BY HENRY UMORU, JOSEPH ERUNKE & LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
THE Andrews Otutu Obaseki hall, venue of plenary sessions of the on-going National Conference was, yesterday, thrown into a stormy one as there was a sharp split between northern and southern delegates over plans to force a new constitution through the back door.
Fingered in the planned new document was the Deputy Chairman of the Conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, who was accused of lobbying delegates especially northerners that they should key into the new document.
The unfolding drama started soon after the votes and proceedings of the previous sittings were adopted when a delegate on the platform of Nigeria Guild of Editors, NGE, Ishaq Modibbo Kawu raised a point of Order under national importance, alleging that Prof. Akinyemi was lobbying the Northern delegates to smuggle in a demand for a new Constitution.
He also drew the attention of delegates to a publication in a national newspaper, alleging that the Conference was working towards adopting a geo-political arrangement in the country just as he challenged the leadership to clear its name.
Kawu said, “Yesterday and today, there were reports in the newspaper which attacked the integrity of the leadership of this conference. On the first page of a national newspaper today for instance, there is a report that the deputy chairman of this conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi has been lobbying delegates from the north to be able to smuggle in a new constitution to this conference.
This is the allegation. I think the leadership of this conference should make a statement about this. We have not come here to write a new constitution. So, there is no basis to begin to lobby any delegation to be able to pass a constitution. I think this should be brought out frontally. Similarly yesterday, accepting a document which carried the logo of this document which was also published on the front page of a national newspaper over the weekend, which says there has been an agreement by the so called geopolitical zones meeting.
We have not come here to also smuggle in an alleged document on the basis of certain geopolitical zones. So, this conference shouldn’t be part of any hidden agenda. If there is any issue that has to be tabled, it should be tabled frontally here. We will confront it and I think the leadership has to respond to it.”
A delegate on the platform of Elder statesmen category, Mike Ahamba, SAN, who defended Akinyemi however disagreed with Kawu on the need for the Deputy Chairman to address the conference because of what he termed, unsubstantiated report in the newspaper, and moved the first motion that Akinyemi should not reply.
Ahamba said “We must always try to act in accordance with what we know. When we started this conference, it was obvious that from outside, a lot of made a statement in some of this newspaper that this conference will come to nothing. They believe that the conference will breakdown in either one or two weeks. They are now disappointed . What they will now do is to try and bring some distrust amongst the membership and the management as a one way of making sure that nothing comes out of this conference. We have a duty to disappoint them.
“There is no body here who is a small boy, even the youths here are no longer young persons. They are old persons. And in law and procedure, how can any body lobby something that has not even come up for discussion? We have committee reports and we are debating them. We are deciding on certain things before anybody can be said to be lobbying to get the document, there would been a decision on those issues here. When somebody begins to write things that have no basis and begins to talk about sources without mentioning names; I think this assembly is too serious an assembly to be distracted by such statements.”
In his counter motion, former Senate President, Ken Nnamani said, “Mr. Chairman, I have a counter motion. Whereas God gave us two ears to hear the two sides of a story, I am moving that the vice chairman be given the chance to clear his name. I so move, sir.”
In his contribution, a delegate representing the South South geo- political zone, Chief Sergeant Awuse said, “We established what I will call a working kind of arrangement where we no longer depend on the publication of newspapers as a basis of running this place.
Mr. Chairman, if the conference will remember when I raised a motion here based on national interest, I was told that the newspaper quoting cannot be depended upon. I think if we continue to go back and depend on what people write about us including the fact that we were given 4 million Naira every month, everyday or whatever, we will be dragging this conference backwards.
In my opinion, we have almost come to the end of this very sitting and enemies will want to find a way to make sure we don’t end well. But we should do something to disappoint them and the only way to disappoint them is to ignore what we know are not correct.”
This allegation triggered heated debate and a delegate from Kano state, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu, saying the chairman of DAAR Communications, Chief Raymond Dokpesi, a delegate on the platform of Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria was in league with those that were planning to cook up a new constitution at the conference.
Also contributing, a delegate representing Borno State, Haruna Yerima who insisted that Akinyemi must clear his amidst shouts of no, no, continued saying, “This story has been published by DailyTrust and we really need to act on it.
For us to say that we will dismiss this kind of publications, that is not going to be good for us even Governments and nations have been run by reacting to newspaper publications. So, a conference like this cannot say it can not act on newspaper publications. The issue is this, the vice chairman is here. His name has been called, printed by DailyTrust. The onus now lies on the vice chairman to deny or accept it. This is a moral obligation.
“Let me personally call on the vice chairman, this is your moral obligation, sir. Do not listen to these voices, You either clear your name here and now for each and everybody to know even if it is lobbying that you have been calling delegates. Don’t forget that you once said that you have always been judged wrongly even while you were conducting the affairs of this conference.
Therefore, morality demands that you take it upon yourself to clear these issues. You are a man of integrity. Everybody knows you. This is an opportunity for you to clear your name, Vice chairman. I am advising you as a friend, patriotic and true Nigerian.”
As he could no longer bear a rowdy session, Akinyemi in his defence said whatever he did was in full consultation with the leaders of the various delegations at the conference, adding, “Distinguished, this is a very simple matter for me to address. Since the beginning of this conference, whenever I have seen from the floor that there are conflicts, I have taken the initiatives in always approaching both sides to ask them to get across to each other rather than use the floor to have a conflict.
