(By Adewale Kupoluyi)
“Can the conference really deliberate on divisibility and dissolubility of Nigeria? If yes, under what terms should we continue to live together as one? How will the outcome of conference become law? Will its recommendations be subjected to a plebiscite, referendum or ratification by National Assembly or both? Will it be subjected to review by another panel? How will the chairman and officers of the real conference emerge, is it through presidential appointment or election by the delegates? As its name suggests, will the outcome be merely advisory?“
AT last, the Senator Femi Okunroumu-led committee on the convocation of a national parley has finally been inaugurated. There are few salient points that members of this committee should take serious cognizance of in carrying out this important and sensitive national assignment.
Over the years, Nigerians have been calling for a veritable platform that will offer them a good opportunity to bring to the discussion table, burning matters that have remained with us like deadly virus, which they would want exterminated if we should continue to live together as a formidable entity.
In spite of critics’ belief that the whole idea is a mere smokescreen to shore-up support for the President Goodluck Jonathan-led Administration, nevertheless, the way and manner the committee chooses to go about this task ahead is something that should be of utmost concern to us because peace and development are largely hinged on the political climate of any nation.
Certainly, we should still be eager to know the following: How will the conference delegates emerge? Will all the 389 ethnic nationalities or so in the country be represented? How will the ethnic nationalities emerge? How long will the confab last? Will interest and pressure groups be represented? Will delegates be nominated or elected? Will the outcome of the committee’s deliberations be implemented?
Going by the President’s caveat that promised members of the committee free hand to decide the nomenclature for the planned conference – whether it would be called a national dialogue, conversation or conference – and that there will be no ‘no-go’ areas, there are critical questions to reflect on.
Then more queries: Can the conference really deliberate on divisibility and dissolubility of Nigeria? If yes, under what terms should we continue to live together as one? How will the outcome of conference become law? Will its recommendations be subjected to a plebiscite, referendum or ratification by National Assembly or both? Will it be subjected to review by another panel? How will the chairman and officers of the real conference emerge, is it through presidential appointment or election by the delegates? As its name suggests, will the outcome be merely advisory?
On the contending matters raised, the following can, however, be helpful, even though they are far from being exhaustive. To begin with, there is the urgent need to furnish the committee with the essence of restructuring the machinery of government. We should then ask the salient question of whether to continue with federalism? Is bicameral legislature sustainable in view of the growing cost of governance? What of the desirability or otherwise of state police going by the convincing necessity for it in the face of overwhelming security challenges staring all of us in the face despite our pretences and obvious incapacity and, indeed, proven inability of the central police to effectively maintain law and order?
The committee should also define the desirability or otherwise of the resource control, as being canvassed by oil producing states of the Federation for their perceived and inequitable distribution of resources and collective heritage.
Devolution of powers that has made the central government unnecessary powerful at the expense of the states and local governments is worth revisiting. These provisions, as listed on the Exclusive Legislative List are awesome going by the Second Schedule (Part I) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federation, as amended.
The principle of Federal Character has been a subject of abuse over the years. The adoption of this principle in terms of admission, appointment and access to national opportunities has, rather, encouraged mediocrity, corruption and ethnic sentiments. Many observers believe that this provision should not be an indefinite, as the current arrangement suggests, but rather a sort of stop-gap measure that should be discontinued when the perceived distortions are normalised.
The vexed issue of Sharia that has created so much tension in the land in recent years is worth discussing. It is saddening that thousands of innocent lives and immense property have been lost to religious crises that were occasioned by the undisguised determination of the Boko Haram sect to impose Sharia on the nation. The committee should consult previous panel reports and juxtapose such with new submissions by Nigerians.
Revenue allocation is another area that has so much generated serious acrimony between the three tiers of government. With the Federal Government appearing biting more than it can chew and dwarfing other tiers – state and local governments – which are terribly at the receiving end. There is an urgent need to revisit this revenue allocation formula, to ascertain whether it is truly fair and justifiable.
Endemic corruption is another problem that has retarded the growth of the nation. It is common knowledge that there is an unbridled level of corruption in all facets of our national life. This has not only retarded our development, it has turned the country into a laughing stock amongst comity of nations. How far have the anti-graft agencies gone in nipping the canker-worm in the bud? Should plea bargaining be accorded any legal status in Nigeria?
Another issue that is worth debating is the cumbersome recall process of our legislators. In as much as there is the need to allow our lawmakers do their work without much official interference, the imperative of virile checks and balances to tame erring ones through the recall process should be seriously discussed.
The issue of indigenisation should elicit robust discourse. Our brothers and sisters are daily been denied their rights as guaranteed by the constitution. Or, why would an Igbo man born in the north be excluded from holding political positions in such states? And what precludes a Hausa man from being appointed into the civil service of a south west state?
The controversy trailing the call for removal or otherwise of the immunity clause as enjoyed by the President, Vice-President, governors and deputy governors is debatable. While not a few believe that the clause should subsist based on the need to allow this crop of officials concentrate on their duties without distractions, antagonists are rather of the opinion that immunity clause is a weapon that promotes high-handedness and corrupt practices. This should closely be followed by the sustainability or otherwise of a single-term tenure for the President and governors.
Another thorny issue is the need to ascribe constitutional role to the office of the Deputy Governor. The argument has always favoured allotting them specific duties rather than and not consign them to a corner as the proverbial ‘spare tyres’ that they evidently are at the moment. Hardliners have variously posited that it is either such roles are given or the Deputy Governor position is abrogated outrightly.
We can still go on and on. But what is of great importance is that in setting the framework for these all-encompassing discussions, the Okunroumu committee should ensure that it opens its doors to all shades of opinions to get the best from Nigerians. It should not discriminate or latch on unnecessary stereotypes.
It should freely get the raw inputs from the people, irrespective of ethnic, religious or social background. It should avoid playing to the gallery by limiting the committee to the certain peoples’ parochial interests to the detriment of the nation. It should be impartial and tolerant. Committee members should not fail the nation.
And at the end of the exercise, the government should prove critics wrong that it is not a jamboree – that would amount to a waste of time and resources – or a calculated attempt at currying political support for 2015. It should demonstrate that it meant business, and disabuse the minds of those who strongly feel that nothing meaningful would come out of the jaw-jaw. More importantly, it should be ready to ensure that an imprimatur is given to the collective resolution of the real conference that is to follow by ensuring that it is subjected to either a referendum or a plebiscite – to confer the people’s authority on the entire exercise – after all the ultimate power resides in the people.
•Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta
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