Fireworks conference position papers

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Guardian

April 4, 2005

 

Fireworks as
conference tackles flood of position papers

From Emmanuel Onwubiko, Abuja

 

AT the last
count, the secretariat of the National Political Reform Conference (NPRC) has
received about 2000 position papers from a broad spectrum of Nigerians and
interest groups.

 

Incidentally, two
of the three major ethnic groups namely Igbo and the Yoruba seem to have made
similar positions or at least their submissions have striking consensus and
compromise in some salient areas. The two ethnic groups support the
reintroduction of regions with the six geo-political zones serving as the
federating units.

 

Led by insurance
guru and president of the apex Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze professor Joe
Irukwu (SAN), Ndigbo in their 80-page position paper canvassed the introduction
of six regions as a way of promoting equity and ensuring true federalism in the
polity.

 

 

Titled:
“Memorandum to the National Political Reforms Conference 2005 from South East
zone of Nigeria on behalf of the Igbo-speaking peoples of Nigeria,” the paper
recommended the following:

  • the rights of
    each citizen should be strengthened and enforced;

  • revenue
    allocation should emphasise the derivation principle which shall be reviewed
    upward to 20-25 per cent;

  • the Federation
    Account shall be shared to the six regions on the basis of equality of
    federating units and population;

  • proportional
    representation shall become the manner of electing members to all legislative
    Houses in the country.

  • the matter of
    national census/population should be discussed by the conference;

  • the matter of
    National Debt should be examined and each Region should inherit the assets and
    liabilities attendant to these debts.

     

The paper also
urged that the National Conference should enshrine in the constitution, roles
for the traditional rulers and for Federal presence in the Southeastern States
of Imo, Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi Enugu and parts of Rivers and Delta States.

 

 

The civil society
on their part called for the restructuring of Nigeria such that there would be
true and fiscal federalism. According to them, introducing fundamental
restructuring of Nigeria will entail “devolution of power from the centre to the
federating units such that each federating unit is able to take care of its
needs without looking up to an over bearing and all too powerful centre.”
 

Representatives of
the civil society at the conference include Mike Nkwocha, Mike Ozekhome, Shehu
Sani, Professor Audu Idris, Idris Abdul and Mrs. Bisi Ogunleye.

 

The Warri Women
Consultative Assembly (WWCA) and Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), President Olusegun
Obasanjo’s personal lawyer made separate submissions, which they anchored on the
need for Nigeria to introduce strategies that would promote good governance and
a corrupt free society.

 

The WWCA in their
paper by Chief Rita Lori Ogbebor supported the clamour by most delegates from
the oil rich Niger Delta States for the introduction of Resource Control and
enhanced derivation formula. The women also canvassed what they termed “proper
resource management.”
 

 

 

As a way out the women suggested the creation of employment opportunity and
provision of infrastructural facilities to the oil-producing communities as the
most permanent solution to youth restiveness in the Niger Delta States.

 

According to
Ogbebor: “Contrary to the belief that peace cannot come to Warri, it is my
fervent view that if the State Government is sincere and engenders responsible
leadership other things will fall in place” because “the duty of government is
to provide employment for its people by all means. Such employment ought to be
genuine and lasting, not the sort that we have seen across the Niger Delta;
where young men are employed (contracted) to kill their brothers.

 

 

On his part,
Chairman of the National Conference Committee on Revenue Allocation and Fiscal
Federalism Babalola in an 86-page position paper stated Nigeria should have a
constitution that preaches true Federalism because the 1999 constitution
encourages unitary system of government.

 

 

Tracing the
conflicts afflicting the country to her foundation he said: “The Area now known
as Nigeria consists of over 400 tribes or nations. The British decided
arbitrarily to call the area Nigeria. Originally it was ruled as two countries,
later as a single entity, later again as three powerful regions with a weak
centre subsequently, the military fragmented it into enviable states and ruled
for over 30 years as a federation in name but a unitary system de facto.”
 

Babalola suggested
reform of the educational system including the National Youth Service Corps
programme (NYSC).

 

The eminent lawyer
the NYSC programme as currently constituted should be re-visited because “the
youth service system was imported by the military without due consideration for
state of development, transportation, poor supply of water, prevention of health
hazards. The number of students who die annually on roads due to poor
transportation, and diseases contacted in remote villages is worrisome.

