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A conference blowing with the winds

Posted by Musikilu Mojeed on 2005/07/11 | Views: 282 |

A conference blowing with the winds


Despite several weeks of negotiations and consultations to reconcile aggrieved delegates and restore normalcy to the National Political Reform Conference, uncertainty still surrounds Monday’s (today) planned resumption of the conference.

Despite several weeks of negotiations and consultations to reconcile aggrieved delegates and restore normalcy to the National Political Reform Conference, uncertainty still surrounds Monday’s (today) planned resumption of the conference. Between Thursday and Sunday, the leadership of the conference made frantic and concerted efforts to persuade all aggrieved delegates to come back to the conference venue at the International Conference Centre in Abuja.

On Thursday, conference Chairman, Justice Niki Tobi, and other principal officers had a five-hour meeting with leaders of state and zonal delegations, members of the Business Committee as well as the leaders of the 19 committees of the conference. The meeting was described as the beginning of another round of marathon bargaining. But like all other meetings before it, the parley ended in a stalemate after leaders of the Northern and South-South delegations reportedly refused to shift grounds on the resource control debacle.

Considered at the meeting, according to sources, was a proposal the leadership felt should be agreeable to all parties. The proposal, which is essentially suggestions on how the recommendations on the contentious issues should be crafted in the final report of the conference, was said to have elicited stiff opposition from delegates from the South-South geopolitical zone.

The first proposal, which deals with the resource control issue reads, “While a majority supported an increase in the level of derivation from the present 13 per cent to 17 per cent, delegates from the South-South supported by other delegates from the South-East stuck to 50 per cent as the irreducible minimum; although having regard for the need for unity, peace and stability would be prepared to accept, in the interim, 25 per cent derivation with a gradual increase to attain 50 per cent over a period of five years.”

On the tenure of office of the President and Governors, which also deeply polarised the delegates at the conference, the proposal indicated that the views of the two contending groups would be reflected in the final report of the conference. It reads, “Delegates voted in favour of the retention of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution which stipulate a term of four years for the President and the Governors, including a possible reelection of an incumbent for another term of four years while the minority favoured the adoption of a single term of six years for the President and a single term of five years for Governors without the possibility of re-election.”

But it soon became clear that the proposal had run into a brick wall. Participants poured out of the meeting wearing long faces and shunning enquiries by newsmen. Former Anambra State Governor, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said, “This is not a day for press interviews.” “We are all dumb,” added former Inspector General of Police, Chief Sunday Adewusi.

Leader of the Northern delegation, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, however, disclosed that the logjam over resource control had not been broken. Dikko said, “There were still some people from the South-South who still said they did not agree with the 17 per cent, which was offered to them by the Committee of Leaders. They were still asking for higher percentage. So, I think what is likely to be the position is that where you don’t agree, your own minority report would be forwarded.”

Despite failure by the July 7 meeting to strike a deal between the contending groups, the leadership of the conference still pressed ahead with reconciliatory efforts. Last Saturday, the leadership of the Northern and South-South delegations again met for several hours but the two groups were reported to have stuck to their positions. Also on Sunday, the about 70 leaders that met earlier on Friday again converged on the International Conference Centre in a last minute effort to broker peace preparatory to the resumption of plenary session on Monday.

Though the leadership of the conference on Sunday issued a statement stating that the resumption date fixed for Monday remained unchanged, it was still uncertain as at 5.15 pm on Sunday if the South-South delegates would return to the plenary. A statement by the Media Coordinator of the conference, Mr. Eric Teniola, on Sunday, apologised to delegates for the inconveniences caused them by the delay in reconvening the Conference. The statement said, “I have been directed by the Secretary of the National Political Reform Conference, Rev. Father Mathew Hassan Kukah to inform all delegates to the Conference that the Conference will reconvene unfailingly tomorrow Monday, July 11, 2005 at 9.00 a.m. at the International Conference Centre, Garki, Abuja. “We apologise for any inconveniences caused for the delay in earlier reconvening of the Conference.”

