NORTHERN delegates to the national conference, on Tuesday, unanimously rejected the draft new constitution introduced by the leadership of the conference, describing it as a move to perfect third term agenda for President Goodluck Jonathan.
The delegates, under the umbrella of Northern Delegates Forum (NDF), disowned the draft new constitution and emphatically dissociated themselves from it.
Former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomassie, who read the position of the northern delegates to newsmen in Abuja, said the NDF was shocked and disappointed with the action of the leadership of the conference to smuggle in draft new constitution.
The delegates warned that the exercise was an attempt to subvert democratic processes and plunge the country into deeper, but avoidable political crisis.
“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 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 third term agenda is capable of plunging Nigeria into another circle of political chaos, with potential of violence and anarchy,” he said.
Coomassie, at the news conference, noted that the allegation of clandestine plan to smuggle in draft constitution, when raised against the leadership at the plenary, was denied, adding that “ordinarily, the matter of a new constitution should have died a natural death.
“You are aware, by now, of the surprise, shock and disappointment with which not only delegates to the conference, but many patriotic Nigerians, have reacted to news of the sudden appearance of a new draft constitution 2014, among other documents distributed to delegates, when we resumed at plenary 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 draft of a new constitution 2014.”
He said for this reason, “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:
“Delegates to the conference were not elected and, therefore, lack both legal and moral authority to draft a new constitution for the Nigerian Federation.
“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. That can only be done by an appropriately constituted constituent assembly.
“The secretariat of the conference has indicated in Chapter Seven of the draft Report Vol.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 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 ‘… 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 House of Representatives have since 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 Senate.
“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.”
When contacted, spokesman of President Jonathan, Dr Reuben Abati, told the Nigerian Tribune that the talk of third term was strange for a president who is yet to complete his first term in office.
“In anyway, the president is just in his first term in office,” he said.
He further stated that the president gave the confab unfettered freedom, adding that President Jonathan did not in any way interfered with the proceedings.
“The president gave the conference the free hand it deserved and in any way, he has said whatever comes out of it will be the decision of all Nigerians,” he said.
The presidential spokesman added that if any group of Nigerians at the ongoing confab was not comfortable with the decisions being reached, it should know how to lobby other delegates and argue its views, rather than seeking to divert attention or drag the president’s name in order to score points.
Meanwhile, last minute consultations were stepped up last night in Abuja by various caucuses, in a fresh bid by delegates ahead today’s resumed sitting at the conference.
Nigerian Tribune learnt that the spirited moves followed indications of a likely stormy session during debate of the draft report of the conference, copies of which were made available to the delegates on Monday.
It was gathered that delegates from the South-South met in Abuja, on Monday night, to harmonise their positions ahead of a joint meeting with delegates from the South-West and South-East.
Also, a crucial meeting was held at about 6.00 p.m on Tuesday by delegates from the South-West, as part of their strategies to ensure unity of purpose at the plenary today.
One other issue of contention among delegates was said to be some sections in the draft document, as a delegate, who craved anonymity, claimed that the report was handled by a consultant and that it contained some discrepancies as against a number of actual resolutions of the delegates.
He cited the creation of local government, which the conference resolved should be the sole responsibility of state without recourse to the National Assembly for ratification.
But he alleged that the report provided for the retention of the existing constitutional status that empowered the National Assembly as the final authority for local government creation.
There was also the issue of allowances paid to the delegates, with the report stating that each delegate only received N1.9 million, contrary to the N4 million figures being brandished around in most circles.
It was learnt that each of the delegate was to be paid a little over N500,000 as allowance as the conference winds up this week.