Wednesday 2 April 2014

National Conference Adopts 70 Percent Voting Format


The 50-member ad hoc committee, known as The Consensus Group, which was set up to resolve the impasse over whether the National Conference should adopt the three-quarters voting system or the two-third version, recommended 70 percent instead.

The agreement, which is subject to ratification by the National Conference delegates at plenary, was regarded as a strategic move to produce a win-win situation in the voting pattern crisis that has pitted northern delegates against their southern counterparts.

During the two-day debate on the voting pattern that produced a deadlock on Tuesday, the northern delegates had refused to give ground on their demand for the National Conference to adopt three-quarters of the votes for ratifying resolutions of the 492-member Conference.

On their part, the southern delegates had insisted on the adoption of a two-thirds majority.
The row over the voting format forced the Conference to adjourn sitting on Wednesday until Monday to enable the 50-member interim committee work out a consensus on the issue.

However, despite the compromise reached on the voting format, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan will still meet with some delegates between now and Sunday.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has warned that the Conference may end up a wasted effort except the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is amended to provide for the conduct of referendum in ratifying the report of the national discourse.

Speaking on the voting pattern at the National Conference, a reliable source said:  “We agree that there must be consensus on all issues to be discussed, but where it fails, then, the voting pattern must be 70 per cent of the 492 delegates.

“But first, the delegates must first go out to negotiate and if it fails, the plenary shall be adjourned for a second time for negotiations and it fails, the Conference shall at the third time vote and the voting shall be by a consensus of 70 per cent. This is give and take; no winner, no vanquished.”

It was gathered that in the new spirit of the agreement, the southern delegates would no longer insist on the two-thirds majority vote and their northern counterparts would give ground from the 75 per cent to accept the recommended version.

The resolution of the controversy over the voting format, it was learnt, has given the leadership the impetus to announce membership of the 22 committees of the Conference Monday.

Also, by the approved rules of the Conference, the Secretariat will place delegates in the various committees, while the delegates will choose their leaders by themselves.

Irrespective of the consensus reached by the National Conference interim committee to adopt the 70 per cent voting format, Jonathan will between today and Sunday meet with some delegates over the controversy on the issue.

It was also gathered that the decision of the northern delegates to stick to the three-quarters majority vote was the outcome of a meeting Mr.  President had with the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III and some Muslim leaders to guarantee the participation of the north and Muslims in the Conference.

It was gathered that during the meeting between Mr.  President, the sultan and other Muslim clerics, it was agreed that the only way to ensure parity between northern and southern delegates on all issues was to ensure a level of inclusiveness of all delegates was reached, so that the outcome of the Conference would be acceptable to Nigerians.

A source told reporters yesterday that  “the three-quarters voting pattern was indeed a compromise made by Mr. President to ensure that everyone is carried along and to ensure that when the issue of a referendum is on the table, everyone will have a sense of belonging.

“It is not about a winner taking it all as obtains in the two-thirds majority vote, which is 24 states. But in an inclusive consensus where the decision of three-quarters of the delegates, translating to 27 states, this means that only nine states would be in the minority.

“This is why the matter of three-quarters is made much easier, in the event that the outcome of the Conference is subjected to a referendum”.

The source explained that the northern delegates were initially skeptical of the conference, “but with the assurances of Mr. President and the dangling of the three-quarters voting format as the basis for reaching decisions, that made the north buy into the idea of the Conference.
“Some of us thought that the President had a hidden agenda, but with the assurances of the three-quarters majority vote, it helped to ease the doubts that the President had a hidden agenda. So, the three-quarters is President Jonathan's brain child.”

The source said it was for this reason that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had agreed to meet some delegates from the South to explain the circumstances that led to the suggestion of the three-quarters voting pattern.

“It was an agreement reached and it is the reason why Mr. President will be meeting with them to explain issues and let the Conference go ahead as planned,” the source revealed.

The source went further to disclose that the meeting between Mr. President and the Muslim delegation was meant to address the imbalance between Muslims and Christians in the composition of the delegates.

