Consensus On National Conference

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Consensus On National Conference
 

BY

 

CHUKWUEMEKA EZEIFE

 

January 9, 2005

 

Many years ago, I gave my ideas on how to re-structure Nigeria, at the Yoruba Tennis Club, Lagos. A national dialogue was indicated. The ideas have been incrementally refined. And Nigeria is crawling closer to a dialogue through a National Conference (NC). By May 2001, at the Leaders of Thought Meeting in Abuja, four zones came out clearly in support of (Sovereign) National Conference. The delegation from one zone was evenly split and the delegates from the remaining zone said they had no mandate. Today, the hen has come home to roost. It has not quite been so declared, but a consensus seems to have emerged on (Sovereign) National Conference. Those who did not want to hear the phrase "(Sovereign) National Conference" are considering the most effective approaches to it. Any residual opposition is like the Nigerian weatherman's "scattered thunder storms," always there! In my own progression, there have been semantic and substantive changes. Semantically, we have moved from "re-structuring Nigeria," through "re-organising Nigeria," to merely "re-touching" the polity."
 

Substantively, we have traversed various degrees of closeness and separation among the federating units. >From the worst-case scenario of a break-up, which we never really believed, we have arrived, today, at "Nigerian as an Economic Union" as the worst case, and minimum basis of association. Only emotional fools will choose disintegration when Economic Union is available. Today, the "scattered thunder storms" are for only vague fears of change, some lack of trust, residual mutual suspicion, intellectual inertia and some timidity. It takes no great courage to take this bull by the horns and declare the consensus on (Sovereign) National Conference, taking care, though, to smoothen the rough edges of the diamond! Come along; let's see how much we agree.

 

Why the Conference?


The Conference is needed to affirm one Nigeria and agree on the basis of association. To go beyond this simple statement and make a comprehensive case for (Sovereign) National Conference is not necessary. How happy are we with Nigeria today? Indeed, never have Nigerians declared their opting for one Nigeria, nor have they ever before, really agreed on the bases of association. When Nigerians agree to be Nigerians, Nigeria will cease to be a mere geographical _expression. The political elite and, worse, the military, have always used the name of Nigerians without the expressed consent of the people. Even General Abdulsalami's Constitution would claim: "We, the Peoples of Nigeria..." Na lie o! It is important and good that the peoples of Nigeria should affirm one Nigeria and show that they are Nigerians by choice; not like people occupied after conquest. Some International Organisations have received letters from groups in Nigeria who declare their desire to opt out of the Nigerian system as, at present, organised. "Nigeria is a nullity," was recently said. To affirm one Nigeria is basic (not to re-affirm, for we have never really affirmed before). It is also basic to agree on the bases of association.

 

Why not National Assembly Deal with All the Matters?


The issues to be dealt with at the Conference are beyond the mandate of the National Assembly. The National Assembly can maintain and manage the house; it is beyond its mandate to tear down and rebuild the house. Only the representatives of the people, specifically (s)elected for the purpose, can make basic system-changing proposals to the people for approval or rejection. It is totally beside the point to ask how members made it to the National Assembly. They are there; they are there! We should go deeper to the meat of the problem.

What issues need to be dealt with by the National Conference? They include: the federating units, their number; whether there should be a Senate, a House of Representatives or the two combined in a unicameral legislature; if there should be a Senate, what powers, what composition; fundamental devolution of powers; reversion to the parliamentary system or continuation with the (American) presidential system.

It is clear that such basic issues are outside the mandate of the National Assembly. How do they decide on whether there should be a Senate? A House of Representatives? Their powers? Their numbers? Even the decision on the extent of devolution of powers should cause some conflicts of interest, as members seek to protect the sectors over which they hold oversight functions. The cause of justice is best served when people design socio-political systems without knowing what positions they may occupy in the evolving system. The nearer we approach such a situation, the better. The present National Assembly members should not be given the embarrassing job of writing themselves into the Constitution. That they may not be embarrassed can only show the extent of moral bankruptcy in our politics.

 

Representation at the Conference


It is best to have full ethnic representation at the Conference. But, as it is often the case, the best is seldom achievable. The second best may be to start as we mean to go by adopting the principle of equality of federating units and letting the existing six zones be represented on equal basis, with each zone ensuring that, as much as possible, their ethnic groups are represented. There may be the issue of special interest groups like Labour, the Military, etc., as to whether or not they should be represented, with or without voting power. However this is resolved, there is some comfort in the fact that every Nigerian comes from somewhere in Nigeria. The mode of (s)election of delegates should be flexible as long as it is not made a political-party affair.

