National Conference: Can It Work This Time?

confab

On Tuesday 16th May 2006, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria threw out a bill seeking 116 amendments to the military imposed 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. The amendments sought were largely outcomes from the National Political reforms Conference organized by the Olusgeun Obasanjo administration at the time.

The conference, which brought together 398 delegates between February – July 2005 made very far reaching proposals on amending the military imposed 1999 constitution save for a few thorny issues including increasing the derivation to oil producing states and the very controversial third-term agenda.

Both chambers of the National Assembly riding on public sentiments threw away the baby with the bath water when they discarded the entire constitution amendment process on public sentiments and emotions, putting an end to tortuous months of negotiations, talks and setting the constitution review process back to square one.

Last month, Goodluck President Jonathan while inaugurating the National Confab said: ‘ The National Conference is therefore being convened to engage in intense introspection about the political and socio-economic challenges confronting our nation and to chart the best and most acceptable way for the resolution of such challenges in the collective interest of all the constituent parts of our fatherland’.

Considering the objectives for the conference, a few but important danger signs can clearly be seen. One of this is that the National Conference is too close for comfort to the next general elections, which are just 10 calendar months away. Let me build a simple scenario here: The conference will last for 3 months and end in May 2014. The president will receive the report and use this to form proposals for constitutional amendment to the National Assembly possibly in July 2014. Bear in mind that the National assembly since 2011 has embarked on an elaborate constitutional review process, which seems to be currently on pause mode. It will take the National assembly from previous experiences 9 – 12 calendar months to discuss the recommendations as most if not all of the recommendations might initially be referred to committees and discussed separately in both chambers.

Meaning, while distinguished Senators  and members of the House of Representatives are busy fighting to pick up nomination tickets from their parties and campaigning for elections, they will also be saddled with responsibilities of amending the constitution. Let’s assume that they get it right in 6 months, December 2014. They need to send all ammendments to the 36 states houses of assembly and expect that 2/3rd of these will vote in favour of proposed amendment before the political dispensation ends in May 28, 2015. Discount also the fact that after the elections in February 2015, where the winners and losers have been recognized, many parliamentarians at the state and national level who have lost out in the political calculations would lose any interest to engage in national discourse and will only be packing their bags for the eventual exit from the hassles of legislation.

In all, my point is simple, I agree on the need for a national conference to discuss Nigeria’s myriad of problems and challenges, but the timing is wrong. As they say, talk is cheap! While the 492 delegates are already holed up in Abuja and promised a mouth-watering allowance of N12 million for 90days National assignment, the budget line for this exercise contained in the appropriation bill currently before the National Assembly has not been passed! I rest my case