Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Mr. Tony I Uranta was a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference. In this interview with Ayodele Samuel, he argues that the proposed national conference will be volatile but would put Nigeria on track and provide answers to many national questions. He however faults Chief Solomon Asemota over his self acclaimed minority report. Excerpts:
You were a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Dialogue, how would you describe your experience vis-a-vis the desirability or otherwise of the conference?
It was an enervative and very educative experience that every member of the committee gained during the exercise of consultations, which saw them moving round all the six geopolitical zones. During that period, we found out, among other things, that we didn't know exactly how many ethic nationalities there are in Nigeria; that many people really thought that we were already conducting the National Conference per se. We also found out that there were expectations from government that were both unrealistic and not pragmatic and that there was an overwhelming desire, all through the nation, for us to come together as one people to speak. Even in places where there seemed, initially, to be apathy on the part of state governments or local governments not to participate, we realised that the people of these states and zones, and of Nigeria, had taken on the sovereignty that belongs to them and decided that they were going to decide whether they talk or not; what they would talk about; how they would talk about it; and how it would be reflected when it all comes out at the end of the day.
But the committee almost ran into stormy waters in Edo State, with the altercation between the governor and Tony Nyiam, leading to hisresignation from the committee. Did that not create the fear that the conference itself could really be volatile?
The conference will be volatile! The Yoruba say that brothers don't go into a room to speak the truth to one another and come out smiling all the time. It will be volatile because we are going to speak the truth to one another, so we can resolve our differences, enhance our commonalities and build a truly united Nigeria premised on truth, equity and justice. But the incident in Benin was really less one of volatility, as much as one of intemperate reaction by both the governor and a member of our committee. The people of that zone had apparently taken a position that they really wanted to participate in the National Conference. The governor had already told us in private that he was opposed to the National Conference, and had been so opposed from the beginning of the concept itself in the 1980s. We did not expect him to come out and try to talk his people into accepting his position as the position of the state or the zone. And when the people started booing him and clamouring for him to leave the podium, we least expected a member of our team to join in with the people to heckle the governor, especially since our team's mandate was not to talk, but to listen, record, and later offer advice.
Do the final guidelines agree with the recommendations of the committee, especially concerning the 'no-go-area' and the fact that the final outcome of the confab will go through the National Assembly for it to be incorporated in the constitution?
I will say about 95 per cent or more of the recommendations of the committee [the initial recommendations of the committee] were published later on and have been announced as the modalities. There were very few departures from the original recommendations. For example, we had initially said that delegates should be chosen through elections/adult suffrage, so that there will be transparency and the ability for everybody to participate fully. But when government got our report, it went through it, and realised that the Electoral Act does not allow INEC, which is the only body that is empowered to carry out elections, to conduct elections outside of the political elections that have been designated to it; and that for it to now process this election, there would have to be alterations to the Electoral Act. But we were not sure that the alterations could be carried out even in the next one year or two knowing how slow our National Assembly can be on matters of certain national and critical issues. You know how long it took for the Freedom of Information Bill to get passed. A bill that was sent in 1999 only got passed in 2007.
Apart from that, government now asked INEC to budget what it will cost and INEC budgeted N25 billion.
Now, if people are complaining of N7 billion budgeted for this conference, can you imagine what they would have been saying if we were to have N32 billion?
Therefore, government knew it was not a pragmatic decision to take. We were then invited back by the president, who was very unique in the way he went about dealing with both the committee and the report of the committee. Rather than setting up a White Paper Committee, he kept returning to us and saying to us, review your recommendations. We reviewed them and concluded that there shall be delegates nominated by the people, through stakeholder groups and interest groups of the people. So it will be a wholly people-driven conference. As to whether the outcomes of the conference will now return to the National Assembly for legislation; yes, every such outcomes have to end up in the National Assembly for legislation. What the people of Nigeria do want and what they are adamant about is that there must be a referendum. After the referendum, what they don't want is for the conference's outcome to be tinkered with by the National Assembly before it is passed into law as either the New Constitution, or as part of the 1999 Constitution undergoing review. Now, you will notice that I have made a distinction as to whether the constitution will be new or reviewed. This is because we recommended to the president that rather than getting involved with all the imbroglio of the politics should there be a referendum; should the National Assembly have dominance and so; we said, simply, he should let the National Conference itself decide whether Nigerians want a referendum. Let the conference decide. When the referendum is decided, do they want the outcomes of the Conference and the referendum to become a brand new Constitution? Let the Conference decide. I am one person who wants a referendum. I am one person who wants a brand new Constitution. But, I love this idea of giving it over to the people, via the Conference, so nobody is imposing anything on the people of Nigeria. And when they decide, I want to see anybody, group of people or interest group that will stand up and say that what the people want is wrong, and that they are not going to give them what they want; and I want to see what will happen after that.
