The Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has commended what it described as “ the attempt by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) to chart a new course towards understanding and resolving the genesis of our dominant national challenges with the unveiling (On January 30, 2014) of the modalities for the forthcoming 3-month long national confab, officially tagged: The National Conference.
Reacting to the release of modalities for the National conference,Idayat Hassan, director of CDD said “Given that the National Conference is to ‘advice the government on the legal framework, legal procedures and options for integrating the decisions and outcomes of the National Conference into the Constitution and laws of the country [Nigeria]’; we have a strong conviction that: if truly genuine and unrestricted contributions and consensuses – amongst divergent ethnic, religious and interest groups – are adequately represented at the Conference, the hopes and aspirations of Nigerians will be fulfilled; and this will bring about the promotion and sustenance of peace, stability and prosperity in the country.
“As we join Nigerians to celebrate this historic moment, it is also fundamental that we point out conspicuous issues that are critical to charting the course of finding feasibly enduring solutions to the indispensable problems our nation has been grappling with since the 1914 amalgamation; or else, this Conference may not be worth more than a tea party.
Idayat asked “ Why preclude discussion on the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria? We acknowledge that the Federal Government of Nigeria has the onerous responsibility of protecting the oneness of Nigeria and so is duty-bound to dissuade any motive(s) that could lead to the secession or break-away of any part of the country. However, this pronouncement implies that the FGN has taken a stand – irrespective of what popular opinion may be on the issue. Thus, we recommend that the FGN allow for free and open discussions that would lead to consensus-based resolutions at the Conference – or 75% majority, as clearly stipulated by the modalities paper.
“The modalities paper has not explicitly stated who the term stakeholders refers to; while on some categories, it seems clear, on others such as Retired Civil Servants and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), it is difficult to principally determine, which categories of persons it refers to. As such, further modalities for defining stakeholders in the identified categories, and perhaps, re-categorisation of these groups into more-specific categories is crucial for smoother delegates’ selection processes.
“ While we commend the mandatory inclusion of women in some critical categories like women’s groups, labour representatives, CSOs, the FGN as well as state governments and the FCT; we firmly recommend that gender balance also form part of the criteria for all other categories particularly, political parties; the Organized Private Sector (OPS); Persons Living with Disability (PWD); and Professional Bodies.
“ We also question the too much privilege given to the president and the FGN and States, to at least, nominate 184 of the 492 delegates – representing approximately 38% of the Conference’s total delegates – whereas, the nomination of 62% of the delegates is drawn from across socio-political/cultural and ethnic nationalities; political parties; professional bodies and the Organised Private Sector (OPS), amongst others. Thus, we must not overlook the fact that the acceptability or genuineness of the outcome of the Conference will be significantly predicated on the processes that gives birth to it; which requires active citizens’ participation. As such, if truly the Conference is for Nigerians, why should the president and FGN nominate as high as the 38% of its delegation? This needs to be reconsidered for the advancement of people’s trust and confidence in the whole Conference.
Though CDD commended the recognition given to the rich contribution of persons not currently serving on the bench in the judiciary, it however, condemned the exclusive power bestowed on the president to nominate these persons when a professional legal body like the National Judicial Council (NJC) should take up such a responsibility.
CDD urged the government to increase the representation of People with Disability (PWD) who presently constitutes as low as 1.2% of the delegates. This is because the World Report on Disability estimated that, as at 2011, there were about 25million disabled people in Nigeria (approximately 14.4% of the country’s population). And taking into cognisance the enormous security challenges bedevilling this country in the past over 4 years, it becomes evidently clear that more Nigerians have been rendered disabled, hence the practicality of the requirement for increase in PWD’s representation.
“We also question the exclusive powers bestowed on the president to nominate the Chairman; Deputy Chairman; as well as Secretary of the National Conference; instead, propose that delegates choose – from among themselves or otherwise – at least, the deputy chair and secretary of the Conference,Idayat said in the statement.