A delegate to the just concluded National Conference in Abuja and founder/owner of private media conglomerate, Daar Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, has relived his experience at the confab, expressing confidence that President Goodluck Jonathan will live up to the expectations of Nigerians on the implementation of recommendations contained in the draft constitution.
High Chief Dokpesi, who spoke with The Sun newspaper, described his experience at the confab as rewarding, saying it afforded him the opportunity to reconnect with old friends, colleagues and senior citizens.
Speaking on the controversial issue of derivation, which almost scuttled the conference and how it was finally resolved amicably, Dokpesi said:
“Let me say that the conference in its wisdom had accepted fiscal federalism and also agreed that Nigeria shall be a federation in which the federating units will contribute to the sustenance of the centre, which is a complete reversal of the unitary system we are currently running whereby the centre collects revenue, and dispenses to the states.
“This is why delegates from various zones were very much insistent on developing other sources of revenue generation to expand income base of the country as it were by putting focus and attention on development of mineral resources.
“We must appreciate the fact that alternative source of energy has been found. The green revolution has brought about alternative source of energy and power. And Nigeria cannot afford to exclusively depend on crude oil.
“What was very clear from the statistics available is that 72 percent of revenue we share at Federal Account Allocation Committee on monthly basis comes from oil producing states. The South-west comes next to them with almost 20 percent or thereabout. The South-east comes next with about eight percent.
“The Northern parts don’t contribute a dime and the chunk of allocation goes to them. Recall that in the 1960 constitution, there was a provision that all mineral bearing states must retain 50 percent of revenue generation and the remaining 50 percent to the centre. Out of that 50 percent, Federal Government would take its share for administering the centre. But as it is today, only the oil producing states are bearing the whole burden of Nigeria. The Southern states are coming up with contribution in terms of payment of Value Added Tax (VAT) as well as solid mineral resources. But there is nothing coming from the North. This issue will be laid to rest if all mineral producing states also partake in revenue sharing by way of derivation. I remember that one of the delegates from the South-south proposed that we should give as much as 10 percent of the federation account to rapid development of all these mineral resources because our revenue generation from oil is declining. But we finally came to the conclusion that five percent of federation account should be committed to the development of these solid mineral resources over a period of time. We did say very clearly that over a ten years period we should be in that position where it would be 50 percent derivation as it was envisaged in the 1963 constitution. At a transitional stage, we cannot start with 50 percent because the economy of most states will collapse.
“So, the only fair and reasonable thing to do is to have a transitional provision and that transitional provision was the subject of debate at the conference.
“The Northern delegates that was jointly led by Prof Jerry Gana and Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie (GCON) accepted that 18 percent should be that point. Dr Peter Odili was the one who suggested 18 percent after due consultation with Alhaji Adamu Waziri, leader of delegation from Borno, Muhammed Kumalia and Bashir Dalhatu. The Southern delegates and Northern delegates agreed on 18 percent. So, any attempt to say that there was an issue about 18 percent derivation smacks of dishonesty.
“It was also agreed unanimously that the host communities of these mineral resources should get 50 percent of whatever amount that is generated whether oil or solid mineral resources.
“Apart from mineral development fund that was created, a national intervention fund was also created to deal with Boko Haram insurgency or any other type of conflicts.
“It was national in character. The clear cut position was that five percent of federal account should be committed to this, so that government can immediately deal with any such menace. In arriving at that, the current carnage in the Northeast was mentioned. Even the Council of State in its wisdom had already agreed that 32 billion naira should be set aside to deal with conflicts.
“We were acting not knowing what the Turaki committee had recommended. But at the end of the day, the Northern delegates decided to renege on the agreement that had been reached because they wanted North-east and North-central to be specifically mentioned, and then any other part of Nigeria. What we cannot run away from is the fact that a lot of states in the North-west had also experienced these Boko Haram attacks. But they wanted it to be specifically mentioned in the recommendation. If you say North-east and any other part of Nigeria, it also means the same thing. This was the point of disagreement.
“But by and large, there was an agreement, there was an understanding. We all agreed that fiscal federalism should be the order of the day. We need to let the mineral bearing states know how much they would pay to the federation account.
“At the present moment, there are lots of mineral resources being extracted from the Northern parts of the country without paying any amount to the coffers of the Federal Government. We must make sure that all these are captured and form part of the monthly sharing. And the issue of Southwest, particularly VAT in Lagos comes to mind here.
“There is no point why revenue is generated through activities like VAT and a percent of it does not remain in Lagos. So, Lagos is right in demanding that whatever is applicable to all other mineral resources should also be applicable to VAT, so that those who bear the brunt can have some benefits of it”.
On the creation of additional 18 states as recommended by the National Conference, the media mogul advocated a return to regional form of government, although he said it “should come naturally; it should not be compelled by legislation”.
According to him, “the conference was very patriotic in dealing with the matter. Out of the states that were represented, 29 states wanted to retain their identity and keep their states as they are. No one state wanted to merge together. Even those that were together before didn’t want to go back to the old arrangement. Akwa Ibom didn’t want to go back to Cross River State. Bayelsa didn’t want to come back to Rivers State, Kebbi didn’t want to come back to Kaduna. Ebonyi didn’t want to come back to Enugu”.
He continued: “Everybody wanted to have his own state as federating unit. But the Conference agreed that any group of states that want to come together should be able to do so by a plebiscite of the people and the state Houses of Assembly. That is, states can merge and demerge. For the first time, the Conference came up with a proposal that states should have their own constitution”.
Expressing confidence that the proposed states will come into being, Dokpesi said part of the mandate they received from the president was to look into the cause of conflicts around the country and proffer lasting solutions – creation of states, he believes, will bring an end to such conflicts.
“If you go to Borno State, you will see that the Chibok area where we have Boko Haram insurgency is Southern Borno. In Kaduna State, the area where you normally have crisis is Southern Kaduna. These are areas where the minorities are staying, and they are feeling that they are being oppressed. So, if we want this tension to be taken off, then it is better to allow them to determine their own future. However, federalism expects that you will be able to contribute to the centre, to be entitled to a share of the federation account. That is the essence of federalism. You must bring something to the table. The era of sharing under a federal system has come and gone”, he explained.
On the political will to implement the report of the conference, which was formally presented to the president last Thursday, Mr. Dokpesi said he believes in the sincerity and honesty of Mr. Jonathan to see it through.
In his words: “I believe the President is desirous of change for Nigeria. The President is anxious to see a better and rewarding Nigeria for our future generation. History will judge him. I believe he is going to work on the recommendations of the conference. I see a referendum coming”.