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Monday, 17 March 2014

POSITION PAPER ON THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE BY A COMMITTEE OF CONCERNED BENIN ELDERS



MARCH 11th, 2014
BACKGROUND
The Nigerian State as designed in 1914 presupposed that we would live together in harmony as a nation.  Yes, we could have and still can, if those charged with restructuring our political architecture do so with all sincerity and a complete appreciation of why Nigeria still has a myriad of problems 100 years after.
The primary goal for the National Confab appears to be the devolution of the power at the center and a push for strong federalism and not a push for separatism. We believe the goal is to achieve strength in our diversity based on the unity of Nigeria.  We subscribe to the proviso that “the unity and corporate existence of Nigeria” should be kept sacrosanct as long as there is a complete restructuring of the current governmental system so that more power resides in the regions and States of a new Nigeria.
At independence, Nigeria had 3 regions which were the Federating Units.  In 1963, they became four  with the creation of the Midwestern Region after a national plebiscite, the only region so properly and constitutionally created.
 The regions had autonomy,  their own flags, anthems, constitutions, legal structures, local police forces, etc. Only common services, like customs, immigration, Armed Forces, Foreign affairs, and common currency were handled by the Federal government. Other items like Education, Health, Local government, Land, Mineral resources etc were vested in the regional government. The regions were thus competitive, productive and developed progressively,
This paper represents the views of the Committee of concerned Benin Elders on some of the themes of the impending National Confab.


CONFERENCE THEMES
1.     Restructuring of Nigeria into Regions and States
In 1963, the Midwest region was created as the fourth region in Nigeria by a plebiscite and National referendum after prolonged agitation by our fore fathers, including Oba Akenzua II, Chief Dennis Osadebey, Chief Jereton Mariere,  Chief H. Omo Osagie,  Chief  Festus Okotie- Eboh, among others.   The creation of more states by the military and the creation of six (6) geo-political Zones in 1996 eclipsed the Midwest region as a political entity to the detriment and relegation of the people of the Region in the Nigerian body polity. What was added to Midwest Region to form the South-South zone were actually the minorities of the old Eastern Region – Calabar, Ogoja  and Rivers provinces, which were also agitating for independence from the Eastern Region under the Late Eyo Eta, and others, just as the Middle Belt of the North  wanted their own independence.

As already canvassed by other groups and elder statesmen, such as the Edo Forum and Late  Chief Anthony Enahoro among others,  we the Committee of Benin Elders propose 8 federating regions in a new politically restructured Nigeria with 4 regions in the North and 4 in the South. The 2 new regions in the South are to be made up of the old Midwest Region and a new region made up of Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers,  Rivers and Bayelsa states. The 2 new regions in the North should evolve from the splitting of the current North Central Zone into the East and West Middle-Belt Regions. Minor boundary adjustments should be resolved at the National Confab or subsequently.

For effective delivery of political and democratic dividends to the masses, there should be 1 President, 8 Vice Presidents or Premiers for the regions with organs of government, while the regions may choose to create any number of States or Provinces.




2.     System of Government
Since the second republic, the Presidential system has been in operation in Nigeria with concentration of power at the centre with the resultant fratricidal struggle for power and election rigging.
There is a huge expenditure on governmental structures with little or nothing left for actual development.  This system has been fraught with corruption, immunity and impunity. We advocate a return to the parliamentary system with its tenets to be practiced and mastered
by the new leaders. The system should be part-time parliamentary with sitting allowances paid to members. This is definitely cheaper and frees resources for other developments.  We advocate a Federal house of Representatives (Parliament) and an advisory Traditional council of Elders, where in addition to traditional rulers and chiefs,  certain  notable distinguished elders with experience in administrative and governmental issues,  can be appointed to advise government.  Such an arrangement should have constitutional provision and should extend to the regions and states.

3.     Decentralization of Police and military formations
A good policing system requires the use of intelligent personnel from the locality who understand the workings, behavior, conduct and terrain of the various localities.  The current police structure cannot be effective operationally with the charge of policing the very large and complex Nigerian communities.  We therefore advocate the decentralization of the police force. We advocate a small effective federal police to take care of the federal laws and inter-regional crimes across the country. We believe a 2- or 3- tier police force would be required.
 As for military formations and locations, while the citing is usually strategic, we believe and advocate that they can and should be organized on the principle of equity and fairness where no particular region or regions enjoy undue advantage over other regions.


