Chuks Okocha writes that as the National Conference winds down its sitting this week, certain critical issues remain controversial, putting the delegates at daggers drawn over sectional interests. Additional reporting by Shola Oyeyipo
Latest by the end of this week, the four months national conference holding in Abuja, the nation’s capital will come to a final close. Unfortunately, while the conference is expected to hand over to the country and her people, a comprehensive recommendation of its deliberations, the fact that it has not been able to resolve those issues that are germane to the making of a new Nigeria and perhaps, constitution is however bothersome.
In essence, an unsavoury situation as this appears to be vindicating critics who had earlier dismissed the conference as a highway to nowhere and indeed, a time wasting and diversionary initiative of the President Goodluck Jonathan administration. Although the issues are quite a handful but not unfamiliar; they include revenue sharing, otherwise known as resource control, the land use act, religion and state creation. Below is an insight as to why the conference has found them a hard nut to crack.
The Land Use Act:
One topical and controversial issue that is dividing the delegates as along ethnic lines was whether the Land Use Act should be retained in the constitution. The matter was so controversial that the conference at the plenary was unable to resolve it. It had to be resolved through a special committee that sat for weeks.
Debates on whether or not to abrogate the Land Use Act from the constitution became controversial when most delegates contributing their views on the report by the committee on Land Tenure Matters were first divided along regional lines. This led to the issue being put on hold and later referred to a consensus building committee of elders to try and find amicable resolution to the disagreement.
At the plenary last week, the Deputy Chairman of the conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi announced that the issues around the Land Use Act have finally been resolved. He said the consensus committee report has reconciled all differences in the debate on the Land Use Act and thus urged the delegates to approve it.
Akinyemi thus called for a motion for the formal adoption of the whole report which was moved and adopted by the majority of the delegates through a voice vote.
While arriving at a consensus to retain the Land Use Act in the Nigerian constitution, delegates resolved that the Act be amended to take care of those concerns especially on the issue of compensation as provided in Section 29(4) of the Act. The amendment provides that owners of land should determine the price and value of their land and that government should henceforth negotiate with land owners and not just to compensate land owners.
It also resolved that the customary rights of occupancy in Section 21 of the Act be amended to ensure that it enjoys this same status as the statutory right of occupancy. It said the new measure will be extended to urban land. In the same vein, Section 7 of the Land Act which provided for the restriction on right of persons under the age of 21 to be granted statutory right of occupancy is to be amended to allow the lowering the age limit to 18 years, since according to Child Rights Act, persons who have attained the age of 18 can be considered an adult.
In order to facilitate easy access to land titles, delegates called on governors to hasten the titling of land so that fees paid by land owners for certificates of occupancy should indemnify them from further taxation, when leveraging on their land.
Those advocating for the abrogation of the Land Use Act from the constitution pointed to the difficult and cumbersome procedure in effecting needed amendments to the provisions of the Act.
For instance, the delegates noted that at present, amendments on the Act would require in addition to the National Assembly’s approval, a concurrence of two-thirds of the State Houses of Assembly in the country.
Apart from lamenting the injustice done to original land owners through the poor compensation paid by governments, they said only 3% of lands in Nigeria are titled. Further arguments supporting radical amendments to the Land Use Act stated that there is an apparent lack of fluidity in the land market arising from the requirement that governors must give his consent for all land transfer transactions.
This group of delegates also alleged that governors normally abuse the powers vested in them and allocate land arbitrarily without payment of adequate compensation. However, most of the delegates, who had opposed the abrogation of the Act, had expressed fears over the likelihood that land speculators may use the opportunity of any loose end in the Act to take over poor people’s lands. They said the proposed abrogation was a grand design by land merchants to grab lands at cheap price and over time make such lands more expensive for the poor to acquire.
States creation and Councils Status
Another controversy that thrilled the conference was the deliberation for state creation and the status of local government. The conference committee had earlier recommended that the following states should be created. The states are Apa, kaninji, Katagum, Sarduna, Amana, Ghari, Ghari, Etiti, Savanna, Ada, Adada, Njaba-Anim, Anioma, Ogoja, Ijebu and New Oyo. The new state to be created from the South-south would be named later. It further recommended that creation of state should be relaxed.
On the first day at the plenary, the conference voted almost unanimously in support of the new state to be created for the South-east as a way of assuaging the acknowledged injustice meted to the people of Igbo extraction. The conference also endorsed the recommendation that subsequently, any new state shall have a minimum of one million population and that the viability of the new states must be ascertained in order not to put undue pressure on the existing ones.
