Confab: Jonathan Gave Me the Mandate to Draft a New Constitution – Kutigi
Amidst the controversy that greeted the distribution of a draft constitution to delegates of the ongoing National Conference taking place in Abuja, the chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, has revealed that he was mandated by President Goodluck Jonathan to draft a new constitution for the country.
The Chairman who was absent at the plenary of the conference where the draft constitution document was distributed to members disclosed this to a select committee of delegates at a closed door meeting yesterday.
The meeting which has leaders of the six geo-political zones in attendance was held to discuss the controversy over the new constitution which Northern delegates said overstepped the conference’s mandate and also smacked of a third term agenda for certain elected public officers.
On Tuesday, the Northern Delegates Forum expressed surprise that the conference secretariat drafted the document even after Kutigi himself had said in June that this was not part of the conference’s mandate.
According to Daily Trust, three of the delegates that attended the meeting confirmed that Kutigi categorically told participants that he had the president’s mandate to come up with a new constitution from the confab.
A delegate who spoke to our reporter said the conference chairman was very angry throughout the meeting when delegates insisted the National Conference had no such authority.
“He was livid with anger when we told him that the conference comprising of unelected members has no authority to draft a new constitution,” the delegate said.
Kutigi angrily replied: “I have the president’s mandate to draft a new constitution!”
Delegates drew the attention of the chairman that President Jonathan’s speech at the confab inauguration did not mention drafting a new constitution; that none of the 20 committees recommended doing that; and that the plenary never approved drafting a new constitution.
But Kutigi again fired back, saying: “Have you seen the letter written to me by the president?”
The conference chairman also told the delegates that he would not be intimidated because he has President Jonathan’s backing.
The controversial document drafted by the secretariat is titled “Draft Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 2014”.
Northern delegates said on Tuesday the document was a plot to leverage on a court ruling in 2003 that said governors who had served during the aborted third republic were eligible to seek another term in 2003 elections since they were serving under a different constitution.
“Adopting a new constitution is therefore calculated to enable incumbent elective office holders who are statured barred from going for third term at both federal and state levels, to run for offices again under the guise of running under a new constitution,” the Northern Delegates Forum had said in a text read by co-chairman Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie.
During yesterday’s meeting with the chairman, they insisted on having nothing to do with the new constitution.
But Kutigi told them that their position would not change anything because Northern delegates are in the minority.
“He said the Northern delegates’ position can’t change anything because they are in the minority. He said if they like they could walk out and boycott the conference,” one delegate who attended the meeting said.
Another delegate said the Northern delegates told Kutigi that they will only participate in considering Volumes 1 and 2 of the main conference report but not the new constitution.
“We were shocked yesterday by Kutigi’s statements that he has Jonathan’s mandate to draft a new constitution,” a delegate said.
“You can recall that Kutigi denied any plan of drafting a new constitution at the plenary in June when a newspaper reported that his deputy Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi was lobbying Northern delegates to accept a new constitution.”
When the issue of drafting a new constitution first came up during plenary in June, Kutigi had said: “We know nothing about the paper in circulation. We know nothing of the consideration of any committee, we formed no committee apart from the standing committee we set up …We are not aware of that…We have nothing to do with it. That matter should be closed!”
During yesterday’s plenary session, Kutigi explained that the secretariat had “produced the final report with all humility and honesty. Any mistake must be as result of human error.”
He said the plenary would reconvene today to enable delegates study the reports and make corrections and amendments in writing which are to be submitted to the secretariat.
The Northern delegates convened a meeting last night to decide the next line of action, and it was still going on by 10pm.
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