The clamour for restructuring of the country continues to get traction in the face of an explosion of hate speeches, CHIBUZO UKAIBE writes
The narratives that may define the 2019 general elections are evolving rather fast. The discuss around ethnicity and religion which had over the years increasingly shaped the outcome of elections, appears to be assuming unprecedented dimension as the drum for next general elections beat.
The core political narratives are centered around the debate for restructuring as well as the implementation of the 2014 National Confab report, a situation that has sparked off a concern with regards to the torrent of hate speeches.
While ethnic groups are locked in a sparing match over secession, the political elite, cut across party lines, are engaged in the debate over what manner of restructuring the country should adopt. Some clamour for a return to regionalism, others advocate fiscal federalism.
For many who share this line of thought, the 2014 Confab report would be a major starting point. They believe that the implementation of the report would go a long way in addressing the upsets in the polity.
Yet others believe that the country today will work well if the political elite change their ways. They blame the state of affairs in the country on the years of mismanagement of resources by the elite. They believe that if the elite show more accountability and transparency in the use of resources allocated to them, the bulk of the complaints would be effectively addressed.
Recall that the immediate past administration of Goodluck Jonathan submitted the confab report a week to the end of the Seventh Senate. The 494-member confab, came made over 600 far reaching recommendations on the polity, economy and other areas of the nation’s life.
The recommendations touched 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.
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 to present the report to the National Assembly two days to the end of his tenure, having lost his second term ambition.
He also presented the report among other documents he handed over 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 at the time, especially 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.
But in this dispensation, the call for restructuring has continued to gain traction. some of the prominent Nigerians who have called for restructuring of the country including: former Commonwealth Secretary General, Emeka Anyaoku; ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar; Nobel literature laureate, Wole Soyinka; Tunde Bakare among others. While their thinking of restructuring differ, the underlining thought is that there is need for a shift in the way the country is governed.
Jolted by recent spate of agitations in the polity, the Senate last Wednesday was compelled to join in the debate somewhat. It urged the Federal Government to look into the report of the National Conference held in 2014.
This was sequel to a motion entitled “The Need for National Unity and Peaceful Co-existence in Nigeria,” sponsored by 107 senators.
In the motion, the senators called for the consideration of the confab’s report to determine the solutions to the current tension across the country.
In his debate on the motion, Adamu Aliero (Kebbi-Central), who was a member of the conference, said the report of the body was the best route to resolving the issues affecting the country.
“We have to live together and the corporate existence of this country cannot be negotiated. Nigeria must remain one indivisible and indissoluble entity. I agree that there are problems; there are challenges and those challenges should be addressed.”
The senator, who chaired the Conference Committee on Public Finance and Revenue, said “All the issues affecting the unity and stability of this country were thoroughly discussed under the leadership of Justice Idris Kutigi (retd) and co-chaired by Bolaji Akinyemi. A lot of recommendations were made to address these challenges.
“I will recommend that the Senate should ask for those recommendations to be tabled before the National Assembly because a lot of recommendations on all the agitations in all the geopolitical zones were addressed. I don’t know why we are not asking for those recommendations to be brought to us. They should be implemented where necessary.”
The motion was unanimously adopted, as other senators who contributed to the debate took turn to shed light on some of the challenges facing the nation.
According to some of the lawmakers, the causes of regional unrest in the country were mainly due to the socio-political and economic challenges.
They also called for the application of law against persons and groups making offensive statements, which they believe could worsen the conflicts in the country, while others called for the outright restructuring of the federal system of the country.
The lawmakers stated that the unity of the nation was not negotiable, urging all Nigerians to discontinue all actions capable of threatening the corporate existence of the nation.
The deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, in his remarks, explained that the report was sent to the Seventh National Assembly towards the close of the legislature, the reason why it was dropped.
In like manner, the Sen Ahmed Makarfi-led Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has also backed calls for restructuring of Nigeria.
