It is nothing less than God that has me coming back to this topic of the National Confab. Like many of you readers and Nigerians, I am fast tiring of first, remembering that there are a group of people jaw-jawing it out in Abuja in a bid to produce some solutions to the issues that bother us and secondly, knowing that yet again we are hoping on the power of talk which from past experience is all we know how to do. The recent happenings especially with Boko Haram only served to get me fed up even faster until I came upon this interview published earlier this month.
The interviewee is Prof. Obiora Ike, “a solid intellectual” in the words of my brother-in-law. You can get the full transcript of the interview here but I will share tidbits of it below which recapitulate the events of week 11 – where we left off on ON TOP D MATTER – to week 15 of the National Confab. These tidbits, I hope, will also give you the forbearance to hold on just a little bit more. Maybe something good just might still come of this…
Prof. Obiora Ike, former Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Enugu, is the Deputy Leader of the Southeast delegation to the National Conference. He speaks ON TOP D MATTER as follows:
There were questions that concerned economic justice; that we have to do a population (census) that has to be realistic in Nigeria, and not where we fathomed any numbers, etc.
Census is being debated and there is going to be a new census in Nigeria in which all the items that were neglected in the previous censuses will become items.
ON INDIGENOUS AND RESIDENCY RIGHTS?
It is not your indigeneship but your residencyship makes you have rights, privileges and duties wherever you are. For instance, if I am born in Lagos, though I live in Kano and I pay tax in Kano, I am a citizen of Kano after five to seven years, and I can aspire to the highest political office in that state. (sic)
So, residency right becomes a very serious matter and the committee has brought it to the plenary and it will now be looked into. It gives you the opportunity to migrate to any part of the country to live.
ON NOMADS AND FULANI HERDSMEN?
(This issue) was very contentious because the law and even people, who come from the South, were very vocal and clear: that any nomad should stay in his nomadic environment.
There was even someone who said we are in the 21st Century and we eat meat produced in other countries and you don’t see cows moving around the streets of New York. But those from the North said even if they must accept ranches, the state and local governments should pay for the ranches and people from the South said no.
Well, we ended without consensus and the next day, a motion was brought and asked we should give a five-year period for the nomads to customize to see that the cows don’t move around again.
ON A UNICAMERAL LEGISLATURE?
A problem identified by people is the take-home package of those in elective positions. It is a crime in a country like Nigeria, where very many people live on less than three dollars a day and very few earn more. But if the system makes it possible, it must be changed and the system that can make that possible is a uni-cameral legislature.
We are going to have a unicameral system whereby the Senate and the House of Representatives will be one House. We will no longer have a president picking his vice during the campaign, but a situation where he will go to House and pick who will be his vice. We will no longer have you appoint commissioners or ministers from anywhere, but the appointment will be done from serving legislators in government.
These are already at the level of the plenary and this will be voted soon at the conference. It has nothing to do with the present National Assembly because over 70 per cent of them are going next year.
These ideals have been well-thought out; there has been comparative study on them; experts have addressed the various committees on these and the people knew quite clearly that what kept Nigeria behind for many years is the number of bureaucracies and every bureaucracy is corrupted.
ON LAND USE ACT AND SPONSORSHIP FOR PILGRIMAGE?
The report of the Land Committee to the plenary is that the Land Use Act should be expunged. First of all, you don’t need it in the Constitution; it can be a decree and we feel it is disenfranchising the custodians of the land. It has provided opportunity for corruption and caused under-development.
It is like the funding of pilgrimage; we think it is not right for government to pay money for people to attend pilgrimage because nobody funds the traditional worshippers and religions. It is a very unfair practice.
ON TAXES FOR RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS?
The fact is no committee recommended taxation for the Church or any religious group. The only committee that may have recommended that may be the Committee on Religion, but I am in the committee and we did not even discuss it.
Religious institutions are voluntary, non-governmental institutions and non-profit-making institutions that add value to the life of a people. So, where do they make money to pay a tax?
