CRITICAL ISSUES ON THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE

In the name of Allah, The Magnificent, The Merciful

CRITICAL ISSUES ON THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE

     The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has subjected the proposed National Conference to very detailed scrutiny and analysis, given its direct bearing on the destiny of the nation and its potential to improve the welfare and wellbeing of all Nigerians, especially the Muslim Ummah. The NSCIA has taken cognizance of significant incentives for supporting the Conference. These include:

  1. The injunction of Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, on Muslims to submit to the full benefits of dialogue and negotiation, provided they are conducted in a manner that protects the rights and privileges of all parties;
  2. The case which has been made by Government and some Nigerians that a conference at this stage of our history will improve national unity and peaceful co-existence;
  3. The need for the Muslim Ummah to use the Conference avenue to invite attention to issues which are vital to the manner the Nigerian State should respond more appropriately to the legitimate aspirations of all Nigerians.

2. Reservations of the NSCIA
The NSCIA wishes to place on record its strong reservations which represent limitations to the potential value of the Conference. Among these are:

i. The Timing of the Conference

The NSCIA had made its position known in writing to Mr. President on the inappropriateness of holding an important National Conference at a period when national attention and energy should be fully engaged with concerns over security and the conduct of credible elections in early 2015. It had received a written response from Mr. President that the benefits of holding the Conference at this time outweigh the disadvantages of postponing it.

ii. Credibility of Delegates

The details of the Conference released indicate that none of the delegates will enjoy an elective mandate.  For a Conference with the potential to make critical inputs into the manner the nation is structured and operated, the fact that all delegates will be nominated detracts from the required levels of legitimacy of its outcome. The selection of stakeholders in the templates and the allocated proportions of delegates will pose problems to the principles of diversity and sensitivity to the need for balance and critical demographics.

NSCIA is particularly concerned over the large number of delegates that will be nominated by the President, given its experiences with appeals in the past for equity and justice in the manner sensitive appointments are made. Specifically, appeals for requisite balance in appointments in the top levels of military and security agencies as well as sensitive agencies have not been positively appreciated. NSCIA has little faith that nominees will reflect the appropriate balance between religious and regional groups.

iii. Denial of the Place of Population Size

The vital index of population has been ignored in designing the pattern of representation. This offends the core principle of democratic systems all over the world which recognizes both size and equity in representation and allocation of values. Furthermore, it lacks constitutional support. An important event with implications for the lives of Nigerians which ignores population size in representation will enjoy very little credibility and acceptance.

iv. Offending the Faith of Nigerians

The central position of religious faith in the lives of virtually all Nigerians has been offended by the meagre allocation of 12 delegates (6 each) to Muslims and Christians out of a total of 492 delegates. While most of the delegates representing other templates will be Muslims and Christians, the specific allocation of almost an inconsequential number to religious leaders who exercise substantial influence on the lives of deeply-religious Nigerians and in inter-faith relations suggests that government erroneously has little regard  for the place of faith in influencing the outcome of the Conference.

v. Unhealthy Emphasis on Tribal and Ethnic Groups

The allocation of 90 delegates to Socio-political/Cultural and Ethnic Nationality Groups (compared to a total of 98 allocated to Elder Statesmen, Traditional Rulers, Labour, Political Parties and Religious leaders) confirms the worry among many Nigerians that this is a conference which is likely to reinforce the weak faultlines of the nation (ethnic affiliations), rather than those cross-cutting and positive elements which unite it. It is particularly worrisome to Muslims whose faith discourages discrimination of the faithful on the basis of ethnicity or race.

3. Decision-making in the Conference

The NSCIA notes that the released guidelines on conflict resolution mechanisms within the Conference are problematic. Vague preference to decision-making by consensus or a 75% voting majority does not suggest the mode of resolving disputes when neither consensus nor the 75% threshold is able to resolve difficult disagreements during the conference. There are realistic possibilities that the Conference could be challenged by unresolved (and unsolvable) issues and these could spill out of the Conference and feed sentiments which are already being mobilized towards the 2015 elections. These will pose serious threats to peace, national security and the build-up to the conduct of peaceful and credible elections.

4. Suggestions on Improving the Impact of the Conference

The NSCIA proposes the following measures to be taken before the commencement of the Conference:

(i) A substantial increase in the allocation of delegates to the two major religions to at least 25 each and 5 to those who profess neither;

(ii) A substantial increase in the allocation of delegates to political parties to at least 5 for each party with representation in the National Assembly, and five for all other registered parties which have no representation;

(iii) Nomination by all stakeholders should, as a precondition for acceptance, reflect religious and other diversities and spread;

(iv)  Decision of the Conference should be made by consensus where possible, or in a manner that allows all views and positions to be faithfully captured as optional decisions /recommendations;

(v) Given its severe limitations in terms of legitimacy and restricted mandate, the Conference should treat all issues with the highest levels of responsibility and sensitivity to the timing and potential impact of the proceedings and conclusion of the Conference on the nation. Nonetheless, the NSCIA advises that the following issues should be no-go areas for the Conference:

a) The continued unity and indivisibility of the nation; and
b) The sanctity of the 2015 elections as currently provided for in the Constitution and the Electoral Act;

(vi) The Conference will benefit from the inclusion of the following in its agenda in the context of attempts to improve the unity of the nation:

a)   State and religion
b)   Revenue mobilization and allocation;
c)   Fiscal federalism;
d)   Structure of the Nigerian federal system;
e)   Improving the security of the lives of citizens and communities;
f)    Eliminating impunity and corruption;
g)  Improving harmony among groups and communities in Nigeria;
h) Improving capacity for the implementation of Reports and Recommendations of Reports and Panels set up by the Administration in the last few years.

5. Duration of the Conference
All efforts should be geared towards ensuring that the Conference does not last longer than (3) three months to avoid encroaching into sensitive  timelines in the conduct of the 2015 elections, and allowing the National Assembly to act on the Conference Report.

6. Conclusion
The NSCIA shares the sentiment that Nigerians should cultivate the value of dialogue and discussion of important issues. It notes, however, that while this National Conference being proposed may serve a useful purpose, its limitations as announced suggest that it will benefit from some important review of its structure, its decision-making processes and its agenda.

The NSCIA hopes that its suggestions will be considered by the Presidency and all Nigerians in the spirit of constructive contributions towards the success of the National Conference.

Signed
Muhammad K. Qasim

Ag. Director of Publicity
FOR AND ON BEHALF OF NSCIA