The main opposition party also condemned hate speeches, adding that the raging drumbeats of war by regional groups does not augur well for the nation.
Chairman of the committee, Ahmed Makarfi commended the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for taking steps to douse the tension by meeting with leaders across the country.
“It is in this context that we view calls from some quarters for the restructuring of our own concept and practice of federalism.
“We however observe that restructuring could mean a different thing to different people. It is therefore important that we consider the framework within which we can even discuss and be on the same page as to what kind of restructuring we mean or desire; and if nationally accepted, agree on frame work for its implementation,” Makarfi stated at a press conference in Abuja on Wednesday.
Makarfi expressed satisfaction with the request by the Senate that the Executive should resubmit the report of the 2014 National Conference to the National Assembly for consideration.This, he said, will “accelerate the process of further cementing the unity and functionality of Nigeria”. On the raging drumbeats of war by regional groups in some parts of the country, the PDP chieftain said this does not augur well for the nation.
He called on the government to ensure that its programmes and policies are tailored in such a way that no section of the country will feel marginalised. He added: “As Nigerians and a people, we cannot run away from talking to one another, but this should be on the basis of mutual respect confidence and even empathy. This will enable us to have a proper understanding of the feelings and yeamings of each other and properly appreciating where we all are coming from, as individual groups and as a whole Nigeria as a federation has come a long way and it is our duty as individuals and a whole to ensure that it endures; and indeed surpasses the dreams of our founding fathers.
“The recent altercation between some of our people which degenerated into the issuance of ultimatum and counter ultimatum for some of us to leave certain areas is an ill wind that blows no good, more so that we have a sad history of no so dissimilar circumstances that we had better not allow a repeat. Hate speeches either coming from the North, South, East or West be avoided and be condemned by all of us.”
Earlier this year, former delegates drawn from various geo-political zones had revived the clamour for the implementation of the report under this administration. Led by elder statesman, and Tanko Yakassi, the reunion was designed to fashion a strategy on how engage government to implement the report, more so, that the National Assembly was embarking on constitutional amendment.
The former colleagues assembled at the sizable conference hall owned by media mogul, High Chief Raymond Dopkesi in Abuja. 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.
However, a former vice chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Ango Abdullahi, while giving reason for the report’s rejection in the northern part of the country, said the process of choosing delegates for the 2014 national conference was flawed.
Abdullahi, who is the chairman of Northern Elders’ Forum, said the north rejected the report because delegates convened by Jonathan to the conference were not selected through a democratic process.
Abdullahi who stated this at an event to make the 90th birthday of a former minister, Edwin Clark, held in Abuja, also asked resource control campaigners, to discard the idea, and instead campaign for resource management.
Clarifying that he was speaking in his personal capacity not on behalf of the NEF, the former vice chancellor said “I attended the 1986/87 Babangida’s constitutional conference; I also attended the 1994/95 Abacha conference. I also attended the political reform conference of Obasanjo,” Mr. Abdullahi said.
“The only conference I refused to attend was the Jonathan conference. I call it Jonathan conference. I do not hide my feelings on that for obvious reasons.
“All the conferences I attended were conferences where delegates were elected from their various constituencies, and they gave the feeling that they were representing people from their various constituencies. That was the difference from Jonathan’s conference,” he said.
He said the delegates should have been elected. “This was not done and that was why most of us declined to attend,” he said.
Although the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo has been engaging various stakeholders in the face of the hate speeches and orders for certain ethnic nationalities to relocate from certain regions of the country, it remains unclear whether this administration has changed its mindset with regards to the 2014 Confab report.
So far, his ability to interface directly with stakeholders seems to his major asset. This was seen in his ability to assuage fears and cause for calm in the Niger-Delta following the spate of unrest in the region at the turn of this administration.
Still, it remains to be seen what next steps he will take with regards to the rising demand for the implementation of the 2014 confab report.