SOVEREIGN NATIONAL CONFERENCE AND ITS CONTRADICTIONS
Mark & Jonathan & Utomi
Last week, advocates of Sovereign National Conference, to address issues in the polity, which have been described as the Nigerian question, converged in Lagos to ventilate ideas on the imperative of the national summit and modalities.
Dr Cairo Ojougboh, a former member of the House of Representatives, in this piece offered a contrary opinion, as he argued that the burning issues could be addressed by the National Assembly.
Most of the issues raised about the challenges the Country is facing now has been addressed by the 1999 Constitution as amended. The 1999 Constitution in Section 9, Sub-section 1-4, stipulates or prescribes how the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, shall be amended. Therefore, for those calling for a new Constitution, all they need do is to utilize the opportunity provided by NASS to submit to the latter, what they desire to be included in the Constitution of the country.
As far as I am concerned, an SNC is currently holding which is what the NASS represents as every nook and cranny of this country is represented by two persons, i.e a member of the Nigerian Senate and a member of the House of Representatives.
The Constitution of the United States of America has been amended 27 times in about 200 years of its life. So to call for an SNC means discarding the present Constitution, this I feel is wasteful and will achieve no purpose.
One of the most contentious issues at the conference is that of fiscal federalism and the derivation formula as being operated. For the avoidance of doubt, the 1999 Constitution did not pretend in any way and in fact the prescription could not be better. Refer to Section 162, Sub-section 2 of the constitution, which states that 'The President, upon the receipt of advice from the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, shall table before NASS proposals for revenue allocation from the Federation Account, and in determining the formula, NASS shall take into account, and in allocation principles especially those of population, equality of states, internal revenue generation, land mass, terrain as well as population density. Provided that the principle of derivation shall be constantly reflected in any approved formula as being not less than 13% of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources'.
From the above, it is clear that there is nothing wrong with the Constitution. The latter says 13% which is the minimum baseline and it is up to the operators of the constitution to keep it at any percentage i.e., 25, 30, etc as may be agreed upon by the operators of the constitution. I therefore submit that those clamouring for an improvement on the percentage should go to NASS and initiate dialogue to their satisfaction.
To further enhance fiscal Federalism, one would have expected that the South -South nation should be clamoring for change in the Royalty on crude oil to be paid directly to the concerned communities. And that VAT should be removed from Federal tax to the States.
Lack of confidence in NASS
Our present system of government was copied from the American model.
Some years ago, the Democrats in the US had full and total control of the US congress. Then the Tea party rose to challenge the situation by fielding good candidates and this enabled the Republicans to recapture the House of Representatives. This is what the SNG should be doing.
The great minds in the Save Nigeria Group should identify good candidates to field in the next elections and capture seats in the NASS.
I must confess that having a great mind and good ideas does not translate to political fortune.
This is why a great mind like Professor Pat Utomi, would choose to contest the Presidency on the platform of an unknown party. One would wonder, if we are to go back and call for elections that would elect members for an SNC on purely democratic basis with representatives from all over the country, would Professor Pat Utomi be able to win in Oshimili North Local Government Area of Delta state, or his constituency in Lagos state?
Curiously, 90 percent of those in the summit would not want to contest such elections but would rather prefer to be appointed into the SNC as they lack the capacity and appeal to convince their people at the grassroots to vote for them.
I therefore posit that the great minds should be able to move closer to the grassroots and convince them to vote for them instead of using the media to attack every position of government or people in authority.
Almost 40 percent of the summit participants were at one time or the other in government. In their time, they would never have allowed such a summit not to talk of the convocation of an SNC. Now, they are the loudest in calling for the conference. To the unwary, it would seem that these advocates are scheming to enter the government through the back door. My advice to them is to wait till 2015.
If some of these participants were to be appointed today as Ministers in the President Jonathan's government, they would drop their opposition to President Jonathan.
In 1999, the Afenifere group and National Democratic Coalition, [NADECO] fully embraced the political transition programme of General Abdulsalami Abubakar and participated fully in the elections on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), and captured the entire southwest.
Somewhere along the line, Asiwaju Senator Bola Tinubu, emerged the Governor of Lagos State. From there, he manipulated his way to personally control the entire South West politically. Today, the Afenifere and AD hold the traditional leadership, whilst Bola Tinubu wields the political power. How they (Afenifere and AD) allowed this to happen beats anyone's imagination.
The call by the Afenifere for an SNC to me looks like the story of a man, 'who boarded a bus, took a comfortable seat and when the bus had commenced the journey, stood up and offered his seat to someone else.
Sensing that he had no seat any longer, he demanded that the bus return to the station!'
There are a number of interesting explanations about how we got to the present situation offered by the agitators for SNC. Of particular interest to me is the view expressed by His Excellency Balarabe Musa, former Kaduna State Governor. According to him, the country got into the problem we have today because of the military intervention of 1966. If you look closely, a call for an SNC amounts to a Civilian coup d'Ã©tat and the result can best be imagined.
The knowledgeable Prof. Utomi said President Clinton has said Nigeria would be great if institutions are developed rather than personalities.
Why don't we use this opportunity to develop the NASS?
My advice is that people who lose election or patronage should be patient and not seek to destroy the system in their bid to return to reckoning.
In the interest of our country, let us build on the modest achievements we have made since 1999 Conclusion
Mr. President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, should continue to lead the country in his gentle and amiable way, and is advised not to listen to calls for SNC from any quarter. Any group with ideas about how to improve the country, should march to the NASS and employ democratic means to achieve their purpose.
Honourable Cairo Ojougboh writes from Abuja.