Ending the National Conference, Equity, the Numbers and the Zones, By Jibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin Ibrahim

The National Conference is coming to an end and through it, we know at the end what we knew at the beginning. It was necessary to have the National Conference so that we can chat but that the discussions will take us nowhere. My position has always been that just talking about our problems is therapeutic and will eventually lead us, at some future date, to try to solve the problems. Some have told me that with over 7 billion Naira spent; it’s a bit of an expensive talk show. My response is that if the Minister of Petroleum can spend 10 billion naira just to keep a jet she might need to attend a dinner debate anywhere in the world, and then maybe the expenditure is not too scandalous.

The conference took off following the act of the original sin, manipulating the numbers to secure a pre-determined end. What has been said was that at the beginning, there were about 294 Christians and only 198 Muslims in the conference composition. This was a huge voting advantage in a country where religious affiliations matter. When therefore Mike Ozekhome moved the motion that the standing rules should be amended from ¾ requiring 367 to get a win to 2/3 requiring only 328 votes to win, it was easy to see why Muslims and concerned Nigerians got very worried.

The group of 50 was set up the propose a way forward and they proposed 70% vote as the winning number. With this number, the requirement would have been a vote by 344.4 delegates to reach a decision. Please don’t as me about the .4 person. In their wisdom however, the Conference Leadership decided decisions will be taken by voice vote and the only reason for this must have been to ensure that the decisions would have no legitimacy, as no one will ever know whether 70% supported any of the decisions.

That was how my minimum expectation for the Conference – highlighting our traditional Nigerian problems and maybe engaging us on a line of reflection that could lead is to live with our problems if we cannot really solve them was dashed. Important issues such as creating 19 more states, a completely lunatic position, in a context where we do not have enough resources to maintain the present 36 states and de-listing local government democracy from the Constitution, a decision that proves we have tyrants in the National Conference were reached. Yes indeed, the lunatics and tyrants had their way, or did they. There might well have been a process of sophisticated political engendering to ensure that the Igbos will not get their additional states and the governors will continue to have the right to loot local government funds.

I appreciate the work of the Consensus Bridge Building Group under the leadership of Professor Gambari for their efforts in trying forge agreements between diametrically opposed positions. On the question of the derivation principle, it was a tough job to reconcile the position of the oil producing states for an allocation of is ranging from a 100% to 21.5% and those from non-oil producing states ranging from 13% to 15%. There solution did not reflect the wisdom and judgement of Solomon. They proposed18% of Federation Account to be allocated according to the derivation principle; 5% for solid mineral development and 5% for a Special National Fund for Stabilization, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction of areas affected by terrorism and insurgency, especially in the North East, North Central and North West. It was a non-solution that satisfied no one.

I learnt that several members of the ad hoc Consensus Building Group who were part of the wheeling and dealing to get the “compromise” began to attack aspects of it on arrival at the floor of the plenary. The proposal was not based on the equity principle, which is what provides for enduring federal solutions. We all know that the combination of 13% principle and the off shore/onshore decision has skewed the allocation of resources to the oil producing states. The proposal would augment the inequality and therefore make a working solution based on consensus impossible. They needed to agree on the underlying principle rather than allocate to the loudest voices. Though out last week, no acceptable decision could be agreed upon and the discord will continue this week.

Concerns about the lack of equity were exacerbated by a document sourced from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) released by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation. It provided detailed revenue allocation to the six geopolitical zones and the 36 states for April and May 2014. The analysis of showed that the South-South zone has the highest allocation, while the South East had the least.

State-by-state analysis shows Akwa Ibom was raking in the highest allocation, having received N45bn with Osun getting the least – N5.83bn for the two months under review. Some states in the South South were also disadvantaged with Cross River and Edo states getting N8bn and N9.6bn for the two months respectively. The proposed solution would have widened the gap between Akwa Ibom and Osun, Cross River and Edo states for example. How can such a proposal work?

The numbers game cannot be played successfully on the basis of increasing inequality if we are to maintain our federal system. The Niger Delta has been very astute in inventing and advocating for the principle of “resource control’ over the past thirty years. It has been successful in placing a legitimacy challenge on the constitutional principle that mineral resources belong to the nation-state as a whole rather than the particular region that resource is mined from.

The problem however is that the resource in question is petroleum, which more or less, all the states in the country depend on for their public expenditures. It is this dependency that makes the debate on fiscal federalism in Nigeria such an emotive issue. Any solution that worsens inequality will fail.At the beginning, the argument of the Niger Delta was compelling. They were the victims – the major providers of Nigeria’s oil wealth and the major victims of pollution due to oil spillage and gas flaring.

As minorities, it appeared unlikely that they would access power so the struggle had to be focused on petroleum resources. Their movement took a radical and politically organised form with the declaration of the Ogoni Bill of Rights demanding for political autonomy in 1990 and the uprising that has since been on. Ken Saro-Wiwa, the leader of the Ogoni political struggle and eight of his colleagues were hanged by the State in November 1995 but that only provided more fuel for the struggle. I believe that organising a National Conference under a Niger Delta presidency and using the Conference to further skew the principles of resource allocation in favour of a few states is a non-starter politically, except if there is another agenda which is on the table but is not being canvassed for openly.

Dr. Jibrin, a senior fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, CDD, and Chairman of Premium Times editorial board, writes from Abuja. Kindly give him feeback via his twitter handle @Jibrinibrahim17

 


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