President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to consign the last National Conference, organized by Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s regime, to the heap of garbage history has drawn the ire of protagonists of the Conference. The protagonists inveigh against that decision mainly because they were participants at the conference. According to Gani Adams, a conferee, “The recommendation of the 2014 National conference has to be implemented, if we don’t implement it, then there is no way we can move forward.” Nigeria’s former Minister for foreign affairs and former permanent representative to the United Nations, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, another conferee at the confab, opined that the confab report should not be thrown away in its entirety. Said he, “all these reports were adopted by consensus. It will be a pity if we throw the baby out with the bathwater simply because they have some feelings in some quarters that the conference was organised by the former president who had ulterior motives. In any case, whatever the ulterior motives were, they were not achieved.
Some people even felt that the conference was convened in order to have a new constitution so as to prolong his tenure or to have a new arrangement of a six years single tenure for which former President Goodluck Jonathan will be eligible. In any case, none of those was achieved. The regime has gone. The Nigerian people voted him out and his administration. So, we should look at this report critically, and those that are consistent with the vision and philosophy of the president and his party should be seriously considered for implementation.”
It is perhaps necessary to take a critical look at the political ambiance and, of course, the events that predated why former President Goodluck Jonathan splashed a princely sum of Seven Billion naira (N7 Billion) in organizing the confab. First, it must be said clearly that, shortly after being declared the winner of April 16, 2011, presidential election, and before being sworn into office, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan started testing waters on the possibility of tenure elongation. The National Mirror newspaper report in its July 12, 2011, edition concluded that the Presidency had “concluded plans to send a bill to the National Assembly for a single term of seven years for governors and presidents. It had “reasoned that political violence was always caused by the resolve of incumbent governors and presidents to run for a second tenure of office”. By Monday, July 18, 2011, two newspapers (Tribune and Sun) reported that the planned amendment was for a single six-year term for President and governors. It was the reasoning of the Presidency that the four-year cycle was too expensive for the country.
Unfortunately, the Jonathan administration could not push the agenda through because the desired lackey for the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives was outsmarted by the wily politician, Hon Aminu Tambuwal. The planned amendment had to be held in abeyance because of the cavalier atmosphere in the House of Representatives. The palpable poverty in the land was firmly attested to by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report in June 2012 that 112 million Nigerians were living below poverty line. What this meant was that the Jonathan regime was now clearly unpopular.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties had started to intensify the clamour for a common platform to be able to give the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) stiffer competition for greater share of the political space. The talks finally culminated in the formal birth of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a registered political Party in July 2013. The tumultuous support enjoyed by the new party across the nation space was seen in the participation of teeming population of the Nigerian people during the Party’s registration exercise. The security report of this registration exercise sent jitters to the ruling Party. The odds were now unfavorably stacked against Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and his Party, hence the need to search for ways of sending their way a political lifeline. The political confab was clearly Jonathan’s PPD’s narrowed option for getting this.
Dr. Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated a 13-member Confab planning committee. Perhaps, one of the earliest signs of the former president’s clearly concealed, hideous agenda was the inclusion of Colonel Tony Nyiam (rtd) as one of the planners for the confab. Col. Nyiam was the godfather of the military officers that unsuccessfully planned the overthrow of the Babangida junta on April 22, 1990. The kernel of the message of the aborted coup was the excise of a region from the Nigerian state. That a known dissenter on the as-is structure of the Nigerian nation was touted as a planner for the conference spoke volumes on the real intent by the Jonathan administration.
The same Colonel Nyiam later had a shouting match with Governor Oshiomhole when the planning committee organized town hall meeting in Benin. The Edo governor had said inter-alia, “I will be surprised if anything changes. Sincerely, I have no business to deceive or mislead anyone. I believe that the outcome of this conference will not be different from that of other conferences we have had in the past.”
But as soon as Governor Oshiomhole made this statement, committee member, Col Nyiam jumped on his feet and would perhaps have lunged at the Governor were he close to him.
He was restrained by other members who were taken aback by his action. Even while the Governor was still making his contribution, Nyiam started screaming at the top of his voice for the Governor to shut up and sit down. He was then joined in by the PDP thugs who disrupted the whole proceedings and many scampered for safety as a result of the unruliness of the committee member and thugs. Consequent upon that open spectacle of irresponsibly thuggish show, Colonel Nyiam ipso facto resigned from the committee.
