By Ismail Omipidan The political tremor set off by the return of former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, to the Peoples Democratic Party, where, it is widely believed, he would seek the 2019 presidential ticket, may not ease off soon. Since his defection to the party about two weeks ago, political alignments and realignments have been…
We consider it most thoughtful of members of the 2014 National Constitutional Conference to come together, as they did last week, to draw the nation’s attention to their much heralded work which is now languishing in the archives. Under the aegis of 2014 National Conference Forum, the delegates held their maiden summit in Abuja and in their communiqué, called upon the Federal Government to implement the report. They promised to liaise with the Federal Executive Council, the National Assembly and other relevant organisations to help promote the implementation of the conference recommendations.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been unenthusiastic about the 2014 National Conference report. Indeed, he admitted he had not read it when last his views were sought on the issue. But many Nigerians say the resolutions of the conference hold the key to many of the challenges facing the country. The 492 members were selected to represent every conceivable segment of the Nigerian society, ranging from women’s groups to youth organisations, retired generals and statesmen across generations. The resolutions are contained in a 22-volume compendium containing at least 600 draft proposals ranging from the devolution of powers within the Federation to the accommodation of independent candidates in Nigeria’s elections.
Among the most significant resolutions of the conference was a change in revenue sharing formula across the three tiers of government, reflecting an emerging national consensus to reduce the influence of the Federal Government. The Federal Government currently gets 52 per cent of the revenue, the conference reduced it to 42.5per cent, granted 35 per cent to states and 22.5 per cent to local governments. It also said more emphasis should be placed on the social development sector than on population and the equality of states. To get religion out of government, the conference recommended a ban on state-funded pilgrimages. To reduce the cost of governance, the country would henceforth use part-time legislators in bi-cameral legislatures in all tiers of government. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would also permit independent candidates to run for office. Today, political office seekers must be affiliated to a registered political party. The conference also resolved to reorganise the police force to permit state-controlled police. This serves the twin purpose of facilitating community policing and enabling state governments’ control over their police formations.
One of the major constitutional changes was the abrogation of the immunity clause which had conferred general, blanket immunity on the president, the vice president, the governors and the deputy governors. The conference removed the immunities if the offences would attract criminal penalties. In other words, none of the state officers would be protected against criminal conduct, thereby restoring a sense of accountability.
The conference reviewed Nigeria’s form of government and recommended what it described as the “Modified Presidential System.” It is a home-made model – a combination of presidential and the parliamentary system. The vice-president would be picked from the legislature. The President shall select between 15 and 18 ministers in all, thereby reducing the weight and cost of governance from the six geopolitical zones and not more than 30 per cent of the ministers shall come from outside the legislature. The cost of government would be further reduced by pruning the number of political appointees and using the staff of ministries. There shall be a maximum of 10 ministries at the state government level.
Among the controversial conference recommendations was the creation of more states at a time many states are having difficulties meeting their recurrent expenditures, including monthly salaries. The conference recommended the creation of 18 additional states, that is, three for each geopolitical zone, and an additional state for the South East zone, for equity’s sake, the South East being the only zone with only five states. The conference recommended that each state should have its own constitution and shall be free to merge with other like-minded states.
On the contentious issues of resource control, derivation principle and fiscal federalism, the Conference wisely advised the setting up of special technical committees to properly advise the country on those issues.
To facilitate the fight against corruption, the conference recommended the institution of special courts to handle corruption cases in the light of undue prolongation of the trials of corruption cases in the regular courts. The Buhari administration has been making moves to establish such courts without progress. A non-conviction-based assets forfeiture law should be enacted with broad provisions to deal with all issues of crime by the anti-graft agencies. The conference also recommended the reintroduction of the old National Anthem: “Nigeria we Hail Thee…”
The pressure to implement the recommendations of the National Conference traverses ethnic and geopolitical zones, class and other social divisions. The ‘wise’ 492 eminent Nigerians spent four months and about N10 billion in the exercise. Their resolutions are truly a decision of the Nigerian people. Most of them are logical and capable of reducing political tension and advancing national unity. We strongly recommend their implementation.