The Daily Trust editorial of February 12, 2013 titled 'A grievous sleight of hand' is premised on speculations, factual errors, and misjudgments, all of which negate the basic tenets of the noble profession of journalism.
The editorial sought to impugn the integrity of the House of Representatives; cast its Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Review in bad light; and disparage the person and office of the deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, CON.
In seeking to buttress its gaffe and further misinform the public, the newspaper identified three items on which the 'doctoring' was executed and implied in a fourth that the committee surreptitiously attempted to alter collated results on tenure of office for the office of the president and state governors. The three items are on (i) the issue of state creation where it said "the doctored report claimed that 70% of the 360 federal constituencies favoured the creation of only one new state, and that is in Mr Ihedioha's geo-political zone;" (ii) the issue of immunity from prosecution for state governors; and (iii) the issue of autonomy for local government councils.
The fact of the postponement of the public presentation of the committee report on January 31, 2013 and the clear explanation by the Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, CFR, that some time was needed to sort a few hitches cannot in any sane sense of reasoning and objectivity be interpreted to mean a case of doctoring of the original report had been established as claimed by the newspaper.
The widely publicised guidelines for the public sessions provided a tamper-proof framework for the conduct of the sessions whereby stakeholders like labour, professional and interest groups, civil society organizations, women and youth groups, among others, were deeply involved in the exercise and its aftermath, especially the collation process. The committee's secretariat performed the collation process with the active participation of representatives of these stakeholders and in the full glare of the media, including representative of the NUJ. This all-inclusive process was to ensure transparency of the exercise and to make sure the results remain accountable to the Nigerian people. How then can such a transparent and accountable process be subjected to the whims and caprices of any interest when representatives of the stakeholder groups and organizations are seised of the result of the collation process?
In reaching its faulty conclusions and making wrong judgements that border on libel and precipitous of primordial incitement against the deputy speaker, Daily Trust obviously failed to conduct due diligence and ascertain available facts before publishing its jaundiced editorial.
For the avoidance of doubts, some facts are hereby presented:
Guidelines for the public sessions released and published in major national dailies (including Daily Trust) contained a template of voting (yes or no) on 43 issues aggregated from all memoranda received from the public. On the issue of state creation, three questions were put forward:
(i) Should Section 8 of the Constitution be amended to remove the ambiguities in the process for creation of more states?
(ii) How many more states should be created in Nigeria?
(iii) Should a State/States be created in order to bring to parity the number of states among the geo-political zones?
Whether the questions are taken separately or together, there is no way the collated result on the state creation issue could have arrived at Daily Trust's conjured result in favour of "Mr. Ihedioha's geo-political zone" which clearly shows the speculative foundation of the editorial.
Questions 10 to 14 in the advertised template dealt with the issue of local government councils where the Daily Trust editorial claimed that the result was doctored to favour their abolition as a tier of government. None of the five questions asked related to removal of councils as a tier of government. So how did the newspaper arrive at the conclusion that the results were 'doctored' to favour removal of local government councils as a tier of government? Again, for the avoidance of doubt, these are the questions:
(i) Should Section 162 (6) be amended to abolish 'State Joint Local Government Account' so that allocations due to the local government councils would be paid to them directly?
(ii) Should the constitution be amended so that the power to create local government areas now rest exclusively with the states, such that states assume responsibility for the funding of local governments?
(iii) Should the local government councils be accorded the status of a tier of government properly so called with its own legislative list?
(iv.) Should the Constitution be amended to deny revenue allocation to unelected local government councils?
(v) Should there be a defined tenure for local government chairmen/councillors in the constitution?
Akubueze is Clerk to the House of Representatives' ad-hoc committee on the review of the Constitution