Thursday, January 31, 2013

NIGERIA: House Defers Presentation of Constitution Review Report

The House of Representatives Thursday suspended the presentation of the  report of  the Peoples ‘Public Sessions’ on the review of the 1999 Constitution following protests by some lawmakers over its  content.
The report contains the collated results of the special public hearings  conducted by the House last year across the 360 federal constituencies in the country.
The exercise was a pseudo-referendum geared towards getting the views of the people at the grassroots on aspects of the 1999 Constitution proposed for amendment by the National Assembly.
The House also yesterday passed a motion urging the Federal Government to initiate the process for the conduct of referendum to enable the people of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula, which Nigeria has ceded to Cameroon following the verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to determine their fate.
All was set for the  public presentation of the report, billed to begin at 10 am but the event  was called off after a gathering  of lawmakers and civil society organisations had waited for the commencement of the programme for  more than two hours.
There were speculation that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), which has disagreed with the National Assembly on some of the issues listed for review in the constitution, especially on the push for local government autonomy, was uncomfortable with the report and  had infiltrated the ranks of the lawmakers to scuttle the presentation of the report.
The suspended  report contains the voting pattern as well as the verdict of Nigerians on the  autonomy for local government councils, independence for state legislatures, and desirability of state electoral commissions, among others on the constitution review  template.
NGF Chairman and Rivers State Governor, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi, who  was billed to grace the occasion was absent. 
House Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who arrived late to the event alongside other principal officers of the green chamber, apologised for the long wait and  announced the postponement.
Tambuwal said the postponement was regrettable but inevitable, adding that there were some issues arising from the collation of the report that needed to be resolved before the report could be made public.
According to him, to do otherwise will create a scenario where some members of the House could disown the report, resulting in a credibility crisis for the entire exercise.
He said: “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 which is right to ensure that what ought to be done or needs to be done is done very well.
“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. Especially here in the House of Representatives where this process has been acclaimed to be transparent thus far, we will not want a situation whereby at this stage there should be any issue that has to do with the total collated results of what needs to be presented to the public today.” 
However, THISDAY gathered that the crisis over the report was caused by the delay by some lawmakers to submit the reports of proceedings from the special hearing sessions in their constituencies on time to the House leadership.
A lawmake told THISDAY that about 10 lawmakers did not submit their reports until last week.
He said: “When the draft was collated, some members raised issues with what was put in the report, stating that this was not what their constituencies agreed on.
“So an extra week or two was given to the members for them to get the correct information and resend to the office of the deputy speaker and the deputy chairman of the Joint Constitution Review Committee of the National Assembly, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, so that the correct input from their constituencies can be reflected in the final report which will now be presented at a plenary in February.”
The cancellation of the event, however, sparked off an instant protest from the Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE),  one of the civil society organisations, at the event.
ACE Deputy General Secretary, Mr. Asuzu Echezona, who spoke to reporters, alleged that the presentation of the report was an indication that the governors had infiltrated the legislators with a view to scuttling the constitution review.
Echezona said his organisation was part of the team that collated the results of the Peoples Public Sessions and was aware of the position of the various constituencies and the consensus among Nigerians on the constitution.
“We know the stand of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum on this matter.  They have not hidden their stand that they want to truncate the will of the people. Nigerians have spoken and their opinions  should stand on the issue of local government autonomy, electoral reforms, judicial reforms and autonomy for the state Houses of Assembly.
“ We hope that this is not part of the agenda of the governors to truncate the will of the people because Nigerians would resist it,” Echezona said.
But the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakary Mohammed, debunked speculations of possible external influence on the House.
Mohammed, who addressed journalists on the controversy trailing the suspension of the presentation of the report, said it had nothing to do with the governors.
According to him, the process was suspended  because of complaints by some lawmakers on the collated results and the need for them to have an opportunity to cross check if what was recorded in the report tallied with the voting at the various constituencies.
“We regret that it happened the way it did but of course human beings are not machines. Even machines do skip or malfunction.
“As much as we would have loved to present the report today, we are constrained by the position of things. It is better to delay rather than hurriedly go and err on a document that should stand the test of time,” Mohammed said.
The House also thursday in a voice vote, passed a motion urging the Federal Government to conduct a referendum for Nigerians on the disputed Bakassi territory.
The decision was taken after debating a motion sponsored by Chairman, House Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity, Hon. Ekpenyong Ayi.
He recalled the October  2002 ICJ judgement, which ceded the territory to Cameroon, saying that despite the judgement and the inability of Nigeria to seek its review, the people deserve to be given a platform to exercise their right to self determination, as provided in Article 1 of the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
According to Ayi, Article 3 of the Green Tree Agreement recognises the right of the Bakassi people when it said that Cameroon after the transfer of authority to it by Nigeria shall guarantee Nigerians living in Bakassi Peninsula the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedom as enshrined in the International Human Rights Law and other relevant provisions of international law.
He expressed concern that in spite of these provisions, the Bakassi people have suffered incessant and blatant violations, frequent extra-judicial killings and incarceration in the hands of the Cameroonian authorities.
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