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House Constitution Review Committee In Disarray

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... As Speaker halts presentation of people’s public session report

ABUJA, January 31, (THEWILL) - Confusion and protests were the order of the day, Thursday, as the planned presentation of the report of the people’s public sessions by the House of Representatives ad hoc committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution was cancelled at the last minute.

Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, announced the postponement of the public presentation two hours after the event was due to take place.

Before cancelling the proposed programme, Tambuwal said the leadership of the House had reviewed the people’s public sessions process and decided that it be put off because there "were hitches here and there."

But some members of the House, civil society organisations and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) protested the cancellation of the presentation of the report.

The presentation, which had been advertised in the media and was widely publicized, could not hold even as most of the invited stakeholders were present except the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and the Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly.

The event, which was scheduled for 10am could not kick off until 12.25pm when the Speaker eventually arrived with his leadership team.

Unlike other House events, there were no introduction or prayers . As soon as the national anthem was sung, the Speaker took the microphone, apologised to those present and subsequently announced the postponement.

"I will begin by apologising to you collectively and severally for the delay in the commencement of the process. I would like to say that as leaders, we will continue to engage ourselves and in the process of doing that ensure that what ought to be done or needs to be done is done very well.

"Especially here in the House of Representatives where this process has been acclaimed to be transparent thus far, we will not as such want a situation whereby at this stage there should be no issue that has to do with the total collated results of what need to be presented to the public today," he said at the beginning.

But the biggest shocker came when the Speaker explained further that "as leadership, we have reviewed the process so far and realised that we cannot go ahead with this programme today. Just like any other thing associated with humans, there are hitches here and there- that is normal."

Spokesman for the House and chairman committee on media, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, at a separate briefing said the presentation had to be put off to enable members collate and aggregate views of their constituents to ensure that no one is left behind.

Our correspondent gathered that the decision to postpone the public presentation was not unconnected with the meeting held between the Governors Forum and leadership of the House two nights ago.

The governors are markedly opposed to the granting of autonomy to Local Governments and state Houses of Assembly as against the position of the House and majority of Nigerians.

Sources have said the governors may have forced the lawmakers to drop their hardline support for autonomy.

Before the Speaker announced the postponement, he held a long meeting with the principal officers where it was gathered that a heated argument ensued amongst the lawmakers.

A principal officer who was at the meeting said the Deputy Speaker, Emeka Ihedioha, who is also the chairman of the ad hoc committee on the review of the constitution made desperate efforts to convince the Speaker to allow the presentation to go ahead as planned but was unsuccessful.

According to him, other members of the ad hoc committee had reported the deputy speaker to the speaker for allegedly playing God and denying them access to the final copy of the report that was slated for presentation.

A sub committee chairman also told reporters that they would have disowned the report should the deputy speaker went ahead with the presentation.

"I can tell you that as a sub committee chairman, I do not know how the report they wanted to present was collated. Nobody told me anything. So, it’s good that the Speaker has stopped this madness," he said.

But NANS, Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE) and other civil society groups yesterday protested the postponement.

National President of NANS ,Yinka Gbadebo; Deputy President of ACE, Asuzu Echezona, and a representative of Persons with Disability Initiative Society of Nigeria, Augustine Onwuamaegbu, at separate interviews with newsmen described the postponement of the collation of the Constitution review result as an attempt to subvert the will of the people of Nigeria.

Gbadebo accused the committee of plots to tamper with the report and warned that all issues relating to Local Government autonomy and autonomy of state Houses of Assemblies which were canvassed at the people’s public session and opposed by NGF are non-negotiable.

On his own part, Onwuamaegbu, representing the Association of People with Disability Initiative Society of Nigeria, said '' the Nigerian people has a lot of confidence in both chambers of the National Assembly. For them to cancel the collation of the constitution review exercise shows that the House has an agenda on this issue''.

It will be recalled that the people’s public sessions were held simultaneously in all the 36 states and Abuja in October last year.