After three attempts and numerous hiccups, the National Assembly has failed to give Nigerians a people’s constitution. But the ongoing National Conference seems to be succeeding through exemplary statecraft and methodical approach to constitution making. Since resuming plenary last week, each committee of the Conference has been reporting the consensual decisions reached by the 70 per cent majority of delegates present at their sittings and public hearings. The leadership of the confab is equally demonstrating a commitment to deliver on the mandate to fashion a people-oriented constitution.
We commend their sense of patriotism in the consideration of the reports of the committees. The clause-by-clause treatment of each issue is in tandem with global legislative best practices and more transparent than what we have witnessed in the National Assembly for the past 15 years.
Though there are reservations about the propriety of the country having a pseudo-parliament when there is a body constitutionally empowered to make and amend laws, we make bold to say that this is also the principle of necessity at work again. This child of necessity is a consequence of the failure of the National Assembly to midwife a people’s constitution.
We urge the National Assembly to discard its staid image and speed up the constitution review process to ensure a legal backing for subjecting the outcome of the National Conference to a referendum. It is expedient and in our collective interest. As patriots, they should not feel ashamed that the National Conference could achieve what they thought was a pipe dream. The outpouring of goodwill and transnational sigh of relief has compelled many institutions and organs, including committees and officials of the National Assembly, to make submissions and recommendations which are now receiving accelerated hearing in plenary at the confab.
The legislature can fast-track the transition to full constitutional democracy if it speeds up the effort to legitimise the outcome of the confab report through a referendum. If pettiness and selfish considerations are allowed to wallop this noble exercise, the National Assembly will only be reversing the gear to the initial cynicism that the issues before the confab could be tainted by parochial, clannish and religious sentiments. The leadership of the Confab has spawned a new hope that, given the right socio-political milieu, Nigerians can fashion a workable tool for their self-preservation and good governance.
We appreciate the solemn desire of the confab to succeed. But they should be reminded that subjecting the conference’s outcome to a referendum would be better rather than forwarding it to the National Assembly for ratification. Other countries had gone through constitutional drafting and amendment with the use of a referendum; therefore, ours should not be an exception. Sovereignty rests with the people and the final decision should rest with them through a credible, fair and transparent referendum