Senator David Mark
President of the Senate
National Assembly
Three Arms Complex
Abuja, FCT.
September 24, 2013

Dear Distinguished President,

The Civil Society in Nigeria has always insisted that the People of Nigeria will have to authenticate, legitimize and endorse a Constitution to govern their affairs. Unfortunately this simple wish was always denied by the Colonial, Military and even “elected” Government. It was the Late Aka-Bashorun, my most illustrious predecessor as President of Nigerian Bar Association, who articulated the collective disappointment of Nigerians by the call for a Sovereign National Conference as long ago as the 1980’s. Civil Society in Nigeria has noted with mixed reaction your statement to Distinguished Senators, on the floor of the Chambers, that a National Conference is a vital requirement for a Peoples’ Constitution for this country. Although many within the civil society disagree or have expressed reservations about the so called “NO-GO” issues highlighted in your statement, it is commonly agreed that your Declaration forms an important new development in the quest for a legitimate Peoples Constitution.
Civil Society’s demands have always been straightforward and simple – That Nigeria will benefit from a robust full discussion on 2 vital questions asked by Late Bola Ige when he said “There are 2 basic questions that must be answered by all of us Nigerians. One, do we want to remain as one country? Two, if the answer is yes, under what conditions? I respectfully suggest that Bola Ige’s Questions are well framed as the National Questions we need to examine if we are to build a new spirit of commitment to Nation and service to Motherland.
You alluded to the very difficult task of Organization and logistics of a National Conference. I accept that there are challenges but they can be overcome. Every stakeholder must give and take.
A possible platform for a national Conference will be set by President Jonathan convoking it and declaring it’s resolutions binding and subject only to a Referendum. This will give the conference confidence and integrity and compensate for matters related to the non Sovereign status of the Conference.
In view of the very many conferences called and ending without result, but producing possibly relevant results, review of past conference resolutions should form part of the Terms of Reference. Further suggested terms of reference can be readily agreed.The Conference ought to consider structure of the Federation and massive devolution of powers not necessary at Federal level to state level.
It is of vital importance that the nature of our political arrangements are first discussed. The Conference’s task is not simply the drawing up of a Constitution. For example, couples first discuss personal arrangements and then solemnize by a marriage certificate. For Nigeria, we should discuss political arrangements first, then constitutionalize it by a legal document, that is the Constitution.
I will like to draw attention to 4 vital elements of a good Constitution;
Inclusivity – Everybody must talk
Authority – We have to accept that President and/or National Assembly will be the Convening Authority
Validity – We, the people, shall validate the Constitution, by referendum. No one else.
Legitimacy – Our democracy can only be secured and deepened by a legitimate constitution validated by Nigerians.
It will be tasking to suggest that all 160 million of us can participate. My suggestion will be to draw from ethnic nationalities and the 5 estates of the Realm, namely Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Media and Civil Society. Civil Society is used in the broadest sense, to include NGO’s, Religious and traditional movements and of course Labour, Youths and Women.
We can enact for ourselves a new legitimate Constitution. This is the vital framework that will best manage our diversity and generate unity in diversity.
Civil Society is ready if you are, sir.
Please accept the assurances of my best wishes and high considerations.
Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN