As the debate on issues continues in the ongoing national conference, series of heat ups are reportedly taking new dimensions between civil society delegates and statesmen. In a recent development, core political associates who are also delegates at conference are now ranged against pro-democracy and human rights activists, who are mainly drawn from the civil society movement, labour, ethnic nationalities and the physically challenged group.
Nyanya Bomb Blast
The confrontation began when renowned lawyer and civil rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana, had sought a prompt condemnation of the Nyanya, Abuja bomb blast formally by the national conference. A report made available to Legislative Digest held that hardly had Falana finished his submission than Sergeant Awuse, a former governorship aspirant in Rivers state, got up and tackled him vicariously. He was reportedly vehemently opposed the motion, reminding Falana that the conference was not put together to dabble into every contemporary issue. “We need to be reminded of the limits of our powers”, he said.
While responding to the issue, Comrade Jaye Gaskia, National Coordinator, Protest to Power Movement and a delegate to national conference, told Legislative Digest that the motion by Femi Falana was to the effect that the federal government should redouble its efforts in combatting the menace of terrorism; while also calling for the immediate closure of the country’s borders with Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic. “This position had the support of majority of delegates; it expressed the collective opinion of the civil society delegation; and clearly and rightly places responsibility for protection of citizens on the government headed by the president as Commander in Chief,” he said.
Special Treatment for Clerk
On similar event, previously, the conference had made formal condemnation of the kidnap of the son of Ijaw leader, Chief Edwin Clark. The conference eventually capitulated and sent emissaries to Clark when his son was released. However, it was reported that the mood of some of the activists clearly indicated such decision did not go down well with them. Responding to this, Comrade Gaskia said: “this is just the ruling class showing solidarity with themselves and uniting to fight a common threat to their collective wellbeing. Much as kidnapping should be condemned, it is important to understand and put into context the differential response of the ruling elites to cases of kidnapping depending on the class status of the victim. Let us also not forget that unemployed youths have turned to crime as a means of livelihoods simply because there are no jobs, as a result of the policy inactions and inadequacies of the ruling class. What is happening now is the fulfillment of the saying that ‘as you lay your bed, so you shall lie on it’ for the ruling class.”
Also there were serious musings by some of the activists including Ledum Mitee, representing the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP) and Modibbo Kawu representing the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) when they expressed disapproval and openly thumbed-down the motion. They wondered why Clark should be given such special treatment, when several kidnap cases in the past had never been viewed with such lenses and acknowledged.
Poverty Alleviating Structures in the North
As the pro-democracy activists are known to always queue behind every item originating from social justice, the setting up of poverty alleviating structures in the North akin to the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the Amnesty Programme in the south canvassed by Aishatu Madaki, a northern delegate, Comrade Gaskia argued in support of this when he told Legislative Digest that there is absolutely no doubt that tackling the menace of terrorism in the North-East or militancy in the South-South requires a comprehensive and integrated approach that prioritises hastening the development process in those areas, with a view to achieving accelerated and inclusive growth that will generate employment, guarantee livelihoods access and ensure equity in access to wealth collectively generated.
“This was what the Marshal program did for Europe at the end of the Second World War. So an intervention program of such a nature is required. But in other to be successful, it should be time bound and with measurable outcomes. It should not become the wasteful and unproductive replacement of development planning with interminable short term intervention like the amnesty program,” he added.
Formation of Committees and Outcome of the Delegation
Besides, the contentious issue of subjecting the recommendations of the conference to either the ratification of the National Assembly or a referendum has also pitched the two camps against each other. For instance, Comrade Gaskia observed that the ruling class is rather playing hide and seek with the masses, while organising behind the scenes to reach agreeable consensus among themselves. “This is why they are establishing platforms such as Northern Delegates Forum, National Unity Forum, etc. They want to be sure about the content of the report and resolutions of the conference first before they decide whether to go for referendum or the national assembly. If the resolutions are too radical, then they will prefer it to go to the national assembly where it can either be watered down or rejected,” he said.
The traditional camp which embodies statesmen was reportedly playing hide and seek, and cautiously watching the steps and body language of the presidency on the matter before taking a stand. It was reported that to diffuse the heat from the activists, the Confab leadership further played exclusive politics and made sure that they are not represented in the committees on political parties and electoral process, politics and forms of government, national security, devolution of powers, among others. The 20 newly formed conference committees include committees on devolution of power, political restructuring and forms of government, national security, environment, politics and governance, law, judiciary, human rights and legal reforms, social welfare, transportation, science, technology, and development, agriculture, civil society, labour and sports, public service, electoral matters, foreign policy and diaspora matters; land tenure matters, and national boundary, economy, trade and investment, energy, religion, public finance and revenue generation and immigration.
Meanwhile, civil society and labour delegations at the conference are taking bold steps to ensure that their agenda on the outcome. They are mobilizing, assessing and identifying other delegates with potentially progressive inclinations, to attend their expanded caucus meetings. The civil society delegates have also been intervening in the meetings of other delegations and caucuses, deliberately sending representatives, not only to understand and get to know the core position and demands of other delegations, but also to engage and influence them to key into their foundational demand which is for a social charter that will enable redistribution of wealth, social justice and equity, and the promotion of a social welfare on the basis of a comprehensive, justifiable, and enforceable bill of rights.
Protest on Composition of the Committees
Following the formation of the committees letter of protest was issued the Civil Society Delegation on the Constitution and Composition of the National Conference Committees and the stated that the group has carefully reviewed the membership of the Committee as released by the Conference Secretariat and wish to register its strong objection to the way and manner the secretariat composed the said committees.
The letter was signed by the civil society delegates including: Femi Falana, Olisa Agbakoba, Hauwa Shekerau, Festus Okoye, Dr. Abiola kiyode-Afolabi, Jaye Gasikiya, Steve Aluko, Ezinwa Nwangwu, Dudu Manuga, Nasser Kura, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Y.Z Yau, Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, Wale Okunniyi, Chief Bisi Olateru Olagbegi, Dr. Isaac Osuoka, Kyauta Giwa, Shetu Alfa, Abubakar Sadiq Ibrahim, Dr. Femi Obayori, Mahmud Abdul Aminu, Nimmo Bassey, Ibuchukwu Ezeike and Prof. Olabisi Aina.
The group wrote: “We are alarmed that the Conference Secretariat arbitrarily and in total disregard to the choice and preferences of most delegates and in particular civil society delegates drafted them to Committees where they do not have expertise and will not be relevant. We note that majority of the members of the CSOs did not get placed in any of their preferred committee and we feel this is deliberate and an attempt to exclude the civil society delegation from contributing across the board to the important issues up for discussion in the various committees.
“We argue that the leadership of the conference erred by not getting back to the delegates in relation to their preferred committees choices before placing (and in some cases lumping) them into committees they had not indicated any interest in. We argue that even if the committee lists are exhausted for particular committees and placement becomes difficult, the best and honorable thing to do is to collapse those Committees without membership completely or merge them with some other Committees rather than allocating delegates into the said committees by force or without consultation.
“We were also shocked that without discussions and validation of the list by delegates in plenary; the secretariat had caused to be published the full list of committees, an attempt to force a faith accompli on the delegates. We hereby demand that the list should be completely reviewed in line with the national outlook of the conference. We wish to place on record that this conference is a National Conference of Nigeria people from all walks of life, and that it is neither a conference of ethnic nationalities nor a conference of regions or states.
“Furthermore we totally reject the list of committees’ leaders that have been released. We find it very disturbing and unacceptable that civil society is not represented at all on the committee leadership. We find it equally untenable that civil society is not represented on the committees on political parties and electoral process; politics and forms of government; National Security; Devolution of powers among others, even though civil society delegates with requisite competence and years of experience on these and related issues had indicated interest in serving on these committees.