Two venerable elder statesmen, Chief Edwin Clarke and Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. They made the call in a live programme during the Nigerian National Day celebrations. Both men were answering questions on the way forward for Nigeria. According to them, the 2014 National Conference Recommendations hold the key and the way forward for Nigeria. Both men, who are from different geo-political zones, have been in the middle of Nigeria’s politics for at least 60 years and have held different positions.
The 2014 Conference was convened by Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan. Yakasai said he wished President Jonathan had produced a white paper for the implementation of the recommendations of that conference. He expressed his support for the recommendations of the conference, including political re-structuring, return to the Republican Constitution (1963), though, he observed, it had no ‘six regions.’
Chief Clark, on his part, was relieved by Yakasai’s position on restructuring. He said: “I’m very happy to hear that my very good friend (Alhaji Yakasai) now believes in re-structuring of this country.” Clark spoke of the glorious days of the regional governments and how they were able to competitively develop at their own pace. Implementing the conference report, Clark said, would return the country to the idyllic federation that would spur Nigeria’s development.
Numerous calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to initiate action on the document have gone unanswered. The President has been unenthusiastic about the 2014 Conference report. Yet many Nigerians believe that the resolutions of the conference hold the key to the solution of many of the challenges facing the country. The 492 members were selected to represent every conceivable segment of the Nigerian society ranging from women’s groups to youth organisations, through retired generals and statesmen across generations. The resolutions are contained in a 22-volume compendium with about 600 draft proposals ranging from the devolution of powers within the Federation to the accommodation of independent candidates in Nigeria’s elections.
Among the most significant resolutions of the conference was a change in revenue sharing formula across the three tiers of government, reflecting an emerging national consensus to reduce the influence of the Federal Government. The Federal Government currently gets 52 per cent of the revenue. The conference reduced it to 42.5 per cent, granted 35 per cent to states from 26 per cent and 22.5 per cent for local governments from 20 per cent. It promises more emphasis on the social development sector than on population and the equality of states. To get religion out of government, the conference bans state funded pilgrimages. To reduce the cost of governance, the country would henceforth use part-time legislators in bi-cameral legislatures in all tiers of government. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would permit independent candidates to run for office. The conference also resolved to reorganise the police force to permit state-controlled police. This serves the twin purpose of facilitating community policing and enabling state governments exercise some control over their police formations.
One of the major constitutional changes was the abrogation of the immunity clauses which had conferred general, blanket immunity on the president, the vice president, the governors and the deputy governors. In other words, none of the state officers would be protected against criminal conduct thereby restoring a sense of accountability.
The conference reviewed Nigeria’s form of government and recommended what it described as “Modified Presidential System” – a combination of presidential and the parliamentary system. The vice-president would be picked from the legislature. The President would select between 15 and 18 ministers thereby reducing the weight and cost of governance from the six geopolitical zones and not more than 30 per cent of the ministers would come from outside the legislature. The cost of government would be further reduced by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries. There would be a maximum of 10 ministries at the state level.
Among the controversial recommendations was the creation of more states at a time many states are having difficulties meeting their recurrent expenditures, including monthly salaries. The conference recommended the creation of 18 additional states, that is, three for each geo-political zone, and an additional state for the South East zone, for equity’s sake.The South East is the only zone with five states and others have six, with NorthWest having seven. The conference recommended that each state should have its own constitution and be free to merge with other like-minded states.
To facilitate the fight against corruption, the conference recommended the creation of special courts to handle corruption cases. A non-conviction-based assets forfeiture law would also be enacted with broad provisions to deal with all issues of crime by the anti-graft agencies. The conference also recommended the reintroduction of the old National Anthem.
The pressure to implement the recommendations of the National Conference traverses ethnic and geopolitical divisions. The wise 492 eminent Nigerians spent four months and huge sums in the exercise and their decisions were arrived at through consensus.