Is Confab Report The ‘True’ Change?, By Adeoya Boladale
For the past few weeks, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Goodluck Jonathan has besieged the south western part of Nigeria in a move to solicit for votes in that region. Among the numerous promises being made, one which the president and his party seems to be laying more emphasis on, is the implementation of the resolutions reached at the 2014 National Conference; and recently the presidency took it a step further by accepting all the recommendations of the confab at the federal executive cabinet meeting.
But the opposition All Progressive Congress has continued to criticise the resolutions of the conference, describing the conference as a waste of time and resources. A few days ago, a candidate of the party for the Lagos West Senatorial district openly criticised the Confab report, vowing to ensure it never sees the light of day.
Beyond the razzmatazz of the politicians, it is important to take a critical look at the resolutions of the Conference in view of the possibility of its direct effects on our lives, society, country and future.
Over the years, socio-political scholars and writers of thought, in an attempt to finding the sole reason for the dilapidation and setback of Nigeria, have come to agree that the major reason for Africa’s most populous country’s continued failure isn’t just because of its bad leadership but also because it was never created to succeed.
Beyond the attractive green-and-white flag, fancy coat-of-arms and a rhythmic national anthem stands a nation trapped in political immaturity and structural deficiency. Our so called federal system has no correlation with the principle of federalism and, until recently, our appellation as a ‘Republic’ has merely being just in ink as our electoral process showed more of a selective process than a democracy. In other words, we are neither here nor there.
Truly, some resolutions of the national conference may not be in conformity with the developmental aspiration of a country like Nigeria. For example, the creation of additional 19 states, even though this will create political equity and balance of power between the six geopolitical zones, isn’t ideal, especially at a time when only a few of the current 36 states can individually pay the salaries of workers, not to talk of embarking on developmental projects. The failure to accept a unicameral legislature is another wrongdoing, as such move would have seen a drastic cut in the waste being perpetrated by the legislative arm. However, the national conference has created some of the most remarkable and historical resolutions that, if implemented without alteration, would help in restructuring and reshaping Nigeria, politically, socially, economically and collectively.
One of the highlights of the recommendations is the removal of the railway and seaport from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. The implication of this is that states in Nigeria can now embark on building railways to ease traffic within their territories. For a state like Lagos, where the major means of transport is via road, this move gives the state government the power to construct a railway from Ajah to Ikorodu, Badagry to Ikeja, and hence decongest the traffic on the road. Seaports, being one of the major sources of revenue for the federal government, have impacted in little ways on their hosting states, which can now construct and own their own ports. For states like Rivers, Lagos, and Ondo, huge revenues can be made through state owned seaports, thereby giving alternatives to importers, speeding up the time of the clearance of goods and, above all, creating jobs for residents of the state.
The effect of state police cannot be overemphasised in our attempt towards true federalism. This is one of the recommendations of the confab report, which would upscale security across the country.
If there is one bane to the growth of democracy in Nigeria in our constitution, it is the immunity clause. Politicians and political office holders have often thrown caution to the wind after winning elections by involving in criminally culpable actions and hiding behind the immunity clause. It is not only fundamentally wrong but democratically absurd when an individual is termed ‘untouchable’ no matter the graveness of his/her sin(s). The confab report recommends an outright removal of this despicable clause, thereby creating a more responsive and responsible government that will operate with the fear of God and rule of law.
In conformity with global best practice, every Nigerian, no matter where he/she resides around the world will have the opportunity to have a say in the electoral process in the country. The confab report recommends the legalisation of Diaspora voting, a move which will make government more responsible towards each and every Nigerian residing abroad when occupants of power realise that even Nigerians outside the country can determine their election into office.
Another highlights of the confab report is the recommendation on the Land use Act. In 1978, the military Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo enacted the decree that saw all land within the territory of the country as belonging to the government. This law was mysteriously smuggled into the 1999 constitution and has become a tool in the hands of public officers in grabbing land. This recommendation seeks to give power over the ownership of land back to ordinary citizens, and for government to make use of land, it must negotiate like every other individual does.
The days of profligacy by politicians in the name of seeking medical treatment abroad are numbered. The confab recommends that public office holders can only seek medical treatment abroad if such medical conditions are extremely serious. Henceforth, political office holders are expected to seek medical care in hospitals in Nigeria. The effect of this is that, the health sector will now receive a great deal of attention, and funds allocated for it’s upgrading and standardisation will be received at the appropriate quarters. It was also resolved that free-healthcare should be established for children from birth to the age of 5 years, senior citizens from the age of 65 years upwards, persons living with disability or the physically challenged, expectant mothers and students.
All these are among the over 200 recommendations of the national conference. While it is imperative to state that Nigeria deserves urgent and needed change, it is important to critically examine which change Nigeria urgently demands. A political change is germane but not one that will erode the move for structural change. Nigeria can only get it right when it put its house in order. A change of government may not necessarily induce a new era. You can repaint a building, remove the roof but if the pillars are shaky and weak, no matter how beautiful you dress it, it will surely collapse.
Adekoya Boladale, a social commentator and consultant, is the Convener of Advocacy for Better Leadership (ABEL), in Nigeria. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org, @adekoyabee and www.facebook.com/adekoyabee