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BreakingNews 14/4/2014 - Nigeria Confab News Summary

BreakingNews 14/4/2014 - Nigeria Confab News Summary

[ Masterweb Reports: Akpandem James reports ] – 1. Delegates focus on true federalism: The call for restructuring of Nigeria into true federalism with the different geo-political zones serving as federating units received further boosts on Wednesday as different delegates across different states harped on it.

Presided over by the Conference Chairman, retired Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, GCON, the session was a continuation of the debate and comments on the speech presented on March 17 by President Goodluck Jonathan when he inaugurated the Conference.
Former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, who advocated regionalism, openly prayed that Nigeria would not go the way of other countries of the world that started as one but had to split into parts along the way.

Describing the President’s speech as epochal and momentous, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said the President has set the tone for the Conference and that the burden was on the delegates to stop bickering and think Nigeria.

Speaking on the issue of religion, he said: “I am of a Muslim family; my father and my mother were Muslims. In my house, we have as many Muslims as we have Christians and I send many of them to Mecca on the Hajji as one of the five pillars of Islam. We don’t discriminate.

“I want to ask a question: why are we suddenly discriminating against ourselves. Religion is being used, as Karl Marx once said, as opium of the masses to oppress the people. It is by the elites of our people.

“What is going on in the north east of Nigeria does not seem to concern many of us because we are in the comfort of our homes either in Abuja, or in Lagos, or in Port Harcourt or in Enugu….”

Citing a portion of the Holy Quran, he said when the people of Mecca wanted Prophet Mohammed to worship their gods, he told them, “I worship not that which you worship nor do you worship that which I worship. Do not expect me to worship that which you worship nor should I expect you to worship that which I worship. To you your religion and to me my religion.

“Let us be united, let us have true fiscal federalism and every other thing shall be added to us. Let us have true devolution of power and strip the federal government of too much power.”

On the outcome of the conference, he said the decisions contained in the final report must be subjected to a referendum so that people would have a say on their constitution “because the process of the constitution is as important as the content of the constitution.”

Professor Kimse Okoko, former national president of Ijaw National Congress, said the speech by Jonathan was consummate, patriotic and portrayed potential elements for change.

While advocating fiscal federalism, Okoko said the 1999 Constitution was fraudulent in every aspect because with so much power being vested at the centre, it created rooms for avoidable wrong doings.

Senator Anietie Okon in his comments said the Conference has the potentials to lay the foundation and building blocks towards resolving certain national and local contending issues.

While advocating devolution of power with the zones serving as federating units, Okon said the reason for non-functionality of government is that the central government has become too unwieldy. 

He urged the Conference to do justice to the expectations of Nigerians.

Senator Femi Okurounmu who had earlier chaired the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Conference observed that for Nigeria to return to the path of growth and wholesome values, “we must wipe away all the negative imprints of military rule; we must return to federalism and a balanced federal structure.

“The centre must devolve powers to the federating units which are large enough to effectively wield the powers which are to be devolved. The present six geo-political zones or the original 12 states created by Gown are ideal for this purpose.”

He said if corruption is to be curbed and accountability restored to governance, “we must jettison the so-called presidential system and return to the parliamentary system under which our nation set the pace in growth and development even for today’s Asian Tigers.”

Okurounmu advised the Conference not to clamp itself under constraints that were not imposed by the President; he advised against sending the outcome of deliberations must not be sent to the National Assembly.

The delegate said to send it there will defeat the goal of building a new, just and equitable society “because the National Assembly itself is one of those institutions which, as presently constituted, is heavily skewed in favour of some sections of the country and against others.”

For Ezinwa Okoroafor, the National Conference provides a sincere opportunity for inter-generational handshake; explaining that while the elders should provide leadership based on experience, the youth should provide the energy required to push the nation forward.

Miliscent Okonkwo declared unequivocally: “we have to succeed this time,” adding that everyone must think beyond ethnic box and place Nigeria above everything else.
A lawyer, Festus Okoye, informed the Conference of the need to analyse what happened in the past to be able to plan for today and today because as he put it, yesterday has a lot of bearing on what we plan today for tomorrow.

He said some of the delegates at the Conference were internally displaced from their own states by insurgency and that the security problem facing the country today could be traced to the inability of policy makers to develop a comprehensive national security system.

Citing President Jonathan as example, Gabriel Okoye said courage is what good leaders are made of and that the President has demonstrated courage both in his speech and in action.

He said those of them in the Diaspora were desirous of voting in every election and suggested establishment of Diaspora Commission by the federal government would help in that regard.

Okuniyi Olawale said the Conference, with the caliber of people in attendance, should be able to give Nigeria a direction and stability.