4.     Functions of the Major Tiers of Government.
The Federal/Central government shall be charged with common services, which will mainly comprise the Armed Forces, Foreign affairs, Currency and Central Banking, Aviation, Customs, Immigration among others.
The Regions shall be responsible for Education, Health, Agriculture, Science and Technology, Power, Mining of liquid and solid minerals, Industrial Policy, Transportation and Social welfare/Security.
The concurrent list may comprise Transport, Telecoms, Environment and Higher Education.
5.     Fiscal Federalism
The various ethnicities and nationalities own their land and natural resources. For this and other reasons, the Committee recommends that the regions exploit their resources and pay 25% royalties as tax to the federal or central government while retaining 75% .  The Regions on their own must reserve 25% of their share to the areas in the regions which suffer from mineral extractive activities.
It is advisable that new budgets at all levels of governments emphasize the benefits of capital expenditures over recurrent and this ought to forge the basis for speedy development of all parts of Nigeria. To achieve full fiscal responsibility, it will be necessary to pass a Fiscal Responsibility Act with provisions to protect the Nation’s resources from further plunder.
6.     Independence of the Judiciary
The regions should have their own judicial systems and may establish their own highest, supreme or appellate courts. But ultimately, the Nigerian Supreme Court will be the final arbiter. Hence cases heard in various regional highest courts can be appealed to the Nigerian Supreme Court but only on constitutional matters, The Committee further believes that the courts must be truly independent, and this independence must be an entrenched part of the new constitution.

7.     Strong Institutions
Nigerian institutions have been disadvantaged in favour of strong individuals. The Committee feels that this is counter-productive to true nation building. The projection of individuals at the expense of strong institutions partly explains the failures in our society . The Committee strongly recommends that all regulatory institutions be backed up by provisions in the new constitution, especially in the appointment of the Chairmen and members appointed to run these institutions. It is our view that the members should appoint their own chairmen from among them having been appointed.        

8.     Civil Service and Federal Character
The Committee shares the view with other groups that the Civil service should be restructured to emulate its glorious past before 1988 ( a year which marked the politicization of the civil service in Nigeria with the  implementation of the Dotun Phillips report on Civil Service Reforms. ). Professional standards should be reestablished for our civil service, where merit is stressed above all else. Merit first before federal character. Processes must be in place to wipe out all forms of corruption within the civil service. The new civil service should be small, well equipped and made up of highly trained personnel.

9.     National, Regional and State Electoral Commissions
The Committee is of the view that these commissions should draw their powers primarily from the Nigerian constitution. They must enjoy complete independence in their operations; the chairman of the National Commission shall be selected by their peers once the membership of the commissions has been constituted by the Heads of governments.  
An Election Offences Act should be enshrined in the new Constitution to enable prosecution of election-related offences.
10.                          Immunity Clause in the Constitution
All immunity clauses in respect of criminal cases should be expunged from the Nigerian Constitution, and individuals should be held to the highest standards of governance. Being in office should not be an excuse to avoid prosecution  for crimes committed.

11.                         Funding of pilgrimages and political parties.
We advocate that Nigeria being a secular state, there should be no government funding of pilgrimages and also there should be no funding of political parties.

CONCLUSION
The Committee is unimpressed by the delegate spread where all the ethnicities in Nigeria are to be represented by 90 delegates and the governments (Federal and States) will have 240 nominated delegates. This creates room for huge influence from government at the expense of all the ethnic groups in Nigeria. The Committee recommends, as the first order of business by the Conferees, a review of conference guidelines to ensure full acceptance of their deliberations. We believe that the outcomes of the Conference should be subjected to a national referendum and these should then form parts of a new constitution.

Chief (Professor) Emmanuel U. Emovon, CON, FAS, JP (The Obayagbona of Benin Kingdom)
Chairman


Professor Sam Guobadia
General Secretary

For and On Behalf of Committee of Concerned Benin Elders

1.         Hon. Justice Isaac O. Aluyi                                                                         2.         Hon. Justice Joseph Otabor Olubor, OFR                 

3.        Hon. Justice O. Uwaifo, CON                                                                    4.        Mr. Daniel Aiyanyo Omoigui       

5.        Professor David Awanbor                                                                          6.        General Steve E. Asemota (Rtd)  

7.        Professor Eghosa Osagie                                                                            8.        Professor Denise E. Agbonlahor        

9.        General Charles Osa Omoregie(Rtd), JP 

10.      Professor(Senator) Sunday O. Iyahen   

11.      General Ikponmwen Donatus Idada (Rtd)                                                    12.      Professor Augustine Orhue

 13.     Princess Adesuwa C. Emovon, JP  

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