The national conference in Abuja

has been widely embraced

by Nigerians, notwithstanding

the remonstrations of some

people. Even those initially skeptical

about the idea have sheathed their

skepticism for now. The confab parades

the who-is-who in the country’s politics

and other areas of life, though there

could be more of old men than young

guys there. Inaugurating the conference

in Abuja on March 17, President Jonathan

dropped the hint that the conference’s

decision might be subjected to a

referendum of the people. Addressing

the 492 delegates, the president had

said: “Let me at this point thank the

National Assembly for introducing the

provision for a referendum in the proposed

amendment of the constitution.

This should be relevant for this conference

if at the end of the deliberations,

the need for a referendum arises.”

When the president broached the

idea of the confab, many doubted his

sincerity. Critics said the conference

was a distraction from the 2015 general

elections and that it had a political

undertone. The president denied this.

He said his administration decided to

convene the conference because of its

belief that it must assume responsibility

for ensuring that the long-running

national debate on the best way forward

for the country had not been in

vain. He said he was convinced the

dialogue would turn out to be another

significant landmark in government’s

efforts to strengthen national unity and

consolidate democratic governance in

the country. He described the confab

inauguration as “the dawn of a new

era,” saying he had no personal agenda

in convening the talks. Let’s quote him:

“Let me again repeat what I have been

saying that Goodluck Jonathan has no

personal agenda in convening this national


Yes, the president claims he has no

personal agenda in convening the conference.

That could be true. What he

did not say, however, is the referendum

idea is a major agenda for him, a personal

agenda if you like. The president

seems to have a big interest in organising

a referendum of the people and

perhaps in rewriting the constitution

for the country, as if our problem is

with the constitution and not the actors.

Though I’m yet to place my fingers

on what the president interest really is,

but I suspect there is something awry.

Come to think of it, everything seemsthe Senate tried to rewrite the process

leading to constitutional amendment

to include the fact that the president

may initiate a new constitution, which

Jonathan seems to desire. What really

is the rationale behind that Senate

move, which though had been scuttled?

I see a problem in the referendum plan

if it eventually comes to that: the same

president that said the outcome of the

confab would be sent to the National

Assembly for ratification and possible

legislative work also dropped the idea

of a referendum. Which one will come

first now? At what point will the decisions

of the confab be subjected to a

referendum? I don’t think the two are

mutually inclusive. Referendum would

mean decisions reached in respect of

the confab’s outcome by the people

would be final. I doubt if the National

Assembly, as representatives of the

people, can come around and jettison

what the people themselves say they

want. Again, there is no legal backing

yet for the confab. Indeed, a Federal

High Court is still hearing a suit filed

by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s

lawyer, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, against the

holding of the conference. Abayomi

said the talks lacked an enabling legislation

from the National Assembly.

The other issue is- can the country

afford to conduct two elections within

a spate of less than a year given the

gargantuan cost involved? The referendum

that may come after the confab,

say around June or July, is an election

whichever way you look at it, just

like the national election that begins

in February. How does a country that

is complaining of lack of funds, that

is underfunding the Independent National

Electoral Commission navigate

through all that? Big question indeed.



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