“Now, there are also people who say they are not here to write a new constitution. There are people who have also said, they are interested in writing a new constitution. We have an issue coming up which is a discussion on modalities for implementing the decisions of the conference.
So, I approached those who said they were here to write a new constitution and I asked what exactly do you mean by writing a new constitution. They explained. Then I approached Alhaji Coomasie as the head of the northern delegation. I also approached Professor Ibrahim Gambari that I wanted to speak to him. Alhaji Coomasie said the time was not convenient, but he said he will send a delegation to speak to me.
I had on different occasion raised this issue with professor Yadudu and I said to them , from talking to the people who are talking about a new constitution, I said to the northern delegation, these people move for amendment which we have approved and they said in view of the fact that they have moved these new amendments to the 1999 constitution, we now have a new constitution.
“I said, is that a big issue for us to have a big conflict over? Senator Ayu left the delegation and explained to me their objection to calling it a new constitution. That was the beginning and end of this discussion that has now been called lobbying. All I did was to ensure that both sides start talking to each other before we have a big conflict on the floor new or old constitution. That is all.”
Giving his own side of the story, former Inspector General of Police, IGP Ibrahim Coomasie said, “If you have read today Daily Trust, you will see that my name has been mentioned as the leader of the Northern delegate as well as the chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum on this so called constitution. Deputy chairman when he spoke substantially said what happened.
Last Monday, I was siting here when he sent a note to me. Can we meet on the constitution at 6pm today, you can come with a few people to back you up. I always fast on Mondays and Thursdays. So, I sent a note back to him that sure, why note? But I have a problem. Today is Monday and I am fasting and by 6 O’clock, we will be approaching breaking fasting period.
“These were exactly the words I wrote. Any other suggestion, I didn’t hear anything. I discussed with him and a few colleagues here and I decided let me ask some of them to go and represent me. We decided to send former President of the Senate, Iyorchia Ayu to lead about four of them. And they went. Before then, I sent him another note that I have not heard any response from you inspite of the fact that I raised a team to see you. When we closed from here, I was going out when he called my attention at the lobby and he started explaining to me what he has just explained to you that if we agree on certain issues, use a referendum to OK it and then we will have a new constitution. I said wait until the team comes, you discuss with them.
“But in addition to that Chief Raymond Dokpesi, owner of AIT, since the beginning of this conference has been organizing meetings between the northern and southern delegates. I have always been invited, but I have never attended one. Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari tried to get me over but I started asking him questions: what are the terms of reference? Why are we having this meeting? Right from the beginning I didn’t go.”
But stating his side of the story, Chief Raymond Dokpesi said, “Mr. Chairman, it is absolutely true that Professor Gambari and I convened the National consensus bridge building group. The group has as its objective closing areas that are potentially difficult for the conference to handle without prior consultation.
Membership was extended to as many delegates as were possible and groups and we have been meeting regularly.
“Secondly, I want to state that from the various meetings that we were having, it was very glaring that were going to have problems or challenges with the last group of committee reports and it therefore became imperative to build some sort of consensus. Like Alhaji Coomassoe said, the leaders from the south south, we had Chief Edwin Clark; from the south east, we had Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, from the south west, we had Chief Olu Falae, from North central joint chairmen, we had Alhaji Coomassie and Professor Jerry Gana and this group nominated 3 delegates from each of the geopolitical zones making 18 persons and I was supposed to have been the 19th to serve as the convener: unanimous decision of the leaders.
“And we convened the first meeting. We discussed the issue, national security report and the major issue was state police and we tried to harmonize and agree on the need for state police: what are you fears? And we arrived at the conclusion that in a federal system, it was necessary to have multi-tier levels of policing. At that very particular meeting, it was also agreed we discuss the issues that very committee report which was at that point when that document was prepared politics and government, electoral matters, the issue of restructuring, devolution. About 5 reports were contained in there and any person that is honest will discover that all the reports, recommendations of the committees are embedded in that report.”
Speaking before Dokpesi, Senator Ibrahim Idah, a delegate on the platform of Elder statesmen category had said, “Mr. Chairman, there are two issues involved here. The first issue relates to the publication of Sunday wherein it is stated that there is a national conference hidden agenda and reference is made to a document of 102 pages. Now, this is the document. It is there. Mr. Chairman, there is this document that alleges that following the decisions made in the respective reports that an agreement has been prepared to the agreement by the respective zones, now, inside, contrary to the assertion that the agreement contains the resolutions of respective committees, what is contained here Mr. Chairman are things that have either been rejected as respective committee levels or deliberately being introduced here including the mentioning of states to be created. No committee has come here. I have them.
“The publication states clearly that it is that agreement that is being promoted as a hidden agenda of the conference. When mr. President was inaugurating, he made it very clearly that the conference should come up with recommendation that will see to the betterment of Nigeria but any body that is now propagating a document and letting it to be an agreement arising from agreement of the committee is deliberately trying to truncate this conference.
“So, it behoves the leadership to come out very clearly, use the opportunity that will have here and disown this document. Mr. Chairman, what makes it very interesting is that it is even carrying the logo of the conference. Now, the allegation is that people are being lobbied with money and other considerations. It is now an opportunity for the leadership to come here before the world and this conference to disown this document.
In his ruling Justice Idris Kutigi appealed to delegates not to drag the leadership of the conference into the alleged plot to smuggle any document of constitution into the conference, adding, ”It is now clear, that the leadership of this Conference is not aware of the report. We know nothing about the technical committee. If you want to do anything for yourself, you are free but don’t bring us into it.”