Jonathan in trouble over confab outcome comment

President Goodluck Jonathan has run into trouble water over his comment that he will subject the outcome of the proposed national conference to the ratification of the National Assembly.
Prominent Nigerians and groups yesterday kicked against the decision, describing it as “a poison” that would make the initiative a waste. Others said sceptics of the national dialogue had been vindicated by the President’s decision.
But the Senate said the President’s position was in order and constitutional.
President Jonathan had on Tuesday said that the recommendations of the planned national conference would be passed to the National Assembly for deliberation, ratification and possible inclusion in the process of amendment of the constitution.
National Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba sociopolitical group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told National Mirror that the National Assembly had no business with the outcome of the national confab.
He said: “The comments by the President that the decisions of the conference would be sent to the National Assembly confirms the view that we have no institutional memory to fall back on as far as a national conference is concerned.
“The President may be thinking that this would have the status of a constitutional conference. This is why it is good he did not rush us to a conference without setting up an advisory committee on the modalities for the conference as this may also be a learning curve for all of us.
“When the principals of corporate Nigeria are going to the table to draft their memorandum of understanding and articles of association, such documents cannot be subjected to any ratification by their agents who are current managers of the corporation.
“All the agents have to do is to implement the decisions of their principals. It is a mute point in law that an agent cannot be greater than the principal. Sovereignty belongs to the people who exercise it indirectly through their elected representatives. But the moment they come to exercise that power directly their representatives have no power over their decisions. The very reason why we have never had a legitimate constitution is that the people have never been allowed to own the process.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, said the development has only shown that the President is only trying to satisfy some interest.
Speaking with National Mirror, ACF National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Anthony Sani, said they have been vindicated by the president’s position.
ACF said: “Mr. President’s clarification as reported in newspapers vindicated the wisdom of those who have said the proposed national dialogue/conversation cannot reasonably be a Sovereign National Conference as this amounts to vote of no confidence on our democracy and its institutions, considering the sitting government has been elected by Nigerians and not by ghosts.
“It also proves right those who submit that the National Assembly could as well go through recommendations of past conferences together with what they get from their public hearings and use them to inform their constitutional amendments.
“We want to believe this government is pandering to the hankering by some groups for conference in order to calm nerves and enable the nation to move forward.”
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, said that the President’s position had shown that the national conference was dead on arrival.
CNPP National Publicity Secretary, Osita Okechukwu, criticised the submission, maintaining that it was a sheer waste of resources, time and diversionary.
Part of CNPP’s statement reads: “CNPP recalls that since our return to democracy in 1999, the National Assembly at various times had embarked on the process of amendment of the 1999 Constitution and at no time was any of the fundamental issues amended.
“We stand to be corrected that handing over the outcome of the proposed national conference report to the National Assembly is better than convening a Sovereign National Conference.
“In other words, the present national and state assemblies lack the political will to insert in a new constitution, critical issues like devolution of powers to the regions; unicameral legislature under a parliamentary system; truly independent INEC, EFCC, ICPC; creation of additional state for South-East; fiscal federalism among other issues. Therefore, the Jonathan’s conference is dead on arrival.”
The Coordinator of Voters Assembly, Moshood Erubami, flayed the President’s decision.
Speaking with National Mirror, he said this had vindicated their opposition to the national conference of the President that it would not take the country out of its problems.
He said: “There is nothing bad in having a national conference, but this one by President Jonathan is unacceptable. And to now say that the outcome of the conference will be sent to the National Assembly which has failed us can only be the height of insensitivity to the feelings of Nigerians.
“To have an idea that some people will have to tinker with what Nigerians decide shows that there is no sincerity behind it.”
Erubami stated that anything short of a sovereign national conference is not in the best interest of the country.
Speaking with National Mirror yesterday, constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN); former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) and human rights activist, Bamidele Aturu condemned the move, saying that it would reduce the conference to a wasteful exercise.
According to Sagay, the National Assembly has no role to play in the making of a new constitution, adding that it can only amend existing laws.
He said: “It confirms the scepticism of those who are saying that the conference is diversionary because, if the President was really serious of a national conference that will make the changes this country really need, he would not have planted that poison of sending it to the National Assembly.
“So, it’s clear that he is not serious about national conference because the National Assembly has no role in making a new constitution; they can only amend existing laws and the amendment they have done so far have been disastrous and totally irrelevant.”
Sagay accused members of the National Assembly of having vested interest and oppose to change because they are benefiting from the faulty system.