 

Naming the Conference


What is needed is that the decisions of the Conference, which must not affect the powers, activities and tenure of office of the incumbent Government, shall be final, and not subject to review or change by anybody or authority, except the Conference itself or its successor. It is important to elaborate. First, the deliberations of the Conference shall not affect the powers, the activities and the tenure of the incumbent elected office holders at all tiers of government. Therefore, the decisions of the Conference should come into force after the tenure of the incumbent governments. Subject to these, the decisions of the Conference may be presented to the People for approval or rejection, but no authority outside the Conference itself or its successor can alter the decisions. This is where the sovereignty of the Conference begins and ends. If this is understood and accepted, there is no reason to insist on "Sovereign" being in the name. Therefore, National Conference it is! We know where sovereignty resides, but, pragmatically, it is not now relevant.

 

Worst-case Scenario or Minimum Basis of Association


The fear has been expressed that the National Conference will provide the opportunity for some groups to opt out of Nigeria. This requires that before going into any serious business of the Conference, a minimum basis of association, agreeable to every group, should be established. Assume that Biafra succeeded and became independent of Nigeria in, say 1970, and that somehow, in the same period, Odua, Arewa and Bendel Republics emerged. Now this question: would it have been a great surprise if a Nigeria Union, composed of all those republics, celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2004? Why surprise? Emotions may be quite strong, but the pull of economic forces is stronger. Look at the European Union; check their history.

 

By 1984, after the small Nigeria republics would have enjoyed their independence for 14 years, and emotions have been drawn, they toe the conference table! There, intelligent representatives, concerned only with their group self-interest, would have agreed that it made eminently good sense to accept Nigeria as an Economic Union, and settled for that. Should we not, therefore, accept Nigeria as an Economic Union, as the minimum basis of association? This acceptable should be clear before even the convening of the Conference.

 

While the terms of the Union may be elaborated, it is better for the delegates to agree to return to detailing the content of the Nigerian Economic Union, if and when it becomes absolutely necessary to do so. That says that the worst disagreement among the delegates should lead to the elaboration of the tiers of the Nigerian Union. It must be realistically expected that some difficulties will be experienced and that serious efforts, and a lot of patience, will be needed to persuade some groups to accept a common set of conditions for closer association. The truth is that, objectively, the changes that need to be made are nothing earth shaking. The people of Nigeria should affirm their choice of, and commitment to, one Nigeria, if even, as an Economic Union, and begin discussion. We should now proceed to discuss those necessary changes.

 

The Federating Units


There is need to reconcile the Federal System, which was operated in the First Republic with the Federal System we operate now. The former could be regarded as the negotiated preferences of Nigerian political leaders. The latter resulted from impositions by the various military administrations; the first imposition resulted from the needs of the Civil War. System effectiveness and efficiency call for larger federating units, because larger federating units make it easier to apply the federal principle and deal with some issues, which appear very difficult today. Those who operated the initial three-region federating system complained that the regions were too large and strong. Today, the states are clearly too small, too many, too weak. The consensus on federating units has crystallised as follows:
 

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The existing states will continue as sub-federating units and must be re-organised, as such, in the Constitution.

 

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The existing, if informal, six political zones will become the principal federating units. The three zones of the so-called major ethnic groups will be adjusted to bring into these zones, those elements of their ethnic groups, which are contiguous to them but are, at present, outside those zones. Similar adjustments may be necessary in other zones.

 

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Those who aim at diluting ethnicity have suggested that the six zones, as adjusted above, should each be carved into two, to give twelve principal federating units. This is an idea.

 

Constitution for New Nigeria


The main thrust in the new Constitution for Nigeria is the adoption and application of true federal principle.

 

Return to Federal Principle
 

The reconciliation of the Federal System of the First Republic with the Federal System of today will lead to a federal arrangement where the federating units are by far stronger than they are today, but not as strong as in the First Republic. The clearly federal functions: weights and measures, currency and money, interstate commerce, external functions, defence, customs and excise, etc., should form the minimum content of the Federal Exclusive List. What functions are to be added to this minimum Exclusive List or kept in the Concurrent List will be a matter of careful deliberation and negotiation? Our cultural autonomy must be treated specially. The principle of cultural autonomy of groups should be given prominence in the Constitution. This principle should cover ethnic groups or sub-nationalities from the largest to the smallest. People should freely display and develop their culture, subject to the movement of factors of production not being impeded thereby. In spite of greater application of the federal principle and emphasis on cultural independence, it is agreed that the Federal Government must remain strong enough to project virile Nigerian nationhood to the rest of the world.

