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Between True Federalism And Sovereign National Conference

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Some eminent Nigerians, rose from a meeting in Lagos recently and called on the Federal Government to urgently convoke a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) to address the myriad of crisis currently confronting the nation.

At the end of a two-day National Dialogue organized under the aiges of National Summit Group (NSG), the group made up of politicians, elders statesmen, civil rights activists, business men, academics, traditional and religious leaders, organised labour as well as security agents, emphasised the need for a Sovereign National Conference. They insist that it has become imperative to convoke a national conference comprising various constituent units of the country that would produce valid and true document to serve as the people’s constitution.

Also another group of Nigerians have canvassed for true fiscal federalism as the panacea to the myriad of problems facing the nation.

The call for either the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference or true fiscal federalism as envisioned by the authors of the 1999 constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria is not new.

The late elder statesmen, Anthony Enahoro’s National Democratic Coalition (NADECCO) was among the first groups to champion the fight for the convocation of a sovereign national conference dating back to the birth of the nation’s nascent democracy in 1999.

The South-South People’s Assembly (SSPA), an umbrella socio-political, cultural and ethnic body of the Niger Delta province, comprising, Rivers, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Bayelsa and Edo states has also been a formidable voice in the call for sovereign national conference and the practice of true fiscal federalism.

It is believed in some quarters that it was SSPA’s pressure that forced the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to pick Dr. Goodluck Jonathan to serve as running mate to the late Musa Shehu Yar’Adua in 2004. The agitation by SSPA and others also contributed to the election of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, from the South-South geopolitical zone, a minority as president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the first time in the political history of Nigeria.

Although constitutionally, Nigeria is a federation, in practice, many political scientists have continued to insist that Nigeria is a quasi federalism.

A part of the preamble of the 1999 constitution says inter-alia “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria …and to provide for a constitution for the purpose of promoting a good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people, do hereby make, enact and give to ourselves the following constitution”.

The advocates of SNC have emphatically and repeatedly argued that the 1999 constitution did not come into existence through a properly constituted Constituent Assembly or Constitution Drafting Committee.

Speaking at the legislative summit on South West Integration at Ibadan recently a House of Assembly member from Ekiti State, Ayodele Odu (Trepodun/Ifelodun) constituency said “the 1999 constitution is decree 24 of 1999. It is an outdated constitution foisted by Abdulsalami.

He described it as a fraudulent constitution that told a lie against itself. The National Assembly can amend it, but it cannot make a new constitution for Nigeria. It is anti-historical to give the task to them. He said constitution making is the job of a Constituent Assembly.

Agitators of SNC reason that the various ethnic nationalities that make-up the country, for example the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the Arewa Consultative Council, the Odudua Peoples Congress, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, etc or their representatives should meet on a round-table to dialogue and formulate a people’s constitution.

“We have 484 ethnic groups in Nigeria. We have to go back to basics Awolowo said we cannot avoid a federal system. The military constitution is masquerading as a constitution”, Ayodele Odu said.

In an interview with The Tide, Mr. Victor Burubo, the publicity secretary of INC, said the various ethnic groups have the right to meet and dialogue on how they should live together but such a dialogue or conference must be representative enough and not some selected individuals meeting to take decisions.

Chief Bob Fredricks, a former member of the 3rd Assembly, Rivers State House of Assembly and now an executive member of the INC, is of the view that SNC is a meeting where the national issues like true fiscal federalism will be discussed.

He said anybody from the Niger Delta opposing the call for SNC should be considered a traitor.

On the other hand, those opposed for the convocation of the SNC fear that the convocation of such conference at this point of the nation’s political history or development might be detrimental and may do more harm to the nation’s unity.

The opponents of the SNC also argue that the National Assembly as presently constituted is a representation of the people of Nigeria across the various ethnic nationalities.

They also reason that the National Assembly has the power and mandate to dialogue, discuss and make laws for the people they represent.

