The National Confab led by Justice Idris Kutigi, kicked off on Monday on a stormy note. The delegates only adopted some clauses of the Draft Procedure Rules for the conference after an intense debate, while amending other rules. Interestingly, Order III Rule 3 (a) which says “No delegate shall miss sittings without prior notification of the secretariat of the conference” was vehemently rejected, as was Order VI Rule 6 (a), which gives the Chairman the powers to appoint the Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of Committees, and Order VII, Rule 3, which gives the Secretary of the conference the discretion to move any unfinished business of the day to the next sitting.
The hour-long dispute was fuelled by what appeared to be the North’s resolve not to allow the South to leverage on its numerical strength during plenary. The kernel of the debate was the figure that should constitute the majority during voting. While almost all the delegates from the South canvassed two-thirds on the bases of the Nigerian constitution and the global best practices, delegates from the North stuck to the 75 per cent provision mentioned in President Goodluck Jonathan’s speech while inaugurating the conference.
The trouble began after a delegate from Edo State, Mike Chief Ozekhome (SAN), said it was “ elephantine” to adopt consensus option to decide serious issues like state police. He was backed by foremost nationalist, Chief Ayo Adebanjo; Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), Chief Gani Adams and other southern delegates, but former Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Alhaji Mohammadu Gambo Jimeta berated the southern position: “The most dangerous thing is for us to attempt to force our views on others. There are some elements and groups who are shouting and banging tables to intimidate others. It will not work,” he stated. He was backed by Awwal Yadudu, a professor of Law. Yadudu threw his weight behind those who canvassed for consensus, including Dr Ahmadu Ali, and Nafisat Babajo, from Kaduna State, while Ambassador Hassan Adamu cautioned against the issue of voting pattern generating undue tension or raise tempers among the delegates. Other issues that generated debate included the power of the president to replace any member of the leadership that resigns or has to be dropped, as well as sexist language in the draft rules.
On Tuesday, the thorny issue of referendum and the two-thirds simple majority divided the delegates along similar lines. This time, it was former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, who kicked against consensus to determine resolution of the assembly, advocating the simple majority, a position equally corroborated by Chief Dan Iwuanyanwu a delegate of the Labour Party at the conference. Elder statesman, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, backed this submission, saying the conference might end up at “the wrong side of history” if the line of a referendum was not adopted. Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, Chief Bisi Adegbuyi and Dr Joe Nwogwu all backed the call that the final report should be subjected to a national referendum.
But former Senate President Ken Nnamani, advised the delegates to tread softly by not arrogating to the conference certain powers it did not possess: the conference was not backed up by any law, and there was a subsisting National Assembly. Alhaji Magaji Dambata from Kano supported Nnamani: “We are not representatives of Nigerians. We are representatives of the president and the governors,” he said.
Then, a delegate from Kano State, Alhaji Magaji Dambata said the primary duty of the conference was to make recommendation on how to reposition the country to the president and not to force anything down the throat of the authorities. This was supported by a delegate from Adamawa State, Alhaji Muhammadu Gambo Jimeta. Professor Rukkayatu Rufai, former Minister of Education from North West, toed a similar path: “Our job should begin and end with the conference.’’
After an abrupt adjournment of plenary over disagreement on whether two-thirds or three-quarter majority should be adopted, one of the delegates, Mr Muhammed Nalado, representing the Accord Party, insisted that “Mr President’s speech has emphasised consensus and the figure near to consensus is 75 per cent. What we want is general acceptance, which is at least 75 per cent on burning issues that will show more acceptances, rather than two-thirds.’’ Another delegate, Ambassador Yerima Abdullahi, appealed to delegates to keep the unity of the country in mind saying: “Sincerity should be used and I think it is right; lobbying and consultation should be done. You don’t come here with a pre-conceived idea or trying to outsmart somebody.’’ His view was echoed by a delegate from Cross River, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa: “I am a nationalist. When I had the opportunity to move a motion on the mode of voting, I deliberately favoured the voice vote. This is because there are many issues and it is too early to have a division in the house.’’ Mr Frank Nweke Jr., representing the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, said: “It is important that such decision should be consensual in nature. I do hope that the chairman or conference officers will be able to guide us to an agreeable resolution of the issues in contention in the coming day,’’ Nweke said.
Quite a number of the delegates saw the stormy sessions in a positive light. As noted by the President of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Mr Abdulwahed Omar: “The stormy session was very healthy for the conference. If everybody was moving towards the same direction, it will tell you the kind of conference we are going to have. The fact that people are so passionate and are talking about what they believe in on the rules is an indication that the delegates are ready for business.”Another delegate, Mr Olawale Okunniyi, representing the Pro-National Conference Organisations (PRONACO), added: “This is very good for the conference. It shows that people have set their minds on the issues that affect the conference. ”
However, on Wednesday, proceedings took a dramatic turn when the Lamido of Adamawa, Alhaji Aliyu Lamido, threatened to stage a boycott of the conference by his people, following what he perceived as moves to impose the two-thirds simple majority of the “so-called Western world” on the country through the conference.
The Lamido, who said he had a very mobile and extensive kingdom, also revealed his deep knowledge of international relations and conventions: “My kingdom has been in existence hundreds of years before the so-called entity Nigeria and the so-called civilised people from the West were the people who came and divided us and the larger part of my kingdom is there in Cameroun.”
Undeterred by the show of disapproval by many delegates, the Lamido warned: “With the way we are going, if we are not careful, this conference will flop and if the country disintegrates, and may God forbid, many of those shouting their heads off will have nowhere to go, unlike we in Adamawa. Our kingdom transcends Nigeria and covers Cameroun. There is Adamawa State in Cameroun. If I run to that place, I will be quickly assimilated. So, I appeal that we follow the pattern laid down by the president.”
In his own contribution to the debate, another delegate, Dr Bello Muhammed from Kebbi State, opposed the proposal for members of the public to send memoranda, saying many did so when the Okurounmu Committeee held zonal sittings across the country. He was backed by Josephine Anenih, but this seemed to have provoked a prominent delegate from the South-West, Dr Kunle Olajide: “I do not agree with him [Dr Muhmmed].
Those memoranda at that time were tailored towards the modalities for organising the conference. Nigerians are out there, wanting to know what goes on here. Let them send their memoranda and we need to know what the people want and our objective is to build an egalitarian society.”
Another delegate, Honourable Olawale Osun supported the idea.
Meanwhile, a 49-member body, on Wednesday, met behind closed doors with the chairman of the national conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, in his frantic bid to break the stalemate over the voting pattern to be adopted at the conference.
On Thursday, the conference was hit by bad news as a delegate, retired police AIG Hamma Misau, reportedly died at the National Hospital in Abuja. Misau had been subjected to ridicule after a photo of him taking a nap at the conference surfaced on the social media.
By and large, deliberations at the conference have been marked by the old North versus South rivalry. As plenary resumes tomorrow (Monday), Nigerians are waiting to see how the conference would handle the contentious issues.