But the South-South has said it would not be interested in returning to the conference unless there was a change of mind by the Northern delegates that the resource control issue, with its derivation components, would be revisited. The South-South delegates who commenced a meeting at about 4 pm on Sunday in Abuja to decide whether to attend the plenary on Monday or not, said that what was annoying was the arrogance being displayed by the North. In fact, earlier meetings scheduled by the zone among themselves and with the leadership and opinion leaders of the South-East for Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Port Harcourt could not hold because of the series of meetings held in Abuja. This prompted the meeting held on Sunday evening in Abuja.

But before the commencement of the Abuja meeting, the Media Coordinator of the South-South delegates at the conference, Chief Mike Ozekhome, and the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, who is also a delegate, Mr. Oronto Douglas, said that the zone was going to stay away from the conference if there was no assurance that the derivation issue would be reopened. Ozekhome and Douglas said that there would have been no need for the zone to attend the conference if all that would be achieved was a marginal increase in derivation from 13 per cent to 17 per cent. They added that what was more annoying was that they had made a lot of concessions without the North doing the same in terms of the level of derivation demanded. According to them, to have come down from their demand for 100 per cent to 50 per cent and 25 per cent, was an indication of their interest in the dialogue process. They said what was more annoying was the arrogance with which the North had carried on during the debate on the issue.

The conference had adjourned in acrimonious circumstances on June 16 after its leadership was unable to reconcile delegates from the North and their counterparts from the South-South who had walked out of the talks in protest against the conference’s approval of a marginal increase in derivation percentage from 13 to 17 per cent. The conference was billed to reconvene on June 22 but two days to the date, Kukah announced that the resumption had been shifted to June 29. Though he said the postponement was to allow the secretariat put finishing touches to the final plenary session, The PUNCH exclusively, and rightly so, reported that the shift was caused by security reports indicating that there would be a threat to national security should the conference be allowed to reconvene that day.

But the June 29 date also turned out a mirage as Kukah, on June 26, again issued a statement saying that resumption of the conference had been pushed forward till July 11, 2005 to allow the leadership more time to reconcile contending parties, thus confirming the report by The PUNCH.

The debacle over resource control has, so far, defied all attempts at amicable resolution. President Olusegun Obasanjo, disturbed by the turbulence that had rocked the conference and its implication for national peace and stability, met separately with Northern governors as well as their counterparts from the South-South geopolitical zone in Calabar and Abuja respectively. At the separate meetings with the governors of the contending regions, the President was said to have expressed sadness at the turn of events at the conference. He was said to have mandated the governors to reach out to their delegates to, in the spirit of national interest and stability, relax their hard line positions on the resource control issue. The President, according to sources, explained to the governors that the success of the conference was critical to the stability of the country and that there was need to do all that was possible to ensure that it ends well.

The leadership of the conference also held series of consultations with the Federal Government, the leadership of the contending groups and the governors of Nassarawa, Kano, Rivers, Enugu and Ebonyi States in a bid to break the logjam.

But the peace moves did not achieve the desired results as the contending groups continued to spit fire. The South-South delegates vowed that they would only return to the conference if the derivation fund is jacked up to 25 per cent and the procedural error used on the floor of the conference in adopting the recommendations of the Prof. Joe Irukwu-led Committee of Elders corrected. However, the Northern delegates threatened that they would oppose any attempt to revisit any issue that had already been decided.

Dikko raised the stakes of the arguments and counter-arguments on July 25 when he restated that the North would block any attempt by the conference to increase the derivation fund from the proposed 17 per cent adding, however, that his group would allow the resource control issue to be discussed at the plenary session of the conference to enable aggrieved delegates from the South-South have their say on the issue, strictly for record purposes. Dikko had said, “We are not saying that the issues that have been decided should be reopened. What we have agreed is that everybody is free to make comments on the issues and their comments would be recorded for posterity. To reopen the issues would be against the Standing Order of the conference. Some of them complained that they were not allowed to air their views on the matter, so we now said they should be allowed to make their remarks for record purposes only. As for resource control, the conference has decided on 17 per cent, so we cannot reopen it. To reopen it will be violating our Standing Order. But anybody who has an opinion to express on the issue can do so. Such comments will be on record.”

