We are in the process of another constitution making. If you agree, what’s your take on the arrangement?
Let me correct the impression that we are in the process of another constitution making. The National Conference, as constituted by the President, lacks the capacity to draft a constitution to be submitted to the people for approval through a referendum. It doesn’t have the capacity, so it does not entail a constitution making at all. That is something we have to realize, arising from the nature and type of the conference as constituted or established by the President.
The reason for this is that the conference is not established by virtue of any law enacted by the National Assembly. The convocation, its composition, its functions, its modus operandi are not catered for by law. It is established entirely by virtue of the inherent powers of the President under Section 5 of the constitution. With its limited functions, its establishment is within the immediate powers of the President. The conference not established under a law enacted by the legislative authorities of the country cannot adopt a constitution. It lacks the capacity to draft a constitution that will be binding on everybody as law.
At best, what do you think would come out of this exercise?
Nothing, it’s just a talk-shop. We must realize that it’s a talk-shop. It’s functions are merely deliberative and advisory. So, there is no harm in talking. If they talk for three months, something good may come out of it but, certainly, not the adoption of a new constitution.
As it is, how can we make the best out of the present arrangement for the good of the country?
There is a difference in law between powers and functions. This conference doesn’t have the powers to bind you and me, to affect the legal relations of you and me, or the legal rights of you and me. It doesn’t have the powers, that is what powers entail. It has only functions, deliberations, talking. You can talk for one year but what can come out of the talking is another matter.
You are one of those who convinced President Jonathan to go for National Conference. But the way you sound, it’s as if you are disappointed with the turn of things…
That is correct. I led the delegation of The Patriots to the President on August 29, 2013, and I think we were able to persuade him. The so-called u-turn made by the President is as a result of that meeting. But the conference we asked him to convene is totally different from what he has now established. There are totally two different things.
We were looking for a conference that will have the power to adopt a new constitution for Nigeria, that will be submitted to the people at a referendum for approval. That was what we were asking for, and we were asking for a conference of ethnic nationalities. I will come to that later.
On the first aspect, what we have now that the President has given us is a conference that lacks power to adopt a new constitution that will be submitted to the people at a referendum for approval. What the President said, in his speech at the inauguration about referendum is so confusing. I don’t know what the President means.
He 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 the conference if, at the end of the deliberations, the need for a referendum arises. I therefore urge the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly to speed up the constitutional amendment process especially with regard to the subject of referendum.”
What does this mean? How can the need for a referendum arise when the conference does not have as its purpose the adoption of a constitution? So, what are you subjecting to a referendum? When we talk about referendum, it’s in relation to a constitution. So, how can the need arise when the purpose of the conference is not the adoption of a constitution and when the conference lacks competence to adopt a constitution?
The President, at a time, was talking about subjecting the outcome of the conference to the consideration of the National Assembly…