BY CHIBUZO UKAIBE
Some delegates of the 2014 National Conference reunited and revived the clamour for implementation of the recommendations, especially now that the National Assembly is embarking on amendment of the constitution. CHIBUZO UKAIBE, writes
It was lamentation and regret when some former delegates of the 2014 National Conference reunited last Tuesday in Abuja.
It was the first major reunion of the delegates after they dispersed upon the close of their assignment in 2014.
With the report relegated to the dust-gathering shelf of history, the former delegates, drawn from various geo-political zones, had revived the clamour for its implementation by this administration.
Led by elder statesman, Tanko Yakassi, the reunion was designed to fashion a strategy on how to engage government to implement the report, more so, that the National Assembly was embarking on constitutional amendment.
Three years on, precisely March 17,2017, after the conference was inaugurated by former President Goodluck Jonathan, over 600 recommendations were made to address the challenges facing the country cut across the socio-political and economic spheres.
The conference had made far- reaching recommendations on many areas, including political restructuring and forms of government; political parties and electoral matters; public finance; national securities; land tenure matters and national boundaries; energy; human rights and legal reforms; and devolution of power.
The confab, which was originally billed to last three months but was granted about one month extension, had former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Idris Kutigi, as its chairman. He led the other members of the leadership as well as the 492 delegates to present the document, which was in three volumes.
The conference had gulped N9bn in direct government funding and also valuable man hours for attendees and other stakeholders.
Howbeit, the failure of Jonathan’s administration to implement recommendations from the report and see to its adoption into the constitution by the 7th National Assembly, largely saw to its relegation to the dust-gathering archives just like previous constitutional conference reports.
With the 2015 general election won and lost, the former president had presented the report to the National Assembly two days to the end of his tenure, having lost his second term ambition.
He, however, presented the report among the handing over documents presented to his successor, President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Buhari-led administration made no pretenses about its little regard for the report. The president outrightly declared that he had not given the report a look, noting “I have not bothered to read it or ask for a brief on it. I want it to go into the so- called archives.”
As much as he blamed the timing for the confab in the face of other challenges the country was facing, he faulted the gathering for trying to do the job of the legislature.
It was expected. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had distanced itself from the conference, even though delegates attended from states it controlled. For them, the timing of the confab smacked of a political gimmick aimed at building momentum for the former president ahead of the 2015 presidential election.
Even so, the conference had battled to establish its relevance and legitimacy in the face of the raging debate over whether it was trying to take over the job of the National Assembly whose statutory responsibility it is to amend the constitution.
For many analysts, the rivalry between the Confab and the federal legislature compounded the situation, considering that the federal lawmakers were also embarking on a constitution amendment at the time.
Yakassi, Clarke, Gana, Ezeife, Ozhehome Lead Fresh Charge
They assembled at the sizable conference hall owned by media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dopkesi in Abuja.
They caught up on old times, hugging and exchanging pleasantries. The convivial setting, however, belied the protest, lamentation and regret that was to come.
The delegates who met under the aegis of reunion summit of delegates, lamented that most of the problems facing the country today would have been addressed if the present administration implemented recommendations from the conference.
They further called on the National Assembly to consider the 2014 confab report as part of its ongoing constitution reform.
While they added that no progressive government would ignore the recommendations from the conference, the delegates noted that they will only mobilize for political parties and aspirants who support the recommendations in 2019 general elections.
Chairman of the summit, Tanko Yakassi, said “this meeting is taking place at a time when our legislators are currently engaged in activities aimed at changing some provisions of our constitution.
“The meeting is therefore, taking place at a time that can be said to be ideal for the props for which it is initiated. I would agree that members should use this rare opportunity.
“Failure to do that would mean waiting for a number of years before the opportunity to present itself again, since the process of amending our constitution is a long, arduous and time consuming exercise.”
On his part, convener of the summit, former presidential candidate and delegate at the conference, Dr John Dara, noted that no progressive government should ignore the recommendations of the conference.
He said “many of the social-economic and political issues that warranted the convening of that conference are still very much with us. Nigeria’s faulty foundations are still left unrepaired.”
While he recalled that the conference made recommendations on the clashes between herdsmen and farmers, he added, “as a matter of urgency, we now need to implement the recommendations of the education committee and save Nigeria from shame of being the nation with the highest number of out of school children in the world.”
He added that “predative and opportunistic politics, devoid of vision, values and ideals has been the bane of Nigeria. The conference tried to repair years of wrong headed policies that have made Nigeria almost dysfunctional and stagnant.”
He added that they have to persuade Buhari to see the benefits of the report, “we need to work closely with the National Assembly to ensure that they make the report of the conference their primary and principal reference material for amending 1999 constitution.”
In his keynote address, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Mike Ozhekome, said the report has to be implemented because “the resolutions taken at the conference were voluntarily and consensually reached and passed by all delegates, without compulsion.”
He added that “ it was agreed that some recommendations could be embedded as alterations to the 1999 constitution (for which proposed amendments were made); some subjected to legislative drafting (for which draft bills were actually made by the conference); while some were yet to be treated by government as policy matters for implementation.”