Olawale said each delegate must be determined to maximize the opportunity provided by the Conference for the growth of the nation instead of getting distracted by pettiness.

One of the women delegates, Bisi Olagbegi informed the Conference that Nigerian women have been treated with ignominy for too long and structured out of relevance.

She pleaded that when issues are being discussed at the committee level, matters concerning women and the abuse and neglect of children should be given serious consideration.

Okon Osung from Akwa Ibom State raised the issue of resource control and environmental pollution and demanded that both be accorded desired consideration during committee discussions.

He painted realistic picture of environmental degradation caused by gas flaring and coastal erosion as a result of the unguarded activities of oil companies in the Niger Delta.

Oba Kehinde Olugbenle, in his contribution, said the existence of Nigeria as a nation has been destroyed by past leaders, especially the military; adding, “We need to tell ourselves the home truth.”

Retired Major General Paul Omu told the conference that the 1999 Constitution required some tinkering to enable it meet the desired needs of the people.

He dismissed as untrue the notion that the military be held responsible for the backwardness of Nigeria explaining that for every military coup in Nigeria, politicians and civilians are always accomplices.

President of the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Michael Olukoya lamented that 85% of the delegates who must have benefitted from public primary school education needed to be told what has happened to public schools in Nigeria.

He said delegates must rise from the Conference with the determination to revamp public schools although, as he put it, most of the people no longer believe in public schools.

Professor Akeem Oyebode described the federal system operated in Nigeria as caricature. He said the Conference must take steps to re-configure, re-invent and re-launch Nigeria.

He said the question of federation remains critical to the country, “the military killed federation because federation and military are strange bedfellows.”

2. Journalists Challenged To Put the Nation First

Journalists covering the on-going National Conference in Abuja have been advised to be sensitive to Nigeria’s diversity and idiosyncrasies as expressed at the Conference and aim towards building a truly united and cohesive country.

Veteran journalist and a delegate to the Conference, Mr. Ray Ekpu, said in Abuja on Friday that journalists must first understand the purpose of the conference and report events with the understanding that Nigeria must come out of its present dilemma characterized ethnic and religious tension.

Ekpu stated this at a one day media roundtable organized by the National Orientation Agency (NOA) for editors and correspondents covering the National Conference.

He said, “I would like journalists to show extreme sensitivity about the tough issues that this Conference will have to deal with.

“How they cover controversial issues such as ethnicity, religion, structure of government, resource control, fiscal federation, rotational presidency, devolution of powers, etc., will determine whether we want a united country or not.”

Ekpu asked reporters to demonstrate patriotism, “show a little more sensitivity to the wrangling, the flashes of temper, the disputations and the partisan oratory that you may experience in the coverage of the Conference.”

He said when this happens, “You will be contributing your own quota to the efforts that the Conference will be making to solidify the unity, cohesion and integration of the country.”

Minister of Tourism and Culture, Chief Edem Duke described the Conference as the building block for the Nigeria of the future and that its success would no doubt reposition the country for accelerated growth and development.

In this regard, he said the Nigerian media remain very critical in the effort in view of its proven capacity to inform, educate, mobilize and influence opinions; and that the Conference and what it stands for calls for a higher sense of patriotism and professionalism by the media.

Duke said it must be understood that those calling for moderation in the coverage of the Conference are not calling for censorship.

He explained, “The media has a professional responsibility to report all issues freely, fairly and objectively within the ambit and orbit of the law; however, what is paramount to all Nigerians in this Conference, is our national interest.

“The issue of national interest is particularly germane to the coverage of proceedings of the National Conference because of the volatile and contentious issues at stake.
“If arguments (on) the floor of the Conference are not carefully and professionally reported, they are capable of sending the wrong signals and igniting explosive reactions from members of the public. This will be a great disservice not only to the Conference but to the nation at large.”

Director General of the National Orientation Agency, Mr. Mike Omeri said the media roundtable was put together to sensitise the media on the importance of their role as a veritable link between citizens and the National Conference.

It was also meant, according to him, to re-emphasise the need for patriotic agenda-setting and promotion of national interest in media reportage of the Conference; and create a forum for exchange of ideas on the Conference between the media and officials of the Conference.

He stated, “It is our firm belief at NOA that media coverage of the National Conference with objectivity and nationalism is the right thing to do, bearing in mind that posterity will judge us all by our contributions to nation-building at critical moments of our national history such as this.”

Head of Media and Communication at the National Conference, Mr. Akpandem James, said the media roundtable was put together as a reminder to journalists that they have a role as a group and as a people entrusted with the responsibility of building a sound society.