 

That period of one
year should be reduced to half, students should serve in a state other than
their state but the emoluments should be increased.”
 

Interestingly,
delegates from the Southeast have begun intensive advocacy in the committees for
recommendation that the 2007 presidential slot should be zoned to the zone. Imo
State is been positioned for the slot, according to them.

 

At the head of the
campaign are Chief BON Nwakanma (SAN) and Chief Ziggy Azike from Imo State.

 

 

An area that
featured in most submissions made so far, is the unanimous call for the current
electoral laws of Nigeria to be fundamentally restructured in order to restore
faith in the elections to be conducted in 2007.

 

Mike Nkwocha, a
civil society delegate reasoned that “legitimacy of government is driven from
the mandate of the people freely given and expressed in a democratic manner.
Legitimacy is a sin qua non for good governance and development. A rigged
election and blatant twisting of the will of the people deprives the beneficiary
the legitimacy to govern. Nigeria is gradually getting the notoriety as a place
where the will of the people is always subverted by the ruling elite in the
choice of leadership.

 

 

 

  • The integrity of
    the umpire: the impartiality of the umpire is primary to any free and fair
    election. How do we ensure the integrity of the umpire? It will help to study
    the Indian and South African system where the people and political parties are
    involved in the process of leadership selection of the body whose
    responsibility is to conduct elections. The Independent National Electoral
    Commission (INEC) must be structured to make it really independent by removing
    the overbearing influence of the executive in the appointment, removal of
    Board, management and staff of the body as well as its funding.

  • The system of
    voting should be re-examined and reassessed. I suggest the adoption of the
    Indian Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) which eliminates rigging by more than
    70 per cent and still ensures secrecy of voting. This machine was responsible
    for the last Indian election being adjudged the fairest and freest election in
    recent time. The machine swept the incumbent government out of power and
    brought in Mrs. Ghandi’s Congress Party to power. This machine is not complex
    or sophisticated as to pose a problem to the uneducated but at the same time,
    it cannot be manipulated or fixed to aid malpractice. It is important to have
    in mind that India has a higher level of illiteracy, poverty and population
    Nigeria.

  • Also the
    electoral law as it relates to petitions and complaints emanating from
    elections should be reviewed. Petitions and complaints of fraud and
    malpractice’s should be disposed off before the winner is officially announced
    and sworn in like the situation in Ukraine.

  • The command
    structure, the use and deployment of police and the armed forces should be
    re-examined. In India there is a temporary change in command structure of the
    police which removes the power of the final authority from the President to
    the Chairman of the Electoral Body. The implication being that the Chairman of
    the Electoral Body is given ample power to maintain the authority and
    neutrality of the body during election. The Inspector General of police
    receives instruction and orders from the Chairman instead of the President.
    Also the practice of allowing all sorts of persons and character to enjoy
    police protection, privileges and use of police for intimidation purposes is
    curtailed.

  • Funding of
    political activities should be curtailed. Our electoral laws must set a limit
    to electoral funding by the parties, the candidates and individuals or
    organisations’ contribution to electoral expenses. This will check corruption,
    godfatherism and wastefulness.

  • Political
    parties shall be reformed to groom and provide credible leadership. Political
    parties in Nigeria are no longer organised groups with set goals and clear
    patriotic ideologies. We have to make considerable effort in this direction
    because it is only by having same agenda that a party can effectively
    contribute to the programme of its government or an opposition party can
    criticise constructively in order to provide an alternative platform for the
    people.

Some observers are
not comfortable that some of the delegates have just bagged appointments into
governing councils of some Federal Universities because their independence in
taking positions at the national dialogue might be compromised. But other
observers believe that the delegates are men and women of integrity who will
support positions at the conference that will place Nigeria on the path to
economic growth and political stability.

 

Another area of
compliant is the closed-door nature of the committee sessions, which may give
rise to government intervention because for now, only security operatives can
gain access to the committee rooms. The Nigerian press is completely banned.

 

Though Reverend
Father Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Secretary of the NPRC has assured the media of
constant interactive sessions, it might be difficult to diffuse the impression
that the government would influence deliberations at the committee sessions
since they are not done in the open.`

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