But the next day, as if just waking up from sleep, the northern delegates opposed the creation of new states and demanded that if states should be created at all there should be four more states from the north-west. This caused serious uproar at the plenary.
Starting off the protest, a delegate, Maigari Dingyadi, said the northern delegates have written to the conference leadership raising concerns on some issues. He said if the minutes are adopted, the issues they raised would have become void. He said it was imperative that the leadership took a decision on the letter first written and further raised a point of order on the issue of local governments.
He specifically said the issue of local governments as reflected in page six of the votes and proceeding is the main bone of contention. But in response, the Chairman advised him to wait until delegates are considering the page to raise his issue.
Another delegate, Yusuf Hamisu Abubakar, also raised a point of order, on order 10, saying the conference took a decision with regards to states creation outside of the rules of the conference. (At this point, some delegates began to shout him down). But he raised another point of order to say the rules allow him to conclude his remarks since he is raising a point of order. He said his zone (North-west) was being short-changed in the decision to create more states, considering its population and land mass.
But his views were strongly supported by some delegates including former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Minister of Defence, Dr. Harilu Bello, Prof. Ruqquat el-Rufai, Senator Ibrahim Ida and Talatu Nasiru among others. The duo of Ida and Nasir called for the creation of four more states in the North Central zone, with the inclusion of Karadua and Beyajin states.
The committee had earlier recommended the creation of Kainji and Ghari states from the zone. Senator Ida had called for the dumping of the criteria on the list and come up with a new list because it does not represent the true criteria for state creation. Hanga suggested that the list for the creation of states should be removed from the votes and proceedings otherwise there will be no way the confab will make progress.
Another delegate also raised issues with the number of states and demanded to know whether there was a committee that picked the states or if it was an individual that compiled it.
A delegate, Secretary of the Yoruba Elders, Olajide Olakunle asked the conference to add Oduduwa state in the list of states being planned for creation, adding the quest for the state dated back to 35 years. He said the area is made up of 1.7 million population.
El-Rufai queried how four states can be created from North Central and only two from North West, insisting it was not proper. According to her, “My amendment is for us to remove the list of state creation because without it, there is no way we can make progress here. Everybody wants states to be created in their area as well.
Nasir who is from Kastina State, while supporting Idah said though she was 100 per cent in support of state creation, she thought that the conference should expand the list of states to include more requests especially a state from the North West. Alternatively, she said the issue of states should be deleted from the conference report for another opportunity to take a look on state creation.
Contributing, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, who alerted the plenary of the meeting the northern delegates had with the leadership of the conference last Thursday said, “We feel very strongly that the amendment that were made on the report should not be elevated to the fundamental reports made by the committees. We met with the leadership of the conference and it agreed that henceforth, we are going to adhere strictly to the rules of proceedings.
“It was in our view to minimize use of voice votes so as to avoid controversies and to avoid delegates being misled, all amendments being proposed should be made available to the delegates before presentation,” stating that other complaints of the northern delegates are contained in the letter submitted to the conference leadership.
Also contributing, Haliru urged that the principle of consensus should be maintained. He said the voting and amendments of last Thursday as far as states creation was concerned were not sacrosanct and urged that delegates should be allowed to go back and reach consensus. Again, at this point, some delegates began to shout him down. But he warned that the north would not accept it if the decisions of the conference were not by consensus and forced down the north.
Resource Control and Revenue Sharing
For many Nigerians, this was the main agenda of the national conference and as predicted, no resolution on it as the conference is yet to take a position on it. As a result of the stalemate on what form the recommendation on derivation would take, the chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, announced that the leadership of the conference would meet with the “50 Wise Men” which included himself and the deputy chairmen of the 20 committees.
However, there were indications as at Thursday that the northern governors met with the delegates from the region to strengthen their resolve against the derivation principle. THISDAY gathered that the governors took the opportunity of the National Council of State meeting in Abuja on Tuesday to hold a secret meeting with the northern delegates during which they allegedly urged them not to shift grounds on the issue of derivation. The governors were said to have also backed the delegates with the necessary funds to ensure that they did not cave in to any lobby or pressure on the matter.
It all started when at the resumption of plenary last week, Prof. Akinyemi, called on the leaders of the Consensus Committee led by Chief Raymond Dokpesi. But a northern delegate and member of the consensus committee, Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu, protested the presentation of the report, saying the northern representatives did not sign the document.
Dalhatu said they were against some aspects of the amendment and they needed to have further negotiations so that it could be harmonised. He also raised objections to the inclusion in the list of signatories, certain delegates he claimed were not originally part of the consensus-building group.
