The Vanguard of Monday, 14 July 2014 carried three full page advertorials on one issue: the impasse at the National Conference over a proper derivation formula. The Committee on Devolution of Powers, whose report was the last to be debated at plenary, had recommended retaining the 13% in General Abacha’s 1999 constitution against the Northern delegates’ insistence on reducing it to 5%. Unable to agree on the concession of a paltry 18%, the conference halted proceedings. While matters may not have got to the “I told you so” moment yet for those who doubted that any good could come out of the conference, the obvious haste with which Chief E. K. Clark, an “elder statesman at the conference,” rushed to publish his verdict of the conference as “historic,” urging the delegates to “congratulate themselves that the conference has succeeded” betrays his fear of what the people’s judgement might be.
Clark could hardly find enough adjectives to denounce those who might disagree with him. To Clark, the question of a proper revenue sharing formula is a “minor controversy . . . being blown out of proportion by some delegates, to give the impression that the Conference has failed.” The assumption is that no citizen could have a legitimate reason to think so. Any such person would be “evil.” It would, he says, be “most unpatriotic, uncharitable, unnationalistic, unjust and mischievous for anyone to attempt confusion at the end of the Conference with a view to tarnishing, undermining the wonderful and successful job done by the 492 patriotic Nigerians.” Hard to tell if the delegates blowing a minor controversy out of proportion are among these 492.
No doubt, however, that members of the “Committee of Pro-Federal Delegates” whose own advertorial appears five pages before Clark’s are evil since their position must have contributed to the confusion. They want, for instance, a principle of no less that 18%, and “not less than 50% of the total derivation fund accruable to a mineral bearing State.” Clark does not state a clear position that accords with the principle of (fiscal) federalism. On the contrary, he informs us that he was “pleased” when his “most revered traditional ruler the Lamido of Adamawa . . . embarrassed and congratulated” him for “condemning and disassociating” himself from a 57-page document whose authors’ stance was “100% derivation or self-determination.” It was, he says, “the first time” he “exchanged pleasantries with the eminent traditional ruler.” And that from the de facto leader of the South-South geo-political group that walked out of the 1995 constitutional conference because its concessionary position of 25% to be increased to 50% in due course was rejected!
Also among the “unpatriotic, uncharitable, unnationalistic, unjust and mischievous” Nigerians would be members of the Niger Delta Self Determination Movement and the Niger Delta Occupy Niger Delta Resources (NDSDM/ONDR). In their opinion, “mediocrity seems to have been allowed to prevail over reason” at the conference. Clark’s unqualified historic success is to this group “a far cry” from their “original positions.” They have choice words of their own for “a section of the Niger Delta Delegates” who betrayed this position by conniving in “a deliberate conspiratorial war against us,” calling them “black-legs” (sic) whose “dream is to re-enact our enslavement with their deceptive recommendations ostensibly on our behalf.”
Clark’s pre-emptive declaration of success may be best attributed to his uber-nationalistic wish that Nigeria be the “WINNER” (original capitals) at Jonathan’s conference. Lurking behind that motive is the fear that if the conference is adjudged a monumental waste of time and resources, then his protégé, Jonathan, will have failed. Either that or Clark does not care for federalism. For, ultimately, it is those he runs out of awful epithets to describe that understand the real agenda of the conference: to restore Nigeria to her Independence and Republican constitutions status of true federalism. In the “What then Is the Alternative to Chaos?” section of their advertorial, NDSDM/ONDR pays homage to federalism and spurns any sentimental drivel about national unity: “We must take a referendum of our people as to whether they still wish to be part of Nigeria . . . if the answer is a yes, then we must agree on the terms of the co-existence voluntarily which should now form the basis of the new Constitution. UNITY IS NOT BY FORCE!”
Let no one be deceived, the burning question is, Federalism or unitarism for Nigeria? If federalism, then it follows, as day does night, that the federating units cannot be dependent on the Centre; rather, the Centre must be dependent on the states. And this will not be if the federating units cannot control their resources or retain a mere half of their total revenues, not limited to minerals only. A just and equitable revenue formula that accords with the principles of federalism is the true test of the success of the conference. All the wonderful resolutions on the peripheral issues that Clark trumpets would remain inert words that can find no life if the constituents units of the “federation” must latch forever to the mammoth teats of a fat and sickly Mother in Abuja. In which case, we must erase the words federal, federation and federalism out of the 1999 or any new constitution and joyfully declare Nigeria a unitary state. Better to end the pretence once and for all!