CLEMENT IDOKO writes on the wisdom by the leadership of the national conference to select 50 out of the 492 delegates to resolve the jigsaw over voting pattern, concluding that the initiative apparently saved the confab from collapse.
Last week, the debate on the voting pattern to be adopted in the resolution of the knotty issues at the ongoing national conference almost truncated the dialogue process. The debate brought about a sharp division among delegates along the lines of the North and the South. While majority of northern delegates at the conference favoured consensus or three-quarters, approximately 75 per cent as postulated by President Goodluck Jonathan, who convenes the conference, their counterparts from the southern part of the country insisted on two-thirds majority vote.
Opponents of the 75 per cent formula described consensus or 75 per cent voting mode as unrealistic and, in the words of a delegate, Chief Mike Ozekhome, the 75 per cent proposition would allow the “tyrannical minority” to prevail on the majority in reaching decisions on critical national issues.
When the debate became acrimonious on Wednesday last week, the chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi (retd), in his wisdom, asked that he be given the opportunity to consult with various leaders of the groups from each of the six zones.
The contending issue was Order VI Rule 3 of the Procedure Rules, which provides that any decision in the conference shall be decided by, at least, a three-quarters majority. It reads: “Any questions proposed for decision in the conference shall be determined by consensus and when this is not achievable, by a three-quarter majority of the delegates present and voting.”
As earlier pointed out, delegates were divided on the lines of North and South in their call for conventional two-third majority to be adopted in arriving at decisions, while others wanted the three-quarter majority to be retained. This necessitated the constitution of a Consensus Group, comprising 50 delegates, to confer on how to resolve the logjam.
The ‘50 wise men’ were: Chief Olu Falae; Dr Kunle Olajide; General Ike Nwachukwu; Chief Mike Ahamba; Chief Peter Odili; Edwin K. Clark; Professor Ibrahim Gambari; Professor Jibril Aminu; Professor Jerry Gana; Alhaji Adamu Waziri; Mallam Tanko Yakassai; Senator Ibrahim Idah; General A.B. Mamman; A.K. Horsfall; Chief Josephine Annenih; Issa Aremu; Ms Hauwa Evelyn Shekarau; Hajiya Bola Shagaya; Dr. Olisa Agbakoba; Ambassador Vincent Okobi; Ambassador Lawrence Ekpebu; Senator Femi Okurounmu and Dr Joe Nwaogu.
Others were Honourable Mohammed Umara Kumalia; Professor Auwalu Yadudu; Dr Iyorchia Ayu; Chief Victor Attah; Senator Khairat Abdulrazaq Gwadabe; Honourable Ghali Umar Na’Abba; Adamu Aliero; Atedo Peterside; Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife; Prof. Isa B. Mohammed; Kashim Ibrahim Imam; Senator Florence Ita-Giwa; Ken Nnamani; Alhaji Bashir Dalhatu; Alhaji Sule Yahya Hamma; Dr Abubakar Saddique Mohammed; Chief Olusola Akanmode; Justice Lawal Hassan Gummi, the Emir of Gummi; Mr Ledum Mitee; Mr Fola Adeola; Senator Mimibariya Amange; Honourable Anayo Nebe; Raymond Dokpesi; Benjamin Elue; General Alani Akinrinade; Nduka Obaigbena and Justice Mamman Nasir.
Following the recommendation of the G-50, the delegates, at the resumed plenary on Monday, in a more convivial mood, shifted ground to adopt 70 per cent as the voting formula to be used in arriving at decision on critical issues at the conference. This paved the way for the adoption of the amended National Conference Procedure Rules 2014 in order for the conference to commence work in earnest for its three-month duration.
President Jonathan was not unmindful of such rancorous debates when he admonished the delegates, in his inaugural speech being debated at the conference, to shelve primordial prejudices of the past and think anew on how to build a solid and prosperous country.
Earlier on Monday, the delegates adopted votes and proceedings of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday last week before the vice chairman of the conference, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, revealed the outcome of the consultative meeting between the 50 select delegates and the leadership of the conference. According to him, the Consensus Group recommended 70 per cent majority as the voting formula to reach decisions on crucial issues after consensus has failed. The conference also approved 20 committees to be constituted under various sub-heads.
