government.mThe delegates called for the establishment of a Constitutional Court to address constitutional issues, instead of congesting the normal court with electoral issues.

Debates on the report of the conference committee on political parties and electoral reforms, had proceeded last week smoothly with most of the delegates laying emphasis on the need to strengthen the internal democratic structures of political parties as well as the country’s electoral system.
The report said members of the political parties should be given the opportunity to vote in order to confirm a consensus candidate rather than outright endorsement as is presently practiced by most political parties.

The report of Committee which was jointly  presented by the two co-chairmen, Senator Ken Nnamani and Senator Iyochua Ayo, recomended the retention of the existing muLti party system while at the same time making case for a constitutional provision to allow independent candidate participate in the elections. The report also sought an arrangement that will encourage  more women participation in the democratic process by waving fees charged on women aspirants. Similarly the aspect of the committee’s recommendations disapproving the use of consensus to select party’s candidates for elective offices received the support most delegates.

Other key recommendations contained in the committee’s report include proposals for no funding of political parties, strengthening of state independent Electoral Commission.  The report said there is need to promote  distinct party ideologies and to put mechanisms in place to ensure  party supremacy.
It said elected officials who carpet- crosses to another parties should loose their seats automatically.
As part of measures to curb electoral fraud, the committee recommends the creation of Political Parties and Electoral Commission to deal with issues arising from party registration and electoral malpractices.

It also sought for a provision for  drastic penalty against electoral offenders. In the same vein, the committee wants the Federal High Court renamed as Constitutional court to handle all issues relation fundamental human rights.
It said there should a constitutional provision that no elected official should be sworn in until all pending petitions are discharged.
While contributing to debate on the report of the committee, a delegate,mSenator Nimi Bariagha Amange, expressed support for a multiparty system, saying there should be an amendment to the effect that some of the parties can concentrate on areas of strength.  He opposed independent candidate saying since there are many parties and also proposed the scrapping of May 29 as it is of no national importance.

Another delegate, Ezenwa Nwagw spoke in support of independent candidate while stating the need to review the age limitations for contesting in an election. While supporting the committee’s recommendation on cross-carpeting of elected officials, a delegate representing Edo state, Prof. Eddy Aragbe said frequent swaps of party memberships causes instability which should be discouraged.  He also raised the issue of over militarization of our elections, saying that it does not augur well for democracy.

In his contribution Fola Adeola suggested that any person who have been relieved of his position by the court should be stripped of all rights and privileges accruable to the office.
Olabode George said he did not subscribe to the unbundling of INEC as it will create unnecessary financial burden, adding that the electoral offenses commission has a seasonal responsibility and should not be made a separate creation. Also Bashir Albasu said he disagreed with the aspect of the committee’s recommendations that suggested that political parties should merely seek to be registered by INEC and that the commission would not exercise powers of rejection of such application.

However, Buba Galadima objected to the setting up of an Electoral Offences Commission, saying that it will be used to witch hunt opposition candidates by the ruling party. He said the electoral processes should not be militarized.
Delegate, Bulama called for the amendment of section 85 of the  Electoral Act to provide that any  proceeding of the political party’s primaries not monitored by INEC should be cancelled.  Just as debates progressed, a former governor of Anambra state Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife took delegates down memory lane when he reminded that the designing the two party structure introduced under then President Ibrahim Babangida regime, was a product of a committee of eight permanent secretaries of which he was a key member.

APGA Delegates Takes Seat at Conference
At last the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) has taken up its vacant seat at the ongoing National Conference sitting in Abuja.
The National Chairman of the party, Chief Victor Umeh and it’s National Secretary, Alhaji Sanni Shinkafi made appearance at yesterday’s plenary during the presentation of the report of the Committee on Political Reforms.
Speaking in an interview with THISDAY shortly after conference sitting was adjourned, Umeh said he was happy to be at the conference to represent the party’s interest. He also said that the party welcomes the recommendations of the political reforms committee, particularly the granting of additional states to the people of the South-east zone.

He said that apart from the creation of additional state, APGA has been pushing for the creation of additional local governments in the South-east, which presently has the least number of local councils against the very high number in other geopolitical zones. However, he said a twist of fate had trailed the party’s chance of joining in the conference through the use of judicial interventions to frustrate the legitimate leadership of the party from taking its rightful seat at the conference.
He said part of the role of the conference would be to do something to check noticeable abuses in the judiciary, adding that there should be measures to ensure that the authorities of the courts are respected according to their hierarchy.

.We are happy that the South-east through unanimous recommendations of the national conference committee will get additional one state. Tomorrow (today) voting on the recommendations will start and we hope that it will be sustained through the support of delegates from other parts of the country. It will help in promoting unity of purpose for this country”.
“I am very happy to be here today at the national conference because APGA have been a key advocate of a national dialogue over the years. We had reasoned that it is only through national dialogue that all the problems facing this country will be dealt with. “They tried to use the judiciary to try and subvert the right of the party and because of politics tried to uphold a judgment of the Federal High Court as against the subsisting judgment of the Court of Appeal.”
pic: Confab3.

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