That terribly irked the leader of the South-South delegation, Chief Edwin Clark, who promptly shot back, describing Dikko’s comment as “inconsiderate, arrogant and unguarded.” An apparently angry Clark said by the comment, Dikko had taken the “usual arrogance” of the North to another level. Clark said, “What Umaru Dikko said is arrant nonsense. What does he take us for? He is just displaying the usual arrogance of the North. But this time, he has taken it too far. He was downright arrogant and inconsiderate. Or why will he and his people suggest that we should come and air our view just for the sake of doing so? Here is a man whose region does not contribute anything to the national purse. The food he eats is from the resources in my area. The wealth with which his area was developed is from our area. So he cannot tell us what to do with the resources in our area. The man who provides the food cannot be told what share to take. So tell him, we will not take his arrant nonsense. We will not be bothered by his display of empty arrogance. To say that we should come and express our opinion just for the records without reaping anything from such talks is an insult to our people. We will not take it. We will never come to the conference to rubber stamp any decision that would be to the detriment of our people. As far as we are concerned, no decision has been taken on 17 or 25 per cent derivation. The Northerners wanted to impose the 17 per cent on us. But we are saying no. We won’t settle for anything less than 25 per cent.”

While that altercation was on, delegates from the South-West geopolitical zone met at Ibadan, Oyo State, to review developments at the conference. Oyo State Governor, Chief Rashidi Ladoja, said after the meeting that the zone had resolved to back the South-South’s agitation for 25 per cent derivation. That claim was punctured a day later by former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola who said no such resolution was taken at the Ibadan meeting. Though Ladoja insisted that the resolution was a collective decision of all delegates from the zone, former Director General of the Voice of Nigeria, Chief Taiwo Alimi, corroborated Ajibola’s claim. Alimi told our correspondent, “I was at the meeting of all delegates from the South-West in Ibadan. At that meeting, we did not agree that delegates from the zone would support the South-South in its agitation for 25 per cent derivation. What we all agreed upon at that meeting was that all our delegates must go back to conference and support what is fair to Nigeria. That means what is fair to all parts of the country. We resolved to return to conference to pursue the concept of fairness. The idea of whether it should be 25 per cent or 90 per cent was not on the final agreement. When it was discussed, a few individuals, maybe two or three delegates, thought along 25 per cent derivation. Other delegates were saying, ‘Why don’t you add one per cent to 17.’ So there was no unanimity as a South-West delegation that it should be a particular percentage.”

Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters and facilitator of the conference, Mr. Bala Kaoje, said there was no need for a stalemate on the issues because the conference is advisory. Kaoje said, “In the report of the conference, there will surely be room for majority and minority decisions in terms of the recommendations that will be made to government. Regarding resource control, the conference has no power to give a definite figure. The conference can only make recommendations. If the Federal Government desires, it can give the South-South any percentage it felt necessary. It can even be above the figure agreed at the conference. But the Federal Government must be allowed to take the decision.”

Alimi also proffers a way out of the logjam. He said the recommendations of the 19 committees and the submissions of delegates on the recommendations should be submitted to the Federal Government in full, adding, “The committees have made recommendations in various volumes and have been submitted to the conference leadership. Each delegate has made a submission on areas they disagree with in the recommendations. These two submissions should be put into volumes and submitted to the agency that convened the conference in full. The second option is that if there are areas of disagreement, if a group of people say they want 50, 25 or 17 per cent derivation, all these should be put together. If the majority is saying 17 per cent, you put it. If the minority is saying 25 per cent, you also reflect it. The conference will then submit its majority and minority report to government.”

The Punch, Monday, July 11, 2005

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.