Chapter one, part two, paragraph four, section one of the 1999 constitution states that “the legislative power of the federal republic of Nigeria shall be vested in a National Assembly of the federation which shall consist of a Senate and a House of Representatives”.

In reaction to the agitators for the convocation of SNC. The National Assembly described the call as diversionary and unnecessary saying that it would not work and urged its agitators to channel their grievances through the National Assembly.

According to the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Zakari Mohammed, the call for Sovereign National Conference is diversionary and unnecessary.

He said “Sovereign National Conference is the thinking of some idle minds adding, that convening SNC is about representation of Nigerians and you already have representation of Nigerian in us, one of the most credible elections that INEC conducted was the election that brought us to office. So people in the National Assembly are representing the Nigerian people.

Zakari Mohammed opined “security matters have occupied the front burner of national discourse. We have been inviting the service chiefs for private meetings from time to time to find solutions to the problem”.

He said, loss of confidence in institutions has been like that over time, but it’s not fair for people to say they want to convene SNC for now.

“Are we going to conduct election to bring on representations for the SNC? How many ethnic groups do we have in Nigeria? Is every ethnic nationality going to be represented” he asked adding that if they have a template for discussion there are representatives to address such.

“Those calling for a break up of Nigeria (may be those calling for the SNC) don’t mean well for us. We cannot reduce ourselves to tribal forces and begin to play local champions. Nigeria is a unique country of several ethnic nationalities bonded together by nationality” he remarked.

In his reaction, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media, Information and Public Affairs, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe told those agitating for a SNC to shelve the idea because it cannot work and advised them to channel their grievances through the National Assembly.

Senator Abaribe drew the attention of those calling for SNC to the fact that there already exist elected representatives of the people and that all Nigerians are either represented by a member of the House of Representatives or a Senator.

He said “we do not understand the position of those who want SNC” noting that the National Assembly is not against any group of people coming together to discuss issues they felt concerned them”.

However, Mr. Burubo, INC Publicity Secretary, is of the view that the National Assembly is made up of politicians who largely represent their political parties’ interest and personal interest who may know little of the felt need of their ethnic nationality adding that they are just a negligible percentage of the people.

Senator Olorunimbe Mamora and Rev Tunji Adebiyi, Lagos State Special Adviser on Regional Integration have already drawn attention to the limited powers of the National Assembly to make people’s constitution for the country explaining that while the legislators have the mandate to make laws for the country, they are handicapped in making a constitution.

The National Assembly, it is said can only review the constitution and cannot make a new constitution. Making a new and people’s constitution can only be done by bodies outside the parliament put up by the ethnic nationalities.

On why the nation could not practice true federalism despite the fact that Nigeria is a federation, Dr. Monday Okonny, an elder statesman and two-time commissioner in the old Rivers State, blamed the National Assembly for not living up to expectation.

“We need to practice true fiscal federalism, states having their own police etc.” he said.

Again Chief Bob Fredricks, former lawmaker in Rivers State also insist that the SNC would be the only meeting where issues of true fiscal federalism can be meaningfully discussed.

He pointed out that when Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914, the nation was practicing true fiscal federalism. Each region produced what they had and paid tax to the centre. But that system, he said was killed by the military. We now run a sort of military system as opposed to federalism, hence, every now and then, the state governors have to run to Abuja for either federation account meeting or allocation meeting etc.

It was William E. Berah (1865-1940), a Senator in U.S.A who said “the marvel of history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their government”.

It is true that the 1999 constitution did not come into existence through the normal constitution making process. But the more unfortunate thing is that those who are supposed to apply its contexts are selective. The National Assembly’s move to make selective amendment of certain sections of the constitution gives credence to the fact that the constitution is faulty.

A temporary panel beating efforts by the National Assembly may amount to beating about the bush. The way to go may be to hit the harmmer on the head by having a total review or re-writing of the constitution.

