The ongoing National Conference seemed to have started on a good footing despite the controversy that trailed the composition of the 492 delegates selected mostly by President Goodluck Jonathan and state governors.
The president’s speech during the inauguration of the conference on March 17 as well as the maiden sitting of the delegates looked assuring as they were anchored on the unity of this country.
But expectedly, last week when the delegates reconvened and started adoption of their rules of procedure, the hitherto silent embers of regionalism, ethnicity and religion were brought to front burner.
The delegates started by quarrelling on anything on the surface of earth. They squabbled over the mode of prayer to be said at the beginning of the plenary; Christian delegates want a place of worship like their Muslim counterparts (even though there’s still no one for the Muslims yet); delegates should sit in ethnic and regional clusters; among others.
The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the modality of voting during plenary and committee meetings.
Southern delegates discarded the Federal government guidelines on consensus or three-quarters majority and insisted on two-thirds.
The northern delegates disagreed, saying the president and federal government’s guidelines of three-quarters majority in the absence of consensus should be upheld.
The likes of Mike Ozekhome, SAN and Chief Edwin Clark, spoke passionately about it. When it became apparent that the southern delegates were bent on changing the FG’s guidelines, some prominent northern delegates also came to the podium.
Clark, in his usual high pitch voice spoke thus: “Enough of all these arguments. Two-thirds majority is the practice everywhere across the world. I don’t know why some people are wasting our time over this. We’re therefore adopting two-third and enough of all this.”
Dr. Bello Halliru, a former PDP chairman and delegate from Kebbi State, said that two-thirds is unacceptable. “Two-thirds majority is not acceptable to us. Look at the composition of the delegates list and you will appreciate my point. The list is lopsided,” Halliru said.
A former Inspector General of Police Muhammed Gambo Jimeta, a delegate from Adamawa State, later stood up and gave some warnings.
Though he has been quiet since the conference started, Jimeta warned his colleagues “who formed themselves into groups and are bent on forcing their wills on others.”
In his husky voice, he warned all the “cabals” that thought that they could foist their views on others to have a rethink because it would not work.
“If some groups think that they can force their will on the rest of us, then they are wrong. Let me warn that that won’t happen,” he said.
Between last Monday and Wednesday, the two thirds/three quarters dichotomy voting modality tore the delegates along North-South divide.
The plenary session on Tuesday was marred by shouting match as some delegates nearly engaged in exchange of punches, forcing abrupt adjournment of session to the next day.
On Wednesday, the Lamido Adamawa Alhaji Muhammadu Barkindo Mustapha, also spoke for the first time.
But when he did, it was a bombshell. He said that the north was not afraid of Nigeria’s disintegration, cautioning other sections of the country to stop intimidating the region.
The monarch requested the chairman of the conference to allow him speak over the behavior of some of the delegates so far.
“And if we are pushed to the wall, we will easily walk out of this conference. If something happens and the country disintegrates, God forbids, many of those who are shouting their heads off, will have nowhere to go.
“But I and the people of Adamawa and many others have got somewhere to go. I am the Lamido of Adamawa and my kingdom transcends Nigeria and Cameroun. The larger part of my kingdom is in the Republic of Cameroun and a part of that kingdom is in Chad Republic,” he said.
He added, “Mr Chairman, jingoism is not a monopoly of anyone. Everyone here is a potential jingoist. Mr Chairman, this leads to the debate on the behaviour of some of the delegates here. It clearly beats my imagination on how a gathering of people like us will behave the way we are behaving.
“Mr President delivered his address here and laid down what we are supposed to discuss and what not to discuss. But many people here, sorry to say that, some elder statesmen who claim to be staunch loyalists of the president, but unfortunately, these people are in the forefront to contradict what the president said in his address. At the rate we are going, in the long run, if we are not careful, this conference will flop, God forbid and if it flops, the resultant effect cannot be imagined by any of us here,” he said.
“Mr Chairman, a part of that kingdom, in Cameroun there is a state called Adamawa presently in Cameroun. So, if I run to that place, I will easily be assimilated. But Mr Chairman please I want to plead for us to strictly thread the part laid down by Mr President in his address which includes pattern of voting unless we want to disobey our president, then you can do whatever you want,” he said.
The monarch’s remarks drew outrage from other delegates. But that didn’t stop him from making his comments.
It was evident that Lamido spoke the minds of many delegates from the north.
A northern delegate told Sunday Trust that the voting matter must be addressed properly. “You can see that the delegates’ list is already lopsided and the north is disadvantaged,” he said.
“If we accept the two-third majority voting pattern being advocated by southerners, then it means that we are here (at the conference) to rubber stamp the whimsicalities of the southerners. So, there is no basis for us to come here. The conference is therefore useless,” he said.
He explained that “we decided to come here despite the apparent lopsidedness against the north in delegates’ composition, thinking that there would be consensus, give and take and mutual understanding as stated by the federal government. But with the way the southern delegates are going about it, it is clear that they think we are of no use to them simply because they already have the two-third majority of the delegates.”
Out of the 491 delegates at the conference, about 280 of them are from the South and 211 from the North.
The southern delegates have been advocating for two-thirds which is 328, while their northern counterparts insisted on three-quarters majority which is 368.
When the conference stalemated last week Wednesday, a Consensus Group of 50 delegates were appointed to break it.
Sunday Trust learnt that the group had reached a truce. A source inside the group told this reporter that they had agreed that consensus would be the yardstick for arriving at any decision on all issues both at the plenary and at committee levels.
They also resolved that in the event of a failure to arrive at a decision through consensus after three attempts, matters would then be decided by 70 percent majority.
This means that the conference needs 344 delegates, which is a middle ground to agree on a decision.
The consensus group would submit its report to the plenary for adoption. The conference may therefore resume adoption of its rules of procedure, dissecting the president’s inaugural speech and appointment of committee members and its leaders.
The Lamido’s outburst may however become a tip of the icebergs as the delegates break into committees, where serious horse trading on such issues that include resource control, power shift, tenure of executive arms of government, among others, would surely take place.