Delegates to the National Conference resumed Monday to debate the draft rules of procedure, which they agreed should be considered clause by clause.
However, the delegates during the debate failed to agree on how to reach a consensus on their decisions, prompting the conference Chairman, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, to defer further discussions of the matter for another time.
The debate on the consensus brought to the fore one of the fault lines in the country as it pitted delegates from the north against their southern counterparts.
While the northern delegates said resolutions of the conference should be reached based on the vote of 75 per cent of the 492 delegates, their southern counterparts pushed for a two-thirds majority vote, representing 66 per cent of the participants.
The controversy over resolutions of the conference through a consensus arrangement began when Chief Mike Ozekhome called for a review of Order 6, Rule 4 and Rule 11 as well as Order 11, Rules 1 and 2 of the Conference Procedures, which state that a resolution at the conference will be reached through a 75 per cent vote of the delegates.
The chairman of the conference, Justice Idris Kutigi, had also ruled to adopt the resolution but Ozoekhome in a motion supported by Chief Adeniyi Akintola, urged the conference to adopt the best parliamentary practice of two-thirds of the delegates.
Ozekhome argued that in a conference of 492 delegates, to pass a resolution through a 75 per cent majority vote would be near impossible and would only enthrone a tyrannical minority.
He said adopting such a voting system would make it impossible to pass resolutions on issues such as resource control, regionalism, state police, type of government and other critical matters that agitate the minds of Nigerians.
According to him, a two-thirds majority is the global parliamentary practice adopted in passing resolutions and the National Conference will do well to embrace global best practice.
Supporting Ozekhome, Akintola said if President Goodluck Jonathan had decided to force the 75 per cent vote on the delegates to pass a resolution, there would be no need for them to continue with the national discourse.
Also contributing to the debate, a former Secretary of the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Olu Falae, and Mr. Bisi Adegboye advanced the position of the southern delegates that resolutions should be reached based on a two-thirds majority.
Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo and leader of the Odua People’s Congress (OPC), Chief Gani Adams, also supported the argument for a two-thirds majority vote.
Adebanjo said the argument to use consensus might be an avenue to prevent decisions from being reached at the conference, as it would amount to setting impossible conditions for the delegates to meet.
But Professor Awwal Yadudu, a delegate from the North-west, faulted the arguments of Ozekhome and Akintola, saying as much as everybody believes in the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria as a sovereign nation, it would be better if decisions are reached by 75 per cent of the delegates.
Also, a former Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Gambo-Jimeta, who warned delegates against intimidating others, spoke in the same vein.
He urged all the delegates to support the the 75 per cent majority vote in the overall interest of the conference.
He said: â€œIf we want to get anything perfect here, it will not be possible based on the way the delegates were selected. Although no one is trying to destroy what has been put together for the conference, no one should try to force his will and subsequently spoil this opportunity to chart a new course for the country.â€
Hajia Naratu Babajo, a delegate from Kaduna State, reiterated the position of the northern delegates on the adoption of a 75 per cent majority vote in passing resolutions on all issues.
Earlier, as part of his contribution, Adebanjo had faulted the remarks made by Gambo-Jimeta that some people were trying to force their views on other delegates, adding that the conference must adopt conventional means of reaching a consensus, which is by adopting a two-thirds majority to resolve issues.
According to him, â€œIt is true that we want consensus on all issues, no one is canvassing for the division of Nigeria as a sovereign nation. I agree with Gambo-Jimeta, but we want a solution to the issues that confront us as a nation. Let’s go along with the world on a two-thirds majority and not three-quarters. Those of us who support the conference will not be happy with three-quarters resolution on issues.â€
After the contributions from the delegates, no agreement was reached on the matter before the delegates went on lunch break
On resumption from lunch break, the chairman ruled that the issue should be revisited later.
He also overruled a motion by a former Governor of Ogun State, Chief Olusegun Osoba, for the conference to adjourn proceedings daily at 5 pm instead of 6 pm.
Osoba had in a motion, said it was necessary for the conference to adjust the sitting period to make allowance for lobbying by delegates.
Also during the debate, Mr. Ledum Mitee from Rivers State and Mr. Supo Sasore, from Lagos State, called for the review of a section of the draft rules that compels delegates to obtain permission from the conference secretariat before staying away from any meeting or travelling out of the country.
Mitee argued that delegates should only be made to merely notify the secretariat instead of being portrayed as having committed any offence by being absent.
Sasore said delegates should be assumed to be responsible enough to appreciate the need to attend all the sessions, adding that there was no need to seek permission to be absent from any session.
Based on a motion by Senator Daisy Danjuma, the word â€œoffenceâ€ was removed from the section dealing with absenteeism from meetings and replaced with â€œit shall be a breach of these rulesâ€¦.â€
Another issue that was debated at length was that of forming a quorum. While some delegates suggested one-third of the members were sufficient for a quorum, others said a quorum could only be formed at either plenary or committee meetings with the presence of 50 per cent of members.
When the question was put to votes, the majority voted that one-third of members would form a quorum.
A civil society member, Dr. Abiola Akiyode, also questioned in a motion, the use of â€œheâ€ to refer to both men and women.
This generated a heated debate with contributions from Mrs. Josephine Anenih and Senator Saidu Dansadau, among others.
Anenih moved the hall to laughter with the suggestion that the use of â€œheâ€ should be replaced by â€œitâ€ to refer to both sexes or at the very best, the word â€œsheâ€ and not â€œheâ€ should be used to represent both male and female delegates.
But Dansadau drew the attention of the delegates to the use of â€œheâ€ both in the 1999 Constitution, votes and proceedings of the National Assembly, and judicial pronouncements, adding that there were sufficient conventions to be followed on the issue.
When the question was put to vote, it was ruled that whenever the word â€œheâ€ is used in the Rules of Procedure, it must be followed by â€œor she.â€
Besides debating the rules, the conference announced the committees to be set up to include Committee on Devolution of Powers; Committee on National Security; Committee on Environment; Committee on Politics and Governance; Committee on Public Welfare; Committee on Transportation; Committee on Science and Technology; Committee on Agriculture; Committee on Civil Society, