BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, TONY EDIKE, EMMAN OVUAKPORIE, HENRY UMORU, GBENGA OKE, LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU, JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU & JOSEPH ERUNKE
LAGOS—FEDERAL lawmakers, yesterday, gave reasons the report of the proposed national conference must pass through them to become law.
They spoke as mixed views heralded President Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration that the outcome of the conference would be forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration.
While some opinion leaders and members of the National Assembly saw the comments as necessary and in tandem with legal requirements for the dialogue, others felt that the move would defeat the aim of the dialogue and amount to waste of scarce and direly needed resources.
Some legislators also said the conference amounts to re-inventing the wheel because it was not different from the constitution amendment exercise they have embarked upon.
This came as the Presidency is set to announce the name of an eminent citizen from the South-East as a replacement for Professor Ben Nwabueze, SAN, in the Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference/Dialogue headed by Senator Femi Okurounmu.
Nwabueze declined his nomination on account of ill-health and suggested Chief Solomon Asemota, SAN, a member of The Patriots, as his replacement. The Presidency quietly rejected Nwabueze’s nominee and opted for an erudite scholar, who has served in various government panels in the past to step in and boost the work of the PAC.
Presidency sources told Vanguard, yesterday, that the favoured nominee has been given his letter of nomination and the announcement is expected after the Eid-el-Kabir holiday.
President in tune with Senate’s position—Abaribe
Indeed, the Senate said that President Jonathan’s statement was in tune with the Senate position that the National Assembly is the custodian of Nigerians’ sovereignty.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media, Enyinnaya Abaribe, in a statement in Abuja, yesterday, said that President Jonathan stated the obvious, when he said the National Assembly would decide the final outcome of the National Conference.
He said,“For the President to declare that the final outcome of the proposed national conference would be subjected to National Assembly’s ratification is in recognition of the fact that there cannot be two sovereigns at the same time.”
Abaribe said the Senate was consistent with the fact that it welcomed national dialogue of any kind, but that in doing that provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended must be taken into cognizance.
He noted, “the Senate welcomes the President’s pronouncement and, however, assures that the wishes of majority of Nigerians would always determine the constitutional review process, which is ongoing. The Senate still believes that whatever will be done to uphold the unity of Nigeria will always be welcomed.”
Reports of Confab’ll be subjected to public hearing —Ndoma-Egba
Senate Leader, Chief Victor Ndoma-Egba, SAN, told Vanguard that what the president said was the logical thing to do. He said, “That is the logical thing to do because some recommendations might require legal backing. Some might require constitutional amendment. That is the logical thing to do.”
Told that the resolutions might be what the generality of Nigerians want, he said, “until we know how those that will be participating in the constitutional conference will be elected, will they be more representative than the National Assembly? It is only the National Assembly that can make laws and they were elected by the people so the power to make laws has not been transferred to the conference by any stretch of the imagination. So, at the end of the day, it is how the National Assembly views it.
“Remember that the process also in the National Assembly will require public hearing. We usually subject our processes to public hearing. People can make inputs which could be reflected in the constitution, the essence of the conference in my view is for people to dialogue more than just making recommendations.”
Presidency’ll send it to NASS as Executive Bill — Ita Enang
On his own part, Chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Ita Enag said, it was a good development and attributed the failures of similar exercises in the past to inabilities of their handlers to bring them before the National Assembly for consideration.
Enang added that what was expected of the Presidency, regarding the input of the National Assembly, was for it to forward the various areas arrived at, in form of bills as well as the White Paper of the conference to the National Assembly.
His words: “It is a good thing for the President to have said that the result of the National Conference will be sent to the National Assembly to assist in the on-going constitution amendment. What they are expected in this regard is that at the end of the day, they will present the White Paper of the National Conference and the various areas arrived at, in form of bills to the National Assembly for consideration.
“Why other ones in the past did not see the light of the day was because they were not presented to the National Assembly, not even in form of bills. So, for the President to have said this, I think he needs to be commended and I will use this opportunity to call on all Nigerians to support him towards achieving this and not to oppose him.”
Members of the House of Representatives that spoke on the issue, said it is a legal requirement for both legislative houses to approve the outcome of the dialogue and that it was not negotiable. Some, however, argued that the constitutionality of such a conference under normal circumstances should rest squarely on shoulders of the National Assembly.
Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, APC, Surulere Federal Constituency, Lagos; said, “Ratification by National Assembly makes it no different from the constitutional amendment exercise we just went through. It removes the sovereignty from the whole conference. If National Assembly does not ratify, then what? That is the downside of it.”
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Rep. Toby Okechukwu, PDP, Aninri/Oji Federal Constituency, Enugu; argued, “it is clear that it is our responsibility to make laws for the country, so it becomes mandatory for us to ratify it.”
National Assembly, another national conference—Jagaba
Rep. Jagaba Adams Jagaba, Chairman, House Committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes said, “The National Assembly itself is a national conference. Can we do another national conference that has no constitutional provision substituting it with a legal national conference? To me, in the first place, something is wrong with it. Anything outside the National Assembly is not known to the constitution. I cannot say that the proposed national conference by the President is illegal, all I am saying is that there is no constitutional provision for it.
