The national conference yesterday witnessed row at its plenary due to disagreements over the vexed issue of resource control.
Another issue that brought tension to the plenary was state creation that came up again as the conference moved to adopt the votes and proceedings of last Thursday, with some northern delegates calling for reopening of debate on the issue.
When the Conference Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, introduced the item on consideration of the minutes, a delegate from Sokoto State, Alhaji Muhammad Maigari, raised an observation, saying there were procedural errors in the proceedings of Thursday last week.
“Mr. Chairman, you are aware that we complained about the procedural errors in the adoption of the proceedings of the last Thursday and those errors are still built in the minutes of this meeting and we cannot allow them to go like that,” he said.
At this point, delegates were shouting “point of order” and the proceedings became rowdy until the former Minister of Women Affairs, Josephine Anenih, told the Chairman to go on break to allow the tension to simmer down.
She said: “This is Monday morning, do not allow anybody to raise your blood pressure. If the shouting is too much, you can go on break, when we finish you come back.”
After calm returned to the conference, former federal permanent secretary and delegate from Kogi State under the platform of the Retired Civil Servants, Mr. Robert Audu, rejected the list of states proposed for creation.
He said his proposal for creation a 50 states structure was thrown out and “the list of the states supposedly adopted was from a clandestine committee that its report was rejected”.
Chief Edwin Clark fired another salvo when he accused Prof. Auwalu Yadudu and some northern delegates of trying to frustrate the efforts of other delegates at the conference.
He specifically cited the exchange of letters between Yadudu and Chief Raymond Dokpesi over the circulation of a document, detailing resolutions reached by a consensus group headed by Dokpesi.
“Yadudu wrote a letter asto Dokpesi that they have withdrawn from the consensus group. So, we said again, can we not meet and let us resolve this issue because it is very unfair to ignore this important matter?
“I think it will be unfair, Mr. Chairman, for some people to believe that only their views should be considered. We are all equal in this country. No one is greater than the other. I am, therefore, appealing to all the fellow delegates that we have gone a long way because as at now, 19 reports have been considered by voice vote.
“I am very disappointed people could lead a delegation to meet with management without informing others. If there is going to be any disagreement, the leaders of the North should have consulted some of us. Let us build a country where everything will be equal.
“We are entering the second 100 years of this country. Some people wanted a state to be created for their area so that they can be equal with other Nigerians. We have not come here to play games.
“So, my fellow delegates let us be united. Some of us are very old. No sentiment will be brought here, no division will be bought here; we all belong to this country where every man, every woman is equal,” Clark said.
Former Nigeria’s representative to the United Nations, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, warned delegates to stop the exchange of abusive utterances, stressing that the practice of delegates shouting at each other be done away with.
“What we need to do is to settle down and stop shouting on each other. Let us resume the spirit of consensus and have respect for each others’ view. It is in that spirit and for the purpose of transparency that I want to put on record.
“One, there was a delegation by Northern Delegates Forum which met with the leadership of the conference immediately after the close of business last Thursday. We drew the attention to the point that the abuse of the voice vote on the issue that are important to the structures of this country,” Gambari noted.
However, Yadudu, in his response to Clark’s harsh remarks, again took a swipe at Dokpesi. He faulted Clark’s attacks on him, insisting that he had the rights to air his views as a delegate representing his people.
“Last Monday, about a week ago, Chief Raymond Dokpesi claimed certain methods about documents being circulated. This morning, Chief Clark mentioned my name for the things I’ve not done.
“For the records, let me say this. Chief Dokpesi was wrong to have said that what circulated were decisions taken at the consensus group. I was a member of the group. There was no issue ever presented to the group as terms of agreement between the zones.
“Another error made by Dokpesi was that I was not a member of the 18-member delegation put up by the group. For the records, I am a member. I will not want to pick up an issue with someone old enough to be my father. But when he makes a personal accusation against me, I need to respond. Last week, I was not given the opportunity to air my views.
“Chief Dokpesi said that I lead a team in this conference. I do not know the team he refers to. I am a bona fide member of this conference. I have been part of the process that has helped this conference proceed. I was privileged to be a member of the 50-member delegation the chairman of the conference appointed at some point.
“For Chief Dokpesi to ascribe that motif to me, I find it most offensive. Let me also address the issue of the role I play in this conference. We are here as delegates representing one constituency or the other.
They have the obligation to advocate the position they have been mandated to do. Some people might have found some of my positions taken so far uncomfortable. I do not have a problem with that.
“As much as I will concede that any delegate can speak for his people, I hope I will be considered for the same rights. The positions taken at the consensus group were taken by South-South, South-East, South-West and North-Central. What was tabled before us was a set of agreements that were not even considered by the committees.
“I have listed a number of items that were not in the Devolution of Power Committee report, but were in the terms of proposal report by the consensus group. It is wrong for anyone to say anything about me just because I do not share their views,”
Yadudu said. His remarks elicited ovation from northern delegates. Yadudu added, “I have done nothing to warrant the allegation that I am here to scuttle the conference.”
On derivation, Festus Okoye argued that 13 per cent derivation was sufficient, saying the status quo should be maintained.
While some northern delegates wanted the status quo or even a reduction, their South-South counterparts called for a return to 50 per cent, which they said was in the nation’s Independence and Republican Constitutions.
Many delegates from the North Central, South-West and South-East, however, called for a compromise, saying that while the derivation might not be raised to 50 per cent, it should not also be reduced. They said it should be increased to between 21 and 25 per cent.
Sergeant Awuse explained that it was not the Federal Government that funded the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, but the contributions of oil companies.
He challenged the delegates to go to the villages of Niger Delta and see how many residents were getting blind.
Awuse said that for equity sake, people should think of the zone and advocated a 25 per cent derivation.