Was Chief Solomon Asemota opposed to any aspect of the report that could have led to the controversy of whether or not there was a minority report?
I think that is one of the tragedies of Nigeria's reality at the moment. I have so much respect for Chief Asemota (SAN), and prior to our interactions on this committee, I held him in very high esteem, but so far as far as I am concerned, he let himself down. He let the peoples of my zone (South-South) and the people of Nigeria down. Of course, what Chief Asemota, as an extension of Professor Ben Nwabueze, a respected constitutional lawyer and elder statesman, was intent on doing was foisting upon Nigeria, and Nigerians, and the conference, a pre-decided agenda. Professor Nwabueze had stated at the Eminent Peoples Summit which I convened in January 2012 here in Lagos (when he walked out because the majority of the people present wanted a National Conference to debate any and every issue under the sun) that he wanted a National Conference to debate certain issues in draft Constitution which The Patriots had drawn up under the late Chief Rotimi Williams (and we are talking about ages ago!). He urged that we don't discuss anything else except that document and that he would then go about turning that document into a new constitution.
You will agree with me that that proviso would be restricting and limiting Nigerians. There is nothing that stops us from discussing that document because it is a critical document; but we could not be limited by Chief Asemota, Professor Nwabueze and their co-travellers. As to whether there was a minority report, Chief Asemota was the chairman of the Committee's Sub-Committee on Legal Processes which was to decide whether there should be a referendum; whether the outcome of the conference be subjected to the National Assembly; whether there should be a bill legislating the conference into being ab initio. It was this sub-committee, headed by him as the most senior lawyer on our committee, that came to the recommendations in our submitted report. We accepted the subcommittee's recommendations hook, line and sinker! It was, therefore, disconcerting that at the point of our signing, Chief Asemota was nowhere to be found. For hours, we were calling, sending cars all around looking for him, only to find out that he was all the time in the parking lot sleeping right outside the committee's meeting hall and that he wished, at that belated point, to take a position saying that he had a memo (because that is what we saw it as being!) to submit. He erroneously called it a minority report. That memo in fact had been submitted already by The Patriots both during our consultation trips, and by Professor Nwabueze privately to the chairman of the committee and to the president. So it has been incorporated into our report. There was nothing new in the memo and the president rightly said that the memo could not be called a minority report after Chief Asemota had gone into all the papers shouting, mendaciously, about the president having refused a minority report.
There are indications that Managing Director of the Bank of Industry (BOI), Evelyn N. Oputu is currently sitting tight as she has completed her second term since November 30, 2013, making her tenure illegally overshot, our investigation has shown.
But a senior official of the bank who declined to speak on record claimed that Oputu's second term only expired in December.
Oputu hails from Edo state in the South-south geo-political zone, also called the Niger Delta area, where President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan equally hails from.
She was appointed in 2005 and served for four years before her tenure was renewed in 2009.
The federal government's policy on appointments into such public offices allows for maximum of eight years for each appointee, with federal character principle of rotation mostly applied to pave way for representation of the six geo-political zones in the country.
But Oputu took over from Dr. Larry Osa Afiana, also from Edo state, who was the first Managing Director of the bank. Afiana was appointed in 2001, soon after the bank was established. He served for only one term and his tenure was not renewed after it was trailed by some controversies.
According to a source within the federal ministry of trade and investment, saddled with the task of supervising the bank, her elongated stay may not be unconnected with the support of some top shots in the Presidency as well as the ministry.
The source said, "Her continuous stay is all these women's things". He stressed her tenure appeared to have been extended by one year even though it is not certain if it was officially done.
He asked one of our reporters to contact spokesman of the bank, Mr. Waheed Olagunju for further explanations on the tenure matter. But we could not get Olagunju, who was said to the out of the country on official assignment, to respond to our inquiries.
Established in October 2001 following the re-organisation of the defunct Nigerian Industrial Development Bank (NIDB), the bank is a financial institution with N250 billion share capital, designed to develop Nigeria's industrial sector with a mandate of providing support financing to large, medium and small-scale enterprises, expansion of existing industries and revitalisation of ailing industries to make Nigeria compete favourably in the global economy.