“The only constitutional provision is that people should have representatives in the National Assembly, States Assembly and the Local Government Councils. Now, the President has said he will commit the outcome to the National Assembly, it’s good that he remembered the National Assembly has a role to play. But now, until we get to the river, we cannot determine how to cross it.”
Chairman House Committee on Anti-Corruption and Ethics, Rep. Abiodun Faleke, APC, Ikeja Federal Constituency, Lagos; told Vanguard, “I can’t comment on the outcome that I’ve not seen because I will like to know the direction and to ascertain whether they were guided or unguided before I can comment. “
Critics can’t decide for the President—Abia
To Hon. Dan Abia, PDP, Akwa Ibom; the President has power to convene the confab. He noted, “To say that President lacks power to convoke national conference is ignorance. For me, that is a very sound statement. It is founded on law, very constitutionally proper. After the deliberations at that level, it’s only but a wish. It cannot be made into law, except of course, it passes through due process, that is the constitutional process. For those issues that will require constitutional amendment, there is a procedure for amending a constitution. Whatever decision taken, there is need to enshrine them into the law.
“The people stirring controversy with this can never decide for the president. I am a constitutional lawyer for over 25 years in active practice. There is nothing on earth that prevents a group of people from carrying out a dialogue to say this is how we are going to move forward. There is nothing illegal about any such setting. The only problem is that you cannot call it a sovereign national conference. But to say that a national conference cannot hold, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The issue now is, what will be the constitutional value of the report of such conference? It amounts to almost nothing except of course the National Assembly adopts it and knits it into law. That is one way.
The second way is: if we all agree that they should be one, then we now give them sovereignty by amending our laws to say the outcome of that conference will automatically become part of our laws which is very, very dicey because under that circumstances, we don’t have any power on checks. If the people will sit down and talk. It is legitimate. “
No alternative to NASS ratification – Ciroma
Former Minister of Finance and elder statesman, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, threw his weight behind President Jonathan’s move to get the federal lawmakers ratify the outcome of the confab as couched in a text message to Vanguard. Mallam Ciroma simply texted: “No alternative.”
Also reacting, the Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje-led new Peoples Democratic Party, nPDP described the action of the President as a wise decision. A text message to Vanguard by the nPDP national Publicity Secretary, Eze Chukwuemeka Eze read: “I think it was a wise decision considering that NASS is the only elected body that can ensure implementation of the recommendations of the confab through consitution amendments.”
Money wasting venture – Masari
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Bello Masari, in his submission said the Jonathan-led administration has just engaged itself in another money wasting process. He said, “Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo did something like this, he called a conference and the report was sent to the National Assembly, the report never saw the light of the day. This government has been taking diversionary tactics and trying to create a situation leaving the real issues that concerns the performance of government.
“I can tell you that this national conference report will not see the light of the day because presently, the National Assembly members are so busy preparing for their elections. Looking at any report coming from the national conference is out of it. I feel this government has just embarked on another money wasting conference that will not achieve anything.”
Pessimism too early – Adebanjo
However, Chief Ayo Adebanjo said it was too early for anyone to be pessimistic about the national conference. He noted, “We pestered Mr. President and he eventually agreed to the convocation of this conference and we will continue to pester him to ensure the report of the conference is carried out.”
Nigerians must insist on what is right – Osunbor
Also, former governor of Edo State, Senator Oserhiemen Osunbor said, “Nigerians must insist on what is right which is that the National Assembly only has the power in Nigeria to amend the constitution subject to approval by a minimum of 24 states. The National Assembly is not a rubber stamp and is not obliged to accept any recommendation. However, it must give due consideration to views expressed and recommendations reached at the dialogue. It should be ready to do what will promote national unity, equity and development “
Confab is dead on arrival – CNPP
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, yesterday, submitted that “the Jonathan conference is dead on arrival” stressing that whatever decision reached at the conference would not give the nation the much desired solution to her numerous problems. It said that any conference that was not sovereign in nature with its outcome subjected to a national referendum would amount to a sheer waste of resources and would be regarded as diversionary.
The group which made this known in a statement signed by its National Publicity secretary, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, yesterday, said, “Whereas we support national dialogue; however, it is our candid opinion that any national conference that is not sovereign, where the outcome of the conference is subjected to a national referendum at this point in time is a sheer waste of resources, time and hence diversionary.”
Recalling its earlier warning that President Jonathan might not muster the political will to set the ball rolling for a Sovereign National Conference, the group noted that it had been vindicated by the president’s statement that the outcome of the dialogue would be handed over to the National Assembly.
The statement said, “CNPP recalls that since our return to democracy in 1999, the National Assembly at various times had embarked on the process of amendment of the 1999 Constitution and at no time was any of the fundamental issues amended. We stand to be corrected, so as to reassure Nigerians that handing over the outcome of the present national conference report to the National Assembly instead of convening a Sovereign National Conference will pass to our children a far better country than we now have.
“In other words the present National and State Assemblies lack the political will to insert in a new constitution critical issues like devolution of powers to the regions, unicameral legislature under a parliamentary system, truly independent INEC, EFCC, ICPC, creation of additional state for the South East, and fiscal federalism among other issues.”