 

Devolution of Powers


Devolution of powers will reflect the extent of the adoption of the federal principle. While there is consensus on greater application of the Federal principle, it is not clear what the consensus is, if any, on the extent of actual devolution of powers. Clearly, larger federating units make efficient and more justified, greater devolution of powers from the centre to the lower tiers of government. The larger federating units, with the states, can handle most governmental functions, without the appearance of a chaotic multiplicity of systems. Economy of scale can be exploited, yet government is near enough to the people, for their true aspirations to impact on government policies.

 

Organisation (Constitution) of the Federating Units


The states in each federating unit will negotiate and choose the form of government they want. Their constitutions may be federal, unitary or in-between. They may rotate the federating units' leadership among the governors of the zone/federating unit. They may adopt parliamentary or presidential system, etc. It depends on agreements reached by the states. Where the states demand, the Federal Government may mediate the constitutional arrangements. This approach has the advantage of reducing the effect of attachment to states, or statism.

 

Presidential or Parliamentary System (at the Centre)


It is not clear what system of government is preferred. The case has been made that the Presidential System is too expensive, concentrates too much power in one person, is subject to serious abuse and corruption (at our level of development), can be insensitive to the peoples' yearnings, etc. In a Parliamentary System, the ministers are drawn from elected persons in the legislature and can go back to the legislature if they disagree with the Head of Government. This gives them more bargaining powers than in the presidential system. The choice of system of government is likely to be a subject of prolonged discussion.

 

Federal Institutions Requiring Reconsideration


Some federal institutions may be affected, depending on the result of devolution of powers. The two institutions that have come up for serious comments are the Military and the Police. The emerging consensus can be rendered as follows:
 

The Army

Some re-organisation of the Armed Forces may be necessary. There may be legions variously deployed, even to zones or principal federating units. There may be an elongation of the chain of command. However, what appears to be the consensus on the Nigerian Military is to have one National Military Force, with unified command. The military should be deployed to minimise the risk of sectional action and also to contribute to the greater stability of Nigeria. The one new issue arises from the identified need for a Peoples' Army. The critical leadership position thrust on Nigeria, by her position in Africa, requires her to have a Peoples' Army, able to assure supply of adequate trained manpower. The present state of lack of development - no growth and massive unemployment - gives the wrong impression that recruitment into the Army has no problem. For many reasons, it is advantageous for Nigerians to be compulsorily and systematically trained as soldiers. The zonal and state governments may make contributions and have some influence on the organisation on the Peoples' Army but the command should remain unified.

 

Police Force of the Zones/Federating Units
The single (national) Police Force, as at present, controlled from the centre, i.e. by Federal Government, has proved problematic. In the hands of men with clean minds and honest intentions, the problems persist. Any abuse of the control system, like in Anambra State, 2003/2004 add greater urgency to the need to reform the Nigerian Police. Many Governors and some people, who are currently in power, favour the setting up of State Police. And the defects, in the control of the Nigeria Police, have led some state governments to set up, by law, vigilante groups. These outfits can easily transform into security (or police) forces. Yet, many people find the idea of State Police system (beyond the provision for the personal safety of the State Chief Executive Officer, the Speaker of the House of Assembly and the Chief Judge of the State) too odious to contemplate at this stage of our development.

 

Many people, indeed, most people, believe that the leaders of the state will so abuse the State Police that Nigerians will live like occupied persons in their homes. Zonal Police Force is a halfway house between one National Police Force and State Police Force. The Governor will have such control of the Zonal Police Force as will enable him/her perform as the Chief Security Officer of the state. Yet the Zonal Police should be controlled, for many purposes, by a body set up by the Zonal Authorities. Each state has a stake and a say in the organisation and control of the Zonal Police; excesses can be minimised. It is important that policemen work as far away as possible, from their hometowns, so those ancient inter-village grudges do not affect the police in the performance of their duties. Of course, there shall still be National Police whose responsibilities should cover national security, interstate commerce, Interpol matters, etc.

 

Revenue Allocation:

 

Acknowledge Sources, Share Fairly in National Interest
The affirmed one Nigeria should evolve into one large extended family. In our extended family system, the contributor/benefactor is acknowledged, appreciated and honoured; the sharing is done fairly, basically according to need, with the needs of the benefactor given adequate attention. The extended family system is built on assured love, trust without doubt, and total commitment of members. It will take some doing, and quite some time, to approach that situation in Nigeria. In the meantime, again, we should start as we mean to go, by modelling our revenue allocation after the extended family system. The challenge is to approach the conditions of the extended family system. Even now, before the conditions are approached, every component of Nigeria must have something it gains for belonging to Nigeria, beyond the great common advantage of large market, the psychic benefits of large size, and the protection it provides. At present, the challenge to the revenue allocation in Nigeria is fairness to the contributors/benefactors.

