Patriots seek backing referendum

No Comments » December 28th, 2006 posted by // Categories: Sovereign National Conference (SNC) Project



 

 

Statement by
the Patriots

Following
Meeting of February 13, 2005

IT would be recalled that we
The Patriots
, have for a long time been in the
forefront of the demand for a National Conference. We have not stopped with a
verbal demand, but have followed it up with concrete action by preparing a Bill,
the National Conference and Referendum Bill, copies of which were sent to the
Presidency, the National Assembly, the State Governors and Houses of Assembly
and numerous private organisations.

The Presidency just put the Bill away, the Senate gave it a cursory looked
and threw it out, and the House of Representatives simply sat on it.

The long title of the Bill describes it as “A Bill for an Act to make
provisions for convening a National Conference of the people of Nigeria for the
purpose of preparing a Constitution for consideration and adoption by the people
of Nigeria at a Referendum and matters ancillary thereto.” The long title thus
provides a clear enough description of the character of the conference proposed.
This is re-nationalities and ethnic groups comprised in this Nation so as to
give them the opportunity to exercise their inherent right to determine
democratically for themselves the Constitution by which they wish to be governed
in one united Nigeria” (emphasis supplied). The preamble further declares that
the need for the conference arises from the fact that the constitution under
which the country is governed “came into existence as a result of a Decree
enacted by the Federal Military Government.”
 

The Bill then goes on to spell out the machinery and process for the
selection or election of delegates, quorum at the Conference, conduct of
proceedings, method of taking decisions, oath by delegates, secretary and other
support staff, laying before the National Assembly of draft Constitution passed
by the Conference, publication of the draft to the public, and the process for
holding a Referendum for the adoption of the Constitution by the entire mass of
the people, which is to bestow legally binding force upon it.

A Referendum of the people to adopt the constitution is the most fundamental
aspect of the whole process. It is no doubt a revolutionary process, but that is
what legitimately due to the people of this country-an opportunity, for the
first time since the creation of the Nigerian state in 1914, to adopt, through a
Referendum, a constitution by and for themselves in exercise of the constituent
power inherent in them as a sovereign people, not just to make an input in the
amendment of an imposed constitution. It is their birthright as a sovereign
people, a birthright of which they have long been denied, first, by our British
colonial master, then, by our military masters, and now, by our democratic
rulers in the Presidency and the National Assembly. There is no justifiable
reason for continuing to deny them that birthright.

Thus, the Conference envisaged under the Bill differs totally in nature and
character from that which the Federal Government, after years of unyielding
opposition, is now promoting. The character of the latter is most aptly defined
by the word “dialogue,” a conversation, or, in the even more apt
characterisation of it by the print media, a “talk-shop”.

Its character as a talk-shop is confirmed by the Attorney-General of the
Federation, Chief Akinlolu Olujinmi (SAN), in an interview in
The Guardian
newspaper of February 9, 2005, where he
was reported to have said: “We are calling on Nigerians to come and talk on
matters affecting them”. It is not contemplated that the conference will have
power to take final or binding decisions on any matter, only to make
“recommendations which the National Assembly and the Presidency will look into
and see how to integrate these views into our Constitution…. The views that
will emerge from the national conference might also become very useful. What we
are doing now is not to just go ahead and amend the constitution without getting
the views of the delegates to the national conference” (emphasis supplied). In
other words, the conference is simply part of a process to aid the Presidency
and the National Assembly in the amendment of the Constitution.

The conference does not therefore have even the status of the Constituent
Assembly established by decree in 1977 and 1986 and was given power to
deliberate and take decisions, subject to the overriding authority of the
Federal Military Government, on the form and content of the constitution, a
draft of which was presented to it in the form of a bill and its proceedings on
it were, by the terms of the governing Decree, to be conducted in accordance
with prescribed regulations, following a procedure of first and second readings
and detailed consideration in a committee of the whole Assembly.

The character of the Federal Government sponsored conference as a mere
talk-shop is further underscored by the fact that there is no enabling law to
back it up. According to the Attorney-General of the Federation, an enabling law
is unnecessary, because “Nigerians do not need any new law to freely assemble
and discuss the future of their country… There are no legal issues that is
being looked into now”. Yes, a mere talk-shop needs no enabling law, since
freedom to talk, to converse with others, is guaranteed by the supreme law of
the land, the Constitution. The Honourable Attorney General’s reasoning reduces
to an absurdity what is meant to be a serious national exercise. Without an
enabling law, a National Conference, in the true sense of it, is a farce, a
charade.