He appealed to journalists covering the Conference to do their job in such a manner that they are not harassed by people who may feel hurt by their reportage.

He maintained that in such a large assembly of elders and young people, there would be incidents by the sides, “but I still appeal that we apply high sense of responsibility in what we do.”

A traditional ruler, the Etsu Karu, Luka Panya Baba reminded journalists of their role as the mirror of the society and demanded that every report should be a fair and accurate representation of things that happened.

“We see the media as the voice of the people. We depend significantly upon the media to be well informed about what is happening,” said the traditional ruler.

Speaking on agenda-setting, Tunde Rahman, the managing editor of Western Post, said journalists at the Conference could force attention to certain issues in a systematic way by aggregating the views of the delegates on core issues.
Such issues, he said include resource control, federalism, regional structure, devolution of powers, role of traditional rulers, among others; adding that journalists must be able to maintain a sense of balance between conflicting views and interests.
He said unlike most of the delegates who have ulterior motives, “our interest as journalists, I think, must be the interest of the people, the survival of the nation.

“I think that in the role of chroniclers of history and agenda setters, the media have assumed immense responsibilities for the next generation. This demands that we must be patriotic. We must eschew our prejudices about the Conference and keep an open mind.”

Edith Ohaja of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, said that journalists have a lot of latitude in Nigeria today to do what they consider to be morally justifiable and to publish what they consider important to the survival of the nation.

She noted, “What they need is the willingness to act right, to see the desirability of pursuing higher goals in their work and to operate beyond the level of crass commercialism.

“Journalists need to rekindle the nationalistic fervor through which the Nigerian press was birthed and nurtured and contribute to the emergence of a stronger, united and prosperous nation. 

“They cannot do this if they consistently promote the cause of rabble rousers and people seeking relevance and pretending to be mavericks and stirring endless controversies.

“This is the time to make Nigerians proud of their journalists again as we were during the pursuit of independence and the fight by some media and activists to dismantle military dictatorship.”

Another speaker at the roundtable, Joseph Ari said the media would create a lot of positive impact regarding the Conference if journalists paid attention to issues rather than personalities.

He said most times, uncomplimentary utterances by delegates could be altered to change public opinion and to mobilize for national cohesion rather than divisive tendencies.

Ari stated that although the Conference bears the main task of fostering national integration, peace and unity, “the configuration of a collective memory requires the involvement of the media to encourage consensus making.”


3. National Conference Ends Debate On President’s Speech
Insecurity, corruption, women’s right and the rights of minorities took the centre-stage on Thursday as delegates to the 2014 National Conference rounded off debate and comments on President Goodluck Jonathan’s inaugural speech at the Conference.

Also mentioned and debated was the call for the reintroduction of the on-shore and off-shore oil dichotomy which would deprived certain oil producing states of any revenue from oil exploration and exploitation carried out off-shore.

However, Nsongurua Udombana, a professor of international law from Akwa Ibom State, shot down the suggestion on the grounds that no international law as cited by the speakers can dictate to a country what to do within its locality.

He said instead, sections of the 1999 Constitution that vest authority on the central government with regard to the control of natural resources to the exclusion of the states where they are domesticated should be abrogated in the spirit of true federalism.

Udombana stated that the problem of Nigeria was not lack of resources but inability of the leaders to successfully harness these resources for the benefit of the people.
Mrs. Ramatu Bala Usman in her comments said the Conference must ensure that the 35% gender placement in public service and appointments in favour of women be enshrined in the Constitution so as to give it a legal backing.

In addition, she asked for institutionalization of the roles of the spouse of the first citizen, either at the national or state level, whether man or woman, so that if a woman becomes the president of governor, the husband will have a constitutional role to play; and vice versa.
Usman went ahead to demand a policy that would compel any new occupant of public office to ensure completion of projects and implementation of policies started by his predecessor before embarking on a new one. 

Maria Waziri from Kebbi state also spoke glowingly about the oneness of Nigeria and why women education should be given a priority by government at all levels.

She said, “The oneness of this nation is absolutely beyond negotiation. I suggest strongly that we must not approach issues with suspicion. We must discuss freely in the overall national interest because Nigeria belongs to all of us.

“I stand for oneness, for togetherness and for a stronger indivisible Nigeria which is at peace with its citizens based on mutual respect and understanding amongst our diverse people, irrespective of tribe, ethnic or religion.

God has blessed Nigeria with great women; intelligent women; patriotic; determined and courageous women. We must give women more opportunities, collaborate with them and tap into their wonderful potentials. To do all these, women must be educated.

