OZEKHOME: All N’Assembly Candidates Must Now Disclose Their Stance On Confab Report

Mike Ozekhome SAN, lawyer and human right activist, was a member of the National Conference of 2014. In this chat with GBENGA SALAU, he said Nigerians should demand from political parties and their candidates to implement the report. 

Though President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP have talked about implementing the National Confab report, why is the main opposition APC and other political parties not talking about it?  

I AM not surprised that the APC is not pushing for the implementation of the Confab report. Do not forget that one of the leaders of the APC, Bola Tinubu, though united with us in agitating for not just a national conference but a sovereign national conference, later somersaulted and kicked against it in several interviews, saying he did not believe in it. 

   And some of us asked, what was it that has passed under the bridge between the time we agitated and now. And there was no answer, which was why it was clear to many of us that it was all politics; may be, his political party is not comfortable with the issue of restructuring Nigeria. 

   And I want to make it clear that all this politicking, sloganeering campaigns about wiping out corruption, enthroning a regime of human rights and good governance, good economy; all of them, I want to assure you, whosoever comes into power, will come to nothing, if this country is not properly restructured, as a true fiscal federation. Unlike the lopsided nature of it right now, which is actually a unitary system of government. 

    What makes corruption so rife is the lack of evolution of power, from a very powerful, elephantine federal government, down to the state and local government areas. There is too much concentration of power, too much money available at the federal government level. And the country needed to be restructured for the various ethnic nationalities to answer the national questions of where we are coming from, where we are now and where we want to go. And these questions were debated, argued and finally agreed upon at the national conference. 

    Until this is done, all these campaign promises will never see the light of the day. It is like promising to cook a pot of soup without ingredients. It is like promising to go to farm to plant and harvest cassava or yam without implements. It is like saying you want to dress up, but without cloth. So, the report of the National Confab to me is the niche thing, the fulcrum around which Nigeria’s future should be built. That the APC is not pushing for it at all is not surprising.        But the president who had set up the conference had mentioned its implementation when he opened his campaign in Lagos last month, only to go back to sleep without harping on it further in other campaign grounds. Beautifully, may be based on better counsel and advice, he had taken up the current of recent. 

   So, if I were the president, I will push it as a serious campaign issue, because 492 Nigerians, the most unique Nigerians who you can think off, would not have gone to Abuja for six months, from all divide and strata, professions, traditional institutions, the youths, retired civil servants, retired police officers, military officers, professionals like lawyers, doctors, accounting bodies, they could not have come to Abuja for six months, wasting time and money of this country. 

   So, I believe that the issue of restructuring this country — having state police, the issue of separating the office of the attorney general from that of the minister of justice, the issue of wiping away the local governments and making the states the federating units, so that each state can decide to create as many local governments as it wants among other recommendations — cannot be thrown into the dustbin. 

   The issues of balanced federalism and the federal government powers curtailed, the issues of regional cooperation, where each regional geo-political zone can acquire and solve its peculiar problems are germane to our progress. 

   Therefore, until these are done, all the campaigns so far are hollow. All the solutions they are proffering will amount to nothing, and attempting to cure a serious ailment like leprosy with the panacea meant for ordinary eczema, which cannot work. You cannot sow cassava and hope to reap yam; you cannot plant rice and hope to reap corn. So the political parties need to restrategise and come to the issue of restructuring Nigeria. 

  This was why some of us met recently to discuss and call for the implementation of the national confab report so that it will not suffer the fate of the report of vision 20:2020, the 1995 National Political Reform Conference and several other conferences held before now, which were merely taken to the National Assembly and buried and shelved away. I think the civil societies should do more; the politicians should do more by educating Nigerians on the issue of the national conference report. So I believe that the president coming back to it is very auspicious, even if he is coming back to it late.

   We should note that it is because of this refusal for us to see the need to restructure that we are having all the issues we are having now — the Boko Haram insurgency, arm robberies, corruption; all are assaulted by the more fundamental ailment, the lack of true fiscal federalism in Nigeria.             

What should be the expectation from the next National Assembly?

    The senators and the House of Representatives members coming in are not talking about it, because probably they have not been well educated that this Confab report is key to Nigeria’s survival. We actually recommended a new constitution that will give the Nigerian people a truly and genuinely homegrown constitution that is legitimate and accepted by the Nigerian people. 

   We actually recommended that the National Assembly is not in the position to promulgate a new constitution; it is the constitution that gives life to the National Assembly and the National Assembly can only amend an existing constitution. And the present constitution being operated is actually Decree 44 of 1999, and no amount of amendment can cure it of its origin. 

     This is why those contesting to be in the National Assembly should tell us what would be their reaction to the implementation of the Confab report when they are elected. We are also using this platform to draw the attention of the various political parties, especially the PDP and the APC that they cannot run away from the issue of restructuring the country, and any politician who runs away from it, does not mean well for this country. 

  And it is important that the implementation of the report should be more championed by the political parties and the politicians, since they are the ones seeking political power, to let us know what they are going to do with the report. Are they going to throw it into the dustbin of history, implement or amend it? 

What should be the role of citizens?

    Civil society groups should push more, social media activities on social media platforms; they should all push for the implementation of the report. Many Nigerians do not know the importance of this report.

     Senator Okuronmu actually summarised the entire report of the conference in a small pamphlet and I believe the National Orientation Agency and the Ministry of Information should seek opportunity to reproduce these pamphlets into millions of copies to be distributed free to all Nigerians. 

    If I were a politician, this will be a beautiful opportunity to share the pamphlets at every political rally, so that the people will see the beautiful recommendations and when implemented, how Nigeria will be a better place. And such politicians will get a lot of mileage.   



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