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Confab: Withdraw draft constitution, Northern delegates tell Kutigi

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Northern delegates have further expressed their anger over the national conference’s proposed ‘draft constitution’ by petitioning the Chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi.

Retired Chief Justice of Nigeria Idris Legbo Kutigi under fire from Northern delegates
Retired Chief Justice of Nigeria Idris Legbo Kutigi

They have asked him to withdraw the document from circulation, stressing that its content should not be debated at the plenary.

This was contained in an open letter the northern delegates sent to Kutigi in Abuja on Wednesday.

Titled, ‘New constitution, referendum and adoption of conference report:Issues of serious concern’, the letter was signed by the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Northern Delegates Forum, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie and Gen. Jeremiah Useni (retd.), respectively.

The letter read in part, “We call upon the leadership of the Conference to discountenance and withdraw the Draft Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2014 and the accompanying Bills, which have been circulated.

“We urge the Conference leadership to table the Draft Conference Report which contains only the resolutions openly and officially sanctioned and adopted by delegates for validation and adoption as provided for under the National Conference Procedure Rules, 2014 and as envisaged in the Work Plan adopted.

“For the avoidance of doubt, we shall not be a party to the adoption of the report or any part thereof by voice vote. We urge the leadership of the Conference to be strictly guided by the Conference Procedure Rules, 2014.”

They said they were shocked when the Secretary of the Conference, Dr. Valerie Azinge, distributed some documents including one entitled ‘Report of the National Conference, 2014 DRAFT CONSTITUTION’, which they said was also accompanied by draft bills to promulgate into law the ‘CONSTITUTION OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, 2014′.

The delegates insisted in the letter that none of them was party or privy to any decision and did not participate in any processes or proceedings to draft a constitution or bill.

“Quite on the contrary,” the delegates added in the letter, that they had expressed their objections to any such project under any guise.

They said, “Moreover and to the best of our knowledge, we are unaware that the Conference has, whether at plenary or committee stages of its work, taken a decision to draw up a draft constitution, authorised or tasked any of its Committees, delegates or the Conference Secretariat to do so.”

They, therefore, described the origin of the documents as dubious and questionable.

The aggrieved delegates wondered why the ‘suspicious document’ contained what they described as some extraneous issues.

Such issues, according to them, were various provisions pertaining to issues of State Constitution, boundary adjustment, referendum to adopt Constitution, funding for Local Government Areas, and deletion of Land Use Act and the abrogation of all existing laws, which were contained in the contentious draft.

During plenary on Wednesday, which lasted for only about 14 minutes, Kutigi announced plans for accelerated handling of final approval of the draft resolutions.

The Chairman, flanked by his deputy, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, the Conference Secretary, Dr. Valerie-Jenete Azinge and the other three principal officers, welcomed the delegates back to the Conference.

He apologised for the postponement of resumption from August 4 to August 11, explaining that it was due to the enormous work that needed to be done to ensure the completion of the draft resolutions.

Kutigi reassured delegates of the inviolability of the draft resolutions, adding: “If there are any errors, they are human errors and not an attempt by the leadership to any play game.”

He further stated that the draft reports of the Conference prepared by the Secretariat were done “to the best of our ability and with all honesty and diligence.”

However, he said as humans, there could be noticeable errors that would be corrected if brought to the attention of the secretariat.

“Any mistake is due to human error and can be corrected,” he said.

The chairman said in line with the resolution of the Conference, the reports were prepared to cover constitutional issues based on amendments agreed upon by the delegates; policy issues meant for implementation by the President; and legislative issues earmarked for enactment into laws by the National Assembly.

Justice Kutigi explained that the copy labeled “draft constitution” contained the various alterations and amendments to the 1999 Constitution “proposed by you.”

After the brief address, some delegates clapped for him.

Justice Kutigi immediately went ahead to spell out the procedure to be adopted by the Conference for consideration and approval of the different reports.

Before adjourning the session, Justice Kutigi announced the presence of a new delegate, Chief Supo Shonibare, who replaced Sir. Olaniwun Ajayi from the South West; and the death of Professor Mohammed Nur.

He jokingly referred to Shonibare as the ‘real addendum’ to the conference and asked Chief Mike Ozhekome (SAN) who has been referring to himself as a Federal Government addendum delegate, to drop the appellation for Shonibare.

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