Ochereome Nnanna: We want a real conference, not a jamboree

by Ochereome Nnanna

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The conference will now be exactly what we had feared: an Obasanjo-like jamboree that will not satisfy the yearnings of those hoping it would give Nigeria a new beginning and cure the polity of the ailments responsible for the overall unhappiness of every stakeholder.

When Senator Ahmed Tinubu came back from his long medical trip abroad and thumbed down President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to convene a national conference, he drew rapid fire from certain quarters.

People wondered what he really wanted. After canvassing for a conference to address faults in the political system, especially its counterfeit and inequitable federalism, the Asiwaju sounded odd backing away from an opportunity to push for it at a confab. He called it a “Greek gift” and “public deception”, though he promised to discuss with his party before a final position would be reached.

Tinubu was not really being a clairvoyant, because on this forum a fortnight ago, we wrote an article entitled: “Doesn’t This Conversation Stink?” We expressed the fear that it might not be much different from the 2005/2006 offering by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, which ended up a waste of time, energy and national resources.

When President Jonathan constituted the Senator Femi Okunrounmu National Conference Advisory Committee, NCAC, many Nigerians entertained cautious optimism because he seemed to give the Committee a blank cheque to consult with Nigerians and whatever manner of conference they wanted would be all right with him.

He sounded like the ultimate democrat willing to submit to the wishes of the majority. But the President’s recent assertion that the decisions of the conference will be submitted to the National Assembly to take along in its constitution amendment pursuits has changed everything.

The conference will now be exactly what we had feared: an Obasanjo-like jamboree that will not satisfy the yearnings of those hoping it would give Nigeria a new beginning and cure the polity of the ailments responsible for the overall unhappiness of every stakeholder.

It is obvious that the President wants the Constitution amended. But it is not clear (to me, at least) why he wants it amended except his old, discredited idea of a single seven-year tenure for elected executive officers of the federal and state governments.

I have never heard the President offer his perspective on resource control, devolution of powers, creation of states or conversion of the geopolitical zones into tiers of governance, structure of federalism, rotation of the presidency or specific constitutional reforms that would take the country in a definite direction.

For instance, in November 2011, he had set up the Justice Alfa Belgore Presidential Committee on the Review of Outstanding Issues from Recent Constitutional Conferences.

The Committee submitted its report on July 11, 2012, proposing no fewer than 52 alterations to the 1999 Constitution. The President promptly passed most of the Committee’s report to the National Assembly, which commenced a convoluted process of constitution amendment that has virtually hit the rocks.

The difficulty in pushing through this wholesale constitution amendment made commentators to conclude that the 1999 Constitution is simply too flawed to be remedied through amendment. That was why the call for a brand new constitution assumed a new urgency.

A new constitution is imperative for a number of reasons. The first is that the 1999 Constitution, apart from being irretrievably flawed, is not a genuine constitution.

It is still very much a military law (Decree No 24 of May 9, 1999). The General Abdulsalami Abubakar regime put up a panel of unelected individuals who simply upgraded the 1979 presidential constitution with a few inputs taken from the 1995 Draft Constitution derived from the Abacha Constitutional Conference. After the Decree was promulgated, the General Abubakar regime kept it away from Nigerians until the newly elected General Olusegun Obasanjo regime was sworn into power on May 29, 1999. It is an illegitimate constitution apart from being severely faulty.

Secondly, the conference of our dreams was meant to produce a new constitution created by elected delegates of the Nigerian people. Its product is supposed to be drafted by a Constituent Assembly, and once it is passed by Nigerians at a plebiscite, it becomes the new super document regulating the lives and conducts of all Nigerians.

A document that comes out of such process would be free from dictatorial shenanigans and manipulations of colonialists or military authoritarians, both of which served the interests of vested sectional and religious groups while marginalising the others.

This was the basic sources of discontent in the system, which has made it impossible for Nigeria to be united. This is the very source of unending conflicts and inter-group frictions, which manifested in decades of violence, civil war, self-determination militancy (including the Niger Delta armed struggle for resource control and Boko Haram Islamic terrorism).

The President Jonathan “Conversation”, which will not result in a new constitutional document, can not bring any desirable outcome. Even if outstanding resolutions are reached they will never be allowed to see the light of day when filtered through the National Assembly as well as state assemblies, where two-third majorities must approve for them to become new constitutional clauses. I do not see the National Assembly being capable of re-engineering the system because those benefiting from the status quo will use their votes to strike down anything that goes against their interests.

We are living witnesses to what happened during the 2005/2006 Obasanjo-empanelled National Political Reform Conference, NPRC. The Conference resolved that only one state would be created for the South East Zone to bring it up to par with four other zones with six states.

The Senate under Senator Ken Nnamani as presiding officer passed the resolution. But because of Obasanjo’s tenure elongation plot which was factored into the Constitution Amendment Bill, the entire exercise was truncated. Today, there are more than 60 new demands for state creation, and the already agreed extra state for the South East is no longer acknowledged.

We want a genuine conference, not a jamboree. Give us or forget it.

Plea for crash survivor, Mrs Owolabi

I hereby lend my humble voice in the call on the Federal Government, Lagos State Government, churches and any other capable, wealthy individual to urgently come to the aid of the survivors of the Associated Airlines which crashed in Lagos on October 3, 2013.

Two surviving crew members, Mrs Quinneth Owolabi and Miss Toyin Sampson, according to the National President of Nigerian Airlines Crew Association, NACCA, Charles Onuoha, need urgent referrals to medical institutions abroad.

In particular, Mrs Owolabi risks having her fingers and toes amputated due to gangrene infection. Wealthy relations had already flown two other survivors abroad. Let us not abandon these women to a lifetime of disfiguration and abandonment.

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Read this article in the Vanguard Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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