By Patrick Andrew
For second time in about two months, the leadership of the National Conference dismissed insinuations that it was involved in the writing a new Constitution that would be presented for adoption by the delegates.
This was sequel to a fierce debate of an Abuja-based newspaper report which had alleged that the Secretariat of the conference was involved in the drafting a Constitution or premature recommendations which would be presented for adoption as tentative new constitution.
Also, a deputy chairman, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, was allegedly said to have sought to persuade some Northern delegates to consent to the exercise. But the professor in a heated debate yesterday dismissed the allegation and sought to clear himself from any such exercise.
He dismissed the story stressing that there was no such move to draft and present a premature recommendation that would be foisted on the delegates.
Peoples Daily observed yesterday that as soon as the matter came up on the floor through a motion by Ish’aq Moddibo Kawo, arguments started as delegates were divided on whether the Conference Deputy Chairman, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, who was mentioned in another allegation involving the writing of a new constitution, should respond to it or not.
Chief Mike Ahamba, (SAN) and others were of the view that the publication should be dismissed as it was meant to distract the Conference from is set goals. Chief Ahamba claimed that those who are disappointed by the progress the conference has made so far are bent on scuttling it, but admonished that it should be resisted and not allowed to succeed.
Those who shared that position also challenged those behind the publication and who claimed to have been lobbied by the Deputy Chairman to step forward and justify their claims with evidence; failing, the Daily Trust newspaper that published the stories should be asked to apologise to the Conference.
However, former President of the Senate, Dr Ken Nnamani, raised a counter motion demanding that Akinyemi be allowed to explain himself since he was present at the sitting.
The same position was canvassed by Dr. Haruna Yerima who argued that the allegation should not be dismissed because “morality demands that the Deputy Chairman clears his name.”
The Deputy Chairman, in a brief comment, denied ever lobbying anybody to adopt a new constitution which the publication alleged he was spearheading.
He explained that a few days ago, as was customary when they are contentious issues that have the potential of threatening the smooth progression of the Conference, he had approached political leaders at the Conference from both the north and the south separately, to discuss their differences regarding the issue of whether or not there was need for a new Constitution arising from the proceedings of the Conference.
He said it was normal for him or any member of the leadership to seek such diverse opinions from delegates across geo-political lines towards resolving any contentious issue that usually arise from the Conference before such issues are eventually put up for division at plenary.
Akinyemi, a former Foreign Affairs Minister, went ahead to mention names of people he met to discuss the issue and stated without any ambiguity that the issue of lobbying for adoption of a new constitution for the Conference was absolutely false as he only set out to ensure harmony between two opposing groups.
Shortly after, the former Inspector General of Police, Alhaji Ibrahim Coomasie, who was also mentioned in the story, confirmed he was invited to the meeting by Akinyemi but could not attend although he raised a team of northern delegates to meet with the Deputy Chairman to discuss the issues involved.
He explained that when he observed some moves which tended not to be in line with his initial conception of the meeting, he became weary and decided to pull out. He said “by last Tuesday, I was told a new constitution has been written. ”He went ahead to mention Chief Raymond Dokpesi as the person who had also invited him to a meeting and who later gave him a document which allegedly was published on the claims of representing the position of the Conference.
Chief Dokpesi, who spoke next, absolved the leadership of the Conference from involvement in the meeting he convened and the issuance of what he called a Working Document produced by the group which comprised delegates from the existing geo-political zones.
He said he and Professor Ibrahim Gambari had convened a meeting under the auspices of National Consensus Bridge-Building Group to discuss and close areas of differences regarding some critical areas of agreement and disagreement at the Conference.
Chief Dokpesi mentioned the controversy surrounding the creation of State Police which was resolved last week without any dissenting voice as one of such areas discussed and agreed upon.
The delegate noted that membership of the Group which he said he convened as a lobbyist body without the knowledge of the leadership of the Conference cut across all the geo-political groups represented at the Conference.
He said three delegates were nominated by the group from each of the geo-political zones and that part of their agenda was analysis of all the reports submitted by the 20 Committees appointed by the Conference, particularly the recommendations of the committees.
Regarding the publication, Chief Dokpesi said it had nothing to do with the leadership of the Conference and that “there is nothing secret in the document,” declaring that it was a mere working document agreed upon by 15 of the 18 members of the group.
He declared: “I want to affirm irrevocably that the leadership (of the National Conference) has nothing absolutely to do with this Committee. This is a working document and not a final document.”
However, he noted that Professor Auwalu Yadudu, a delegate, had approached him last week with a letter declaring that all the northern delegates were withdrawing from the group on the grounds that what the group was doing was sponsored.
Dokpesi told the conference, he did his best in telling Professor Yadudu that the activities of the group had nothing to do with the Conference leadership; and that the group was there to discuss and agree on certain contentious issues.
At the end his explanation, the Conference Chairman and retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Kutigi, said from all the explanations offered, it was clear that the leadership of the Conference knew nothing about the document in question.
“If you want to do anything for yourselves, please do so but don’t include us,” he said stressing that the delegates were free to meet for whatever purposes but should not drag the conference into their private affairs.