South tackles North over draft constitution
Plenary was adjourned again yesterday by the leadership of the National Conference.
The one-day adjournment, according to the Chairman, Justice Idris Kutigi, was to enable the leadership meet with leaders of all delegations to the conference over the controversy generated by the draft constitution.
Northern delegates have rejected the draft constitution, saying that it was a ploy to legitimise third term agenda.
Southern delegates, reacting yesterday to the North’s position, said it was unfortunate as there was nothing in the report that was not adopted by the entire conference through consensus.
On resumption yesterday morning, Justice Kutigi, in a subdued voice, said the draft report given to the delegates, among others, was prepared with diligence.
He said: “Let me at this stage make this point that we prepared this main draft report with the best of our ability and with all honesty, but we are human beings who can make mistake.”
It was in view of this that the Chairman said copies of the hansard and votes and proceeding were given to the delegates so that comparison could be made for clarification, if need be.
He said delegates should make available in writing to the secretariat, their observations on the report before the close of the day (yesterday) so that such would be discussed at plenary today and corrections effected.
“Let me repeat that we prepared the main report with all honesty and diligence. Any error will be due to human error and not due to any input,” Justice Kutigi added.
He asked leaders of all delegations to meet with the leadership immediately after the adjournment.
In reaction to the rejection of the draft constitution by northern delegates, leaders of southern delegations condemned the North for attempting to create undue tension .
Chief Edwin Clark, who addressed reporters at the end of the meeting, was supported by Chief Olu Falae, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) and Chief Raymond Dokpesi, among others, said the leadership should rather be praised for doing a great job of putting their decisions into perspective.
According to him, after four months, various issues were discussed with over 600 resolutions arrived at by consensus. “Going through the documents presented to us on resumption from the two weeks break, it was clear that it was a job well done by the leadership and the secretariat. We congratulate them.
“I can assure you, if the resolutions are implemented by government, a new Nigeria would have been born. I have been a politician for over 50 years but what I learnt in this last four months is fantastic,” Clark noted.
He, however, condemned the position of the northern delegates on the draft constitution, saying: “It was unfortunate to learn that some delegates addressed the press on a so-called new draft constitution.
“When we were discussing, we passed several resolutions; some of them touched on the constitution, some were policy matters while others were for the legislature.
“What they (leadership) have done was to put together all the amendments to the 1999 Constitution and the additional ones they were not many, where there should be subtraction, they subtracted.
“The document has now been produced and there is nothing wrong coming up with a proposed draft constitution.
“We have nothing to hide but that will bring a new change to Nigeria. So we want to dispel the idea that there is confusion and disagreement in the Conference,.
“We have all met, leaders of delegations, with the leadership and we have agreed that by tomorrow (today) we should adopt the report which they have produced on our behalf.
“I can assure you that Nigeria has never been this united with the types of delegates at this conference from various sectors; we have the disadvantaged Nigerians, youths, traditional institutions, women, elder statesmen, labour; everybody is represented.
“We have done a good job for Nigeria, it will take time to find this type of delegates taking a resolution as we have done.
“We are appealing to Mr President, therefore, that the resolutions of our report should be treated with dispatch for the benefit of Nigerians and a new Nigeria would have been born.”
Chief Olu Falae regretted that some falsehood had been fed to the media whereby some delegation leaders were alleged to have sold out by conniving with the leadership of the conference to influence the final report.
Saying that it was an insult on the integrity of those accused, Falae added: “There were allegations that I was working for some political leaders; that is false and insulting. Since I got to this conference, nobody has tried to influence me and my delegation on any matter whatsoever.
“There were specific allegations that we had recommended a single tenure of six years for the President; that is not true. There were so many other lies they told that can not be substantiated in our report.
“Why people should manufacture such lies and mislead Nigerians beats anyone’s imagination. All those allegations are not true.”
Gen Ike Nwachukwu said his Southeast delegation remained faithful and steadfast to its mandate for a country where no one would be oppressed, where no section of the country would lord its will on the others.
“This conference has achieved that,” he said.
He also dispelled insinuation of attempts by the conference to support third term, saying: “No one has asked us to seek a third term for anybody, any one suggesting it would be an insult on us.”
He however appealed to President Jonathan to ensure that the report is made public, “ Let the report be in the public domain for Nigerians to understand what we have done for them to decide wether we wasted their money and time or give them an opportunity to build a new Nigeria,” he added.
Another delegate from the South, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said northern delegates misinterpreted the meaning of the draft constitution included in the documents presented to the delegates on Monday.
“How can this draft constitution affect the 2015 elections?”, he asked
He said: “The first thing is that the draft constitution is nothing but a synthesis of everything we have discussed here which has constitutional inputs. All that the conference secretariat has done for which they should be praised for being so hardworking and proactive.
“The issue of a third term agenda or whatever cannot arise, people who are saying that are being unfair to this country.
“The reason being that everyone is aware that elections are in February next year and that this is August, talking of barely five months away and that whether the constitution is called amendment, whether it is a brand new constitution that will be subjected to the people of Nigeria in a popular referendum by whatever process that everybody, anybody should know that, that is not a process that can be completed even in one year.
“So for anyone to think that such a good job can be deliberated or downplayed or downgraded by attaching to it a motive which is clearly not there to be is an unfair thing from the people who made that statement.
“What some people are fighting for to me is a mindset, trying to retain the status quo, i think some people are very uncomfortable with some of the progressive decisions that we have taken at this conference”.
John Dara, Secretary General of the Middle Belt Forum, said the Middle Belt was no party to the position of the Northern Delegates Forum. “We are in support of the outcome of this conference and impressed with the level of integrity and accuracy displayed by the secretariat. They were reflective of our views,” he noted.
He however pointed out that if the report is implemented, the country would invariably be operating a new constitution subject to the approval of Nigerians.
According to him, opponents of a new constitution were apostles of status quo who were “not mentally prepared for a new constitution”.
“No decision taken at this conference is inimical to the interest of North but to make all sections economically viable and politically vibrant,” Dara noted.