“The main point is that the Christians and southerners are more in number and there is the fear that the Conference will alter many fundamental issues in the country. It is easier to reach a two-thirds consensus in favour of southerners and Christians than with the Muslims and northerners.

“If the two-thirds voting pattern is to be accepted, then there should be a re-composition of the delegates to ensure a parity between the North and the South. That is the essence of the meeting between the President and the group led by the Sultan of Sokoto,” our source said.

In a swift reaction, a representative of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to the National Conference, Mr. John Achimugu, dismissed allegations of lopsidedness in the composition of the delegates against Muslims.

Speaking to reporters in Kaduna, Achimugu, described the allegations by the Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) as unfounded and being peddled by those who do not mean well for the country.

According to him, those behind the allegation are out to ensure that the National Conference does not hold so that the status quo could be maintained.

“Anybody who saw the list of the Federal Government delegates which was published would know that Christians are represented by six delegates, Muslims are equally represented by six delegates. I do not see the lopsidedness in the six-six representation.

“People came from various shades of life, representing various shades of interests, professional bodies, NGOs and the likes. There is no parameter set for the Conference that such people, in the process of their nomination to represent their group interests, must be nominated on the parameter of religion,” he queried.

Achimugu who was also a delegate to the national discuss organized by the former President Obasanjo’s administration in 2005, faulted claims by the JNI that Muslims are in the majority in Nigeria, saying there has never been any census in Nigeria to determine the population of Muslims and Christians.

Also speaking on the Conference, the Chairman, Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Alhaji Ibrahim Waziri, who is also a delegate, has described the essence of achieving consensus at the National Conference as a way of “...achieving inclusiveness to the extent that all delegates must be seen to be carried along”.

He urged his colleagues to let the interest of the unity of Nigeria guide their discussions at the Conference, calling on the delegates to ensure that the outcome of the Conference adds value to the welfare of Nigerians and promotes the oneness of the country.

In his words, “National unity is upheld when a decision is reached and both the North and South are happy with such a decision. This is what I described as inclusiveness, let us come together and agree on the way forward and how we can create a new Nigeria of our dream. The controversy over the voting pattern is healthy because it will bring out the unity in us.

“The all-inclusive voting pattern is such that will bring the unity of all Nigerians and not one that would divide us and promote disunity in the country.”

Also human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), said the delegates should be allowed to break into committees to familiarize themselves better with the tasks ahead before going into plenary sessions.

“After meeting ourselves at the committee level, and coming out to the larger house (plenary), we are likely to have known ourselves better and be availed of superior reasons.

“From the way we are handling it now, the fears of some people were borne out of a misconceived notion and that is why it is a bit problematic. From the report at my disposal, the consensus committee that is consulting with the Chairman is likely to have arrived at a decision that will be acceptable to all delegates,” he said.

In the meantime, the House has warned that unless the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is further amended to allow for a referendum to ratify the outcome of the ongoing National Conference, the delegates might end up wasting their time.

Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Victor Ogene (APGA, Anambra), at a press briefing in Abuja, said no portion of the 1999 Constitution provides for a referendum.

According to him, the only document that the legislators are duty bound to invoke and act upon is the 1999 Constitution.

“For any section to be altered, you need two-thirds of both chambers of the National Assembly and two-thirds of the state assemblies,” he added.

He explained that unless this was done, the issue of a referendum would not sail through, as there is “nothing on a referendum before the House”.

On the delay in passing the 2014 budget, he blamed some ministers for contributing to the situation.

Ogene maintained that often times, a minister defending his/her ministry’s budget estimates may write to seek for the re-scheduling of an appearance, thereby taking the committees back several days.

Reacting to the opinion that the House Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, also flies with chartered executive jets for his trips and should be probed just as the House has decided to investigate the Minster of Petroleum, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, Ogene queried, “Is there any allegation that any money is missing in the coffers of the National Assembly? If not, there is no need to worry”, he defended.

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