By Innocent Anaba
Senior members of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA are backing the call by the body for a referendum prior to the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
Speaking in separate interviews, senior members of the bar said, the people must be fully involved in the process, affirming that a genuine statute book can only be produced through a referendum.
Messrs Solomon Asemota, SAN; Niyi Akintola,SAN, and a university don, Professor Mike Ikhariale spoke on the issue.
Akintola in his view said: “Those who are opposed to our position should take time to understand the position of the NBA.
The NBA has been in the vanguard of the amendment of the constitution and that is why in 2010, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives threw a challenge to us and the NBA went for 10 days retreat in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, at our own expense and came with a model constitution for the country.
“There, we touched on every problem besetting this country and in order to ensure broad participation, we wrote a covering letter in which we asked the then National Assembly leadership to invite other stakeholders and Nigerians through a referendum. We made provision for State Police for the States that desire it, like Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Court of Appeal. We made provision for the Judiciary, Constitutional Court to handle political cases, corruption cases, an Independent Prosecutor who is not subject to the manipulation of the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice but subject only to the National Assembly for control.
“We recommended the office of an Independent Prosecutor because if you, an ordinary Nigerian citizen, have a case against a Minister, you get an Independent Prosecutor who is not subject to civil service bureaucracy and manipulation.
“We recognised the infighting in the Judiciary and made provision for that in the same constitution. After we submitted the draft NBA Constitution, the National Assembly complained that they did not have the required skills and manpower to put it in draft form, that we should help them.
We advised them again to get input from other stakeholders and Nigerians through a referendum.
“They are saying that referendum it is not in the Constitution. When referendum was done in South Africa, was it contained in their Constitution?
In his view, Asemota described the 1999 Constitution as “a false document,” saying a genuine statute book can only be produced through a referendum.
He said: “A man whose signature was forged cannot say ‘I will adopt it and amend it.’ Therefore when you say: ‘We, the people of Nigeria give ourselves a constitution,’ when it is not true, you cannot change it by saying whereas, whereas we want this and so on, as is currently done.
“So, in the current effort, we need to consult the people and the correct thing is to have a Constituent Assembly to prepare a draft. The National Assembly has the right to prepare a law to enable the President constitute a Constituent Assembly to draft a constitution which they will pass into a law after a referendum.
“The truth of the matter is that the amount of consultation which they say that they want to do in one day makes it a charade, because you cannot have almost everybody to all come together just for one day.
“So, it is left for the Bar Association and in fact for all lawyers to make sure that we get the peoples input through a referendum. This is very important. The National Assembly should not create more problems for Nigerians; they should not throw Nigerians into further difficulties.”
On his part, Ikhariale said it was proper for the National Assembly to collate the views of the people in amending the Constitution.
He noted that the argument that the Constitution did not provide for a referendum is not tenable and is not enough reason to deny the masses participation in the amendment of a fundamental document that will regulate their lives and conduct.
“The Constitution will only provide you broad framework, it is left for the National Assembly to work out the minute details. Where is it contained in the Constitution that the National Assembly shall engage the services of experts in the process of constitution amendment? Yet experts are used.
“The views of the people must be expressed, collated and respected, that is the only time you can say: ‘We, the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’ Anything outside this will not meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people.”