Soni Daniel, Henry Umoru, Erunke Joseph, Levinus Nwabughiogu
The first major deadlock set in at the national conference, Monday, when the delegates were split over the clause stipulating that all decisions to be reached must be done through consensus or a vote of 75 percent majority.
Tension began to rise when the chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, attempted to overrule, a delegate, Chief Mike Ozekomhe, who had called for the amendment of the provision to make it possible for any decision to be arrived at through two thirds majority, which he said was the same position with the constitution and global best practices.
Ozekomhe had argued that it would be against the interest of natural justice and the nation for major decisions to be decided by only a few persons at the confab, since the meaning of 75 percent was such that even if the delegates had up to 74.99 percent, they could not change anything while a minority of 25 percent of the members could easily win over anything they decide on under the rule of consensus.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria pointed out that if the rule was allowed to stand, it would be impossible for delegates representing local interests to influence the outcome of any issue at the end of the confab, thereby defeating the purpose for which they were nominated by their sponsors.
The Edo-born lawyer argued: “My Lord, I want to point out for your attention and that of the delegates that a lot of very controversial and emotive issues will come up at the conference since many of the delegates here represent local and community interests.
“Under the provision for 75 percent for any dissenting voice to get anything done here, it would be very difficult for anything to be achieved. We should therefore go back to the normal practice of two third majority when it comes to voting on any matter.
“What this means is that for any decision to be taken no fewer than 369 of the 492 delegates must concur before such can be done. This is behemoth and extremely difficult given our situation in this country,” the lawyer argued.
Ozekomhe had hardly landed when Kutigi reminded him that the issue of consensus or 75 percent voting by the dissenting party had already been decided by Presidency and that the matter had been closed.
“We cannot change the rule of voting which had already been decided by the President, who set the tone for this conference; the issue has been closed,” the chairman countered.
But many delegates, among them, Oodua Peoples Congress Chief Ganiyu Adams, Prof Auwalu Yadudu, Dr. Ahmadu Alli and elder statesman, Ayo Adebanjo rose against Kutigi, saying that the rule should be amended to comply with the Nigerian Constitution, which stipulates two third majority for voting on any serious matter before it becomes law.
“Where in the world have you heard of 75 percent voting majority in any matter?” Adebanjo queried.
“We should not isolate Nigeria when it comes to issues of very serious international and national importance like this. We should go with the world and not play into the hands of those who do not want Nigeria to work.
“Mr. Chairman, I plead with you to go back to Mr. President and plead with him that the 75 percent or three quarter majority should be changed to two thirds majority as is the case all over the world. We should not be given any condition that is unattainable,” Chief Adebanjo pleaded.
Adding his voice to the debate, Auwalu Yadudu, a professor of law, noted that the insertion of the clause for 75 percent voting majority was quite strange and at variance with the Nigerian constitution, which stipulates two thirds majority.
Yadudu said, “This is the first time we are hearing of 75 percent voting majority. If the provision of the constitution is ignored, we can as well ignore the directive by the President that the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria should not be discussed at the conference.
However former Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United States, Hassam Adamu and the former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Gambo Jimeta both from Adamawa State countered the protagonists of two thirds voting majority, saying that Jonathan was right in insisting on consensus or 75 percent voting majority.
Despite the attempt by Kutigi to rule that the matter had been closed, more dissenting voices rented the air and he had to defer discussion on the issue as the members went on break at 2pm.
The confab tactically deferred further discussion on the matter when the resumed at 4pm and rather deliberated on other items listed on the order papers for adoption.
The delegates also disagreed with the position that chairman and deputies of the committees should be appointed by the principal officers and instead made it the duty of members of the different committees to elect their leaders.