On Aug. 21, President Goodluck Jonathan received the report of the National Conference with a pledge that his administration would implement its recommendations.
The president, at the formal report reception ceremony in Abuja, declared that the report of the conference would not be wasted.
He promised that the executive arm of government would immediately act on certain aspects which required its attention, while other aspects would be sent to the Council of State and the National Assembly.
“We, who are in government, need to feed from the thoughts of those who elected us into power. You have done your patriotic duty; we, the elected, must now do ours.
“We shall do all we can to ensure the implementation of your recommendations, which have come out of consensus and not by divisions.
“In this regard, I appeal to all arms of government and the people of Nigeria to be ready to play the different roles which the volumes of reports produced would assign to them,” Jonathan said.
Observers say that the president’s assurance has cleared initial reservations as to his sincerity of purpose in convoking the conference, while rekindling the hope of many Nigerians that its report would not go the way of others before it.
But the president has been consistently assuring the citizens about his plans to create a better Nigeria via the national conference.
For instance, Jonathan pledged to forward the outcome of the conference to the National Assembly for inclusion in the constitution amendment when he inaugurated the Presidential Committee on National Dialogue.
However, many concerned citizens kicked against the president’s proposal, saying that the legislators would “kill” the report, and instead called for a referendum to enable all Nigerians to decide on the report.
Jonathan appears to be aware of people’s fears for he noted during the inauguration of the national conference that the lawmakers had agreed to provide for a referendum in the constitution.
“Let me at this point thank the National Assembly for introducing the provision for a referendum in the proposed amendment of the Constitution.
“This should be relevant for this conference if at the end of the deliberations, the need for a referendum arises.
“I, therefore, urge the National Assembly and the State Houses of Assembly to speed up the constitutional amendment process, especially with regard to the subject of referendum,” he said.
However, some die-hard cynics are still worried that the legislators may frustrate efforts to use the conference resolutions to forge a way forward for the nation.
They say that members of the National Assembly see themselves as the embodiment of Nigeria’s sovereign status, being the people’s representatives.
But Senate President David Mark has dispelled such fears, saying that the national conference was a collective effort to promote nation building, which the National Assembly would never oppose.
Besides, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, the Chairman of the Senate’s Constitution Review Committee, has repeatedly pledged the Senate’s readiness to give the outcome of the national conference the required legislative backing.
He, however, said that the decisions reached at the conference would have to be tabled before the National Assembly for legislation, adding: “We will support the final outcome because it is the wish of Nigerians.”
Consequently, Ekweremadu sought amendment to Section 9 of the 1999 Constitution to enable the President, in addition to the National Assembly, to initiate the process of a new constitution.
“As you amend the constitution, it would get to a point where you would not even know which part has been amended and which part has not been amended.
“Time will come when we will need to put these things together into a new constitution. The society is dynamic; at some point, there will be the need to have a new constitution.
“And we won’t be the first to do that. Other countries, including Kenya, Brazil and Zimbabwe, have done that,” he said.
Analysts recall that the conference no doubt had robust debates and came out with far-reaching resolutions, which could bring about pragmatic socio-economic and political changes in the country, if implemented.
Justice Idris Kutigi, the Chairman of the National Conference, said: “We approved over 600 resolutions; some dealing with issues of law, issues of policy and issues of constitutional amendments.
“These resolutions did not deal with frivolous or inconsequential issues. We showed courage in tackling substantial and fundamental issues.
“The magnitude of what we have done is reflected in our Report and Annexures of 22 volumes of approximately 10,335 pages.”
However, while most Nigerians want the conference’s report to be implemented, not everybody, including delegates, agree on the options for its implementation.
Before adjourning in July for the final deliberations, the conference identified policy, legislative and constitutional issues as the three categories to facilitate the implementation of its resolutions.
The first category bordering on policies would be referred to the president for onward transfer to the appropriate Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for immediate implementation.
The second category touching on legislative issues would be referred to the National Assembly or the State Houses of Assembly for enactment into laws.
The third category, which relates to constitutional issues, would be referred to the National Assembly for inclusion in the ongoing constitution amendment or to the citizens through a referendum.
In respect of the third category, there was no agreement on whether to infuse the resolutions into the existing constitution; present them through a referendum as a new constitution or present them to the National Assembly as amendments to the constitution.
Mr Isaac Ighure, delegate representing the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), supported the referendum option, expressing the fear that the National Assembly might dilute the report.
“I stand on referendum; many countries have adopted referendum when there are critical decisions to be made.
`However, I read in the papers that the National Assembly is expecting the report to come to them and when it goes to them, they will tinker with it. I, nonetheless, expect them and everybody to be selfless.”
Sen Femi Okurounmu, delegate representing the South West geopolitical zone, recommended the establishment of a drafting committee to prepare a Draft Amended Constitution.
“When that is done, the president should liaise with the National Assembly on how to organise a referendum for Nigerians to vote on the draft constitution.
“When the people endorse the draft constitution, the president can then forward it to the National Assembly for enactment into a new constitution or amended constitution as the case may be.”
Sen. Musa Adedeh, delegate representing South-South geopolitical zone said: “The president should forward those resolutions bordering on constitutional matters to the National Assembly through the Office of Attorney-General of the Federation.’’
However, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu, delegate representing the North West geopolitical zone, cautioned against the use of referendum, saying: “The constitution recognises referendum on two issues only: member to lose his seat and boundary adjustment.’’
All the same, Mr Yinka Odumakin, delegate representing Afenifere Renewal Group, said that the 1999 Constitution did not make referendum illegal even though it did not recommend it in the constitution amendment process.
Odumakin noted that in their wisdom, the legislators who drafted the Electoral Act 2010, Section 2 under the functions of INEC; empowered INEC to conduct referendum on any subject.
“We have the 1999 Constitution and we have the draft constitution from the conference, which is the amendment.
“What is left now is to put the question: which one do you want? Let Nigerians vote; it is as simple as that,” he said.
As part of efforts to ensure hitch-free implementation of the confab’s resolutions, the delegates formed eight pressure groups to facilitate the process.
However, Mr Steve Aluko, delegate representing Civil Society Organisations, underscored the need for pragmatic reasoning in plans to subject the resolutions to a referendum or present them via constitutional amendment by the lawmakers.
“If what comes out of the conference is not Nigerian, then the legislative and executive arms of government should stop it but if it is Nigerian, they should accept and implement it.
“The legislature, executive and the judiciary each has a role to play in efforts to ensure that the outcome of the conference creates a better Nigeria for all of us and the future generation of Nigerians.”
Sharing similar sentiments, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), a former Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, underscored the need for all stakeholders to accept and respect the recommendations of the confab’s report.
“President Goodluck Jonathan should respect our report and he should seek excellent advice. The National Assembly, if they have any role to play, should be honourable and do the right thing.
“I like to indulge in the belief that many of the legislators are very good people and they will do very well. I know the Speaker and the Senate President, they are very good people.
“If it goes through referendum, Nigerians should support it, vote for it and accept that we have done a very good report. They should recognise that it is a noble service we have rendered,’’ he said.
All in all, analysts stress that unless tangible efforts are made in allowing the Nigerian interest to prevail in all the confab report’s implementation processes, Nigeria may just lose another opportunity to change its fortunes for the better. (NANfeatures)
By Prudence Arobani