By IHEANACHO NWOSU and FRED ITUA, Abuja
•Fresh negotiations deadlock, confab reconvenes Monday
The rift between Northern and Southern delegates over derivation deepened yesterday, forcing the conference to adjourn abruptly for the second consecutive day.The standoff, which started on Wednesday took a more damning twist, as delegates engaged in a shouting match, frustrating several attempts by the leadership to break the deadlock over the contentious issue of derivation formula, special rehabilitation fund for the conflict-affected areas as well as mineral resources. The drama started few minutes after delegates converged for the day’s plenary. Chairman of the Conference, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, sensing that there was going to be uproar over Wednesday’s recommendations by consensus group, announced that the Conference would reconvene at about 11 a.m. to enable the leadership sort out grey areas.
The Conference eventually reconvened at about 12 noon. Few minutes after delegates took their seats, Isaac Osuoka from the South-south, raised a point of order to discredit Wednesday’s report presented by the consensus group. He said it was against the standing orders of the Conference and, therefore, called on fellow delegates to shoot down the recommendations of the report.
He was immediately challenged by Justice Kutigi, who argued that people were free to form groups as long as it was in the interest of the Conference.
Soon after the chairman’s remarks, Ghali N’Abba called on delegates to adopt the report of Wednesday’s sitting as well as recommendations of the consensus report on derivation.
The Conference was thrown into confusion when Dr. Haruna Yerima from Borno State jumped the gun and called on the chairman to proceed with the Conference, insisting that the Conference must adopt open voting as against the voice vote, which had been largely kicked against by core Northern delegates.
The Conference was yet to recover from the brief uproar when Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie interrupted the chairman. He told his fellow delegates that the consensus group was yet to arrive at any agreement, adding that any document in circulation was fake and meant to cause more confusion.
“We have not reached any new agreement. We have been meeting since yesterday evening (Wednesday) and nothing yet. So, any document you receive is not from us. We did not endorse it,” Cooomasie explained.
His remarks opened up another fresh shouting match. Efforts by South-west delegation leader, Chief Olu Falae, to explain the position of the consensus group failed. Angered by the rude behaviour of delegates, Justice Kutigi called for a motion to bring the Conference to another abrupt end.
“It appears the committee did not finish its job before coming here. Our intention now is to give the committee more time to sit. We did not give you the committee. You gave yourselves the committee. You still have time to settle the whole thing. I am proposing that we meet tomorrow (today) at 11 a.m. The leadership of the Conference will meet with the 50 wisemen to see how we can break the statement. We will be concluding the issues. The committees should proceed with their meetings. Plenary will commence on Monday,” Kutigi announced while rounding off the day’s proceedings.
Addressing journalists after the heated debate during plenary, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi explained his role in the whole consensus group scandal where he was accused of masterminding the circulation of a document that has not been approved by the consensus the group.
He maintained that some Northern delegates were bent on scuttling the outcome of the Conference, insisting that any such attempts would be resisted. He further explained that out of the 38 delegates that formed the consensus group, 34 appended their signatures, while four Northern delegates refused to sign. Mohammed Kumalia and Coomasie are among those who declined to sign.
“We agreed that there shall be an establishment of a Solid Mineral Development Fund, which is currently three per cent of Federal Government account referred to by the committee. We also agreed that there shall be a National Intervention Fund, which will be five per cent of the annual revenue accruing to the account of the Federal Government for the stabilisation, rehabilitation and reconstruction of areas affected by terrorism and insurgency. North-East will be first, while other parts of the country affected will benefit,” Dokpesi explained.
Chairman of Labour Party (LP) and a South-east delegate, Dan Nwuanyanwu, who shouted “point of order, point of order, point of order” severally, but was ignored by the chairman, told Daily Sun after the Conference adjourned that many members of the consensus group went into the meeting with a parochial mindset.
He said: “Members of the consensus group went into their meeting with their parochial mindset. They cannot resolve a simple issue they ought to have resolved. We must take into account all the problems surrounding the different geopolitical zones. The issue now is the devastation created by Boko Haram in the North-east.
“The impression they have created is that they did not talk about North-west and North-Central. Where the operation of the terrorists is rampant is in the North-east. There is already a fund for that that handles natural disasters. The fund is already there. It is currently three per cent and they have now moved it to five per cent. Now, who is going to benefit from it?
“You have to look at two arguments. Some are saying you do not have to compensate for the damage caused by terrorist attacks. Others are saying the derivation has been raised. The other zones are now demanding for their own. That is where we have this problem and I am sure we are going to resolve these issues.”
National chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Victor Umeh, reechoed the position maintained by many Southern delegates that some people want to scuttle the Conference.
“It is very obvious to me that people are here to scuttle this Conference. It is very disturbing that people will maintain certain positions at the detriment of other regions of the country. We will not allow this to happen. It will be resisted,” Umeh vowed.
“We will not accept their proposal because it is not meant to serve the general interest of Nigerians. I am not against rebuilding the North-east but other zones that have suffered diverse disasters and are still suffering also deserve similar intervention.”
Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and a delegate from the South-south wondered why Northern delegates, who did not see anything wrong with the voice votes used in arriving at decisions when the other 19 committee reports were considered will now insist on the use of ballot boxes.
“I believe there will be a solution. Every problem has a solution. Even life has its own solution. The solution is death. There is no problem that cannot be solved. I had predicted that some issues were going to be highly emotive. That is what we are seeing now. The Nigerian system is erected on a weak foundation.
“Nigeria is all about sharing and nothing else. How come suddenly, some people are suggesting that we should take up balloting. We have not done that in all the 19 reports considered so far. Just because it has come to the issue of revenue sharing, we want to vote. We are a nation engaged in sharing and not in baking. I feel ashamed. If we go for voting, it will reduce the integrity of the Conference. The whole world will think we came here to share money,” he reasoned.