By Jaye Gaskia
The National Conference completed its fourth week [first month] of sitting by bringing to a conclusion the opening statements and responses of individual delegates to inaugural address of the President while formally inaugurating ‘The National Conference Of The People Of Nigeria’ – the official designation of the ongoing conference.
Why was it important for each delegate to articulate a response to the Presidential inaugural address? And why was it important for each delegate to make individual opening statements? The two weeks expended by the conference to take these individual delegate statements was both a fundamental and strategic necessity.
It was the only time each of the delegates would get the opportunity to speak directly to issues they and their platforms have prioritized for discussion and resolution at the conference. It was also the only time that each delegate could articulate a direct response to the identification of issues contained in the address of the President.
Subsequently, delegates will only be able to speak to issues that are directly on the agenda for the respective committees during committee work, as well as issues directly contained in the report of each committee when committee reports are again being considered for decision to be taken on them on return to plenary.
This process provided the opportunity for delegates and the rest of Nigeria and the world to directly gain insight into the position of each delegate on issues; to assess one another; and to begin to identify possible allies with which alliances and blocs could be concluded in trying to push specific positions through at the conference.
For the Civil Society and Labour Delegations it enabled us to assess and identify other delegates with potentially progressive inclinations, as well as to make direct contacts with them, and begin to invite them to our expanded caucus meetings.
The Civil Society Delegation has been intervening in the meetings of other delegations and caucuses, consciously sending representatives, not only to understand and get to know the core positioning and demands of the other delegations, but also in order to engage those delegations from our own perspective, seek to influence them, while also trying to convince them to support our basic foundational demand which is for a Social Charter, that will enable redistribution of wealth, social justice and equity, and promote social welfare on the basis of a comprehensive, justiciable, enforceable, and actionable Bill of Rights.
After the conclusion of the session on individual responses to the President’s address and opening statements, the National Conference will from its fifth week enter into the committee session which is scheduled to last for three weeks.
At the conclusion of the committee session, delegates will once again return to the second and concluding plenary session, where committee reports will be discussed and decisions taken on them. Twenty committees have been proposed, and the list of committee members will be released either on Monday or Tuesday of the fifth week.
The Labour and Civil Society Delegations are committed to reopening the debate on committee leadership selection, particularly if the leadership of the committees does not reflect the diversity of representation at the Conference, and does not include Civil Society, Labour, Youth, and people with disability representation in adequate numbers.
There are 60 committee leadership positions; 20 committee Chairpersons; 20 committee Deputy Chairpersons; and 20 Committee Secretaries. We have demanded at least half of those positions to be filled from the Labour, Civil Society, Women, Professional groups, and People Living with Disability Delegates.
The 20 Conference Committees include; Committees on Devolution of power; Political restructuring and forms of government; National security; Environment; Politics and governance; Law, judiciary, human rights and legal reforms; Social welfare; Transportation; Science, technology, and development; Agriculture; Civil society, Labour and sports; Public Service; Electoral matters; Foreign policy and diaspora matters; Land tenure matters and national boundary; Economy, trade and investment; Energy; Religion; Public finance and revenue generation; and Immigration.
In order to aid the process of committee constitution, each delegate was to indicate three preferred committees in order of priority. My preferred committee choices include, Devolution of power, politics and governance, and social welfare.
After the conclusion of opening statements, we can now sumarise the major issues that have been raised and which will shape the conference processes going forward; The issue of class divide and the consequent mass poverty, inequality in access to wealth, opportunities and basic services, based on a comprehensive and enforceable social charter; The question of Insecurity, and its connection to poverty and alienation; The question of ending the dichotomy between citizenship and indigeneship; The problematic issue of massive unemployment particularly among youths, and the linkage with the state of the economy, that is undergoing a non-productive and non-inclusive growth; and The question of appropriate form, structure and principle of governance that enables mass participation and inclusiveness.
It is also clear now that the class struggle, expressed in terms of a struggle between those social forces who want significant transformative change, versus those who want to defend the status quo, while as much as possible preserving their entrenched privileges as much as possible, is deepening and becoming more concretised.
This deepening and concretization is manifested in the establishment of different forums; in the caucus meetings of the different regional delegations; and in the attempt to reduce interests only to regional interests promoted by regional blocs. In this unfolding context, the Northern Delegates Forum, the National Unity Forum promoted by the old guard across all the regions; and the South – East, South-South, South-West, and Middle Belt Forums; as well as the Women Delegates Forum, and the Labour, Civil Society and other Progressive Delegates Platform; are emerging as the main platforms for waging the class struggle within the conference.
To conclude, an indication of the strategic and decisive character of the National Conference can be glimpsed from the interest shown in the conference, as well as the jostling for influence over the conference, by the various Governors’ forums. It is also seen by the maneuverings of the various Regionally based socio-cultural formations.
We can also discern the emergent decisive significance of the Conference process, by the battle for supremacy entered into with the conference by the National Assembly; as well as the deepening contention over the nature of the outcome of the conference, and what happens to that outcome with respect to implementation of its outcome.
Within and without the conference divergent views continue to be canvassed with respect to the exact limits of the authority of the conference, and with respect to how its report might be presented and implemented. The views leaning towards a draft constitution as a report, as well as a referendum as the mode of validation and compelling implementation are growing, and becoming increasingly more assertive and confident.
This is becoming quite unsettling for the political class for different reasons.
Finally as we enter the committee phase of conference work, these contradictions can only deepen as the conference takes on a life of its own.
For better or for whose this conference will shape the nature and trajectory of the class struggle into the foreseeable future, and in the immediate, will shape the nature of contestation for power in the coming 2015 general elections.
Those of us who have taken the conscious decision to engage with this process, are determined to play decisive roles in shaping its outcome, and the process of contestations post conference.
We are very clear that we went into the conference as a minority in the conference, we are very clear that the conference process has the potential to trigger a crisis of revolutionary proportions, we are very clear that depending on how the conference ends, we have a bounden duty to produce a Minority Report, as a basis to rebuild the movement for Revolutionary Social Transformation of our Country.
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