By Henry Umoru & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA — THE National Conference, yesterday, held its shortest session since it began about four months ago when it hurriedly adjourned amid tension after sitting for about 14 minutes.
The adjournment was on the heels of a heated atmosphere at the Andrews Otutu Obaseki hall, venue of the plenary following disagreements between core North and Southern/Middle-Belt delegates over the reports and proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution.
Some northern delegates, who had at a press briefing,Tuesday, rejected the draft constitution amendment prepared by the conference leadership, saying they were never part of it, insisting that that they would never support it.
The document formed part of the documents distributed to delegates when they reconvened, Monday, after almost a month break that started on July 14.
This happened on a day that Southern and Middle-Belt led by Chief E.K Clark, Chief Olu Falae, General Ike Nwachukwu and John Dara said there was no hidden agenda in the report, saying it was insulting to say that the delegates were hammering out a third term agenda for President Goodluck Jonathan. They said that the documents contained what all delegates at the conference agreed on.
As the confab meets today to ratify the report, some northern had already written to the Conference Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi to dissociate themselves from the draft constitution prepared by the leadership of the conference and distributed to delegates, Monday. They said they were shocked and totally surprised at the appearance of the documents; they threatened that they will not be a party to the adoption of the report or any part by voice vote and urge the leadership of the conference to be strictly guided by the Conference Procedure Rules, 2014.
Countering, the Southern and Middle-Belt delegates said those opposing the reports were bent on scuttling the conference and vowed to pass the report today.
We prepared the report with honesty, diligence – Kutigi
As soon as he came in at 10.35a.m. and commenced plenary at 10. 37a.m., Kutigi told delegates that the reports were prepared by the Secretariat with all honesty and diligence with no hidden agenda. He appealed to them to work together, stressing that as humans they could make mistakes, adding that there was no draft constitution, but mere amendment.
As part of moves to cool frayed nerves, a delegate on the platform of former House of Representatives Forum, Chief Obi Anoliofo moved for adjournment and it was seconded by Mrs. Felicia Sani, a delegate on the platform of Market Women Association.
Kutigi urged delegates to study the documents given to them and send their observations to the conference secretariat for collation.
To further enhance the process of approving the draft report, Kutigi summoned a meeting of leaders of delegation from the geo-political zones to discuss certain critical issues and asked that the leadership of each group should meet with him inside the office of the Deputy Chairman of the conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi
How reports were prepared
The chairman said in line with the resolution of the Conference, the reports were prepared to cover constitutional issues based on amendments agreed upon by the delegates; policy issues meant for implementation by the President; and legislative issues earmarked for enactment into laws by the National Assembly.
Justice Kutigi explained that the copy labeled “draft constitution” contained the various alterations and amendments to the 1999 Constitution “proposed by you.”
After the brief address, delegates applauded the chairman by clapping for some minutes, signifying their agreement with his explanation and readiness to discuss and approve the draft reports.
Justice Kutigi said all groups and individuals should study the report and diligently write out areas that need to be corrected and submit them to the Conference Secretariat for compilation and presentation to the Conference when delegates reconvene today.
Shonibare replaces Olaniwun Ajayi
Before adjourning the session, Justice Kutigi announced the presence of a new delegate, Supo Shonibare, who replaced Olaniwun Ajayi from the South-West and a minute silence was observed by delegates for late Professor Mohammed Nur Alkali.
Northern delegates write Kutigi
However, after the plenary, some Northern delegates wrote Justice Idris Kutigi to dissociate themselves from the draft constitution prepared by the leadership of the conference.
In the letter signed by Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and former Inspector General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Coomasie and erstwhile Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, Gen. Jerry Useni, they said: “We call upon the leadership of the conference to discountenance and withdraw the draft constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2014 and the accompanying bills, which have been circulated.
“We urge the Conference leadership to table the Draft Conference Report which contains only the resolutions openly and officially sanctioned and adopted by delegates for validation and adoption as provided for under the National Conference Procedure Rules, 2014 and as envisaged in the Work Plan adopted
“For the avoidance of doubt, we shall not be a party to the adoption of the report or any part thereof by voice vote. We urge the leadership of the Conference to be strictly guided by the Conference Procedure Rules, 2014.
