A national conference in Nigeria pushing for reforms and possible changes to the constitution has ended amid disputes over resource sharing and a minority group walkout. The conference had been meant to address perceived democratic deficiencies, as the nation struggles to overcome decades of military rule.
"One Nigeria. One Voice. Thank you," said the chairman of the National Political Reforms Conference, Niki Tobi, who attempted to rally remaining delegates on the last day of a four-month meeting plagued by controversy and division.
Earlier, a delegation representing the Niger Delta walked out of the talks, in a dispute over the redistribution of petroleum revenues to the people of the oil-rich area.
The delegation's leader, a former member of ex-military ruler General Abdulsalami Abubakar's administration, Mike Akhigbe, said he had come to the meeting full of hope.
"We came to the conference believing it to be an opportunity to design a new federal paradigm and to construct a viable democracy," he said.
But, he says, the delegation was quickly disappointed and saw no point in staying for the conference's conclusion.
"We can no longer participate in the conference," he explained. "We believe the time has come for us to go home, having been pushed out of this conference."
The delegation had been demanding that a minimum 25 percent of oil revenues be returned to the people of the producing areas, with that percentage rising to 50 percent in five years. The majority of conference delegates agreed instead to a 17 percent maximum revenue return.
Public affairs analyst Tunde Martins says many in Nigeria hope the conference will result in changes to a constitution that was drafted and implemented during a period of military rule.
"There have been complaints from various quarters that the 1999 constitution that Nigeria is presently operating [under] is not democratic enough and does not represent the views and aspirations of all Nigerians," he said.
Mr. Martins adds it is unclear whether the divisions apparent at the national conference, which is to propose social, economic, and legal changes, will have a serious effect on the overall success or failure of the meeting.
"It is difficult to pass a judgment on the outcome of the conference, especially at this period, that it has not handed over its report or it has not finished its assignment," he said.
None of the conference's recommendations will be legally binding, a fact that caused many, including Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka, to boycott the event.
The conference's final report will be submitted to President Olusegun Obasanjo and then the national assembly, which will decide what, if any, changes to Nigerian laws will be made.