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Election 2015: Dubious Confab report approval – Punch

By The Citizen
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Amid the froth and fury of a cut-throat election campaign, the Federal Executive Council last Wednesday approved 'the immediate implementation of the 2014 National Conference report.' In what seems like a last-ditch gambit to gain electoral mileage as Nigeria goes to the polls on Saturday, the bizarre order, coming just days to the presidential ballot, should be taken with a pinch of salt.

In all probability, the announcement by Pius Anyim, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, on behalf of the cabinet, is a cheap political stunt and a blatant attempt to deceive the electorate. Anyim said the recommendations and resolutions that require constitution amendment and enactment of new laws would be forwarded to the National Assembly for promulgation into law, while policy matters in the report would be referred to the affected agencies and the tiers of government concerned for action. As was expected, politicians have gone to town with it, making outlandish promises, including the creation of new states. But turning the strategic issue of restructuring to an object of a knee-jerk reaction to a seeming plummeting political fortune is a disservice to the country.

There is nothing altruistic or patriotic about FEC's feckless authoritative approval of a document that holds so much hope for the country's socio-economic transformation, but has been sacrificed on the altar of personal political ambition. This is another outrageous example of a political joke taken too far. The FEC statement lacks power to convince those who had been canvassing the implementation of the report since it was submitted in August 2014.

Instead, the President consigned the report to the archives. What, for instance, does it cost the President to trim his bloated cabinet, as recommended by the conference, when he had the opportunity to do so after some ministers resigned last October, and especially in the face of dwindling oil revenues? The President swore in another set of eight ministers last week to fill the vacancies left behind by those who resigned to contest elections.

On several occasions between the inauguration of the conference and the end of last year, Jonathan's headline-grabbing statements had offered a ray of hope to Nigerians. Promising the conferees that their work would not be a waste, Jonathan had assured when the 22-volume report, containing over 600 draft proposals, was submitted that 'it is a new dawn in Nigeria and a new nation is at the door.'

And shortly after this, the President had set up another committee to study the report, articulate the recommendations made and develop the strategies for the implementation. The committee was also meant to advise the government on how to effectively implement the report. Similarly, in his broadcast to mark the 2014 Independence Day on October 1, the President reaffirmed that he would keep his promise. 'Every promise I make, God willing, I will see to its fulfilment. I assure you, we shall implement the report,' he had said.

But apart from the soundbites and fury, Jonathan seems not to be in a hurry to act on the report and has never built a reputation for implementing any report. There were the unimplemented reports of the Presidential Advisory Council headed by Theophilus Danjuma, which recommended the reduction of the cost of governance; the Presidential Committee on Review of the Reform Processes in the Nigerian Public Service; the Public Awareness on Security and Civic Responsibilities; the Stephen Oronsaye Committee on the Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies; and the Justice Alfa Belgore Committee on Constitution Review, which also proposed the devolution of power to the states, scrapping of the office of the First Lady and autonomy for local governments. There were also four different committees set up to probe the fuel subsidy scandal without the government making any tangible use of their reports.

One of the signs that we are a long way off from the implementation was the failure to transmit the report to the National Assembly, which was also considering some amendments to the 1999 Constitution at that time. The Deputy Leader, House of Representatives, Leo Ogor, said during this period that there was no such report before the parliament. Things should have been handled differently if sincerity was in adequate supply.

The failure to do so might haunt the country for a long time. Today, Nigeria is further from being a proper nation than at any other time in its history. Since the advent of civil government 16 years ago, we have altogether missed our national goals in critical areas of development. Because of our failure to restructure, the component states that depend mainly on oil revenues are finding it hard to meet their financial and security obligations.

Even countries that have had a long history of being unitary entities are evolving novel ways of devolving power to their constituent units and cities for rapid economic development. In the United Kingdom, which is an example of a unitary state, the central government has ceded some powers to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales following constitutional changes in 1997 and 1998.

No doubt, our federalism is dysfunctional. The Punch editorial stance strongly supports the restructuring of the skewed political system. When the conference was inaugurated on March 17, 2014, we had warned, 'We must not allow cynics' narrative of failure to become an excuse for despair. Despite obvious constraints such as the deep suspicion of the motives of President Goodluck Jonathan, the controversial pattern of delegate selection and ambiguity over its legal status, the conference has a good chance of being the take-off point for the long overdue restructuring of this tottering political edifice.'

We will continue to stand resolutely for true federalism as the only political arrangement for the country. But it is all evident that Jonathan has failed badly to translate a credible and painstakingly worked out report to a constitutional reform. He has missed the golden opportunity to write his name in gold. Nigerians should reject the uncanny bait and cheap electioneering gimmicks.