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NASS: Arewa, Afenifere, CNPP criticize Jonathan over National Confab plan

By The Citizen

President Goodluck Jonathan has come under criticism over his comments that the decisions and recommendations of the proposed national conference would be subject to the endorsement of the National Assembly.

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.

The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) said the development has only shown that the President is only trying to satisfy some interest.

The 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.'

Meanwhile, the National Publicity Secretary of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said that the National Assembly had no business with the outcome of the national confab.

Odumakin 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 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.'

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.'

A Second Republic Deputy Senate President, Senator John Wash Pam, said 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.' - National Mirror.