I remember accosting the Chairman of the Conference, Dr. Femi Okuronmu, a known Afenifere figure, in a heated discussion at the reception of the wedding of the daughter of a retired Yoruba Army General. I could see the thick accent of the Afenifere position in his acceptance of the position. Unbeknownst to many, Dr. Jonathan had set his eyes on riding on Afenifere to ‘corner’ Yoruba South West votes for the 2015 election. It was Abraham Lincoln who famously said that “no man is good enough to govern another without other’s consent.” I cannot remember in my adult life when the Yoruba people of the Southwest conducted a referendum and gave a mandate to the ‘Afenifere’ to act on their behalf. Without a doubt, many of the Afenifere chieftains, at that time, were no longer relevant in the politics and the political governance of the South West states.
In essence, they also hoped to use Jonathan’s confab to re-launch themselves into political reckoning. In a way, Jonathan’s relationship, at that time, with the Afenifere leaders, was mutually beneficially; the interest of the Yoruba people was not the centerpiece! How this supine President got so sure of this Project’s success, without the support of the majority political stakeholders in the southwest, really stupefied me!
The Committee’s work was completed, and report turned in, Dr. Jonathan then appointed 492 Nigerians as members of the most expensive talk shop (aka National confab) in Nigeria’s history. They were all appointed and none elected! Even the much-reviled expired dictator, General Sani Abacha, organized a national in which the preponderance of the conferees was elected by the various peoples in Nigeria. This was the position of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, an All Progressives Congress (APC) National leader.
He reasoned that if the President and his team, who had all along given cold shoulders to the call for sovereign National conference, suddenly agreed to a national conference, there was every reason to see deception as the predication. And quite rightly so, at least with the litany of unimplemented reports of presidential committees gathering dust on the shelves of the President’s office! The Uwais electoral reforms report, of the president’s predecessor’s government and which he partook in as Vice President, was still unimplemented. As expected, known acolytes and lackeys of the Jonathan government, across the land, found their names as members. They were initially told to discuss everything but later forbade from discussing some sacred issues like the unity of the Nation state.
At the end of about five months of talks, over two hundred recommendations were put on the table for implementation. One notable recommendation of the confab was the creation of additional 18 states (to the present 36!) in Nigeria. The states’ distribution was put at nine states per geo-political zone. The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) vehemently advocated that most of the key recommendations of the conference are un-implementable because they are not premised on Justice.
On the question of representation at the conference, the group declared: “The selection process of delegates by President Jonathan’s government to the confab made the North, that has a population of 75,268,686 people (NPC 2006) with a land mass of 730,885 square km (80%) as a minority with 189 delegates while the South with a population 65,151,458 people (NPC 2006) with a land mass of 193,438 square km (20%) as a majority with 303 delegates.”
Furthermore, the ACF found it very unjust for Northwest with more population and land mass to have the same number of states with the Southeast! The All Progressives Party (APC) did not dignify the confab with its presence. The Party’s spokesman, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, eloquently articulated the position: “The President himself said that the outcome of the confab would be subjected to the approval of the National Assembly. Therefore, what is being planned is not a National Conference but an aspect of the constitutional amendment process.” Alhaji Lai Mohammed continued, “We want to make it abundantly clear that we are not averse to any meaningful and honest dialogue. However, this government has lost focus. They cannot handle the economy. They cannot handle education and the welfare of our children; the country under this administration is on fire and corruption has developed legs.”
The Constitution declares in Section 14 (1a): “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority.”
It was the revered British Jurist, Lord Denning, who famously averred that “you cannot build something on nothing and expect it to stand.” The Constitution, as the basis for legality in the land, pointed at the people of Nigeria as the fulcrum on which any endeavor, seeking to have any legal legitimacy, revolves. The indisputable fact was that none of the 492 Nigerians that gathered for about five months to deliberate about Nigeria was elected to do so by the people of Nigeria.
The gathering of these 492 Nigerians, however, respectable they are in their various calling, without the legitimacy of the Nigerian people, is, therefore, meaningless before the law.
That the executive released the money, not appropriated, was not enough to confer legitimacy on its work, as a basis for evolving a new constitution. Under the guiding principles of constitutional democracy, the convocation of that conference failed, in intents and purposes, all the essential ingredients for such gathering. With the foundation very decrepit, any superstructure erected thereon cannot stand; it is futile cajoling the present government to seek to do what is a worthless exercise. Indeed, this Jonathan’s confab report is only fit for the garbage dump or, at best, to continue the dust gathering state of inertia in the archives.
God bless Nigeria.
Rotimi Fashakin (Engr).