Malam Tanko Yakassai is nominee on the elder statesmen platform at the ongoing national conference. In this interview with EMEKA NZE, the politician recalls that previous conferences were threatened by debacle on Sharia, derivation and zoning of offices, which were however resolved by similar approach adopted by the chairman Justice Idris Kutigi in the voting imbroglio that nearly stalemated the conference
Do you think the 70 percent agreement can resolve further hiccups that may arise at the conference?
It is not a matter of thinking. Didn’t you see the debate about the number that ought to be the basis of decision taken? I know when the session was reconvened, it was unanimously adopted which indicated to you that everyone has accepted and since then nobody has raised an issue about it. That means that it was a consensus.
On complaint that the 50 wise men were super delegates
The chairman was looking for help from the delegates. He chose us on the basis of various experiences and our background and he felt that perhaps if he put us together, something good will come out of it and he is justified. This is not the first time this happened. It happened in 1978/79 constitutional conference when there was a heated debate over the issue of Sharia. it was a committee of this kind that brought sanity to the conference and saved us. In the 1994/95 constitutional conference, a debate arose whether rotation, zoning and derivation should be entrenched in the constitution. The conference nearly broke into pieces as a result of the debate. The chairman of the conference, with the help of some elders in the conference agreed to adjourn the conference to allow a consultation of this nature to take place. It took place. I was privileged to be a member of the committee. We spent the whole night and by around 3.04 am, we were able to arrive at a consensus and reported to the colleagues and that was the decision unanimously adopted by the conference. There was precedence in this kind of approach of solving problems; this might not be the end of it. It is a good example that we can put our head together to solve problems without any intervention from the out outside.
Apprehension over the likelihood of the conference going the way of previous ones
It is worrisome that the outcomes of most of the conferences were not implemented but the two particular ones mentioned were as a result of unintended consequences. One, 1994/95 conference recommendations were not implemented because of the sudden and unfortunate death of Gen Sani Abacha who had accepted in totality the recommendations made by the conference but that added quality to some part of the constitution. This is what led to the six geopolitical zones we now have in the country. Even though it is not constitutional, it is being accorded recognition. The federal character commission ensures that every section of the country is represented in the public service.
It is part of the constitution, part of the recommendation of that conference. So it is not the totality of those recommendations that needed to be implemented, but some part of it. The only unfortunate one was the recommendation of the conference held under the leadership of General Olusegun Obasanjo. I was meant to understand and I was meant to believe that 99 percent of the recommendations of the conference were very good but unfortunately the smuggling in of the tenure elongation proposal into the recommendation, was the reason the National Assembly threw out the entire recommendation overboard. Had it been taken into consideration most of the recommendation would have been put to use and would be beneficial to Nigeria by today. I am sure before the end of this conference we will revisit some of the recommendations; and I hope the good ones will receive the conference’s attention.
The outcome of this conference is likely to go a different way from the recommendation of other conferences. Why should it be so?
Well, the recommendation or directive was by the chairman of this conference that the recommendations should be subjected to a referendum or if possible to the National Assembly makes the possibility of getting the recommendations of this conference adopted by Nigerians in a referendum.
In your own take, would you prefer a referendum or it should go to National Assembly?
I will prefer a referendum but the only problem is that under the 1999 constitution, INEC is not empowered to conduct a referendum except in four places- the recall of an elected member, creation of a local government, boundary adjustment and creation of state. Other than that, INEC has no power to conduct a referendum. For INEC to conduct a referendum, we need to amend the constitution. I don’t know whether we have the time to do that. If we have, I will support it and recommend these things to Jonathan administration and he will listen.
Do you trust the sincerity of government in setting up this conference?
Yes, I do and I believe that you too should because if you remember, before the decision by the president to convene this conference, there were lot of rancour. All the front pages of newspaper were awash with debates on whether there should be a conference of this nature in Nigeria or not, and that whether the conference should be sovereign or not sovereign. But now do you read such debates anymore?