 

The Derivation Principle


The creed should be: apply the derivation principle; attribute all revenues to their zonal sources, subject to national interest. The sources of revenue may be agriculture, fisheries and livestock; mining and quarrying; manufacturing; commerce (including invisible, if possible). Whatever the source, they should be attributed, if necessary imputations may be made.

 

National Interest


National interest, with respect to revenue allocation, will manifest in provisions for ecological problems, emergencies (including natural disasters), special problems (costs) of large geographical size, and for the augmentation of the receipts of those states, which are at the bottom of the revenue allocation table. National interest-thinking calls for some token special treatment (recognition) of those principal federating units, which contribute most to the national treasury. Perhaps, particular leaders from those zones should have automatic invitation to all national events, including the visit of foreign dignitaries; they may also have automatic representation in overseas trips by the Head of the Federal Government. Titles (like Revenue (or Resource) Backbone of the Nation, RBN) may also be awarded to those federating units, for as long as they retain their position on the table of "Zonal Sources of Revenue."
 

Resource Control


The 19 Northern Governors have challenged the de-dichotomisation (on-shore/offshore) of oil revenue. If this challenge is sustained - though it looks like bad politics with adverse long-term consequences - it throws off any consensus on the matter. The fact is that whoever controls a resource does not abrogate the powers of the government to raise revenue from the resource through taxation, royalties, levies, fines, fees, etc. Government can even force the exploration of a resource not yet exploited by the owner/controller. With a government that knows how to use its powers, the issue of resource control can become of academic interest only. Yet, we must accept that God plants people and resources where He pleases. It makes good sense that people should own and control what God has given them. To tell an owner that he does not own frustrates effort; and it can also generate justifiable, aggressive reactions. People should own and control the resources God has given to them without prejudice to the government using its legitimate powers on the people and the resources.

 

Other Businesses of the Conference


Convening the Conference is like climbing an Iroko tree; it is not a daily affair. Indeed, it may be the last for several generations, if not for all time. That is why we must try to get the most out of the event. There are many issues to be dealt with; they may not qualify as "make or break" matters. My thinking on a few of such matters follows below.

 

Impeachment / Recall Process


The provision on the impeachment of chief executives of the various tiers of government has become a tool for the legislators to extort funds from the chief executives. It is necessary to tighten the provisions to induce greater responsibility on the part of the legislators. For example, successful impeachment may require the legislators and the chief executive to take their cases to the electorate. A referendum may be held to confirm or reject the decision to impeach. Perhaps, it should be provided that the House stands dissolved, if the people reject their decision. On recall, the main problem is the authenticity of the signatures collected, and whether the signatures are freely given. A recall should fail where the number of votes during the voting to confirm the recall, is fewer than the signatures collected.

 

One-term Office Bearing


The lobby for one-term elective, chief-executive office holding is not only strong; it is also reasonable, given our present situation. However, the constitutional provisions on this should be made transitional, and subject to review after a given number of years - perhaps the same period of time after which the provision on rotation of executive leadership (proposed below) should be reviewed. For legislators, a two-term limit may be reasonable - also as a transitional provision. The proposal (below) on women empowerment for elective (legislative) offices may also be transitional.

 

"Routinising Routinisables"


Nigerians, at the National Conference, should identify tension-generating matters, from states to zonal and to national levels. Looking forward, and thinking creatively with flexibility, they should find ways to diffuse the tension by "routinising all routinisables" in the political process. Let's liberate the eagle to zoom off. This is in the interest of every group in Nigeria. Only emotion and shortsightedness can be on the way. In devising solutions, we should have our minds fixed on Nigeria: what can work. Even if what we end up with is innovative, unconventional, rigid, has never been tried anywhere in the world, etc., is it suited to our condition? Can it work routinely? Can it be sustained? These are the relevant questions; not whether an issue is so handled in Europe or Uruguay.