Speaking for the South East, former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, clamored for a return to regional system of six geo-political zones.
He said “We have to go back to zonal federation. If we do this, our country will experience explosive growth”
Former minister of information, Prof Jerry Gana, who spoke for the North Central, said “In any civilized society that was a document of people of Nigeria. It is no longer proposal of government. It is now a peoples agenda so that we can live in peace and unity. Those recommendations were deep and addressed the problems of Nigeria.”
This comes as spokesman of Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, who was also a delegate at that confab, said feelers from the South West is that “our people will strongly desire that the 2019 election must be conducted on the basis of a new and truly federal constitution.”
He revealed that that resolution was reached by prominent elders from the zone led by Chief Olu Falae.
Elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clarke who spoke for the South-South, decried the neglect of the report and urged the delegates to return to their constituencies and begin to mobilize their people to put pressure for the implementation of the recommendations.
Represented by Tony Uranta, he said “We don’t do it by sitting at home and grumbling but by coming together and making a demand. Each of us have a constituency. It behooves on us to return and start action there. If we have to march to make them recommend it, we should go and march. Mere talk will not make for the recommendation but the people will make it recommended.”
Speaking for the North-West, Barr Hawa Shekarau, said the gathering showed that many people believe in the unity of Nigeria.
She added, “for the Nigeria we want to see, we need to have a platform where all of us will contribute to its success. This summit offers us that opportunity to discuss the resolutions. We support all the resolutions that will provide the roadmap for the implementation of the resolutions of the 2014 confab.”
An elder statesman from Southern Borno and one of the campaigners for Nigeria’s independence, Elder Paul Bassi spoke for the North-east. Underscoring the import of the confab report in ensuring equity for minorities, he revealed that there is no federal or state government rehabilitation going on in Southern Borno that was ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgents.
Bassi further challenged the federal government to produce the Chibok girls since it claimed that the forest has been captured.
He disclosed that he has not returned home since March 2014.
While dispelling media reports that the Southern Borno region of the state is undergoing rehabilitation, he noted that there is neither federal or state presence going on there.
“Southern Borno has been destroyed. I will like to say that at present, the people of North East are distressed all over. The beautiful pictures painted in the news media are not true. Since March 2014, I have not returned to my home in Southern Borno.
“People tell us that Sambisa forest has been captured. If it is true, where are the girls, where are they hiding. We either admit that forest has not be captured or that the girls are somewhere else.
Meanwhile the politics of the destruction of ethnic minority groups continues.”
While Bassi pleaded for more moral support for the people in the region, he also asked for material support.
“We need to fashion out a way of coming to the North East and see that we are rehabilitated. No one will go back to Southern Borno until there is law and order there. There is no government functioning there. It is just names.
On the rebuild of Southern Borno, he said “nobody can go and show one contracted by federal government or state government in Southern Borno.
“There is no functioning IDP camp in all the local governments of Southern Borno. But when they talk about displaced people they are all from Southern Borno.
“But all the ongoing reconstruction is in Northern Borno. There is nothing going on in Southern Borno. I am ready to take you there If we they can allow us move freely.
There is nothing going on there, the federal and state government are not doing anything.”
He pledged the commitment of the North East to the 2014 confab resolution, adding, “in Southern Borno, we want to be free to manage our affairs.”
Hon Augustine Otafo while speaking for the organised labour, said although the APC was not part of the conference “but it is the assignment of the conference to woo the government because the recommendation cuts across.”
He added that labour supports the recommendations, adding “We have to arrive at a strategy to get the government and the people involved in the process.”
On behalf of the civil society, Nasir Kura, said “I am here because I believe in Nigeria and anything outside Nigeria, I won’t be part of it.”
He added “I believe in the recommendation. There could have been some implementations that were overtaken by events.”
While he noted that there were concerns by some delegates that some recommendations were changed, he, however, noted “We could have sat down, met and resolved it.”
On her part, Niger Delta activist, Ankio Briggs, said the report addressed a lot of issues adding, “Refusal is indirect way of saying we want to break Nigeria.
“Nigerians sat down and took these decisions. There is no way we will be begging some people to implement them. Failure to implementation the conference report is a call for people to take destiny in their own hands. It does not mean call to violence.”
Other prominent former delegates at the reunion were HRH Alfred Diete-Spiff; Raymond Dopkesi; Felicia Sani; Dan Nwanyanwu;
Apparently, the president hasn’t given any inclination that he is ready to rethink his position on the report.
Suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Babachir David Lawal, had last year, described the 2014 National Conference as a mere reward for “the boys.”
Whether the National Assembly will accede to the clamour by these delegates remains hazy. At the turn of this administration, the lawmakers were divided on the report along party lines. While the PDP lawmakers readily endorsed the report, APC lawmakers outrightly rejected it.
However, with the myriad of challenges in the polity as envisaged in the report on the one hand and the evolving political realignments ahead of 2019 on the other, there is no telling whether lawmakers who had opposed the report are having a rethink.
However there is a ray of hope for the delegates clamoring for the implementation of the report as the Speaker of House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara said, “we may also sift ideas from the Confab of 2014 report, in a possible 5th Alteration bill.”
But there are no assurances.