The setting up of National Dialogue/Conference Advisory Committee and convening of the Conference itself by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, is in line with the approach adopted by the previous governments in organizing debates or discussions on the Nigerian Constitution. During the Murtala/Obasanjo administration, a similar committee was setup by General Murtala Ramat Mohammed and he named it Constitution Review Committee, with the late Chief Rotimi Williams as its chairman. It was that Committee which was known as 49-member Committee, which prepared modalities for the 1978/79 Constituent Assembly, that recommended the adoption of the Presidential System of Government; and consequently adopted by the Constituent Assembly chaired by Hon. Justice Udo Udoma.
During the era of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, another constitution review was undertaken. Prior to the inauguration of the Constituent Assembly by that regime, a Committee similar to the current Advisory Committee was appointed and was named Constitution Review Committee with Hon. Justice Muhammadu Buba Ardo as its chairman. It was that Committee that prepared modalities, under which 1988/89 Constituent Assembly which had Hon. Justice Anthony Aniagolu as its chairman.
Similarly, prior to 1994/95 Constitutional Conference, General Sani Abacha’s regime set up a similar Committee, which was known as Constitutional Conference Commission. It was that commission which worked out modalities for the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference. The Commission was headed by Hon. Justice Sa’idu Kawu. The 1994/95 Constitutional Conference, which was chaired by Hon. Justice Karibe Wyte operated on the modalities prepared for the Conference by that Commission. Therefore, the appointment of the current National Dialogue/Conference Advisory Committee by the President, to work out modalities for National Dialogue is not only in tandem with the tradition established in similar circumstances, but it is also consistent with established precedence to create a platform to discuss matters affecting Nigeria’s Constitution.
It is on record that all the previous Constitutional Conferences held in Nigeria, particularly, during the military era submitted their recommendations to the Supreme Military Counsel, which was then the legislative organ of government, for promulgation. Now that we are under a democratic setting where powers to change or modify our Constitution are vested in the legislature, the President has no alternative than to submit whatever outcome emerges from proceedings of the intended National Dialogue/Conference to the National Assembly for consideration and action, where it deems necessary, as recommendations of the National Dialogue/Conference shall not be binding on the legislature.
Tanko Yakasai, OFR