THE 2014 NATIONAL CONFERENCE DRAFT CONSTITUTION
By James Pam
Delegates to the 2014 National Conference resumed plenary on Monday 11th August, 2014 for the purpose of adopting their compiled recommendations and resolutions. They had hoped that they would simply read through one neat document, cross the ‘t’s and dot the ‘i’s to ensure that the final compendium to be presented to Mr. President accurately captures their decisions. However, what they were confronted with was several documents which have generated such a controversy among them that the entire could be jettisoned after all.
Three documents were presented to delegates upon resumption. The first document is the Conference Report proper, which is in two volumes; Vol. 1 has about 500 pages and Vol. 2 has about 900 pages. The second document is a ‘matrix’, in the words of the Conference Secretary, Mrs. Gloria Azinge. As to be expected in a matrix, it has been prepared in three columns; the first column contains the current Nigerian 1999 Constitution provisions that affected by Conference decisions; the second column contains the constitutional amendments recommended by the Conference delegates, while the third and last column contains a fusion of conference recommendations and the 1999 Constitution.
In the absence of Conference Chairman and his deputy, Justice Idris Kutigi and Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, respectively, Mrs. Azinge explained further by saying that in order to make the work of delegates easier, the Secretariat had gone ahead, extracted the third column of the second document, which is the fusion of the existing constitution and the amendments proposed by the delegates, and produced a another document titled, ‘Draft Constitution’. It is this third document and the liberty taken by the Conference Secretariat to produce it that is causing the hullabaloo and drawing flaks from some delegates.
Azinge was not finished yet. She added that the Secretariat had also produced the fourth document, a draft Bill, which Mr. President will use to introduce the amendments and alterations to the National Assembly, which could eventually lead to the Fourth Amendment to the Nigerian Constitution.
The ‘Draft Constitution’ immediately drew the ire of some delegates, especially those from some parts of defunct Northern Region. On the NTA Good Morning program today, 13th August, 2014, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu and Malan Tanko Yakassai told anchor persons, Kingsley Osadolor and Claire Adelabu, and all Nigerians that: (1) The Conference does not have Mr. President’s mandate to produce a Draft Constitution: (2) Such a Draft Constitution has no legal basis because the National Conference is not tantamount to a Constitutional Conference: (3) Delegates would be overstepping their bounds if they prepared a Draft Constitution: (4) The 1999 Constitution provides that a new Constitution can only be introduced to the floor of the National Assembly by the legislators themselves and nobody else.
Newspapers in the last 24 hours have reported that a communiqué was read in Abuja on Tuesday, 12 August, 2014 by the leader of some northern Conference delegates, former Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Coomassie. A picture embedded in one of the newspaper reports has Coomassie flanked by former member of the House of Representatives, Muhammed Kumalia, former Federal Capital Territory Minister, Gen. Jerry Useni, one-time Senate President, Prof. Iyorchia Ayu, and others. Coomassie said that the Draft Constitution was meant to legitimize President Goodluck Jonathan’s third term agenda and that they objected to it. He said drafting a new Constitution is ultra vires the functions and mandate of the National Conference and that the group they were representing was dissociating itself from the Draft Constitution.
The objections of these core northern delegates and their arguments are untenable. At the inauguration of the National Conference on the 17th May, 2014, Mr. President said, “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.” The President was more visionary than some people care to think. From inception, he envisioned the situation before us today and was able to foresee its solution. Our elected legislators in the NASS should play their part in this process honorably by making legal provision for a referendum to take place and all will be well. This is what Mr. President and other Nigerians ask of them.
I was privy to email communications between some delegates in which they made reference to a new partnership that the National Conference has spurned between the three southern geo-political Zones and the North-Central Zone. For lack of a better name, one of the communications christened it the “Greater South”. The implication of this new alliance is that four geo-political zones identified common progressive grounds during the Conference debates, while two preferred to maintain the status quo. Two-thirds majority of delegates are not just comfortable, but are very happy with the Conference Draft Constitution. Should the one-third conservatives have their way over the progressive and pragmatic majority? I dare say, no.
What was the expectation of the so-called “northern delegates” (minus those from the NC Zone, except for Gen. Jerry Useni and Prof. Iyorchia Ayu, who are both in their geriatric cycle of redundancy) when they were debating and reaching decision on constitution matters for three months? Didn’t they realize that their decisions were meant to be used to amend our Constitution? They should be happy that their work coming into fruition even faster than they had thought and that their labor may not be in vain after all.
Again, in his inauguration speech on 17th may, 2014, Mr. President said, “In inaugurating this National Conference today, we are not unmindful of the argument of those who say that we do not need such a Conference since we already have an elected Parliament and an elected Government in place. As cogent as that argument may sound, I have chosen to act on the sincere conviction that in the truly democratic nation we are striving to build, we must never ignore the loudly expressed views of the majority of ordinary Nigerians.” The views of majority of Nigerians have been loudly expressed in the Conference ‘Draft Constitution’ through their delegates to the National Conference and must not be ignored.
In the same inauguration speech, which was commented upon by all 492 delegates, the President said, “The phrase in the preamble that says ‘We, the people’, has been variously criticized as being misleading because. According to the critics, the Constitution was not written by the people. There are also those who believe that the Constitution is not our problem but the political will to faithfully implement it for the peace and progress of Nigeria. While opinions on the matter can be as diverse as rain showers, I believe that irrespective of our personal views on the issue, no one can deny the fact that every Constitution is a living document that needs to be revised and improved upon from time to time. The United States, which is the model democracy in the eyes of many, has amended its Constitution 27 times since it was first adopted in 1787.” Mr. President, therefore, expected delegates to present to him a revised Nigerian Constitution at the end of their deliberations, provided they recommended enough amendments to the existing one to warrant the drafting of a new one incorporating their recommendations.
I seize this opportunity to urge all well-meaning delegates to defend their work, which is now embodied in the Conference ‘Draft Constitution’ and oppose their colleagues who might want to kill it. If they don’t, they would be doing the President and all Nigerians a great disservice. I would go as far as describing the production of a Draft Constitution for Nigeria by the 2014 National Conference as its greatest achievement.
James Pam, 13 August, 2014