National Conference set for stormy session as Northern delegates restate opposition to draft constitution

The National Conference is set for a stormy session, Thursday, as northern delegates officially wrote the confab leadership to dissociate themselves from the draft constitution proposed by the conference leadership.

The letter comes as the confab chairman, Idris Kutigi, on Wednesday defended the draft constitution, and made efforts to mend fences and resolve the controversy.

In order to try to placate the delegates and achieve a common ground, Mr. Kutigi also announced that proceedings at the National Conference had been postponed till Thursday.

He said the postponement is to allow the leadership meet with zonal leaders.

Mr. Kutigi said the adjournment was necessitated on the need to fast track the process of final approval of the draft resolution of the confab and other documents such as the new draft constitution and a bill to introduce it to the National Assembly.

Delegates from the 19 northern states had on Tuesday accused the confab leadership of introducing a third term agenda for elected officials by introducing a new constitution.

They alleged that drafting a new constitution and a bill to the National Assembly was not part of the agenda of the confab, and that it was never approved.

On Wednesday, Mr. Kutigi explained the situation saying the copy labeled “draft constitution” contains various alterations and amendments to the 1999 Constitution “proposed by you ( the delegates).”

He assured delegates of the inviolability of the draft resolutions; adding: “If there are any errors, they are human errors and not an attempt by the leadership to any play game.”

He further stated that the draft reports of the Conference prepared by the Secretariat were done “to the best of our ability and with all honesty and diligence.”

He said as humans, there could be noticeable errors that would be corrected if brought to the attention of the secretariat.

“Any mistake is due to human error and can be corrected,” he said.

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.

He also spelt out the procedure to be adopted by the Conference for consideration and approval of the different
reports.

He said after considering several options towards resolving issues emanating from the reports within the shortest possible time and without problems, the leadership came to the conclusion that the smooth but detailed method adopted in handling committees’ reports be applied.

Mr. Kutigi said all groups and individuals should study the report, 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 on Thursday.

The Chairman said when such comments are compiled, they would be read out on the floor and would either be adopted or rejected by the Conference in plenary for final adoption of the report.

In a statement, the confab spokesperson, James Akpandem, stated that in order to further enhance and smoothen the process of approving the draft report prepared by the Secretariat, the Chairman summoned a meeting of leaders of delegation from the geo-political zones to discuss certain critical issues.

Mr. Akpandem said both proposals were unanimously accepted by the Conference in plenary without any objection while delegates agreed to meet again on Thursday to practically begin the process of approving the reports.

Mr. Akpandem said during separate meetings with the leaders of the northern and southern delegation, the Conference management was severally commended for producing a magnificent report within a short space of time.

Before adjourning the session, Mr. Kutigi announced the presence of a new delegate, Supo Shonibare, who replaced Olaniwun Ajayi from the South West; and the death of Mohammed Nur Alkali.

Northern delegates kick

Meanwhile, northern delegates, NDF, reiterated their objection to the emergence of a new constitution by writing an open letter to Mr. Kutigi threatening to disown the report of the conference.

The letter, jointly signed by the NDF, co-chairmen, Ibrahim Coomassie and Jeremiah Useni informed Mr. Kutigi that they have never been part of any process to draft a new constitution.

“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,” they said

They also said they were unaware that the Conference, whether at plenary or committee stages of its work, took a decision to draw up a draft constitution, authorized or tasked any of its Committees, delegates or the Conference Secretariat.

“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,” they said.

The NDF said 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 on,” NDF said.

They also argued that 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,” NDF said.

The NDF asked the leadership of the Conference to disregard and withdraw the Draft Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2014 and the accompanying Bills, which have been circulated.

They also urged 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,” they said.


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