ABUJA – As part of his efforts to strengthen national unity and consolidate Nigeria’s democracy, President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the National Conference on March 17.
The conference, chaired by Justice Idris Kutigi, a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, has 492 delegates and it is expected to articulate and coordinate the views and thoughts of Nigerians, with a view to building a stronger, united, peaceful and stable nation.
In his address at the inauguration, Jonathan said the conference was convened to engage in intense introspection on the political and socio-economic challenges confronting the nation.
He added that the conference was to chart the best and most acceptable ways to resolve such challenges, in the collective interest of all the constituent parts of the federation.
At the end of their four-month-deliberation, the delegates reached consensus on wide-ranging recommendations made by the 20 standing committees of the conference.
Some of the recommendations include the creation of 18 new states and an additional state for the South-East geopolitical zone, the zoning of elective positions at all levels of government, the establishment of state police, and the establishment of a commission to address the plight of FCT indigenes
Others are scrapping of state/local government joint account, scrapping of state independent electoral commissions, removal of fuel subsidy and removal of immunity clause, among others.
The delegates, however, failed to reach consensus on the contentious issues of resource control and derivation principle for the Niger Delta region, which was contained in the main report of the Committee on Devolution of Power.
They were also unable to agree on two new issues: the proposed 5 per cent of the national income, each for the development of mineral resources across the federation and for the special intervention fund for national emergencies.
Prior to the adjournment of plenary session on July 14, there was intense debate amongst Nigerians on who should implement recommendations of the conference.
While some school of thought suggested that the recommendations should be forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration and passage into law, others believed that that they should be subjected to a referendum before their inclusion in the constitution.
Alhaji Balarabe Musa, the National Chairman, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), however, said that the recommendations should not be subjected to referendum on the grounds that most of them were “superficial”.
“The recommendations of the conference are so superficial and they are not worth being subjected to a referendum.
“This is because the delegates were supposed to deal with the negative state of the nation,’’ he added.
Musa said that instead of dealing with the negative state of the nation, the delegates only dealt with the consequences of the negative state of the nation.
He noted that corruption, organised violence, insecurity and unemployment were some of the factors that contributed to the negative state of the country.
The CNPP chairman expressed disappointment that the socio-economic and political system as well as the leadership produced by the system, which promoted self-interest above public interest was not dealt with by the delegates.
He, however, suggested that as a way out, the National Assembly could regard the recommendations as public hearing.
Conversely, Mr Gilbert Agbo, the National Secretary, New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), said that the recommendations should not be forwarded to the National Assembly for passage into law, since some of the recommendations were not in favour of the legislators.
He stressed that Nigerians should be allowed to decide on the recommendations via referendum organized to determine their acceptance or rejection since “power derives from the people”.
Mr Sam Eke, the National Chairman, Citizens Popular Party (CPP), who shared a similar viewpoint with Balarabe Musa, said that the recommendations should be forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration, amendment and passage into law.
He said that those advocating referendum were just “trying to build something on nothing.”
All the same, Prof. Itse Sagay, a constitutional lawyer, said that the recommendations should be subjected to a referendum to create give room for a new constitution.
He said that there was no need to nurse a fear that there was no provision for referendum in the constitution.
He noted that in as much as there was no provision in the constitution for referendum, there was also no provision declaring it illegal.