President Goodluck Jonathan has asked a “special favour” from Nigeria’s media owners. He wants them to generously deploy their newspapers, magazines, radio and television to back his new project of “writing” a brand new constitution for Nigeria, reliable presidency sources and associates of some of the media proprietors have told PREMIUM TIMES.
At the April 10 discreet meeting, held at the Banquet Hall of the State House, President Jonathan, our sources said, laid bare his strong desire to “write” a constitution for the country and begged his media owners guests to help him bring the project to fruition.
“From the way he spoke, you could see that he is desperate to produce a new constitution for this country,” a source with deep knowledge of the meeting said. “He knows the media can shoot the project down. So he tried to get the media owners to his side so they can help censor reporting critical of the project while also helping to mount aggressive campaigns in their various platform in support of the project.”
The meeting had in attendance owners of leading newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations all over the country. Those based outside Abuja were flown into the nation’s capital by the presidency.
Mr. Jonathan, our sources said, did not disguise his reason for calling the meeting.
After a brief preliminaries by him and his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati – who referred to the media owners as the pipers dictating the tunes in the country – Mr. Jonathan went straight to the point, telling his guests why the current Nigerian constitution is at the root of the nation’s problems and why he should be supported to bequeath a new constitution to the country.
Mr. Jonathan however failed to disclose the specific changes he wants to introduce in the constitution and why he is not comfortable with the ongoing constitutional amendment being undertaken by the National Assembly.
When one of the media owners pressed him to explain the kind of constitution he envisaged for the country, the president simply recalled his governorship days in Bayelsa state, saying he was shocked when he was told at the time that under the prevailing constitution he could not create additional local governments.
One unidentified media owner asked the president to explain how he wants to write the constitution. Mr. Jonathan was reportedly evasive in his response, merely saying he would not enter his library to emerge with a new constitution.
It is not clear why Mr. Jonathan is bent on “writing” a new constitution for the country in spite of the ongoing constitution amendment by the National Assembly.
Mr. Jonathan had tried in March to get the nod of the Senate to empower him to come up with a new constitution.
That bid, introduced through a bill from the Senate’s Constitution Review Committee, failed as the chairman of the committee, Ike Ekeremadu, hurriedly withdrew it after it failed to garner support.
At the meeting with the media owners, Senator Chris Anyanwu, who owns the Abuja-based Hot FM, told the President that his first bid to introduce a constitution bill failed because he failed to do his homework.
“This time, you should meet all relevant stakeholders in small groups just as you are meeting with us today,” Ms. Anyanwu said.
The president’s real agenda is unclear. There are suggestions he wants to introduce the report of the ongoing National Conference as a bill for a new constitution for the country. But he is yet to make that clear.
There is also widespread suspicion that the president is working discreetly to get a two-year extension of his tenure, which ends on May 29, 2015.
Last week, a delegate to the National Conference, Okon Osung, called for the elongation of the tenure of Mr. Jonathan and others by 18 months.
The delegate, who addressed journalists in Abuja, had said, “At this crucial juncture in our national history, a Presidential or National Assembly declaration of a politico-administrative moratorium or cooling-off period before the conduct of the third Transitional Elections scheduled for February 2015 has become an imperative necessity.
“This calls for a postponement of the or deferment of the scheduled 2015 Elections by at least 18 months while retaining all the democratic institutions at all levels of governance and across the entire spectrum of the country’s political divide, without any bias to the statutory termination dates of such democratic institutions.”
But the leadership of the Conference quickly issued a statement, saying the views expressed by Mr. Osung were entirely personal and should not be interpreted as the position of the National Conference or any of its Committees.