 

Soye Young-Itiye

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CUPP Cautions NASS On Party Primaries

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The Coalition for United Political Parties (CUPP) has said that direct or indirect primaries should be left at the discretion of the leadership of political parties. 
A statement on Wednesday by CUPP’s National Secretary, Chief Peter Ameh, said the All Progressives Congress (APC) should not use its majority in the National Assembly to manipulate the Constitution in its favour and force its decision down the throat of other parties.
Ameh added that “this authoritarian will of APC majority is not good for our democracy.”
He further stated, “Why should the method of selecting/electing political party representatives be forced down their throat? It is totally absurd and uncalled for. 
“This direct primaries is a direct assault on parties to freely determine the most suitable means of conducting its internal affairs. 
“This is interference in the affairs of the parties by taking away the right of party organs to make decisions for the smooth running of party activities. What party ‘A’ wants is different from party ‘B’. 
“APC is using it’s majority in the National Assembly to manipulate the constitution in their favour and force the decision of APC down the throat of other parties, this authoritarian will of APC majority is not good for our democracy.
“They can’t dictate for political parties their means of party nomination. Do they give political parties grant? No!, So they should allow political parties to look for the most cost effective ways to manage internal issues as it relates to the conduct of party primaries. 
The CUPP scribe urged them to use their legislative powers “to approve ‘Option A4’ as the means of voting in an election, if truly they want things to work in Nigeria.” .
“As for the approval of electronic transmission of election results, we should not applaud the Senate for doing the right thing after so much public outcry, this is why I have insisted that only mass action from citizens can give our democratic process needed growth..
“Citizens must continue to engage the process to protect our democracy or else those elected to serve their interest will remain self serving senators..
“The hallubaloo over the amendment of Section 53 to give INEC the rights to determine the rightful mode for the transmission of election results was expected but unnecessary because if not that the senators were to be clouded by their own need for self-preservation, this wouldn’t have dragged for so long..
“It was wrong to have reduced the independence of the commission to that of consultation commission when the former amendment required that the commission seek approval from NCC before  applying technology that will aid the improvement of our elections.”

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State Congress: Kano Announces Drug Test For APC Contestants

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The Kano State Government, has announced that all contestants vying for positions in the All Progressive Congress (APC)’s executive council position must undergo a mandatory drug test.
This was contained in a statement issued by the Commissioner for Information, Mr Muhammad Garba, on Wednesday in Kano.
According to Garba, interested persons should report to the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) in the state for the screening.
“The directive is part of government’s policy to rid Kano of illicit substances,” he said.
He warned that no contestant would be screened without undergoing the mandatory drug test ahead of the October 16 state congress of the ruling party.
“Similar tests were carried out for contestants into local government election, as well as political appointees including members of the state executive council before offering them a portfolio,” Garba said.
He further noted that Governor Abdullahi Ganduje mandated the state office of the NDLEA to ensure thorough conduct of the tests.
The commissioner reaffirmed Ganduje’s commitment to riddle drug abuse among political leaders.
“The government will not hesitate to issue necessary disciplinary measures against anyone found with the trace of illicit substances, including a compulsory recommendation for rehabilitation,” the commissioner said.

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PDP Mocks APC On Bad Governance

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The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has called on the All Progressives Congress (APC) to accept their mass failures in party management and governance and stop bothering Nigerians with their regular lamentations.
The PDP said that its position was predicated on a statement by the APC in which it claimed to have improved on electoral process in the country, whereas what abounds in the nation is a painful story of how the APC has destroyed the economy, the electoral process and the national unity, to the extent that life has become despondent to the average Nigerian.
The party, in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan said, “we accept the fact that the APC lacks the capacity for feedback mechanism, however, the PDP wishes to bring to the attention of the APC that all Nigerians today would wish this administration had come to its end.
“Notwithstanding, our party counsel is that the APC should begin to prepare their handover notes because Nigerians are not ready to endure this anguish beyond May 29, 2023.”
The PDP urged Nigerians to continue to rally with PDP as “we collectively prepare to rescue our nation from this incompetent, divisive and thoughtless APC and its administration.”

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