President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposal to convoke a national dialogue to decide the future of Nigeria may run into a hitch as some members of the National Assembly weekend raised legal and constitutional questions about the project.
The lawmakers, who spoke with sources in separate interviews, said should the national dialogue hold under the prevailing legal and political climate, it would end up as a mere talk shop, solving no problems and adding no value to the development of Nigeria.
The president had in his October 1 speech, to mark Nigeria’s 53rd independence anniversary, unfolded plans to set up an advisory committee to chart the path for a national conversation on Nigeria’s future.
Last Monday, the president inaugurated the 13-member National Advisory Committee on National Conference, headed by a chieftain of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu.
The committee, which has six weeks to submit its report, is to work out the modalities for the holding of the national dialogue.
Although the lawmakers conceded that the idea of a national dialogue was good, they expressed fears that given the challenges confronting the nation, the project lacked the necessary legal framework and had no place in the 1999 Constitution.
The parliamentarians raised fundamental questions on the modalities for representation at the dialogue. They argued that the Electoral Act 2010 did not envisage such a gathering of Nigerians and had no provisions for the way the participants could be selected.
They contended that because of the absence of a legal framework, some ethnic and political groups had started challenging the proposed dialogue in terms of whether or not each ethnic group should send equal number of delegates.
Hon Sokonte Davies (PDP/Rivers), one of the lawmakers who expressed his views on the issue, said the federal government should have prepared legal and constitutional foundations for the dialogue before announcing it.
He said: “Ordinarily, I would have suggested that some amendments should have been made to the constitution before the commencement of the conference. If such amendments are made, then it will give the conference some legal framework. But sometimes, we move from the answer to the question instead of moving from the question to the answer.
“Moving from the question would have been better than moving from the answer to the question, which is, apparently, what we are going to have. But notwithstanding, let us not disparage the idea of the national dialogue until those appointed to drive the process tell us how they want to go about it.”
On his part, former Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Climate Change, Hon. Bitrus Kaze, disagreed with the insinuation in some quarters that the proposed dialogue was a vote of no confidence on the National Assembly.
According to him, the National Assembly has been performing its constitutional duties in the last 14 years and still has the capacity to do more in the coming years.
The lawmaker said no matter the perceived shortcomings of the parliament, the national dialogue should not have been contemplated without considering the role of the National Assembly.
He said it would be difficult to hold the national dialogue and achieve the desired results without the involvement of the National Assembly, which makes laws for the governance of the country.
He said whatever might be the outcome of the proposed dialogue; Nigerians must change their attitude and negative perception of their country for the nation to progress.
According to him, Nigeria will find it difficult to get out of the woods until its citizens begin to de-emphasise their tribes, regions, religions, languages and states of origin.
Apparently underlining the essence of involving the National Assembly in the dialogue, Kaze said some of the resolutions of the last dialogue held during the former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration later became ingredients for the 2010 amendment to the constitution at the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, a political pressure group, Vista Nigeria, has thrown its weight behind the proposed national dialogue and demanded that the dialogue should give birth to a brand new document that would replace the 1999 Constitution .
The existing constitution was produced by the military administration of General Abdulsalami Abubakar and decreed into existence at the twilight of military rule in 1999.
Legal luminaries, politicians and civil society organisations have over the years criticised the document, blaming it for the many hiccups in Nigeria’s political system.
President of Vista Nigeria, Mr John Okuonghae, said the current constitution had proven to be an unworkable document, as it had failed to address the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
He described the 1999 Constitution as a document with one door and 50 windows of escape.
The group, which proclaimed a vision for transparency and accountability in governance, added that most of Nigeria’s current economic and security challenges were rooted in the structural defects created by the 1999 Constitution.
Okuonghae said a national dialogue had become imperative because of these numerous challenges and the need for the people to tackle them with a common purpose.
He alleged that most of the challenges facing the Jonathan administration stemmed from the structural imbalance in the federation and the belief of some sections of the country that they were born to rule in perpetuity.
Posted by SirVic for wetopup(News Laboratry)