Chief Mike Ozekhome is a Constitutional Lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He is equally a federal government delegate at the on going national conference in Abuja.
In this exclusive phone interview with Vanguard, he explans the hassles raised by the conference last week and submits that the three months timed conference would amount to waste of time if the outcome would not be subjected to referendum or a popular plebiscite. Excerpts:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
WHat are your expectations this week from the National Conference following issues of religion and others that cropped up last week?
Let me first correct the erroneous impression that issues of religion have cropped up. No issues of religion have actually cropped up.
What happened was that on the very first day of the conference, the secretary to the conference, Dr. Azinge was simply giving guidelines as to what we were to expect, the facilities available, those things that we could use like the gym, walk ways, conference rooms, restaurants and all that. So, it was during that first day that some people who are Muslims now asked if there could be space for them to observe their five times a day prayer.
And the secretary said yes, they were trying to liaise with the authorities of the National Judicial Institute (NJI) to secure a space for their prayers. I then got up to also make a humble request. I told the confab chairman that some of us are Christians and that this is Lenten period particularly for those who are Catholics. We are all fasting.
Success of the
Could the secretariat be kind enough to find a space where Christians could congregate and fellowship as they break fast in the night to pray for themselves, success of the conference and for the nation? It was such an innocuous question and the doctor, (Dr. Azinge) said, unfortunately, because of lack of space, there would be no such opportunity for Christians and that we Christians could pray in the comfort of our homes and we all said OK. And that was it. It ended it. Nobody dragged the issue beyond that.
The most rancorous and controversial issue so far has been what ratio is required to pass any resolution of the conference. And I want to plead with Nigerians to be patient with the conference because in building a house, you need to lay a very solid foundation.
So, the issue of what ratio required to vote came up. Under Order 6 Rule 4 and also Order 11 Rule 1 and 2, there is a provision in the draft rules that to pass a resolution, delegates have to have a consensus. In the absence of the consensus, they should muster three quarter of the delegates to vote.
That means 75 percent. In my own contribution, I felt that was not going to be possible or realizable having regard to democratic best practice across the world. Globally, it is two third majority that votes on any critical matter.
Even to impeach the president of Nigeria or a Governor of a state, you need two third majority vote. But when you are requiring three quarter votes, 75 percent of 492 delegates, you are asking for 369 delegates to vote for an issue. I said not only was this unrealizable, you are also going to see a situation where a tyrannical minority will carry the day.
So, I admonished fellow members that a lot of issues are going to come up that are highly inflammable, highly controversial and very emotive. I think such issues are fiscal federalism, resource control and the state police we have at the centre now.
Another controversy that is now brewing from the conference is on whether the outcome will be subjected to referendum. As a lawyer, what is your take?
As a constitutional lawyer, I will say straight away that the entire deliberations and agreements of that confab will have to be taken to the people of Nigeria for a referendum or a popular plebiscite.
Anything short of that will not work. In 2005, I was at the National Political Reform Conference. The beautiful recommendations we arrived at were taken to the National Assembly and they were put in the shelves of the National Assembly and they never saw the light of day.
In 2009, I was a member of Vision 2020. The beautiful recommendations have not seen the light of the day. The problem with Nigeria, constitutionally speaking, has been a problem of legitimacy or illegitimacy of the constitution. We have not had a constitution in Nigeria that we can call the peoples constitution made by the people of Nigeria and given to the people of Nigeria.
This is the first opportunity therefore, for us to make a constitution.The grund norm of Nigeria which will be subjected to a popular plebiscite or referendum of the people of Nigeria so that we can enjoy what we call autochinomy, being home grown; enjoy legitimacy, acceptability, respectability and believability and the credibility of the people of Nigeria.
Anything short of that we would have at the conference for three months wasting time. The reason is that the process by which a constitution comes into being is deemed more important than the contents of the constitution itself.
Under Section 9 of the present constitution, the National Assembly is only permitted to amend the provisions of the existing constitution.
There is no where in the whole constitution where the National Assembly is given power to make a brand new constitution. Indeed, no National Assembly anywhere in the world makes a constitution. It is the constitution that makes a National Assembly.