 

Rotation of Leadership


One of such tension-generating matter is the issue of executive headship at the local, state, zonal and, especially, the national levels. This appears to call for some transitional provision in the Constitution. It appears reasonable to say that pending the evolvement of national coherence, executive power positions, especially, at the national level, should be packaged into the same number, as there are principal federating units and rotated, in a defined sequence, among the zones. The zone, which will produce the executive head of federal government, may have other executive positions added to it. The other executive positions should be packaged for the rest of the zones. The sequence of rotation should be defined in the Constitution; the provision should be reviewed at the completion of each sequence of rotation. Similar provisions may be made for other tiers of government. Economic growth and development should be the dominant objectives at this stage of our nation. We should, therefore, be ready to sacrifice some political niceties as we focus on the more crucial national, economic objectives.

 

Citizenship Rights


Another conflict-generating issue is citizenship rights. Persons who were born in a place or have been resident and meeting their civic duties, like paying income taxes in the place for a given number of years, say five years, should automatically acquire full citizenship and indigene rights in the place, subject only to such persons not being qualified to represent the zone for executive headship of Nigerian government during the transitional period. Myopic thinkers may see this provision as serving the interest of Eastern Peoples, who have voted with their feet for one Nigeria and have borne the brunt of Nigeria being kept as one. They should think again.

 

Reform of the Electoral System
 

(a) Power Back to the People
Basic to democracy is the people's power to chose their representatives, who governs them, who uses their political power; that is, their leaders. Today, most Nigerian electorate have no say as to who is said to represent them. Whether they vote or do not vote in elections, is largely, of no consequence. Their votes do not count. In many parts of the country, political campaigning has become an anachronism of just a make-belief. The electoral process should be reformed to return power to the people.

 

(b) Deepening Intra-party Democracy
Returning power truly to the people is not a political party affair. The parties should have no choice on the procedure through which their interested and qualified members (those who satisfy the conditions of the party as eligible members), should emerge to contest for office at general elections. That should not be part of the internal affairs of the political parties. A law should provide the process for the selection of persons who should participate, as candidate, in general elections. To return power to the people, that law should make the direct primary system, the only way aspirants can emerge as candidates and it should empower qualified party members to freely participate in such primary elections. Those who win automatically become candidates and do not need to have their candidacy submitted to the electoral authority (which should be part of the process) by their parties. Everything concerning the emergence of a person as candidate for general parties, which may copy such procedures into their constitutions. On the internal party elections, the party constitutions should be clear on the rules, but whether such rules have been properly followed is not the internal affair of the parties. The rule of law (of rule), and due process, must apply universally.

 

(c) Dealing with Electoral Offences
The electoral law must define clearly the many forms and dimensions of electoral offences. The responsibilities of the agents and their principals must be stated clearly. Punishments, which should include exclusion or prohibition from participation in future political processes, should be tied to the offences.

 

Political Empowerment of Women


Women, especially women as mothers, bear the brunt of bad government. They absorb the frustrations of all the members of the family, in addition to their own. Women should, therefore, have vested interest in good governance. And women, as a rule and on the average, have greater integrity, and play more by the rules, than men. These two positive attributes of women justify their increased involvement in appointive and elective political positions in government, for the good of society. To empower women for appointive positions poses no problems. Many are highly educated and experienced. The empowerment of women for elective office is more difficult but the method for doing so had been proposed (by me) for some years now. The political parties cannot do it without doing violence to the democratic principle. Only the Constitution, or the Electoral Law, can do it.

 

It can work this way: where it is desired to have, at least, one quarter of the legislators as women, it requires that for every three free constituencies, i.e., constituencies in which men and women can vie, a woman-exclusive constituency should be created. For example, there are three senatorial constituencies in each state; these are free constituencies. The whole state, i.e., the three free constituencies together, shall become one woman-exclusive senatorial constituency. Where we want to ensure that women should hold one-third of the legislative positions, the number of "free" to women-exclusive constituencies should be two to one. In this case, again using the Senate, the state is divided into two free senatorial constituencies, while the whole state becomes a woman-exclusive senatorial constituency. It is easy to see how this applies to Council, House of Assembly, and House of Representatives constituencies. With this arrangement, no man can claim that any woman has unfairly or undemocratically taken his place. And, of course, those women who need no concessions have the free constituencies to vie for. A fair system to empower women, democratically, for the office of chief executive has not been, and may never be, devised.

 

A Chance to Begin Again


The National Conference provides Nigeria a chance to begin again in peace. The lesson of history is that effort to perpetuate unfair advantages have laid people waste. If the peace way is not allowed, a non-peace way will force its way. A time comes when frustrated people shop for death, in just any combat, just or not. Dying in combat - any combat - is more honourable than committing suicide, or dying miserably of hunger.

 

 

Okwadike Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife is Garkuwan Fika and Akintolugboye of Egbaland.

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