Statement On National Conference

By James Akpandem

The contentious issue of adoption of acceptable voting pattern at the on-going National Conference in Abuja was on Monday resolved when the Chairman of the Conference, retired Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi (CJN rtd), announced the outcome of the negotiation involving 50 selected delegates from all parts of the country.

The decision of the negotiating team, read by the Conference Deputy Chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, indicated that after a heated debate and horse-trading, all the parties involved agreed on 70% majority votes whenever any issue fails to attract a required consensus.

Part of the resolution read: 'you will recall that Tuesday 25th March 2014, the adoption of the Rules of Procedure was deferred till further notice for wider consultations due to the lack of consensus on Order VI(4), Order XI(2) and Order XII(4)(e).

'Consequently, on Wednesday 26th March 2014, the Chairman announced that Principal Officers have decided to meet with some delegates to resolve the impasse. He authorized the Deputy Chairman to announce the names of delegates for the meeting.

'The Conference warmly welcomes this commendable approach to solving contentious issues and graciously approved the membership of the Committee, comprising delegatesThe Committee met on 25th and 26th March 2014. Deliberations during these meetings were cordial.

'Delegates worked in harmony to develop and put to effective use the spirit of consensus-building with the national interest at heart. At the conclusion of deliberations, members reached a decision to amend Orders VI(4), XI(2) and XII(4) as follows:

'In the case of failure to reach consensus, the matter shall be decided by a majority vote of seventy percent (70%) of delegates present and voting.'

The motion to adopt the report presented by Akinyemi was immediately moved by former President of the Senate, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, and seconded by former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah.

Attah went ahead to congratulate the Conference Chairman and members of the negotiating team for saving the conference from collapse and avoiding the toga of a winner and a loser.

'I think we are getting to a point where we are making progress,' he said; as the delegates applauded.

It was also announced that at the meeting on the resolution of voting pattern, the issue of who should appoint committees' chairmen and deputies was also discussed and a fresh decision taken.

Professor Akinyemi announced that although the matter was settled last week when delegates voted in favour of appointment by committee members, recent events have indicated that such approach would create fresh problems; among them inequality.

To calm the nerves and remove any kind of apprehension, he announced the decision of the select team to allow such appointment to be made by the principal officers in such a manner that it would create confidence and reflect demography.

He said it was also resolved that principal officers must apply the yardstick of experience in the performance of their functions and the fact that such appointments must cover all the 36 states of the federation.

Responding to objection raised by two delegates who described the decision as 'a subversion of the will of the delegates of this conference,' the deputy chairman explained, 'If we see a problem coming, I think we owe it to you to bring it to your notice.'

With this explanation, a chorus for adoption of the changes swept through the hall. When the question was put, the changes were unanimously carried without any dissenting voice.

Immediately this was done, Mrs Aladu Ibrahim moved a formal motion for the adoption of the Rules of Procedure or the Standing Orders that would guide and regulate the affairs of the Conference. It was seconded by Ambassador Hassan Adamu.

Tunde Bakare thanked the Principal Officers and the 50 delegates for saving the Conference based on the resolution of issues, which last week, had resulted in abrupt adjournment of plenary session.

He said by certain acts of omission or commission, Nigeria as a nation has constantly put the cart before the horse, adding: 'we are full of mutual suspicion either between religion or region,' and that 'Nigerians are expecting something different from this Conference. We should face the issues that confront this nation.'

The day's proceedings had earlier commenced with an announcement by Justice Kutigi of the death of Barrister Hamma Misau, a delegate on the platform of Association of Retired Police Officers of Nigeria (ARPON), who passed on last week.

Immediately after the announcement, the Chairman requested observance of one-minute silence in honour of the deceased who was an indigene of Bauchi State. It was unanimously agreed and carried out.

President Goodluck Jonathan also sent a message of condolence to the Conference on the death of Misau whom he described as an accomplished Nigerian both in public service and in private life.

The message, signed by Secretary to Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, also expressed condolences to the Government and people of Bauchi State and prayed God to grant the deceased eternal rest in the world beyond.

On the Conference Work Plan, a lot of suggestions were made. For instance, the issue of public holidays came into focus as delegates observed that sitting were scheduled on days nationally observed as work-free days and also asked for extension of time for committee sittings.

Delegates also raised the issue of work load for each of the committees and suggested restructuring of some of the committees so that the constraints of meeting the deadlines could be removed.

Conference Secretary, Dr (Mrs) Valerie-Janette Azinge explained that most of the issues raised had already been taken care of.

She said that at the beginning, there was the constraint of Committee Rooms; 'In this premises, we have only 10 Committee Rooms. When we presented this problem to the government, it was agreed that we should rent 10 extra Committee Rooms outside. So, all the committees will be sitting simultaneously.'

Still on the Work Plan, Senator Mohammed Aruwa, Chief Sergeant Awuse and Femi Falana said the secretariat should take back the document and do more work on it because most of the time-frames attached to it had been overtaken by events.

Falana specifically advised that while this happened, deliberations on other issues could continue to avoid further waste of time.

Their position was overruled with a voice vote and the Work Plan adopted after several suggestions for amendments.

Mike Ozekhome advised that discussion on media should be distinctly stated and should not be hidden under another committee; explaining that even in the 1999 Constitution as amended, the media industry has a clear presence.

The afternoon session of the Conference commenced with the debate on the President's speech. To avoid confusion, delegates were called to speak in alphabetical order although about nine of the 39 delegates called were absent.

Most of the speakers described the speech as inspirational, patriotic and a pointer to the issues that should occupy discussions and decisions at the Conference; and what to expect in the next 100 years of Nigeria.

John Achimugu said the Conference must not shy away from the issue of religion; describing it as an emotive issue but which in many ways has been a great source of perennial problems in the country.

He said delegates must be free to discuss religion and discuss it frankly because Nigeria has reached a point where 'our society is now zoned to according to faith.'

Achimugu said the refusal of conferences to discuss the issue in the past has only heightened the differences instead of solving the problems; 'I urge us under God to discuss this matter for the sake of ourselves and for the sake of our children.'

Senator Abdullahi Adamu described the President's speech at the inauguration of the Conference as the 'President's best speech ever,' and that it set the tone for the Conference.

He said the Conference must critically examine and address the issue of corruption; and come up with imaginative and effective approach towards fighting corruption.

Elder statesman, Ayo Adebanjo said the Conference must make a clear break from the past by ensuring that issues are discussed frankly and not allowing the old prejudice to over-shadow delegates' sense of patriotism.

Promise Adewusi described the speech as instructive and inspirational.

It was his view that leadership rather than the followers were responsible for Nigeria's problem and that 'while ordinary Nigerians want to live together, political leaders are united in their greed.'

Assistant Secretary, Media and Communications