“A widow in pains deserves consolation, not humiliation. The wicked act of throwing her out is ungodly, inhuman, outdated and wickedness. I condemn it with all my heart.”

Professor Auwalu Yadudu took the delegates through memory lane on the issue of resource control and revenue allocation, debunking certain claims which he believes to be wrong.

On his expectations, he said, “Conference must draw up a very clear road-map that spells out the necessary legal and institutional frameworks to guide the implementation of its resolutions.

“All Conference resolutions requiring legal and constitutional expressions must be carried out in accordance with the 1999 Constitution and extant statutory provisions.
“Conference must propose draft legislation for enactment and implementation by the National Assembly; policy proposals and options should go to the executive arm.”
Tanko Yakassai expressed disappointment over non-effective implementation of the various laws against corruption and how corruption has been allowed to not only give the country a bad name, but create avenue for emergence of armed violence across the country.

He said, “The fight against corruption has been largely unsuccessful due to the inability of bodies charged with that responsibility to ensure the judicial sanctioning or punishment of suspected offenders. 

“This has to an extent been due to the case glut in our judicial system thereby protracting corrupt-related cases.”

Yakassai called for establishment of special courts for corrupt and other related offences; “This will provide the needed impetus to agencies charged with the responsibility of fighting this evil that has defied efforts geared towards eradicating its menace.”

On the issue of true federalism and the return to regionalism, he proposed a reduction in the number of states from the present 36 to 12 adding that as things are now, “admittedly, this is a very difficult task to undertake…”

Mr Achike Udenwa told the Conference that what would help the country in fighting corruption is for leaders to look back at the root cause of corruption and tackle it from there. He mentioned insecurity, social problems and greed as the causes of corruption.

He said public officers steal because they want to create wealth to fall back on after leaving office and be able to pay their bills; they also steal because of social pressure and cited situations where they are made to buy unnecessary traditional titles and honorary degrees from tertiary institutions.

Veteran journalist, Chief Onyeama Ugochukwu, challenged the delegates to discuss and make such recommendations that would create a better future for Nigeria by creating a true federalism out of the existing confusion.

Ugochukwu said Jonathan has given the delegates the challenge of finding something new that would move the country forward and prayed that the conference would not be another effort in futility.

Retired General Anthony Ukpo said he was skeptical about the purpose of the Conference at the beginning but that from what he has seen so far, his new challenge is to work hard and ensure that the result of the Conference would not be put on the shelf.

Former President of the Senate, Adolf Wabara said the problem with Nigeria is traceable to ignorance of existing solutions to such problems; and most importantly, the lack of political will to apply existing laws to solve those problems.

He challenged the delegates to know that the era of Lord Lugard was over and that the baton of leadership and the responsibility to solve Nigeria’s problems has been handed over to Nigerians of this generation.

“I want to remind us here that Lord Lugard is not in this hallowed chamber. Lord Lugard built the house we lived in a hundred years ago, now it is our turn to either rebuild the house or to renovate the house. Our fate is strictly in our hands.”

Senator Daisy Danjuma observed that the greatest legacy of the Conference would be to ensure obedience to the rule of law and separation of powers, enthronement of natural justice, equity and good conscience in the polity.

She said the issue of insecurity must be taken seriously because as it is today, investors have been scared away; and even the tourism industry with the capacity to replace oil in revenue yielding is basically dead.

Diette Spiff, a retired military officer and traditional ruler said the concept of the National Youth Service Corps should be extended to include every youth from the age of 18 and should include compulsory military training for such youth whether they are graduates or not.

He drew attention of the Conference to the fact that no constitution is perfect; explaining that every constitution drafted under any military regime is usually done by civilian lawyers; therefore the military must not always be held responsible for any constitution that has flaws.

The former military officer advised Nigerians to live in peace; “we should learn to tolerate each other and live as one big family.”

For Goddy Unwazurike, fiscal federalism, state creation and rotational presidency must form part of the recommendations at the end of the Conference. 

He was emphatic that no tribe is greater than the other and as such political power must rotate while every geo-political zone must have equal number of states.

Richard Uche described the President’s speech as a patriotic call for Nigerians to address issues that have slowed down the process of development. He called for devolution of power in order to make governance more cost-effective.

The position of Jerseer Tsumba that the killings in the north central region was carried out by Fulani herdsmen drew a denial from Dr. Bello Mohammed who raised a point order to the effect that such assertion was a mere speculation as it lacked proof. His position was upheld.
Akpandem James
Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications
National Conference 2014

*Photo Caption – Ex-Chief Justice of Nigeria, Idris Kutigi, Chairman of 2014 Nigeria National Conference