BEVERLY HILLS, CA, January 08, (THEWILL) – As preparations for the proposed National Conference being organised by the Federal Government begin in earnest, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on Wednesday gave its conditions for supporting the confab.
NBA President, Okey Wali (SAN), who gave the conditions in Abuja at the inauguration of a 15-man NBA Committee on National Conference and Constitutional Review, said the association would only support the proposed National Conference on the condition that its report would not be altered by the government and would be validated by Nigerians through a referendum.
Expressing disappointment at President Goodluck Jonathan’s refusal to receive the minority report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the National Conference prepared by Solomon Asemota (SAN), Wali described the action of the president as undemocratic, saying “we hope that this does not represent signs of things to come,” as he advised the president to call for and receive the minority report .
“Please make no mistakes, this is not about Asemota being a member of the Bar, it is about conforming with the true tenets of democracy.” Mr President and indeed the people of this country may very well find the minority report useful and resourceful.
“Permit me to state that the NBA shall only support a conference whose report shall not be altered by the government, but which report shall be final, binding, and validated by Nigerians through a referendum. Referendum, regardless of whatever modalities on arriving at representation at the conference, would give Nigerians of voting age, a right to be part of the process. Nobody that means well should be afraid of the voice of the people, if indeed, the whole exercise is in the interest of the people.”
“By the provisions of S.14 (2) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and the decision of the committee must be subject to a referendum,” Wali said.
Recalling President Jonathan’s promise last October to explore the option of a national conference to address the yearnings of Nigerians, the NBA President also noted that year 2014 would mark the centenary anniversary of the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates, which made up Nigeria.
“That was in 1914. But the question that should be agitating our minds at the moment is: What type of political and socio-economic structure, do we have in Nigeria after 100 years of existence. It is significant that after 100 years of existence, Nigeria does not have a home grown people’s constitution with a strong political structure.”
“It is for this reason that the NBA strongly believes that President Goodluck Jonathan’s idea of a national conference, which gave rise to an advisory committee is highly salutary. The need for the Nigerian people to talk has been canvassed for a long time by several stakeholders over the years. While some support the idea in the light of the many challenges that confront the nation, others feel that the timing is wrong and is designed to achieve a set goal.”
“However, since the Presidential Advisory Committee has submitted its recommendations on how to go about setting up the national conference, it is expected that President Goodluck Jonathan should set the ball rolling as soon as possible. The President had, in fact, while receiving the report of the committee stated that this will take off in the first quarter of this year 2014.”
“This may very well be a convenient point to express our disappointment that in receiving the report of the Presidential advisory Committee on the National Conference, the minority report was not received by the President. This is undemocratic, and we hope that, this does not represent signs of things to come. The NBA therefore advises that the President calls for and receives the minority report, prepared by Mr. Solomon Asemota, SAN. Please make no mistakes, this is not about Mr. Asemota, SAN being a member of the Bar, it is about conforming with the true tenets of democracy, where the majority may have its way, but the minority must have its say. Mr. President, and indeed the people of this country may very well find the minority report useful and resourceful,” Wali explained.
He then charged the NBA committee on national confab to take its work very seriously, saying , “The central issue therefore, is not only whether there is a constitution but also whether or not the constitution is a Peoples’ constitution. “
According to Wali, “The pertinent questions are: Does the constitution reflect the wishes of the people? How was it made? Were the processes involved in its making open and transparent? Were the processes inclusive?”
“The assignment of your committee therefore, is to very quickly make consultation with members of the Bar, come up with the positions of the NBA on issues affecting the setting up and working of the conference, and issues to be addressed at the National Conference. It is important to flag or raise some questions in addition to other issues this committee would consider. “
These issues, according to Wali, are as follows:
“Representation: What is the best mode of representation, for the membership of the national dialogue.”
“Political structure: What kind of political structure do we need? Should we continue with the current structure? What about Regionalism or Parliamentary system. Should we adopt the six geo-political zone system?”
“Federalism: What type of federal system should we adopt? The NBA notes that there are too many things the Federal Government should stop doing and which should be removed from the exclusive list. The Bar believes that the Federal Government should focus on arching issues that bind us together. At no time in the history of Nigeria is devolution of powers more urgent than now.”
“Social Security: Developed countries have social security measures which have been adopted for the benefit of the citizens. In countries, like the U.S. and U.K, these rights are part of their laws and are justiciable. In Nigeria, the provisions in chapter 2 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are mere aspirations which are not Justiciable.”
Have the provision of Chapter 2 worked? Should Chapter 2 be Justiciable? What model of social security system should we adopt?
“Institutions consolidating Democracy: There is need for strong accountable and independent institutions that can guarantee and consolidate democracy. What are these institutions? What measures do we need to strengthen them? “
He thereafter inaugurated the NBA National Conference and Constitutional Review Committee to articulate NBA’s positions, firstly on the report of the Presidential Advisory Panel and the National Dialogue/Conference proper. The committee has Chief. Awa Kalu, SAN as its chairman while Senator Abubakar Sodangi is the alternate chair.
The NBA’s position is expected to be presented at the Proposed National Conference.