Southern, Northern Confab Delegates Apart Torn Apart Over Secret Draft Constitution
Proceedings at the National Conference started on Monday with lengthy arguments over a newspaper publication alleging that the leadership of the Conference was involved in premature preparation of a report that would be adopted as representing the position of the conference.
As soon as the matter came up on the floor through a motion by Ish’aq Moddibo Kawo, arguments started as delegates were divided on whether the Conference Deputy Chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, who was mentioned in another allegation involving the writing of a new constitution, should respond to it or not.
Chief Mike Ahamba, SAN, and others were of the view that the publication should be dismissed as it was meant to distract the Conference from is set goals. Chief Ahamba claimed that those who are disappointed by the progress the conference has made so far are bent on scuttling it, but admonished that it should be resisted and not allowed to succeed.
Those who shared that position also challenged those behind the publication and who claimed to have been lobbied by the Deputy Chairman to step forward and justify their claims with evidence; failing, the Daily Trust newspaper that published the stories should be asked to apologise to the Conference.
However, former President of the Senate, Dr Ken Nnamani, raised a counter motion demanding that Akinyemi be allowed to explain himself since he was present at the sitting.
The same position was canvassed by Dr. Haruna Yerima who argued that the allegation should not be dismissed because “morality demands that the Deputy Chairman clears his name.”
The Deputy Chairman, in a brief comment, denied ever lobbying anybody to adopt a new constitution which the publication alleged he was spearheading.
He explained that a few days ago, as was customary when they are contentious issues that have the potential of threatening the smooth progression of the Conference, he had approached political leaders at the Conference from both the north and the south separately, to discuss their differences regarding the issue of whether or not there was need for a new Constitution arising from the proceedings of the Conference.
He said it was normal for him or any member of the leadership to seek such diverse opinions from delegates across geo-political lines towards resolving any contentious issue that usually arise from the Conference before such issues are eventually put up for division at plenary.
Akinyemi, a former Foreign Affairs Minister, went ahead to mention names of people he met to discuss the issue and stated without any ambiguity that the issue of lobbying for adoption of a new constitution for the Conference was absolutely false as he only set out to ensure harmony between two opposing groups.
Shortly after, the former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie, who was also mentioned in the story, confirmed he was invited to the meeting by Akinyemi but could not attend although he raised a team of northern delegates to meet with the Deputy Chairman to discuss the issues involved.
He explained that when he observed some moves which tended not to be in line with his initial conception of the meeting, he became weary and decided to pull out. He said “by last Tuesday, I was told a new constitution has been written. ”He went ahead to mention Chief Raymond Dokpesi as the person who had also invited him to a meeting and who later gave him a document which allegedly was published on the claims of representing the position of the Conference.
Chief Dokpesi who spoke next absolved the leadership of the Conference from involvement in the meeting he convened and the issuance of what he called a Working Document produced by the group which comprised delegates from the existing geo-political zones.
He said he and Professor Ibrahim Gambari had convened a meeting under the auspices of National Consensus Bridge-Building Group to discuss and close areas of differences regarding some critical areas of agreement and disagreement at the Conference.
Chief Dokpesi mentioned the controversy surrounding the creation of State Police which was resolved last week without any dissenting voice as one of such areas discussed and agreed upon.
The delegate noted that membership of the Group which he said he convened as a lobbyist body without the knowledge of the leadership of the Conference cut across all the geo-political groups represented at the Conference.
He said three delegates were nominated by the group from each of the geo-political zones and that part of their agenda was analysis of all the reports submitted by the 20 Committees appointed by the Conference, particularly the recommendations of the committees.
Regarding the publication, Chief Dokpesi said it had nothing to do with the leadership of the Conference and that “there is nothing secret in the document,” declaring that it was a mere working document agreed upon by 15 of the 18 members of the group.
He declared: “I want to affirm irrevocably that the leadership (of the National Conference) has nothing absolutely to do with this Committee. This is a working document and not a final document.”
He however noted that Professor Auwalu Yadudu, a delegate, had approached him last week with a letter declaring that all the northern delegates were withdrawing from the group on the grounds that what the group was doing was sponsored.
Dokpesi told the conference, he did his best in telling Professor Yadudu that the activities of the group had nothing to do with the Conference leadership; and that the group was there to discuss and agree on certain contentious issues.
At the end his explanation, the Conference Chairman and retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, GCON, said from all the explanations offered, it was clear that the leadership of the Conference knew nothing about the document in question.
He said while delegates were free to meet and discuss issues of interest regarding the Conference, “If you want to do anything for yourselves, please do so but don’t include us.” He told delegates that the leadership of the Conference was seeing the document for the first when it was presented to him during the plenary session by Alhaji Coomasie and insisted that the leadership had nothing to do with it contrary to what was speculated in the media.
Meanwhile the Committee on Political Parties and Electoral Matters has recommended that any person convicted of any electoral offence should be disqualified for a period of ten years from the date of conviction; from contesting any election or holding any elective or appointive position either in government or political party.
Such offences mentioned by the Committee include registration offences, campaign finance breaches and breach of political party finance provision.
The committee also recommended that any action challenging the conduct of primaries by a political party shall be filed within fourteen days of the accrual of the cause of action.
These and other recommendations were presented to the plenary of the conference by the co-Chairmen of the Committee, Senator Iyorcha Ayu and Senator Ken Nnamani, on Monday.
The Committee in its recommendation advocated the enforcement of a Code of Conduct for political parties already drawn up by the Inter-Party Advisory Council.
In the course of screening nominees of the President for any INEC position, the committee recommended that the Senate should set aside at least two weeks to allow for public objection if any.
The committee also recommended that for party to enhance party independence and discipline, all members must submit themselves to the principle of party supremacy and that elective members of the party must respect party decisions at all times.
On the conduct of election, the committee recommended that biometric data of all electorates should be captured, stored and used for elections in the country.
In addition, it said INEC should ensure that the latest technology is deployed at all times in the conduct of elections as is the case in other jurisdictions.
The committee also recommended that relevant sections of the Constitution and the Electoral Act be amended to provide for independent candidacy during elections.
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