Perks, Rules, Dictatorship and all That, By Ibanga Isine

The resumed sitting of the National Conference on Monday will witness a lot of drama and intrigues. One thing is very certain; the leadership will face hard tackles over the alleged deductions in perks meant for delegates. I foresee a situation where delegates will demand that the management discloses how much the Federal Government approved for the three-month National Conference.

The issue wouldn’t have been a problem but because the media had widely speculated that each delegate would be paid a whooping N4 million per month, a lot of them had started making big plans on how they would utilize the windfall.

Some might have made calculations on how much they would spend on accommodation, feeding, maintenance of vehicles, payment of drivers, security aides and personal assistants and what they would save for the rainy day. Others might have also set aside some funds to pay for very “special services.”

But with the N1.4 million which was paid to them during the weekend, it is difficult to imagine how delegates will manage to do all they had planned. So the leadership of the Conference had better prepare to answer tough questions and even show evidence that it has not shortchanged those invited to help steer the country off the cliff.

The N4 million monthly perks were speculated based on an earlier estimate of N7 billion presented to the President by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim. It was, however, learnt that Mr. Jonathan declined to approve the huge amount and nobody has been able to say exactly how much was approved for the programme.

Besides the issue of perks, delegates will pick holes in some of the provisions on the Conference Rules of Procedure. For instance, Order 6 (1) which spells out the duties and functions of the Conference Chairman will come under close scrutiny. That Rule reads, “The Chairman in Plenary shall take the Chair on every day at the hour of which the Conference shall have adjourned at the last sitting. The Chairman having examined the Proceedings of the last day’s sitting shall approve the same and announce his approval to the Conference.”

For those who have witnessed National Assembly plenary sessions, this is undemocratic. The Chair cannot on his own approve and adopt Votes and Proceedings without putting a question to the House. Since the Proceedings are the property of the Conference, approval can only be sought from those who owned it. I foresee delegates voting to change the Clause that empowers the Conference Chairman to approve Conference Proceedings without recourse to the whole House.

Order 9 (7) may also come under serious scrutiny by representatives of the media and civil society groups. The rule reads, ““The Conference may grant approval to the representative of any media to attend the sitting of the Conference provided that if the media publishes a report of the proceedings which the Conference considers unfair, offensive and not a true reflection of what transpired, such permission may be revoked.”

The rule violates the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which empowers the media to hold government accountable to the people.

Section 22 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states, “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.

Again, Section 39(1) of the same Constitution states, “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression; including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference.”

I foresee a situation where the controversial rule will be amended so that a reporter found on the other side of decorum may be punished based on existing laws instead of being chased away from the Conference.

Heads or tails, the week at the Conference promises to be exciting, nerve-cracking and intriguing as groups and interests begin to put their agenda on the table. We will be there to tell you everything that goes on inside the hallowed chamber. Look out for our reports on our National Conference blog.

Nigeria, let’s go there!

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