The continued denial of the Nigerian people’s right to adopt a constitution
for themselves through a Referendum is not only wholly unjustified by world at
large. The precedent for this was initiated by the American Revolutionaries by
the adoption of “a Constitution for the United States of America” in 1787. The
significance of that constitution in this connection lies partly in the novel
principles, ideas and frame of government enshrined in it but more in the
democratic process by which it was adopted through a National Convention in
Philadelphia and State ratifying Conventions. In the result, the new Republic
was anchored upon a solid moral foundation resting on the will and consent of
the people – on “a voluntary social impact… established by peaceful debate,”
rather than by imposition by the will and power of an imperil sovereign or a
dominant, ruling group within the country. The American Revolutionaries gave the
world the first written democratic constitution. Nigeria does not have and never
has had a democratic constitution, and hardly deserves to be called a democracy.

The American precedent of adopting a constitution through a democratic
process and thereby bestowing on it the character of a democratic constitution
has since become a world wide phenomenon. In the 20 countries of former French
Africa, a referendum and/or a specially elected constituent assembly, as the
process for adopting a constituent, have become a norm firmly rooted in
tradition inherited from French colonialism – since the French Revolution of
1789, all successive French constitutions had been adopted at a referendum. With
them, i.e. countries in former French Africa, the making of a constitution
otherwise than by this democratic process is almost unthinkable.

In line with the tradition, therefore, the constitutions by which all but
five of the countries transited to multiparty democracy were submitted to, and
adopted by the people at a referendum on the following dates – Benin on December
2, 1990; Burkina Faso, March 1991; Mauritania, July 12, 1991; Niger, May 12,
1996; Madagascar (not a new Constitution but an extensive revision of the
existing Constitution) March 15, 1998; Guinea, December 23, 1990; Morocco,
September 11, 1991; Comoros, October 20, 1996; Djibouti, December 28, 1994;
Mali, January 12, 1992; Chad, March 31, 1996; Togo, September 27, 1992; Gabon,
July 21, 1995. Remarkably, none went for a specially elected constituent
assembly which was used in some of the countries in the past, all now opting for
the real thing – the people themselves directly.

In four of the remaining five of these states, transition was effected, not
by means of a new constitution, but under the existing constitution suitably
amended by a law enacted through the ordinary legislative process, but the
existing constitution itself had been adopted by the people at a referendum –
Cameroun (existing constitution of 1972 amended for the purpose of transition by
a law of 1996); Cote d’Ivoire (existing constitution of 1960 amended by law of
1990, with further amendments in 1994 and 1998); Tunisia (existing Constitution
of 1959 amended by law of 1988); and Senegal (existing Constitution of 1963
amended by law of 1994, as further amended in 1998).

 The fact that the existing constitution was adopted at a referendum
does not, however, justify the side-tracking of the people in the making of a
major and fundamental amendment involving change from one-party system to
multiparty democracy; after-all, as noted earlier, the revision in Madagascar
was approved by a referendum.

Algeria is thus the only country in former French Africa in which a new
Constitution, transiting the country from military rule to multiparty democracy
was adopted in 1996 without submitting it to the people for approval in a
referendum, but this was apparently because of the state of emergency declared
following widespread violence by Islamic fundamentalists; the previous
constitution of 1976 had been approved at a referendum.

Like in nearly all the countries of former French Africa, a referendum was
the method used in adopting the transition constitutions of the two former
Spanish colonies-Equatorial Guinea (referendum of November 16, 1992) and Sao
Tome and Principe (referendum of August 1990). So also Ethiopia’s transition
constitution of 1995 and Eritrea’s of 1997 are both democratic constitutions;
they were adopted by constituent assemblies specially elected for the purpose on
December 8, 1994 and May 23, 1997 respectively. (Ethiopia’s Socialist
Constitution of 1987 was also a democratic constitution, having been adopted in
a referendum). Egypt’s Constitution of 1980, which is still in force, and the
amendments made to it on May 20, 1980 were approved at a referendum.

In former British Africa in which the countries have been shackled by the
British tradition of not recognising the people as a constituent power-Britain
itself has no written constitution-nine of the countries have broken free from
the tradition since the inception of the democratic revolution in Africa in 1990
and have had their transition constitutions adopted by the people in a
referendum-The Gambia, Ghana, Malawi, Seychelles, Sierra Leone and Sudan-or
through a constituent assembly specially elected for the purpose-Namibia, South
Africa and Uganda-the 1983 Constitution of South Africa was approved in an
all-white referendum in November of that year by 1,260,223 votes in favour and
691,557 votes against. Proposals for a new constitution for Zimbabwe were
submitted to, and rejected by people in a referendum in 2001.

Nigeria, the giant of Africa, should be in the vanguard of the movement
towards the democratisation of the constitution in Africa, and should not be
marching against its currents in opposition to the wishes of the people.

