Conference of Threats, Row and Deadlock, By Ibanga Isine

The National Conference will on Monday resume plenary sitting and will make spirited attempts to get the delegates resolve the stalemate over the voting procedure to be adopted by the Conference.

During the last two weeks of its sittings, the Conference had been dogged by disagreements bordering on mutual suspicion among delegates from the Northern and Southern parts of the country. While the North would want the country to sustain its current socio-political and national economic structures, the South has been pushing for wide-range reforms including resource control, true federalism and devolution of power.

Even when delegates are yet to resume debate in the agenda set by President Goodluck Jonathan while inaugurating the body, a palpable gang-up has begun to manifest between delegates from the two divides.

The issue in contention is the voting procedure to be adopted in reaching major decisions at the Conference. Based on the draft Conference Rules, decisions can only be taken by consensus but when this cannot be attained, a three-quarter of the delegates must vote for such a decision. Majority of delegates who contributed to the debate towards the amendment of the draft Rules spoke strongly in support of retaining the voting procedure as proposed by the Presidency.

They insist that if any change must be effected in the country, there was need for majority of Nigerians to accept such change. They also insist that only decisions reached through consensus and or supported by at least three-quarters of the delegates can get the support of all Nigerians.
But every delegate from the South, who spoke on the matter refused to buy the argument canvassed by their Northern counterparts. Mike Ozekhome, a Federal Government delegate from Edo State was the first to shot down the three-quarters voting procedure on the ground that it was bogus and unattainable.

In a debate reminiscent of the court room practice, Mr. Ozekohme used some of the gravest adjectives to describe the Rule in which 369 delegates out of 492 must vote in support of any decision to be taken at the Conference.

Mr. Ozekhome said, “My Lord, 75 per cent is bogus, it is ‘elephantide’ and very unattainable by every standard. I know a lot of issues will draw emotions and primordial sentiments in this hallowed chamber.

“When issues like state police, regionalism, devolution of power and others come up as they will; it will be difficult to get 75 percent to agree. The second problem is that we will be creating a tyrannical minority. It simply means that the minority could defeat a major decision and make it impossible for us to take any meaningful decision on any matter.”

Instead of retaining the bogus voting procedure, Mr. Ozokhome moved that a two-third majority vote that is used in global legislative practice, be adopted.

All the Southern delegates, who spoke on the issue, insisted that a two-third majority votes be used in taking decisions. Former Chairman of the People Democratic Party, PDP, Ahmadu Ali was one of the few prominent Northern figure who supported the use of two-third majority votes. Ali, who said he didn’t envy the position of the Conference Chairman, Idris Kutigi, argued that no meaningful decision will be taken if the three-quarter voting procedure is adopted.

At the time the Conference adjourned on Wednesday noon, the leadership was unable to push through a consensus on the matter. Kutigi had appointed 50-delegates representing groups and interests to form a consensus group. The group had been meeting and it seems a unified position has been adopted and will be presented during plenary on Monday.

From the grapevines, the consensus group is said to have adopted 70 percent voting formula for the Conference but Kutigi may still find it hard to get the disputing delegates to accept this. The level of success to be attained by the Conference is closely tied with the voting formula that delegates agree upon.

If Kutigi is able to push through and get the delegates to agree on a reasonable voting procedure to be adopted, then the work of the Conference is partly completed. Debates on issues like Resource Control, Devolution of Power, State Police, State Creation and True Federalism would likely result in verbal outbursts and some delegates may even resort to fisticuffs to express their views.

Nigerians should therefore, brace up to witness the good, the absurd and abhorrent in the coming weeks. The Conference will be a theatre of pleasant and unpleasant surprises. With threats of pulling out of Nigeria and joining his subjects in the Cameroon by a prominent leader like the Lamido of Adamawa, Aliyu Mustapha, there is no end to intrigues and power-play as combatants from the North and Southern Nigeria dig their trenches and prepare to take the soul of the country.

Very soon, voices will be heard from the creeks and other locations where Nigerians have formed rag-tag groups to fight the perceived enemies of their interest and regions. We only pray that the Conference does not end with an avoidable disaster. We pray and hope against hope.

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