Confab: Lawyers, lecturers differ on referendum

Justice Idris Kutigi, Chairman, National Conference

Some lawyers and university lecturers have expressed divergent on whether or not the recommendations of National Conference should be subjected to a referendum or pass through the National Assembly.

They made their views known in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)in Lagos on Sunday.

President Goodluck Jonathan had on Aug. 21, when he received the conference report, said it would be sent to the National Assembly and Council of State for incorporation into the constitution.

Prof. Taiwo Osipitan, a professor of Public Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, told NAN in a telephone interview that the report should pass through the National Assembly.

“The need for a referendum occurs when a new constitution is to be drafted, however, when the constitution wants to be amended, it should go through the National Assembly.

“I feel the president is quite right to go through the National Assembly,” Osipitan, who is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN),said.

Former President, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, also a SAN, corroborated Osipitan’s views.

“If the recommendations of the conference are put to a referendum it can’t form part of the present constitution of the country.

“For it to be a part of the current constitution, it has to go through the route of the National Assembly,” he said.

But, Mr Yinka Farounbi, Chairman, NBA Ikeja Branch, disagreed, contending that the report should be subjected to a referendum.

“It will be appropriate if the recommendations of the report be subjected to a referendum by the average Nigerian,” Farounbi said.

Also, a former Ikeja branch NBA Chairman, Mr Onyekachi Ubani, aligned himself with Farounbi’s argument, and said that the country needed a new constitution.

“The country needs a new constitution which should be drafted with the input of the people. The 1999 Constitution does not have the input of the people, that is why the outcome of the National Conference should be subjected to a referendum,” Ubani said.

He alleged that the National Assembly had always derided the Confab, adding that some of the recommendations would be thrown out because they were not favorable to the lawmakers.

Ubani, who stressed that there were many issues agitating the country, suggested “a total overhaul of the federal system.” said.

Mr Samuel Ugoh, Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, called for the adoption of “a participatory approach” in legalising the Confab report.

“The masses think our democracy is largely elitist and their votes do not really count. One way to assure them of their value is to adopt an all inclusive style to legitimise this report and the only way is to conduct a referendum on the draft report,” Ugoh said.

Ugoh said that a new constitution for Nigeria must enjoy large scale legitimacy to enhance the democracy of the country.

Mr Wale Ogunade, President Voters Awareness Initiative (VAI), told NAN that the report should be subjected to a referendum by the grassroots.

“In countries around the world, their constitution is a reflection of the wishes of the people. The people clamoured for the National Conference because initially, the government was hesitant about conveying a National Conference.

“The people should come together and vote on the decisions contained in the report because the grassroots need to have a feel of what they clamoured for,” Ogunade said.