A former Senate President, Senator Ayu, representing the Former Senators’ Forum, moved a motion for the adoption of the 70 per cent voting system and it was seconded by a former Akwa Ibom State governor, Chief Attah, representing the Former Governors’ Forum. According to him, the committee met from March 25 to 26 and the deliberations were cordial.
He added that the delegates worked in harmony to develop and put into effective use, the spirit of consensus building with the national interest at heart.
“At the conclusion of deliberations, members reached a decision to amend Order VI Paragrapgh 4, XI paragraph 2 and XII paragraph 4 (e) as follows:
“In the case of failure to reach consensus, the matter shall be decided by majority vote of 70 per cent of delegates present and voting.
“That is the recommendation which that committee is bringing to you, distinguished delegates,” he said.
After his presentation, Professor Akinyemi then called for discussions, but there was an overwhelming call for a motion on the recommendation of the consensus group and Ayu was tipped to move the motion.
“I congratulate the committee for avoiding the impression of a winner and a loser in this matter. I think we are getting to the point where we are making progress,” Professor Akinyemi said. Thereafter, he put the motion to voice vote with the delegates overwhelmingly chorusing “yes.” Accordingly, he ruled in favour of the motion to adopt 70 per cent majority as the voting mode for the conference, thereby bringing to an end the horse-trading and bickering generated by the voting formula.
Meanwhile, the plenary session of the conference on Monday was on a rather sad note; with the sudden death of a former Assistant Inspector General of Police, Hamma Misau, on March 27. Before his demise, Misau was a delegate to the national conference appointed on the platform of Association of Retired Police Officers of Nigeria (ARPON).
Justice Kutigi expressed shock and disbelief on the news of the death of Misau. The Federal Government’s condolence letter, through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim, was read to the House on Monday.
At the resumed sitting, the delegates were issued forms to identify committees they preferred to serve in order of preference. It will be recalled that the conference had, last week Wednesday, adjourned till Monday this week, without adopting the approved Rules of Procedure, because the delegates insisted on going through the clean copy of the approved issues.
In addition, the issue of how voting would be conducted on crucial issues based on committee reports attracted heated debates, and based on suggestions by some members, had to be stood down for further deliberation. It was suggested that Kutigi conferred with the leaders of the six zones for further consultation, deliberation and negotiation, and report back to the conference. As soon as further debates on the issue came up on Tuesday last week, those who said all issues should be resolved by consensus or, at least, 75 per cent majority vote refused to accept resolution through individual votes, arguing that those who favoured two-third majority seemed to be more in number.
Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark, had cautioned that the position of both parties must not be allowed to stall proceedings at the conference and that to get out of the situation, delegates should vote on whether to accept three-quarter majority vote or two-thirds. This position was rejected by Dr Bello Mohammed from Kebbi State, who insisted that every decision must be reached by consensus, arguing that the conference was not about majority or minority, but was about the Nigerian state.
A former Commandant of the Presidential Air Fleet, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga, said the argument was a straight tussle between those who wanted change and those who wanted retention of the status quo. He concluded that two-third majority vote remained the only solution.
But, Bashiru Albasu, a retired police officer, cautioned delegates that “if this issue is not handled carefully, it will break this conference. I suggest that we refer this issue back to those who established this conference.” Matters, however, went awry when a delegate, Akin Arikawe, moved that further debate and decision on the issue be carried forward. The motion was adopted and passed.
In his contribution, both Fola Adeola from Ogun State and Atedo Peterside moved that the conference chairman meets with leaders of delegates from all the zones for further deliberation on the issue and report back to the conference. This position flowed from a contribution by Okon Osung (Akwa Ibom State) that “we cannot discuss any other issue successfully except we are guided by our rules.” He was supported by Akin Oyebode from Ekiti State.
Pastor Tunde Bakare had, earlier in his comments, urged the delegates to ensure that “we do it right this time so that our report will not be kept in view.” He was optimistic that every issue will be decided amicably no matter how controversial “because North and South, we see ourselves as one.” Another issue raised by Chief Shola Ebiseeni on who the conference should submit its final report to attracted extensive debate, as members with diverse views rose to offer suggestions which were to form a section of the Rules of Procedure.
