The Abacha Conference – Resolutions

No Comments » February 5th, 2005 posted by // Categories: Sovereign National Conference (SNC) Project




The Abacha Conference-Resolutions

By Bolade Omonijo, Deputy Political Editor
Posted to the Web: Monday, February 07, 2005

As the 400 men and women nominated to give Nigeria a new
constitution prepare to gather in Abuja, one very important matter for
consideration is: What do the people want. The starting point is a look at
previous attempts. The last exerrcise threw up some options and this is the
focus of this material.The Constitutional conference of 1994 and 1995 attempted
to introduce far-reaching reforms to the polity. The 19 Committees it set up
came up with measures which reflected the mood of the moment. There was
provision for rotation of the presidency between the North and the South, a
direct fall out of the June 12, 1993 annulment crisis.

A single term of five years was introduced for the
president at the federal level and the governors while many of the items on the
exclusive legislative list were ceded to the states. The concurrent list was
strengthened and residual list restored as it was in the First Republic.
Agriculture was made exclusively an area within the jurisdiction of states save
policy making. All universities, including those owned and managed by the
federal government were to be ceded to the states.

Report of the Committee on Political
Structure and Framework Of the Constitution.

One Sovereign Nation

The Committee had no difficulty in agreeing to the
desirability of one indivisible, indissoluble, sovereign, democratic, united
Nigeria based on the principle of fairness, equality and justice. This
desirability was to constitute the foundation of an arrangement which would be
the basis of the new Constitution. The Committee noted that there were certain
obstacles that militated against the desire for unity.

Among such obstacles were corruption and nepotism,
manipulation of the political system by the elites, operating against laws and
norms of the society, inability to punish misdeeds even where glaring, over-centralisation
of power at the centre and frequent interruption by the military in governance.
The recommendation that Nigeria shall be one indivisible, indissoluble,
sovereign, democratic, united country founded on the principle of fairness,
equality and justice was accepted by the whole conference sitting as a Committee
and was inserted in the Draft Constitution by the Drafting Committee.

System of Government

As for the system of government that would best suit
Nigeria, the Committee deliberated on a number of options:

(a) Unitary Form.

Defined as a form of government where the authority
resides in the centre, and descends to subordinate or lower levels, this system
was considered inappropriate for Nigeria and therefore, was not recommended.

(b) Confederation.

This option was considered. It was defined as a form of
government where the authority of the centre would be weaker. The power resided
in the confederating units. This system was considered unsuitable for Nigeria
and was therefore, not recommended.

(c) Federalism.

The definition of Professor K. C. Wheare was used by the
Committee, namely that a federal government exists where the powers of
government for a community are divided substantially according to the principle
that there is a single independent authority for the whole areas in respect of
some matters; and independent regional authorities for other matters, each set
of authorities being co-ordinate with and not subordinate to the others. The
Committee observed that this system would be appropriate for a group of states
or communities which wished to be united under a single central authority but at
the same time desired to be autonomous with respect to certain matters. In a
federal system each level of authority or government is allocated certain powers
and functions by the Constitution, and with respect to those allocated powers
and functions, each level of government is autonomous. The Committee resolved
that such a system would be suitable for Nigeria for very many reasons among
which are the following:

(i) it would fit a heterogeneous society, guarantee and
sustain unity in diversity,

(ii) it would provide an opportunity to the people to
participate in the governance of their country;

(iii) it would minimise or eliminate fears of domination
or margmalisation;

(iv) it would inspire development.

Federalism was recommended by Committee No. 1 and accepted
by the whole Conference. It has been inserted in the Constitution. There were
some innovations in the Federalism so recommended, namely:

(a) It should be true federalism with clear demarcation of
powers and functions among the levels of government. In the exercise of those
powers and functions assigned by the Constitution each level of government
should be autonomous;

(b) There should be equitable distribution of political
and economic powers between the centre and the component units;

(c) Them should be a strong, independent and impartial

(d) The federating or component units should be
economically viable;

(e) The system should promote peace, justice and growth in
relation to the complexities of the federating units.

Having settled for a federal system the next consideration
was the number of tiers or levels of government that would most suit Nigeria.
Various combinations were debated and in the end Committee No I opted for the
three tier now in operation in Nigeria, namely: Centre – States – Local
Governments. It was agreed that this would be the best out of all the
combinations considered, especially if it could be cured of the distortions
introduced as a result of Military governments. This recommendation was agreed
to by the whole Conference sitting as a Committee. It has been included in the
Draft Constitution.

The Conference-in-Committee accepted all the observations
made by Committee No. I and these are to be found in detail in the Report of the
Committee. It is considered sufficient to put down the summary of the

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