The 2014 National Conference Report must live
THE proposition the other day, by a group that goes by the name Northern Reawakening Forum (NRF) to President Muhammadu Buhari that the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government ignore, wholesale, recommendations of the 2014 National Conference Report is short-sighted and unhelpful to the cause of a better Nigeria. And coming from such persons who have served on national platforms as federal lawmakers and heads of federal agencies, it is regrettable, to say the least, that the idea canvassed betrays a narrowness of mindset and diminishes such men and women who, while in public office, once swore to ‘preserve the Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy as contained in the Constitution.’ It is even more disturbing that the spokesman for the NRF position is a certain Mohammed Kumalia who was co-chairman of the Conference’s committee on Political Restructuring and Form of Government.
If the 2014 Conference Chairman, Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi is to be believed that ‘all our resolutions were adopted by consensus [and] not once did we have to vote or come to a division’, then how, as a matter of honour, does Mr. Kumalia justify his new posture? Where was the courage of his conviction while he participated?
To claim that the conference was convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan to achieve a hidden agenda is even uncharitable to the many very busy, serious minded and respectable conferees who, by the implication of that opinion, stand accused as wilful collaborators in such an agenda.
Jonathan’s 52-point inaugural speech to that Conference dwelt extensively on the justification for the conference. He said it was ‘being convened to engage in intense introspection about the political and socio-economic challenges confronting our nation and to chart the best and most acceptable way for the resolution of such challenges in the collective interest of all the constituent parts of our fatherland.’ He noted that these challenges ‘range from form of government, structures of government, devolution of powers, revenue sharing, resource control, state and local government creation, boundary adjustment, state police and fiscal federalism, to local government elections, indigeneship, gender equality and children’s rights, amongst others.’ ‘It makes sense’, he continued,‘ … that as the challenges before us evolve, we must be constant and proactive in our search for fresh solutions [instead of proffering] yesterday’s solutions to today’s problems.’ Pray, which genuine patriot will fault these motives? The then president concluded by saying that ‘Goodluck Jonathan has no personal agenda in convening [the conference].’ That this may be or may not be true is a matter of opinion and ‘motive hunters’ may choose to cling to their position.
But the point must be taken that the conference chairman and former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi said at the occasion of the submission of the conference report: ‘Let me state here categorically and with the fear of Almighty Allah in my heart that not once did [President Jonathan] interfere or dictate to us in the course of this Conference.’ And Kutigi, it must be said, ranks as one of the most respected citizens of Nigeria who hails from the northern part of the country.
The 2014 National Conference, of course, took off on a widespread note of suspicion as to the motive of the then government and scepticism about the purpose that another Conference could ever serve after several others that had been held at great monetary and other costs to the nation. The then opposition APC as a party refused to participate on the argument that it was ill- timed and opportunistic. But it was sensible that, it did not object to its members doing so on personal recognition. At the cost of about N10 billion, four and a half months of hard thinking, hard bargaining, lengthy, complex, often-times heated discussions, and immense paperwork by 494 men and women, mostly of no mean stature, the Conference produced over 10,000 pages of 22 reports and annexure. They made over 600 recommendations for the improvement of the political, economic and social structures and the overall regeneration of the country.
No one can wish away this conference as if it never happened. Whereas the report is not perfect, just as the authors are not, it is as good as any document can be to work with in the quest for a new Nigeria. And as this newspaper had said in an earlier editorial, the APC government should, for at least two reasons, not shy away from borrowing and implementing ideas from it. One, the act of governance is a continuum and it stands to reason that a well-meaning government should continue from where its predecessor stopped, those policies and programmes that further good governance. Two, it is a constitutional declaration that the primary purpose of government is the security and welfare of the people. Therefore, any and every government, irrespective of party coloration, is constitutionally bound to implement ideas and sustain measures that benefit the country and its citizens.
The national conference report recommends solutions to many nagging issues, including revenue sharing, two-tier police system, independent candidacy, making Chapter II of the extant constitution justiciable, and a ban on state funding of pilgrimage and religious matters. A good idea is simply that, regardless of its origin! For the sake of Nigeria and its people, besides the tonnes of public money expended, this APC government must do right by Nigerians and implement that report. Indeed, some of the recommendations like devolution of powers, decentralising the police are in line with promises in the APC manifesto. Some of the APC-controlled states have, as recommended by the conference, even stopped funding pilgrimages.
The NRF called a retreat supposedly to discuss ‘rebuilding a safe, secure and economically inclusive northern Nigeria.’ That is a great idea but the time has come that persons who claim leadership roles at any level must broaden their thinking and perspectives and, in this federal republic, adopt a pan-Nigeria appreciation of issues. There is absolutely good reason to rebuild the northeastern part of Nigeria devastated by the Boko Haram insurgency. But no right-thinking person would, as if the two propositions are mutually exclusive, use it as a justification for jettisoning the wide-reaching recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. As long as the ‘Nigeria Project’ remains an unfinished business, so long will there be a need to tinker with and improve it, and a conference that generated such great ideas as the 2014 Conference report is of great value to such end.
While the freedom of association and expression is guaranteed under the law, President Buhari must be wary of self-serving groups, ethnic, religious, regional, and any other type, which offer unsolicited propositions that clearly, or subtly, undermine the pan-Nigerian vision captured in the spirit and letter of the Nigerian constitution, ridicule the Buhari government’s contract with the Nigerian people as enunciated in both the constitution and the manifesto of the APC and, finally, diminish the President’s own pronouncements and stature before a nation that revers him.