Plot to Draft a New Constitution at the National Conference Resurfaces
By Daily Trust
The plot to make the National Conference write a new constitution for Nigeria has resurfaced ahead of today’s resumption of plenary for delegates to approve the final report of the conference, Daily Trust can reveal.
A delegate who read the draft report, which is to be circulated today, said the secretariat of the conference has inserted a provision for delegates to either draft a new constitution or to submit their recommendations to the National Assembly.
The secretariat, which was mandated to compile approved committee recommendations and prepare a draft report, allegedly went beyond its brief to make provision for a national referendum on a new constitution that may be drafted.
The idea of drafting a new constitution by the National Conference was first exclusively reported by Daily Trust on June 30, when it reported that deputy chairman Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi was at the time trying to convince Northern delegates to accept the plan.
But after a heated debate at plenary session over the issue, it was agreed that no new constitution was to be drafted by the National Conference. Delegates had argued that the confab had no such powers and this was not part of their brief.
Yesterday, one of the delegates, Prof Awwalu Yadudu, said he found out that the secretariat resurrected the idea of writing a new constitution as well as conducting a referendum on it, contrary to conference decisions.
In an open letter addressed to delegates, Yadudu said “the draft report in chapter 7 recognises and acknowledges that conference has not come to a decision on what modalities to adopt for the implementation of its various resolutions.”
But despite this, he added, the conference secretariat “proposes to members either to consider the various resolutions as amendments to the 1999 Constitution or treat it as a ‘new Constitution.’
“If Conference agrees with the former case, the draft concedes to follow the amendment process via the National Assembly. However, if Conference considers the proposals to amount to a new constitution, the draft posits that there is a necessity for a referendum to adopt it.”
Yadudu said also that in an “attempt to force that idea down members’ throat the draft report canvasses that we should follow the examples of countries such as Egypt, South Africa etc while it brazenly ignores the legal and constitutional impediments.”
Yadudu, who served as the deputy chairman of Conference Committee on Law, Judiciary, Human Rights and Law Reform, said the proposal to write a new constitution was an overreach by the secretariat.
“(The) Confab, whether at plenary or committee stages of its work, never tasked any members to propose a ‘draft constitution’ which may be considered for adoption by ‘referendum’ or in total disregard of the existing constitutional or legal order,” he said in his open letter.
Yadudu questioned how the secretariat came up with the scenario of ‘a new constitution’ when this was not part of the task they were given.
“For instance, who are the authors of such a document, if it exists, and by whose mandate have they worked on it in secrecy and not in the normal open and transparent discussions and debate by members of the Confab,” he said.
The National Conference is due to reconvene in plenary today after weeks on recess, for delegates to go through and adopt the final report of the four-month-old conference.
The idea of making the conference come up with a new constitution is believed to be championed by agents of the Presidency.
Already there is a proposal in the Senate to empower President Goodluck Jonathan to come up with a new national constitution that he could submit to the National Assembly for approval.
The plan is to give President Jonathan the powers to introduce a constitution that may be drafted by the National Conference, sources in the Senate had told Daily Trust.
The National Conference comprises mostly appointees of the president, the Federal Government and state governors.
Daily Trust had reported earlier in the year that among key provisions the Presidency would want in the new constitution are abolishing of the 774 local government areas as the third tier of government; stoppage of Federal allocation to the local governments; creation of an additional state for the South-East; setting aside 50 per cent of oil revenues for the Niger Delta; and provision of six-year single term for the president.
The first three of these proposals have already found themselves through the National Conference, as they were approved at both committee and plenary levels. But the other two have been rejected.
The National Conference principal officers are Justice Idris Kutigi (chairman), Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi (deputy chairman), Mrs Valarie-Janette Azinge (secretary), Dr Akilu Sani Indabawa (assistant secretary, conference proceedings), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu (assistant secretary, administration and finance) and Akpandem James (assistant secretary, media and communications). They are the officers expected to sign the final report of the conference.
Apkandem, who is the spokesman for the conference secretariat, could not be reached for comments yesterday. Calls to his line failed to go through, and he did not reply to a text message sent to him.
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