The Ministry of Finance Incorporated (MOFI) holds 58.86% of the N250 billion share capital; the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) controls 41.12%, while 42 private shareholders hold 0.02% of the share capital. The bank's leadership structure comprises an MD, three executive directors, two general managers and four assistant general managers.
It also has nine principal managers and fourteen senior managers. Meanwhile, worried by the alleged misleading financial statement prepared by the BoI and the unsatisfactory responses from its management, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has queried the bank over alleged missing assets.
The FRC, in the query, accused BoI of attempting to mislead the public through its report. The council therefore requested that all documents relating to the bank's transactions and operations be provided for verifications.
In a letter titled: 'Re: Non-compliance with Statement of Accounting Standards (SAS)', dated February 6, 2014, addressed to the BOI MD, Ms Oputu, the council referred the bank to the several meetings with it and the minister, trade and investments, Olusegun Aganga, as unsatisfactory.
The letter was signed by FRC Executive Secretary, Jim Obazee, copied Aganga, and the partner, Akintola Williams Deloitte, as well as the bank's auditor.
"Our council has reviewed your submissions and we regret to inform you that we are unsatisfied because the report is still capable of misleading a relevant stakeholder.
"You are hereby required to furnish our council, not later than seven days from the date of this letter, with the under-listed documents/reports as they may provide a pathway for an amicable resolution that will give our council comfort on this matter", the council said.
The documents being requested for by the council include sources of the reclassifications of its investment properties which were not in BOI's 2010 and 2011 accounts but in the restated accounts for the two years.
Others are management discussion and analysis for classifying the investment properties into previous categories in the first place and, the valuation report, from an FRC registered valuer, on all the investment properties that are now recognized in the restated financial statements and also accounted for in the 2012 accounts.
Also requested by the FRC are applicable values of the individual investment properties, auditor's physical verification attestation letter on all the investment properties and also, a schedule of rental income earned on each of the properties over the last three years (2010, 2011, and 2012).
Others are the evidence that the rental income was recognized in the BOI's income statement, the rental income receivable and the identity of the debtors, the scheduled of occupants of the investment properties analysed into related parties, third parties, corporate, individuals etc, and the evidence of BOI's ownership of all the restated investment properties including, but not limited to, certified title documents.
In addition, the bank was also asked to submit to the FRC, the three years audited financials of the managed funds covering 2010, 2011 and 2012 for each of the funds.
The bank was also requested to submit the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the BOI and the National Automotive Council (NAC), on the management expenses on the NAC managed intervention funds as well as the attestation of the external auditors of the NAC funds.
BOI had created an exceptional item of N1. 255 billion for NAC from the intervention fund that is principally for onward lending to qualified beneficiaries in the automotive industry. FRC, it was learnt, is interested in the conditions for this.
From Ayodele Samuel, Lagos
Legal scholar and constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay yesterday warned Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega to immediately review the order of the impending 2015 general elections, saying the timetable released by the commission is dangerous for the country.
Sagay confronted Jega in Lagos yesterday at a public policy lecture organized by the Lagos state chapter of the Alumni Association of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru.
He said INEC must reverse the order of the elections by holding the presidential poll last.
Delivering a paper titled "Building Credible Electoral Process for Democratic Sustainability", Sagay said holding the presidential election first would spell doom for the country.
"One other action by FEDECO, which revealed that it had become an uncritical agent and ally of the NPN was the reversal of the order of election in 1983. In 1979, the presidential election came last. But suddenly, without cause or explanation, the Commission decided to make the presidential election the first in the series of elections. The intention was to engineer a landslide victory for the NPN flag bearer, President Shagari, and thereafter, create a bandwagon effect that would overwhelm the opposition. They did so and succeeded. With the exception of the governorship elections, the opposition virtually lost interest in the subsequent elections, thus creating fantastic NPN majorities in the various legislatures. In all the depredations of FEDECO, the Nigeria Police was a close and vicious collaborator. Armoured vehicles were imported into the country for the police, shortly before the elections, in order to intimidate and over-awe the opposition.
" In commenting on the 1983 elections, Richard Joseph, the political scientist, was particularly struck by the impact of the reversed order of elections, i.e., holding the presidential elections before the others, contrary to the normal and conventional order.
"An NPN victory in the first vote of 6 August – giving it the next presidency, and thus the central government – would enable it to go on and rack up landslide votes in the other elections, because of the discouragement of opposition party supporters, the willingness of electoral and police officers to serve the wishes of what was already going to be the next government, and the desire of many candidates to be part of the bandwagon rather than risk being cut off from the largesse of the central government for another four years. The complete reversal in the order of the elections gave NPN strategists the opportunity to use their control of the various instruments of government, in a concentrated way, to keep their opponents off-balance and to arrange a massive vote total for Shehu Shagari by a combination of legitimate and illegitimate means.