The letter continued: “You may recall that on June 30, 2014, while making observations on a matter of urgent public interest and national importance which touched on the integrity of conference proceedings, a member drew the attention of delegates to series of publications in the press alleging that the leadership of Conference was lobbying members to adopt a new constitution. Arising from debates on the matter by members and explanations from members concerned, the Leadership assured delegates that it knew nothing about the existence of any constitution or a hidden agenda, whereupon, Conference resolved to close the matter.
“To our utter shock, astonishment and surprise, the Secretary of the Conference distributed an assortment of documents including one entitled “Report of the National Conference, 2014 DRAFT CONSTITUION” which is also accompanied by draft Bills to promulgate into law the “CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, 2014”
“We hereby categorically state that our members are not party or privy to any decision and certainly did not participate in any processes or proceedings to draft a constitution or Bills. Quite on the contrary, we have, in no uncertain terms, expressed our objections to any such project under any guise. Moreover and to the best of our knowledge, we are unaware that the Conference has, whether at plenary or committee stages of its work, taken a decision to draw up a draft constitution, authorized or tasked any of its Committees, delegates or the Conference Secretariat to do so.
“In view of this, we hereby dissociate ourselves from and totally reject the Draft Constitution already circulated. Furthermore we wish to formally notify you that our members condemn the brazen attempt by the Leadership of the Conference to impose on us a Draft Constitution whose ownership and knowledge the leadership has denied and which is not attributed to any person. It is a document whose authorship we absolutely have no hand in. In our view, the draft constitution circulated is a document of dubious and questionable origins.
“By our assessment, the content of the Draft Constitution is replete with extraneous matters and issues that bear no relations to the resolutions adopted by Conference and many of which are at variance or in conflict with Conference resolution or in respect of which no decision has been taken.
“For sample particulars of some extraneous issues, Inconsistencies and unsubstantiated inclusions and exclusions contained in the Draft Constitution refer to Sections 2(A) at page 12; 8(1) (h), 8 (2) a – h at page 15; new section 9(2) a – c at page 19; new section 162(1A) and 5(A) at page 143; and the deletion of section 315 at page 266. These various provisions pertain to issues of State Constitution, boundary adjustment, referendum to adopt Constitution, funding for Local Government Areas, and deletion of Land Use Act and the abrogation of all existing laws, which the section has entrenched and saved respectively.
“We are opposed to the draft being considered by the Conference for the following additional reasons: The National Conference comprises unelected members, its composition has violated universal democratic principles and is, hence, unrepresentative. As a consequence, delegates cannot claim to be speaking for the people.
“Having been established by executive fiat, the Conference lacks the necessary democratic credential, legitimacy or legal or constitutional basis or mandate to assume the exercise of the sovereign will of the people or purport to behave as a Constituent Assembly.
“It is incontrovertible that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 contains, very clear provisions, under section 9, and has spelt out explicit rules to govern specific steps to follow to alter its provisions, including the adoption of an entirely new Constitution if deemed desirable.
The procedure for any alteration does not envisage or recognize “referendum” as a mechanism for bringing about any change to the existing Constitution or the adoption of a new one.
Moreover, for any alteration to the constitution to be legitimate or credible, it must be validated by the concurrent adoption of the National Assembly and the resolution in support of 2/3 (24) of the Houses of Assembly of the States where this is assented to by the President.
“It would be a ridiculous perversion of all known constitutional and legal norms for the Conference to purport to consider or adopt the Draft Constitution without being clothed with necessary mandate and in total disregard or violation of the existing legal and constitutional order.
“It excites our curiosity to wonder why anybody would seek to adopt a purported Constitution whose effective date is 2014 during the currency of incumbent elected officials in clear violation of the existing constitution under which they have been elected and which they have sworn to abide by, uphold, and defend This would amount to a blatant subversion of the existing constitutional and legal order.
“As proposed, the draft Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2014 has negated or preempted and dispensed with all due processes related to, for instance, the creation of new States by inserting those proposed without meeting any of the objective criteria set by conference and in the absence of proper boundary demarcation and/or obtaining the consent of affected communities. This is without prejudice to acknowledging the fact that Conference has adopted resolutions for the creation of the named States, which we support in principle.”