After the submission of the report on religious committee was brought to the general assembly, there was an opinion by one member, out of 492, whether religious institutions should not pay tax if they engaged in revenue-generating ventures. It was just a question or proposal that religious institutions should pay tax if they own jets, if they ran hotels, if they ran bakeries, if they ran universities and other such things that make money.
Nonetheless, the confab did not take this item as an acceptable topic. I do have a personal opinion, of course, and that is that religious institutions are sacrosanct by virtue of what happens in different countries. But if religious institutions go into business – and they must register such business as business – then they must pay taxes on those businesses, which are income earnings as business.
ON THE CREATION OF STATES?
The Southeast went to the conference with an expectation that there must be one extra state created for the Southeast;
The Committee on Restructuring of Power in Nigeria approved one more state for the Southeast. It will now come to the general conference for confirmation. If the general conference approves, it will now be left with the President to implement it.
ON ZONING AND THE DEVOLUTION OF POWER?
The Southeast also came with expectations that there must be fiscal federalism within Nigeria; there must be serious devolution of power from the centre to make Nigeria a working federation; there must be clear distinction between religion and state, as religion and state could not be understood to be identical…they demanded a Nigeria that is free and fair; a Nigeria where the conference deliberations will not be put on the shelves.
Local governments do not belong to a Constitution, they belong to the management in an area and therefore should be removed from the Constitution and put into the state where they belonged and states will have the right to create as many local governments as they would wish and could fund. Of course, money comes to the centre; money also comes to the states; so, there will be no need to have a specific number of local governments in the Constitution and the committee unanimously approved this provision.
An issue was whether the federating units in Nigeria would be the states or the zones and on this one, the Western Nigeria (Southwest) came with one clear identity: that the federating units in Nigeria to be the zones. The Northern states did not want it, the South-South did not want it, and the Southeast wanted it.
But when it was time to vote, one state in the Southeast joined the rest and out of the 22 members of that committee, about six or seven voted in favour and that one was not carried. Nonetheless, that committee has recommended — and I am quite happy about it and it looks like there would be an opportunity for zones to arrange among themselves — that there would be zoning.
The zoning policy is already accepted in Nigeria but it is not constitutional but now, it will be constitutional that zones exist and this is the number of them, then they will agree to either collect their money as a zone, or do whatever thing they wanted as a zone. But that has to be done by their Houses of Assembly and then they are bringing it to the National Assembly and making it a national affair.
Right now, the zones will be operating as zones but the federating units will go to the states.
ON BOKO HARAM?
The conference has used every legitimate word in the dictionary to condemn this heinous act by criminals who answer Boko Haram. The conference has been able to limit them to non-religious group because the Muslims have said they are non-Muslims, that they are even anti-Islam because they burn mosques and churches, and they fight government as they fight soldiers. So, they are an insurgency group that is determined the fight the Nigerian federation.
I do not think that Boko Haram insurgency has escalated since the conference started but Boko Haram has been there since year 2002 and that was when a certain (Modu) Sheriff was governor in Borno State. They have also become more violent in years 2008 and 2009 when Yar’Adua was in power and they continued their engagement of the police and Nigerian military recently. But with the imposition of emergency rule in the area, there have been some restraints.
It is very clear that the group is not a war for the President or Nigerian army but a war for all Africans and, indeed, the whole world.
The Nigerian army and President Jonathan have tried; the security is infiltrated and this makes the Boko Haram fight a little bit difficult. Terrorism has not won any war anywhere and if the Nigerian people are united, I do feel it is a phase in the Nigerian history and the people should stand up to it. The international community has become part of it and I don’t think anybody can win a war against the whole world.
AFTER THE CONFAB?
A bill is in the National Assembly to appropriate the discussion and resolutions of the conference into the Nigerian Constitution. The President of Nigeria does not need the Senate or House of Representatives to appropriate some of the resolutions that may emanate from the conference because they may be policy directives and government decisions at that level.
The people of Nigeria are waiting to be asked in a referendum to make a choice on what the National Conference will bring up and the conference, by way of its moral weight, has become a voice for the people of Nigeria, whether there is law or not.
But definitely, the conference is not a talk show and the people there are not wasting their time. We are looking at how to develop the country and move it forward.
Mention me @ojukwu_martin on twitter