At this stage, Akinyemi accepted the request by Dalhatu and adjourned discussions on the power devolution committee report for one hour to allow the consensus group to meet again to reconcile issues and take a vote on the matter. After about two hours of deliberations, the conference asked the consensus group to come forward and address the delegates on their decision. But as Dokpesi made his way to the plenary hall with the document, a former Inspector General of Police (IG), Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie, rose up and disowned it. He said they could not agree on some of the issues.
“There was no agreement. Any report submitted to this plenary session on this derivation by the Consensus Committee does not have our endorsement,” he said.
Another member of the committee and former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, stood up to counter Coomassie, stating that the former IG had been part of the negotiations that sought to end the logjam on derivation and resource allocation issues.
Amidst protests by some northern delegates, Falae insisted the group had actually reached an agreement and went ahead to read out the contents of the document. He said the agreement reached was to increase the derivation formula from 13 per cent to 18 per cent. Other resolutions included that there shall be a Solid Mineral Development Fund of five per cent, and a five per cent National Emergency Fund to be set aside for reconstruction of the North-east and any area affected by the insurgency and disasters in the country.
“I have been part of the committee that has been meeting and we have come to some consensus. But there is just one sticky point which is not something that should smear the recommendation,” he said.
Corroborating Falae’s submission, Dokpesi who later addressed reporters outside the plenary, explained that the leaders of the delegates from the six geopolitical zones had agreed to present an amendment that would provide for an increase in the derivation payable to oil producing states from 13 per cent to 18 per cent of revenue accruing to the Federation Account and that not less than 50 per cent of the total derivation fund accruable to mineral bearing states shall be allocated to the communities where the mineral resource is located.
Another aspect of the amendment provided for an increase in the Solid Mineral Development Fund from three to five per cent of revenues in the Federation Account to be used for the development of solid minerals.
But Dokpesi said the bone of contention was the proposal for an intervention fund, which amounts to five per cent of annual revenue accruing to the federation that will be used for the stabilisation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas affected by terrorism and the insurgency; in the first instance, the North-east and then the North-west and North-central zones, and other parts of the country.
According to him, some northern delegates, mostly representatives of the North-west zone said they would rather that the fund was specifically reserved for the reconstruction of insurgency areas of the North-east, North-west and North-central zones, and excludes other sections of the country. This, he said, ran contrary to the general agreement to use the fund to deal with intervention measures in any area affected by terror attacks in the country.
Among the protesters was Dr. Haruna Yerima from Borno State, who drew the attention of the delegates to the ballot boxes brought by the secretariat, saying that the delegates had no alternative than to cast their votes on the issue. Yerima, backed by some fellow northern delegates, said: “This issue of voice vote must stop; we are going to cast our votes.” But his protest caused some uproar as many delegates opposed the use of the ballot box.
After fruitless efforts to calm frayed nerves, Kutigi called for an adjournment of the plenary till today to allow the secretariat intervene in the matter. He hinted that the leadership of the conference would have met last Friday with the 50 select delegates comprising the chairmen and deputy chairmen of the various committees.
Meanwhile, the conference encountered another controversy over the status of the local government councils under the revenue sharing formula. When it came to the passage of the new revenue sharing formula, which proposes 42.5 per cent for the federal government; 35 per cent for states; and 22.5 per cent for local governments, Akinyemi said the local government arm would be dropped from the sharing formula, having been moved under the states.
Akinyemi explained that having adopted the recommendation to transfer local governments to state control, the implication was that local councils would no longer be part of the national revenue sharing arrangement.
But a delegate, Senator Dansaldau, raised a point order saying that the local government is a recognised institution under the constitution and as such cannot be dropped from the exclusive list.
Religion and Pilgrim Sponsorship
The controversy over the recommendation that government should hands off all issues of sponsorship of pilgrimage was put to rest with the adoption of a compromise position that it should be gradually phased with time. Deliberations at the conference became rowdy when Sola Akomode moved that in line with the recommendations that government should stop the sponsorship of all pilgrims’ affairs, it was also necessary that the Pilgrims welfare board be abolished.
After several days of horse-trading among the elders from all the geographical divides, the conference last week resolved that the pilgrims’ welfare boards should be gradually phased out too and not abolished immediately.
The delegates had argued that it would be of no use of the existence of the pilgrims’ welfare board, when Nigeria’s embassies in the holy lands of Mecca and Jerusalem would handle all issues regarding the pilgrimage. Akinyemi, while presiding said after interventions and submission endorsed by 350 delegates, it has become imperative to reconsider the report on Religion committee chaired Bishop Felix Ajakaiye and Nurudeen Lemu as the co-chair.
