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Punch Newspaper - Many prominent Nigerians gained insight into the resolutions of the 2014 National Conference on Thursday when a delegate to the assembly, Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, delivered a lecture on it.
It was at the second edition of the Chief Chris Ogunbanjo Lecture Series, held at the Metropolitan Club, Victoria Island, Lagos.
In his lecture titled, ‘Lessons from the 2014 National Conference; Ogunshola, who is the Chairman of Continental Reinsurance Plc, put in perspectives the resolutions of the conference and how the delegates arrived at them.
One of them bordered on the restructuring of the country, as especially discussed under possible re-zoning close to what operated before military incursion.
According to Ogunshola, the position of many delegates, especially those from the North, suggested to him that restructuring can hardly be achieved through conventional deliberations.
He told the audience that included elder statesmen like Chief Chris Ogunbanjo, Dr. Michael Omolayole, Ambassador Tayo Ogunsulire and Ambassador Dapo Fafowora, “My experience at the conference suggests that it is highly unlikely that the establishment of zonal governments now or in the near future can be achieved through voluntary, peaceful negotiations.”
He said that while the delegates from the South-West favoured the idea of zonal re-configuration, there were dissenting voices even from the South-East and the South-South geopolitical zones.
Ogunshola explained, “The delegates from the South-West had gone to the conference to demand six equipotent zonal/regional governments as the country’s federating units with each zonal government being able to decide how many states it finds to be suitable for its own circumstances. The total money which used to be paid to all the 774 local governments will now be redistributed among the state governments using the formula that is used to distribute money to state governments. Federal allocations would only be to the zonal governments as they would be the federating units.
“Even among the delegates of South-West origin, this position was not unanimous as some delegates preferred more. The South-East delegation also supported the restructuring of the country into six zonal governments but, there too, this stand was not unanimous. Several delegates from Ebonyi State and a smaller number of delegates from Enugu State that I came across were either against or lukewarm on it. Those Ebonyi delegates said it was the creation of their state that “brought development” to their area. However, the South-East delegates had complete unanimity on the demand for equality of states in each of the existing geo-political zones.
“Delegates from all the three North geopolitical zones were essentially unanimous in their rejection of any ‘return to regionalism,’ the main reason given being fear of return to marginalisation by dominant tribes in the zones. That it was the creation of state governments that enabled their areas to have direct access to the centre. Most of the delegates from the South-South were also against the establishment of six zonal governments. So, it was only the South-West and, to a lesser extent, the South-East, that supported the demand.”
Ogunshola added that some publications circulated at the conference argued that the population of the North-West geopolitical zone and its land area also would qualify it to have more than one zone as they were comparable with those of the South-East and South-South combined.
Yet other delegates, according to him, claimed that the official population figures were unreliable and that population and land area alone had never been the main criteria for state creation
“They claimed that the military governments which created the present states (and local government areas) exercised considerable arbitrariness in their creation. The most powerful argument employed by the South-East was historical, starting with the former four regions inherited by the first military government. Still, other delegates who spoke against establishing zonal governments argued that increasing the number of layers of government from the present three to four would be costly and counter-productive,” Ogunshola, who is also a former Chairman of Punch Nigeria Limited, said.
Another important area on which Ogunshola shared intimate information is on the call for the creation of state police.
According to him, although there were some fears by some delegates initially, the conference was eventually able to resolve in favour of state and community policing.
He quoted part of the resolutions, “Any state that requires it can establish a state police for that state, which should operate in accordance with the provisions of the law setting it up, to be passed by the state House of Assembly. Its powers or functions will be determined by such legislation and should not be in conflict with the duties or powers of the federal police. Furthermore, the House of Assembly of a state may also make a law for community policing of that state.
“The demand for state police, which was not widely popular at the commencement of the conference, gained momentum as the conference progressed; in fact, a day or two before they were tabled for decision, word went round in the usually reliable rumour mills that a number of northern states, including Kano, had instructed their delegates to vote in support.”
He explained that the conference also okayed rotational presidency and gave a guideline on what to be done in case a President is unable to complete his or her term.
Ogunshola recalled what the resolution said, “The North and South of Nigeria shall occupy the office of the President on a rotational basis and the post shall also be rotated among the geopolitical zones within each of them. The occupant of the office shall be educated at least up to first degree level or its equivalent. Consequently, a new subsection is to be added to Section 130 of the Constitution.
“Vacancy can occur in the office of the President through death (as was the case with President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010), incapacitation, impeachment or resignation. In the event of any of these, the Vice-President shall act for a period of not more than 90 days within which a new election will be conducted to elect a substantive President.”
While the conference also resolved that groups of states could establish zonal commissions, Ogunshola added, members were unanimous on the need to make the membership of the National Assembly part-time and the need to remove immunity for the President, governors and other principal political officers.
Apart from the ovation that greeted Ogunshola’s presentation, many of the dignitaries present eulogised him.
Also, Omolayole described Ogunbanjo as a man of many parts.
He said, “He is not just a lawyer, he has a very deep foot in business. He is a great philanthropist and role model to many lawyers.”
While Omolayole noted that Ogunshola was eminently qualified to share his experience with the guests in honour of Ogunbanjo, Ogunsulire read through a long list of the lecturer’s achievements as an insurance practitioner, administrator and role model.
He said, “Chief Ogunshola is an achiever. He made The PUNCH the most widely read newspaper in Nigeria.”