Deputy Minority Leader in the Senate and member of the Joint Conference Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora, in this interview with Omololu Ogunmade, speaks on the rejection of some sections of the amendment bill by state Houses of Assembly, the next line of action for the National Assembly and why the lawmakers introduced some controversial clauses into the amendment.
The state Houses of Assembly have rejected some sections of the amendments to the 1999 Constitution that the National Assembly sent to them. In view of these rejections, where do we go from here?
I think we don't have any problem regarding that in the sense that Section nine of the 1999 Constitution is very clear as to the procedure where it says that the amendment that will be passed will receive the concurrence of the two-thirds of the state Houses of Assembly. So concerning the amendments sent to the state assemblies, there's no problem; it is the ones that enjoy the two-thirds of the support of the states that will be passed at the third reading in the National Assembly. That is, the amendments that will be considered to be validly passed are those that have enjoyed the votes of the two-thirds of the state Houses of Assembly. That's all.
So, what happens to the rejected sections?
Don't forget that when you look at the process so far, we have concentrated on the amendments relating to electoral reforms. There are still a lot of proposals. There are still a lot of demands that we are going to work on, but because of the urgency of the electoral reform which is what Nigerians readily agree on, that we need to fine tune. That is why our attention is on the electoral process. That is why our attention, our focus is the electoral process and those things that will make for better election. For example, the issue of fiscal federalism, devolution of powers, creation of states and so many other issues are still pending before the National Assembly.
So, we will take these on board and look at them and see what we can still do within the remaining powers of this tenure. Even these ones that have been rejected by the state Houses of Assembly, we still believe in them. We will look at them critically and look at whatever suggestions that are coming from the state Houses of Assembly because they are part and parcel of the entire process of amendment. We will look at them and what they are saying, what their suggestions are and then we 'll see whether we can attain a kind of consensus.
You don't even attempt to have constitutional amendment without as much as possible getting a kind of national consensus. It is the issues that you have a national consensus on that will be easy to amend. The ones that have been equally passed by two-thirds of the state Houses of Assembly are the ones that will now constitute our first amendment. We made it clear ab initio that the amendment will be pursued by piece meal, because we can't afford to take this thing once. But the ones that have been agreed on, that is, that have been passed by the two-thirds majority that will now constitute the first amendment to the 1999 Constitution.
Will the second amendment take place before the 2011 election?
Possibly. It will now depend on National Assembly 's work programme. We 'll try and do our best within the limit of time available to us. Don't forget that we are moving into the election year and we have so much to do. But we 'll look at it.
There has been a wide range of condemnations of the inclusion of a clause which encourages indicted persons to contest elections. It has been alleged that the National Assembly did that because many of its members have been indicted?
A lot of people unfortunately have poor understanding of what we had done. It's not true that we just allowed everybody to just have a sail through. No. We relied on experience. We relied on precedents. You will recall that one of the reasons so many elections were cancelled was because of exclusion of parties' logos. And one of the reasons that were responsible for that was the fact that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), in its wisdom, nullified the candidature of candidates on the basis of the so-called indictment list that was submitted to them.
You 'll recall that there was the indictment list that came from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). There were some other candidates that were claimed to have been indicted through one panel or the other. Even former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, you 'll recall that in an attempt to scuttle his presidential ambition, a panel was set up and that panel was said to have indicted him, but which the Supreme Court reversed on the basis that indictment does not mean conviction and look, why do you want to condemn someone who has not been convicted when our Constitution itself says that you cannot be said to be guilty of an offence until there is a pronouncement of a court to that effect?
So, why then do you want to equate indictment with guilt?
Indictment is not guilt and until or unless the pronouncement of guilt is made against someone, then it is not proper. It is against the principle of human rights to now stop such a person from participating in what he should participate in. Secondly, we discovered from our experience at the build up towards 2007 election that some powers that be, whether at the state level or at the federal level, were using it (indictment) as a political weapon. For example, you will recall that the administrative panel that was set up in Abia State in 2007 indicted former President Olusegun Obasanjo and (Senator) Iyabo Obasanjo.
These are people who had nothing to do with Abia State and yet an administrative panel was quickly put in place to indict them. So, we saw it as something that was abused and used as a political weapon against perceived opponents or enemies.
But wouldn't it have been better if the National Assembly had resolved that an indicted person should first clear himself before seeking to contest an election?
That was exactly what we did. We took cognisance of Atiku Abubakar's experience. That was what Atiku Abubakar did. He went to court and the court cleared him. So, we now said indictment will only stay when a court of law has made a pronouncement.
What then happens in a situation where an indicted person opts not to go to court before seeking to contest election?
Well, what we are saying is that the onus of passing a judgment lies in the court. The court is part and parcel of democratic process and we are saying that until and unless a competent court of the land makes a declaration to that effect that somebody is guilty of an offence, it is not for us to usurp the role of the court. That is all that we are saying. We only took cognizance of the past to build our future. That was what we did and if you take pains to study the relevant sections, you will still find that what we did was proper and appropriate because we have not removed it completely. We are saying that indictment will only stand where a competent court of law has upheld it. That is all we are saying.
What about cross carpeting? Why did the National Assembly decide to make it lawful?
Whatever views that I am trying to express are views that the Joint Conference Committee of both Houses of which I am a member expressed and it's only fair for me to defend whatever position that we arrived at, at the end of the day. It doesn't matter whether that position aligned with my own position or not. So, having said that, we felt that the issue of cross carpeting is more of a moral issue. That is, your constituents or your people voted for you on the platform of a party and along the line, you decide to dump that party. Morally, it is wrong. But it will be difficult to fault it on the basis of legality. So, we felt it would be difficult to legislate on morality. That by and large, it should be an issue that is based on individual conscience of people.
Number two, we looked at the experience of better developed democracies like America that we are trying to copy. People cross carpet easily. We took on board that experience. There in the US, if you cross carpet, you don't lose your seat, you only lose your ranking within your new party. So, we looked at that and said if that is what people will want, that's okay.
There was this argument on freedom of association that if you decide to associate, you can also decide to dissociate. Whatever right or freedom that you have to associate, you also have the freedom to dissociate. So, these were the three premises from which the committee took that decision.
If you argue that cross carpeting should be a matter of conscience, did you take into cognizance that the society is not run by conscience or morality, otherwise, there will be no need for law?
Well, like I said, these are the arguments that came up, not necessarily the arguments of individuals like me. I have my own position but because I participated in this project, I cannot now come and say, 'look, I didn't agree with the committee.' It behoves on me to defend the position of the committee. But these were the three major arguments that were brought to bear in the process.
The state Houses of Assembly rejected the clause that Diploma should be the minimum qualification to contest election. Don't you feel having school certificate holders on the political scene will have adverse effects on the quality of representation?
Well, that was what we felt too in the National Assembly. That was why we came up with that issue of diploma because we felt that legislative process is becoming or has become more complex and that you need some levels of proper education to be able to cope with legislative process be it in the way of legislation, be it in the way of law making; you must understand basic things and we believed that Nigerians had come to a point where we need to look at the reality of our situation and jettison some degrees of mediocrity in the system.
That was what informed our position and if our colleagues feel that it's not necessary, it's just so bad. But that's why we have the popular saying that the people get the kind of leadership they deserve. So, if we still want to continue to wallow in mediocrity, let it be until our eyes are open enough to do what is right. But I feel that parties can still put in place their own guidelines depending on the peculiarity of their own environment.