Akinyemi urged the delegates to accept the compromise position as a consensus position because it is in line with the 70 per cent that was signed by 350 out of 492 delegates with which issues are resolved. He hinted that it was commendable and more progressive to adopt the report the way it is with the slight amendments done, noting that matters of religion in Nigeria always attract the negative reactions. "We must commend those who sat down to come to this position without rancour on a matter that is as serious as this," he said.
Earlier, the presiding chair had called on Lemu to throw more light on some of the most contentious issues that informed the committee report being "bracketed" in the first place.
Lemu, therefore, said the incessant ethno-religious crisis in Nigeria, though not caused solely by religion, religion is exploited in the course of the crisis and "end up contributing to fueling it beyond control", and the need to forestall this abuse or exploitation has given the impetus to the idea of establishing "a body whose sole responsibility will be the detection of those initial warning signals that could be exploited for instigating religious acrimony and violence among various religious groups in Nigeria".
The committee explained that because Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society, there is the need for a body to serve as an umbrella body for all tendencies, ranging from investigation and enforcement of rights to prosecution of offences committed in the name of religion, religious discrimination and victimisation.
This is because some of the existing inter-religious bodies are either merely advisory without a legal backing or have not adequately addressed religion-related violations. The recommendation of the committee reads thus: "Over the years, religion has been employed by mischief-seeking individuals and groups to create tension and provoke crisis amongst Nigerians.
"This underscores the need for a specialised legal/institutional mechanism in form of the Religious Equity Commission (RECOM) to check the abuse of religion and promote the religious rights of all persons in Nigeria as guaranteed by the Constitution".
Recall that the committee had recommended that "the apex religious organisations in Nigeria be allowed to handle all matters relating to pilgrimage through the pilgrims commission duly managed by them under a law to be passed by the National Assembly which will regulate their functions and protect pilgrims."
The recommendation is asking government to stop the utilisation of public funds to sponsor all religious pilgrimages, which is in consonant with section 10 of the 1999 Constitution and discontinue the sponsorship of official government delegation on any pilgrimage.
The committee said: "Without prejudice to this, government, in the exercise of its oversight responsibility to the citizens of Nigeria, shall provide normal consular services for pilgrims through the federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and established Nigerian foreign mission in the relevant destinations."
Obviously not impressed with some of the developments at the conference, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, the National Publicity Secretary of a pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afanifere told THISDAY that delegates from the core north have shown lackadaisical attitude to critical issues of restructuring, development and progress of the nation. He expressed deep regrets that the conference has instead spent precious time discussing issues that are not so critical to the restructuring of the country.
“For instance how many days did we spend discussing religion, grazing reserves, homes and other non-critical matters? Like I told one of the delegates, to me, it seems we came to the conference to discuss the issues affecting cattle instead of human beings and true federalism. The discussion on grazing reserves almost divided the conference.
“We spent days on inconsequential issues. All that the core north delegates came to the conference to do is to discuss grazing reserves and other minor issues; hajj commission, water resources commission etc. The issues that are critical to the people of this nation were all pushed behind.
“Surprisingly last week, the Chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi decided to change the goal post, when he said there is not going to be any debate due to lack of time but that we would just make some recommendations and take amendment to recommendations and that is all.”
Odumakin suspected a deliberate attempt to stall and whittle down the significance of the conference by ensuring that critical issues are not attended to “or that when we get to those issues, we will just rush them and we won’t be able to achieve anything concrete out of it.”
Asked if the situation at the conference is evident of earlier suspicion among some delegates that Kutigi might be acting out the script of the core North, Odumakin said: “It would appear that Justice Kutigi is somehow sympathetic to the script of a section of this country that does not want us to discuss those core issues, which I called the life-wire of the country.
“All we have discussed so far are the software, and not the hardware of the nation. Without addressing the core issues that were pushed to the back, no matter what we came up with at the conference, it would not change anything.”
He, however, underscored the resoluteness of delegates from the Southern part of Nigeria on the agenda they took to the conference.
“The South-west is resolute about its agenda on regionalism and autonomy. South-south is still very much interested on resource control and devolution of powers. I think that is what the core north noticed; a kind of solid bond among the delegates from the South, which they could no longer break. They could no longer play the usual divide and rule tactics.
“In the past, the core north would have preferred to deal separately with the South-west, South-south and the South-east but that is not working this time around. The strong bond and unity among the delegates from the South is really frightening the delegates from the North.
“So far the North has not been able to isolate the demands of each of the regions from the South in the conference. In fact, when they saw the South coming up with one voice on the motion that the conference cannot shutdown debate on critical issues, this sent a warning signal to them,” he said.