“They have vested interest in status quo and they don’t want any change because they are benefiting from the misruling of Nigeria. A proper constitution will not benefit them because they will lose out. “So, sending the outcome of a national conference for their approval is equal to killing it. Jonathan is setting up a National Conference in order to kill it at the same time. So, those who are sceptical are right.”
Akeredolu said the statement of the President was uncalled for.
He said: “A genuine national confab cannot be subjected to the dictate of anyone or anybody if we seriously want to engage that process. Surreptitious approach of teleguiding the process only leads credence to the fears of those of us who doubt the sincerity of purpose of the President embarking on the confab at this point in time.
“The President should be advised to wait for the recommendations of the advisory committee before polluting the waters with his hidden agenda at least to allow for a little credence to be accorded the process.”
Aturu said: “As far as I am concerned, what should happen is a referendum. The National Assembly is not the same thing as the people of Nigeria. So, for the President to be reducing the whole efforts of the conference to the National Assembly is different from what the people demanded and that has exposed the fraud about it.
“But, nevertheless, my position is that, if you’re holding a sovereign national conference, the people must still ratify it in a referendum and anything short of that is a mere waste of time. But, that does not mean that people cannot talk; we have been talking and we will continue to talk.
“What is the essence of holding a national conference when at the end of the day you will subject its outcome to the approval of the National Assembly? If National Assembly could do it, then we don’t need a conference. So, I think the President should have a rethink on what he has done; he should revise himself and allow people to endorse whatever the conference comes up with.”
But, a senior lawyer, Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN, said there was nothing wrong in sending the recommendations of the proposed national conference to the National Assembly for approval.
According to him, there was no other body aside the National Assembly saddled with the responsibility of making law for the federation.
“Except the constitution is amended to accommodate any other legislative body, today it is only the National Assembly and for the state the State Houses of Assembly that can make law. The constitution assumes that it is the people that elected members of the National Assembly and the Houses,” he argued.
A chieftain of Afenifere, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, told National Mirror that he was more concerned about holding the national dialogue than what to be done with its outcome.
“I’m not bothering myself with the end of the conference but the initiative taking place,” he said.
Adebanjo, however, opposed the idea of the National Assembly ratifying the outcome of the confab.
He said: “The National Assembly is a product of awkward federation. And many of the members are beneficiaries of the faulty system.
“So, how do you submit the decisions of the conference that they are not part of ?”
He believed that President Jonathan would have a rethink on the matter.
But Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu said the President’s position was in order and constitutional.
Agreeing with Jonathan’s submission, Ekweremadu said there was no other legal option to whatever would be the resolution of the dialogue other than getting the sanction of the National Assembly, adding that it’s in accordance with the rule of law.
Asked why Nigeria has to waste effort in a national conference that would be ratified by the National Assembly, the Deputy Senate President said: “Nigerians said they want to dialogue. President said you should go and do that but whatever you decide will not be binding unless it is legislated upon by the National Assembly. We didn’t set up any conference. We don’t have problem with the process so far.”
A member of the House of Representatives from Ebonyi State, Hon. Linus Okorie concurred with Ekweremadu. He said: “Mr. President is simply complying with the provisions of the constitution which empowers the legislature, to the exclusion of all others, to amend it. What the President said remains the only route to legitimizing the decisions of the National Conference. Even if we call it a Sovereign National Conference, which is outside our constitution, we’ll still require the endorsement of the National Assembly to put it to a national referendum as being canvassed by a section of the populace.”
Second Republic Deputy Senate President, Senator John Wash Pam, told National Mirror in Jos, the Plateau State capital, that President Jonathan’s submission was in order.
Pam, however, warned that the conference should not be used to cause confusion in the country.
He said: “Well, I think President Jonathan’s submission was in order but there is a little confusion there. Don’t forget that the National Assembly is currently working on the amendment of the constitution and we just hope that the outcome of the conference does not conflict with the constitutional amendment especially since we don’t know yet the form which the conference will take eventually; whether sovereign or just dialogue or whatever, that is the confusion.”
Former Minister of Information, Alhaji Ibrahim Nakande, cautioned President Jonathan to wait until the modalities set out by the conference committee are accepted by all Nigerians before talking about what to do with its outcome.
His words: “To me, it’s like putting the cart before the horse. Let the committee that was given six weeks first complete their assignment before we decide what to do with the outcome. Unless the modalities have the acceptability of all Nigerians, the conference may be of no benefit at all.

“Nigerians first want to see how the committee will do their work; whether people will be nominated, co-opted, elected or chosen on what basis and how. These are the issues. For me talking about sending the outcome to the NASS now when the issues that are germane to the success of the conference have not been trashed is neither here nor there.”

National Mirror
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