Ebiseeni, who represents the grass roots, had likened Nigeria to a patient requiring immediate attention and explained that the conference provides opportunity for “political surgeons” to diagnose the problems and apply surgical solutions.
He stated: “This conference is not about constitutional amendment, because if that were the case, we will only be repeating what the National Assembly is doing and, if need arose, the conference can draft a new constitution for the country.”
An elder statesman, Chief Olaniwun Ajayi from the South-West said the reason for the conference was very clear. He stated: “We are here to right all the wrongs of the past. If by any mistake, the decision of this conference is submitted to the National Assembly, then we are back to square one.”
He went ahead to suggest that the report of the conference should be submitted for a referendum, adding that “we should amend the rules to state that our conclusions will be submitted to the people of this country for a referendum.”
At this point, the conference chairman, in an attempt to calm nerves, suggested that further debate on the issue be suspended until the end of the conference, since it was premature to decide who to submit a non-existing report to. However, Joe Okei-Odumakin of the Civil Society Group insisted that the decision be taken immediately. She supported the previous speakers that the outcome of the conference be submitted for a referendum. She was supported by Dr Joe Nwaogu from the South-East.
However, a former President of the Senate, Ken Nnamani, made persuasive inputs, when he reminded the conference that delegates lacked required legal backing to take such a decision. He referred to President Jonathan’s speech at the inauguration of the conference, which urged the National Assembly to fast-track the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to create room and give legal backing to issues of referendum.
“At present, we do not have any legal backing to do it,” he emphasised to the attentive delegates, adding that Nigeria was governed by the rule of law that was anchored on the 1999 Constitution. He said further: “We are not here to draft a new constitution. We can make suggestions towards constitution amendment. Let us only do those things that we are capable of doing. We were not elected to this forum, we were appointed. This is not a Constituent Assembly.”
His position was supported by Robert Awudu, who said that the job of the delegates would have been done when decisions were taken and the report submitted to the President. Dr Magayi Danbatta in his contribution said as faulty as the process that brought it about could be, members of the National Assembly were elected representatives of the people. He added: “But we were not elected. We are not representing anybody. We were appointed by the President. Ours is to report back in a manner that is consistent with our mandate.”
A former Minister of Education, Professor Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufa’i, said the powers of the delegates should begin and end with the conference. She told her colleagues: “Let us simply recommend to the President. We should stop where we are supposed to stop.”
In a brief contribution, Musa Elayo Abdullahi said the conference could advise on what should be done, stressing that “this body was set up by the President; it has no place in law. At the end, we report to the President.”
A newspaper publisher, Nduka Obaigbena, reminded the delegates that any conference “is as good as its report and the ideas that come with it. Not every report of a conference of this kind goes to become a part of the constitution. Let us be guided by strong ideas, because when we have strong ideas and acceptance of the people, no National Assembly can stop it.”
Thereafter, based on a motion by a delegate from Ogun State, Mr Bisi Adegbuyi, it was resolved that the provision in the Rules of Procedure touching on the final report be left to read: “Should the final report lead to the drafting of issues of law and policy, the Conference shall, in consultation with its six principal officers, advise the government on the legal framework, procedures and options for integrating the decisions and outcomes of the National Conference into the constitution and laws of the country.”
However, Obaigbena demanded that a section of the rules that sought to take action against journalists covering the conference on the basis of offensive reports should be expunged from the rules book. He said it was impossible and unacceptable to “ask journalists to report or not report what we do not like.” His position was accepted and the provision was expunged. At the beginning of the day’s deliberation, a delegate, Mahmud Aminu, had complained about a publication in a national newspaper showing pictures of delegates sleeping during the plenary session on Monday. He was countered by Yinka Odumakin who said there should be no attempt to gag the media at the conference, and that journalists should be allowed to report what they see responsibly. Dan Nwayanwu of the Labour Party also kicked against any attempt to stop journalists from doing their job, adding that “we are here to do the nation’s business. If you have any reason to have a nap during plenary, the press will get you and they have a right to do their job.”
On the need to call for memoranda from the public, at the end of the debate when the question was put, majority of the delegates voted in favour of the issue. The conference was mandated to call for memoranda with a deadline of two weeks, while other businesses of the conference will continue.