CONFAB: Referendum, the new constitution question and other options

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By Clifford Ndujihe

TO ensure that the far-reaching recommendations of the just concluded National Conference do not go the way of past conferences, eminent persons have proffered ways to get the 22-volume report implemented.
The recommendations include implementing some of the recommendations as government policy, considering  others in the National Assembly’s ongoing  Constitution amendment, and converting the confab’s proposed amendments on the 1999 Constitution into a brand new Constitution through a referendum.

Confab members

Confab members

The National Conference, on  Thursday, submitted its final report to President Goodluck Jonathan, who vowed to implement the recommendations in consultation with the Council of State and the National Assembly.
Among those who spoke on the way forward are Afenifere  spokesman and a delegate, Mr Yinka Odumakin;  a  former Deputy Senate  President and confab delegate, Senator Ibrahim Mantu; National Chairman of the United Progressive Party UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, and Deputy Secretary General of the Igbo Leaders of Thought, ILT, Evangelist Elliot Uko.

Recommendations
The conference adopted by consensus about 600 resolutions and made a series of recommendations. The recommendations include  creation of 18 additional states, adoption of modified presidential system of government that integrates the parliamentary and presidential systems, part-time bi-cameral legislature at all levels, re-introduction of the old National Anthem, removal of immunity clause for criminal offences, independent candidacy and abrogation of the local government as a tier of government, of State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECs, and of sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to the holy lands.

Sharing of the funds to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government should be:  Federal Government (42.5 per cent), state governments (35 per cent) and local governments (22.5 per cent); in the modified presidential system, the president shall pick the vice president from the legislature and select not more than 18 ministers from the six geo -political zones and not more than 30 per cent of his ministers from outside the legislature; president should reduce cost of governance by pruning the number of political appointees and using staff of ministries where necessary; presidential power should rotate between the North and the South and among the six geo-political zones while the governorship will rotate among the three senatorial districts in a state.

With local governments no longer the third tier of government, the federal and states are now the only tiers of government. States can now create as many local governments as they want. The Joint State/Local Government Account is to be scrapped and  a State RMAFC established  with representatives of LG and a Chairman nominated by the governor. The Constitution should fix the tenure for local government councils at three years.

The conference also recommended that special courts should handle corruption cases in view of  undue prolongation in the trial and prosecution of corruption cases in the regular courts;  retention of land tenure in the Constitution but with an amendment to take care of concerns, particularly compensation in Section 29 (4) of the Act to read “land owners should determine the price and value of their land based on open market value.

We must go to referendum —Uko
Reacting to the recommendations, Uko whose group, ILT, opposed the modalities for convening the confab said the conference did well, saying  if the recommendations were implemented  could change the fortunes of Nigeria.  He suggested that a referendum should be conducted to ratify the decisions.

However, he said by not recommending six regions as the basis of federating, it might be difficult for the country to come of out socio-economic and development doldrums.
His words: “I must confess, all the 20 committees did well. I am impressed that they did a yeoman’s job; they tried to create a better Nigeria. If the report is dutifully implemented it will create a better Nigeria. But the report falls short of our six regions suggestion.  It is the six-regional structure that will save and develop Nigeria. The 36-state structure will not grow Nigeria because the states always run to Abuja for money, which are spent on political office holders; there nothing left to industrialise Nigeria and create jobs. Without industries you cannot create jobs; without jobs the economy cannot grow. The economies of countries like China, India, Malaysia, Singapore, etc, are based on industrialisation and job creation.

“Today, we have 40 million unemployed people. In six to 10 years time, it will be 100 million at the rate we are going. We are moving around in vicious cycle. Only the six-regional structure will create the environment for a healthy rivalry among the regions, which will lead to growth and development. All the same, we hope that the report will be ratified at a referendum because failure to that will be shooting down Nigeria.”

INEC can conduct referendum —Odumakin
Asked how the report could be made to count in the affairs of the country, Odumakin said: “Some of the resolutions are policy issues, which the president can implement but the fundamental ones about the structure of the country require constitutional amendment. Some of us are persuaded that we need a new constitution that will be autochthonous. The conference was split into two: pro-federal delegates and pro-feudal delegates. The pro-federal delegates are those who believe that for this country to move forward, we must have true federalism and run a proper country that grants autonomy to people and gives the right to do things. The pro-feudal people are those who believe that things should continue the way it is, nothing should change.

“Those who drafted the Electoral Act 2010 have more wisdom than those who drafted the 1999 Constitution. In the Electoral Act 2010, Section 2, Powers of INEC, it was stated that INEC can conduct referendum on any subject pursuant to the provisions of the 1999 constitution, any other law or an Act of the National Assembly. So INEC can conduct a referendum based on the decisions we arrived at the conference to have a new constitution.

“So, on fundamental issues, the president should set up the process for referendum. The people should determine whether or not they want state police, new states, local governments to go back to the states, etc. Once the people agree and the new constitution is approved, they can now go to the National Assembly to promulgate the new constitution and repeal the existing constitution. People ascribe a lot of powers to the National Assembly as if they are the ones to give us a new constitution. No! They are lawmakers. It is the people that should determine how they should be constituted.”

No constitutional provision for referendum —Mantu
Also speaking, Mantu said there are two options to give the report the force of law.
“One is for Mr. President to send this draft amendment constitution by way of an executive bill to the National Assembly and the National Assembly will now employ due process of lawmaking and promulgate those areas affected by act of parliament. And those that will be affected by the amendment, they will now go through the due process of amending the constitution. Number two is by way of referendum.  To go by way of referendum, the National Assembly also must provide for that because right now the National Assembly is currently amending the 1999 Constitution. So, what they have to do is to provide for referendum in the 1999 constitution which is not there now.  There is nowhere in the Constitution that provides for a referendum. So, the National Assembly must now provide for a referendum in the on-going constitution amendment so that they will spell out how a referendum will be conducted,” he said.

Okorie suggests two-pronged approach
On his part, Okorie agreed the delegates “achieved some modest successes here and there”, and urged  government to be quick in implementing the report.
On how  the recommendations  should be adopted, he said, “The one that is left for  government to be resolved should be resolved as quickly as possible. I also now expect that  government should present an executive bill to the National Assembly, not to debate the provisions of the recommendations, but to simply approve a referendum, so that there will be a legal backing to the conference and then that referendum will now give the recommendation and the constitution arising from it the legitimacy that it requires to become the people’s constitution.”

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