Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: State Creation Row - Constitution Review May Be Dumped

Indications emerged, yesterday, that the National Assembly (NASS) might jettison the review of the 1999 Constitution as a result of the row that has rocked two issues on agenda: state creation and local government autonomy.

Sunday Vanguard learnt from authoritative sources that the leadership of the NASS was split over state creation although they were united on local government autonomy.

Most of the 36 governors on the other hand, who control the lawmakers directly and remotely, are said to be vehemently opposed to any amendment that would give independence to the third tier of government, whose resources they are believed to be feasting on under a dubious 'joint account' policy.

It was learnt that of the Senate President, Senaor David Mark, his deputy,Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, were in support of state creation while the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, was not in a hurry for the exercise.

The decision to dump the review, which had progressed up to the collation of reports garnered from the 360 federal constituencies of the country, became obvious following threats from most northern lawmakers that the North would be short changed if the exercise sailed through.

They said they were not in support of state creation and that the result of the public sessions and the online voting by Nigerians on the various aspects of the constitution should not be presented to the NASS.

Consequently, it was gathered that the leadership of the parliament might throw away the review of the constitution along with the state creation just as the 5th National Assembly threw away the review because of the Third Term agenda allegedly spearheaded by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his loyalists.

Some lawmakers had accused the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and his House of Representatives colleague, Emeka Ihedioha, of manipulating the outcome of the public sessions to favour state creation so that the South-East, to which they belong, would be favoured with one.

Sunday Vanguard learnt that it was based on the suspicion of manipulation raised by northern lawmakers against the two top-ranking lawmakers from the South-East that Tambuwal foiled the public presentation of the report, which the duo had hoped to use and convince the leadership to go for state creation.

Trouble reportedly started when the House Speaker ordered Ihedioha to stand down the presentation even after the dignitaries invited to grace the occasion had already assembled for the event.

Tambuwal, it was gathered, had come under immense pressure from northern lawmakers to cancel the session which, they claimed, had been programmed to promote an "Igbo Agenda " to their detriment.

"It was due to this reason that the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, who was supposed to chair the occasion, refused to show up," a lawmaker said.

An uncomfortable House Speaker was said to have threatened to call off the entire exercise if Ihedioha insisted on going ahead with the presentation. Ihedioha complied and apologised to the guests to disperse until further notice.

The source, who is close to the leadership of the NASS, claimed that, contrary to allegation that the two men doctored the report to favour state creation, Nigerians actually voted for more states and that the results clearly established that.

The lawmaker, who hails from one of the Niger Delta states, challenged Tambuwal and his group to allow Ekweremadu and Ihedioha to present the report in its present form for Nigerians to see who was speaking the truth on the matter.

'NO DOCTORING'

But, last night, Ekweremadu defended his work, saying he had not committed any infraction to warrant any accusation by any individual or group.

The Deputy Senate President said there was no way the issue of state creation or any other matter relating to the Nigerian constitution could be treated in isolation, as the committee's report had not even been presented to the Senate for adoption and discussion.

He spoke to Sunday Vanguard through his Special Adviser on Media, Uche Anichukwu. According to him, the Joint Committee of National Assembly on Constitution Review no longer exists but that the two chambers would harmonise their positions.

Anichukwu noted, "Contrary to insinuations, the committee has been working smoothly, thoroughly, transparently, and patriotically as a team and with the whole nation, the nation's democracy, and posterity at heart.

A close aide to Ihedioha, on the other hand, defended the Imo State-born politician, saying he had given his all to ensure the success of the exercise in the interest of the nation and its people as a patriotic Nigerian leader.

The aide went on: "The Peoples Public Sessions initiative" adopted by the deputy speaker and his team remains the most inclusive approach to constitution making in the history of Nigeria so far and he should be commended instead of being accused of doctoring the outcome of a transparent process.

"Credit for the initiative and the smooth-sailing of the process thus far cannot be denied the committee on constitution review of the House.

"Such openness, transparency and accountability of the process make it immune from manipulation from any quarters and the so-called allegations of 'doctoring' could not be substantiated when those who alleged were confronted to substantiate.

"The committee leadership did not at any time meet with any interest or pressure group with the motive of influencing the outcome of the report."

PROTESTS

Meanwhile, the postponement of the public presentation of the report has sparked off protests from representatives of students, civil society groups and other stakeholders who fear that Nigerians have, once again, been deceived by politicians in the guise of constitution review after spending a huge chunk of public funds on the exercise.

Among the stakeholders, who are aggrieved over the development, are National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS; and Alliance for Credible Elections, ACE.

National President of NANS, Yinka Gbadebo; Deputy President of ACE, Asuzu Echezona; and a representative of Persons with Disability Society of Nigeria, Augustine Onwuamaegbu, in separate interviews, described the postponement of the collation of the constitution review report as "an attempt to truncate our democracy and subvert the will of the people of Nigeria."

Gbadebo noted, "This is another attempt by the House to subvert the wishes and aspirations of the people expressly captured at the 360 constituencies of this country at the peoples' public session just to satisfy the interest of a certain segment of the society".

He stated that all issues relating to local government autonomy and autonomy of state Houses of Assembly, canvassed at the 'Peoples' Public Sessions' and opposed by the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, as non-negotiable issues, would be resisted by the students even as he argued that the cancellation was an attempt to satisfy an interest group by the law-makers.

It will be recalled that the Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, has consistently opposed the review of the constitution and the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) presently before the National Assembly on the grounds that they were a South-East agenda.

There were however reports last night that the leadership of the National Assembly might meet this week to harmonise their various positions and interests with a view to reviving the review of the constitution. But a female lawmaker from the South-South doubted the ability of the leadership to review the constitution particularly because President Goodluck Jonathan has neither shown interest in any area of the document nor "lobbied" the lawmakers, as his predecessors allegedly used to do with huge gratification.

Soni Daniel, Okey Nedribe, Henry Umoru and Emma Ovuakporie

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