A people’s conference is part of the process of democratising the
constitution, the final culmination of which is a referendum of the people to
adopt it. If it is not held now when circumstances seem appropriate for a
properly controlled and channelled conference, it is bound to take place at some
date in the future, perhaps in a manner or form beyond the control of anyone.
That is the lesson to be learnt from the French Revolution of 1789. It was the
Estates-General in France in 1789 which, defying attempts by the king to
disperse it, moved its meeting place to a tennis court and continued to meet
there, eventually setting in motion the Revolution, the bloodiest Revolution in
all history, which produced the radically transformed society we know today as
France. The French Revolution had its sequel in other parts of Europe in 1830,
1832, 1848, 1851 and 1871, a sequel that also radically transformed the
political and constitutional landscape of Europe. The precedent of the French
Estates – General had been re-enacted in the form of a Sovereign National
Conference (SNC) in seven African countries in the period 1990 to 1993 – Benin,
Togo, Congo (Brazzaville), Niger, Mali, Chad, Gabon and Zaire.

Finally, whilst we stand by the type of National Conference proposed and
outlined in our National Conference and Referendum Bill, we suggest as a way
forward a meeting between the President, the leadership of the National
Assembly, the leadership of The Patriots, PRONACO and other eminent
organisations to try and find a common ground.`

Guardian
Monday, February 14, 2005

The Patriots seeks law, referendum on dialogue
By Idowu Ajanaku

PROMINENT Nigerians under the aegis of The Patriots yesterday called for both an
enabling law and a referendum for the proposed national dialogue.

Rising from a three-hour meeting at the Ilupeju home of prominent lawyer, Chief
Frederick Rotimi Alade Williams, in Lagos, the group also proposed a meeting of
President Olusegun Obasanjo, the leadership of the National Assembly, the
Pro-National Conference Organisation (PRONACO) and other organisations,
including The Patriots.

In a five-page statement read on behalf of the group by Professor Ben Nwabueze
(SAN), who chaired the meeting, the association noted that the character of the
National Political Reform Conference is further weakened by the fact that there
is no enabling law to back it.

To The Patriots, the statement credited to Chief Akinlolu Olujinmi, the
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, that an enabling law
is unnecessary “has reduced to an absurdity what was meant to be a serious
national exercise.”

“Without an enabling law, a national conference, in the true sense of it, is a
farce, a charade,” the statement said.

The National Political Reform Conference, according to The Patriots, does not
even have the status of the Constituent Assembly established by a decree in 1977
and 1986 which gave power to deliberate and take decisions subject to the
overriding authority of the Federal Military Government, on the form and content
of the constitution.

A draft, the group added, was presented to the then military government in form
of a bill and its proceedings on it were, by the terms of the governing decree
to be conducted in accordance with prescribed regulations, following a procedure
of first and second readings and detailed considerations in a committee of the
whole Assembly.

The continued denial of the Nigerian peoples’ rights to adopt a constitution for
themselves through a referendum, in The Patriots reckoning, is not only
unjustified by reason, it is also against the current development in the rest of
Africa and the world at large.

It listed about 15 countries, former French colonies, which conducted referendum
before adopting new constitutions.

The group noted that the government has to move very fast to nip in the bud the
plans by the Anthony Enahoro-led group to hold a parallel conference.

This, he said, has become imperative because if the government fails to reach a
truce with PRONACO and other groups, holding two conferences may endanger the
unity of the country.

While The Patriots urged the Obasanjo-led administration to carry the people
along in shaping the future of the country, the group referred the government to
the bill it (The Patriots) submitted to the National Assembly on modalities for
an acceptable national conference.

Faulting the mode of selection of delegates to the national conference, the
group insisted that hand-picking delegates by the President and state governors
is not acceptable to the Nigerian people.

Tracing the evolution of constitutional reforms across the world, The Patriots
noted that it was initiated by American revolutionaries with the adoption of “a
constitution for the United States of America in 1787.”

“The principles, ideas and frame of government were enshrined in it but more in
the democratic process by which it was adopted – through a national conviction
in Philadelphia and state ratifying conventions. Thus, the new Republic was
anchored upon a social moral foundation resting on the will and consent of the
people.”

Nigeria, the group said, must toe the American line in order to have a true
constitution, which the people would be proud of.

Asked what steps the association would take if President Obasanjo failed to
convene a meeting of stakeholders to resolve the logjam, Nwabueze replied: “When
we get to that bridge, we shall cross it.”

Those who attended yesterday’s meeting included Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief
Olanihun Ajayi, Chief Ganiyu Dawodu, Chief David Dafinone, Professor Bolaji
Akinyemi, Chief Solomon Asemota, Ambassador Vincent Okobi and Chief Isaac Shaahu.`

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