"It thus becomes clear why the whole electoral process and the 'government' which emerged from it were enveloped and buried in a heavy pall of illegitimacy, leading to its inevitable crash and unlamented demise three months later.
"In this regard, we must once more draw attention to the INEC Order of elections for 2015. Once again, the Presidential election has been brought forward to the 1st part of the elections, thus once again employing the "Ovie-Whisky Formula" for guaranteeing the victory of the Ruling Party through inevitable manipulation which is automatically followed by the bandwagon effect. This is an unnecessary land mine primed to explode in 2015. Fortunately, there is still time to reverse this clearly perverse and mischievous decision. I hereby call on the Jega led INEC, in the interest of peace, order, stability, justice and democracy, to reverse the announced order and make the presidential election, the last," he further said.
The luminary therefore called on the Jega led INEC to, "in the interest of peace, order, stability, justice and democracy, to reverse the announced order and make the presidential election, the last."
Sagay said genuine, free and fair elections constitute the threshold or doorway into a democratic, stable and progressive society. Without free and fair elections therefore, he stressed, there cannot be democracy.
Tracing the history of elections in the country, Sagay said the last time a presidential election came first there was crisis in the country.
However, Jega who tactically waved the call during his presentation, said plans were in top gear to make the next elections remarkable in the history of credible elections in the country.
Part of the plans, he disclosed, include the electoral body's efforts to bring in more distinguished professionals from different trade bodies and associations to participate in the collation of the 2015 general elections.
"As the 2015 election approaches, we are determined to improve on the gains of the 2011 general elections. Nobody can say credible people are only in the academia. We used only those in academia because they were the ones readily available to us at the time.
"As 2015 elections draw near, we are looking at other constituencies. We are going to be working with professional associations in identifying and working with credible people who are not partisan and who have sufficient integrity and are willing to do voluntary electoral duties", Jega said.
Stakeholders in the Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) sector have blamed shortage of gas cylinders for the poor consumption of cooking gas in Nigeria.
They stress that cooking gas is seen as the only viable alternative to kerosene as cooking fuel, but its consumption rate is very low relative to the country's population.
Speaking in Lagos ahead of a conference on gas cylinder, titled "Cylinder and the Future of LPG in Nigeria Economy'' National President, Nigerian Association of LPG Marketers (NALPGAM), Mr. Basil Ogbuanu, said that except the Federal Government intervenes and ensure that gas cylinders are
available and affordable to Nigerians, the consumption level may continue to drop while kerosene also remains unavailable to the masses.
"we all know that you can use gallons to buy kerosene, but you need cylinders to buy cooking gas. These cylinders are not enough in the country.
"The companies producing cylinders locally have all folded up due to unfavourable government policy and inadequate power supply. Now, we import all cylinders that are being used in the country. A standard cylinder of 12.5kg will cost about N8500 in the market which an average Nigerians cannot afford.
"Instead of the Federal Government reducing the import duties payable on imported cylinders, it rather increased it from five per cent to 20 per cent."
On the issue of pricing, Ogbuanu also appealed to the Federal Government to intervene and ensure that the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) supplies cooking gas at domestic rate rather than thecurrent international price at which the company is selling to domestic consumers.
"The issue of domestic pricing is another factor militating against increasing consumption pattern of cooking gas in Nigeria. Although, we recorded an increase in consumption rate last year. This is because Nigerians consumed 170000 metric tonnes of cooking gas as at December, 2013.
"This is an improvement from the previous less than 150000 metric tonnes consumption figure. This has prompted the NLNG to increase supplies from 150000 to 250000 metric tonnes per annum. Before, theproduct was inadequately supplied but now the product is available and not affordable," he noted.
Ogbuanu said: "it is becoming clear that subsidy payment on kerosene is not sustainable. If the Federal Government can use only 20 per cent of what it is using on kerosene to support cooking gas consumption, it will deepen the market."
Also speaking chairman, Conference Organising Committee, Gbenga Falusi, said the conference is organised to sensitize stakeholders that government's sincere commitment to LPG consumption is highly required and not debatable.
"LPG will boost GDP, provide employment and create friendly environment without emissions. We commend NLNG for its timely intervention in LPG supplies, but we want the company to fastrack its
West African gas price index it is developing," he said.