National Conference delegates from the 19 northern states, under the aegis of Northern Delegates Forum, NDF, have accused the confab leadership of harbouring a third term agenda for President Goodluck Jonathan and other present political office holders with the introduction of a purported new constitution for Nigeria.
Addressing a press conference at Gombe Jewel Hotel, Abuja on Tuesday evening, the leader of the northern delegates, and former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomassie, said the NDF became suspicious of the confab leadership and its agenda when a June 30 front-page report of a national daily newspaper alleged that a member of the leadership of the conference had been lobbying members of the Northern Delegation to to smuggle in a “new constitution” at the conference.
The delegates were on Monday given copies of the conference report and a new draft constitution seeking to replace the existing one.
The Chairman of the conference, Idris Kutigi, and his Deputy, Bolaji Akinyemi, did not turn up at the conference hall when the report was distributed. The secretary of the Conference, Gloria Azinge, who stood in for the chairman, informed delegates that there there would be no plenary discussion as earlier scheduled.
She told them that the secretariat would distribute copies of the confab report, a draft of the constitutional amendment suggested by the conference, as well as a draft new constitution and a bill to introduce the amendments.
While addressing the press conference, Mr. Coomassie, apparently upset at the emergence of the draft new constitution, recalled that a delegate drew the attention of the Conference to a new constitution under matters of national importance.
He said at the time, when the confab leadership was asked to make a categorical statement on the issue, the leadership claimed ignorance of any such document.
“We know nothing about the paper in circulation. We know nothing of the consideration of any Committee, we formed no Committee apart from the standing Committee we set up …We are not aware of that…We have nothing to do with it. That matter should be closed,” Mr. Coomassie quoted Mr. Kutigi as saying in a copy of the Conference Hansard of Monday, June 30.
The former police chief said ordinarily, the matter of a “new constitution” should have died a natural death after the pronouncement by Mr. Kutigi.
“But that was not to be. The issue was brought over and over again in the course of plenary sessions, but each time it was overwhelmingly rejected by the delegates.
“And when attempts were made to bring in the issue of “referendum”, as a means of actualising the outcome of the conference, it was always strongly and painstakingly explained that the operating Constitution does not have any provision for such a referendum,” he said.
He added that the only instance when a referendum can be held is in relation to the creation of new states or boundary adjustment, per the provision of Section 8 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution 1999.
Shocking, disappointing attempt
Mr. Coomassie said delegates were surprised, shocked and disappointed by the sudden appearance of a “New Draft Constitution 2014”, among other documents distributed to delegates on Monday.
“We, Northern Delegates to the Conference wish to assure patriotic Nigerians, and all lovers of democracy, that we are neither privy to, nor were we accessory to the emergence of the controversial “New Draft Constitution 2014”.
“We, therefore, unequivocally disown it, and emphatically disassociate ourselves from it. Accordingly, we will have nothing to do with it, for the following legal, moral and political reasons,” he said.
Why we are protesting
The NDF, through Mr. Coomassie, explained that delegates to the conference were not elected, and therefore lack both legal and moral authority to draft a new constitution for Nigeria.
“Rather, we were constituted to serve as an ad hoc advisory mechanism to the President, as representatives of broad interests across the federation, and cannot, therefore, legally arrogate ourselves the far-reaching function of making a “new” constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.
He said a new constitution can only be done by an appropriately constituted Constituent Assembly.
He added that the Secretariat of the Conference has indicated in chapter seven of the draft Report Vol. 1 that the ‘new Constitution’ is to be brought into effect through a national referendum to be specifically held for the purpose.
“To this we say, without any fear of contradiction, that there is no legal provision in our Constitution for the holding of such a referendum,” he said.
He also said the reference to a referendum by President Jonathan in his inauguration address at the National Conference on March 17, was purely speculative, as it was predicated on the National Assembly introducing a provision in the Constitution that will permit the holding of referendum.
“We want to say, with authority, that such a proposal has since been turned down by the National Assembly,” Mr. Coomassie said.
He said that inquiries at both the Senate and House of Representatives have since shown that efforts at tabling the case for referendum, through private member-bills, were rejected twice, and therefore, cannot be reintroduced in the life of the present Senate.
Third term agenda
Mr. Coomassie said going by permutations, it is clear that the conference has been infiltrated by fifth-columnists whose goal is to subvert democratic processes and plunge the country into deeper, but avoidable political crisis.
“To all intent and purposes, the introduction of a “new Constitution 2014” for Nigeria, is a calculated attempt by some people to take advantage of Court of Appeal’s ruling in 2003, as delivered by Justice George Adesola Oguntade, (JCA as he then was) in the celebrated case of Attorney-General of the Federation Vs. ANPP, and Others (A.G, Fed. v. A.N.P.P.  15 NWLR (Pt. 844).
“Wherein Governor Abubakar Audu of Kogi State (then) was challenged over his eligibility to run for a second term in 2003, having had a first term which ended in May 2003.
“The contention was that having been elected Kogi State Governor in 1991, his tenure 1991 – 1993 should be regarded as a first term and the tenure 1999 – 2003 should have been regarded as second term. Accordingly, he should stand barred from contesting for another term in the 2003 election, as that would amount to a violation of the subsisting Constitution, which has provided that a person could only be elected into the office of a State Governor for two terms and no more.
“In that decision, the Court of Appeal upheld the eligibility of Governor Abubakar Audu of Kogi State, to stand for re-election as Governor, on the ground that his first tenure (1991-’93) was under a completely different Constitution (CFRN 1989), while the country was at the material time operating the 1999 Constitution, which was a new Constitution,” he said.
Mr. Coomasie said in the opinion of the NDF, adopting a new Constitution is calculated to enable incumbent elective office holders who are statute-barred from going for third term at both Federal and State levels, to run for offices again under the guise of running under a new Constitution.
“This will also have the consequential effect of depriving aspiring politicians from all political parties, as well as all Nigerians, of their rights to choices and preferences as enshrined in the constitution.
“If not arrested, the 3rd Term agenda, as in the past (2005), is capable of plunging Nigeria into another circle of political chaos with potential of violence and anarchy,” Mr. Coomassie said.
Those who attended Tuesday’s briefing alongside Mr. Coomassie include former FCT Minister and Co-Chair of the NDF, Jerry Useni, Iyorchia Ayu, Bashir Dalhatu, Muktar Mohammed, Awwalu Yadudu, Jonathan Temlong, and many others.