Northern delegates yesterday rejected the draft constitution included in the documents presented to them by the leadership of the National Conference on Monday.
Speaking after a meeting they held in Abuja, the delegates said the draft constitution was meant to legitimise what they described as President Goodluck Jonathan’s third term agenda.
While calling on political stakeholders to join them in rejecting the draft constitution, the delegates said plans to legalise the “new” constitution through a referendum, as proposed by the leadership of the conference, would fail.
They said the extant constitution does not have provisions for referendum and two attempts to introduce it at the National Assembly have not succeeded.
The decision of the delegates was read by their leader and former Inspector General of Police (IGP) Ibrahim Coomassie. With him were a former member of the House of Representatives, Muhammed Kumalia, former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Gen. Jeremiah Useni and one-time Senate President, Prof Iyorchia Ayu, among others.
Justifying the grounds for rejecting the document, Coomassie said the first indication that there was going to be a problem was on June 30 when it was reported in the media that a member of the leadership was lobbying northern delegates to smuggle in a new constitution at the conference.
He said though the conference leadership claimed ignorance of the document, the issue continued to resonate in the course of the conference.
“You are aware, by now of the surprise, shock and disappointment with which not only delegates to the conference but many Nigerians have reacted to the news of the sudden appearance of a ‘new’ draft constitution distributed to delegates on resumption on Monday”, Coomassie said.
Stressing that northern delegates were neither privy to nor being accessory after the emergence of the controversial draft constitution, Coomasie asserted: “We, therefore, unequivocally disown it and emphatically disassociate ourselves from it”.
On why the conference was not competent to embark on such a fundamental act, Coomasie said: “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 for the President, as representatives of broad interests across the federation and cannot, therefore, legally arrogate to ourselves the far-reaching function of making a new constitution for Nigeria.
“That can only be done by an appropriately constituted Constituent Assembly”.
The delegates said the leadership of the conference could not be exonerated from “complicity” in the move to foist a new constitution on the country.
Coomassie said: “The secretariat of the conference has indicated in Chapter 7 of the draft report, Volume 1, that the so called 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. The reference to a referendum made by the President in his inauguration address at the National Conference on 17th March, 2014 was purely speculative, as it was predicated on the National Assembly introducing a provision in the constitution that will permit holding of referendum.
“…If at the end of the deliberation the need for a referendum arises”.
“We want to say, with authority, that such a proposal has since been turned down by the National Assembly. Inquiries at both the Senate and the House of Representatives have shown that efforts at tabling the case for referendum through private member bills were rejected twice, and cannot, therefore, be reintroduced in the life of the present National Assembly.
“From the foregoing, it is now abundantly 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 Oguntade (JCA as he then was) in the celebrated case of Attorney General of the Federation versus All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and others.
“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 to 1993 should be regarded as a first term and the tenure 1999 to 2003 should have been regarded as second term.
“Accordingly, he should stand barred from contesting 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 upheld the eligibility of Governor Audu to stand for re-election on the ground that his first tenure 1991-1993 was under a completely different constitution, while the country was at the material time operating the 1999 constitution which was a new constitution”.
The former IGP said given the observation under the above, adopting a new constitution is, therefore, calculated to enable incumbent elective office holders, who are statute-barred from going for third term at both federal and state levels, to vie for elective 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 third term agenda, as in the past (2005) is capable of plunging Nigeria into another circle of political chaos with potential of violence and anarchy.
“We, as pan-Nigerian and democrats, reject this agenda in its entirety and call on stakeholders of all persuasions and institutions, especially political parties, national and State Houses of Assembly, the media, civil society organisations, women, youths and others to reject same and continue to champion and uphold democratic principles as enshrined in the constitution and other legitimate sources of law making”, he added.
The delegates were, however, silent on whether the main report of the conference would be adopted by them or not.
As plenary resumes today, having adjourned on Monday to enable delegates go through the five documents presented to them, it remains to be seen how the leadership of the conference hopes to wade through this raging storm.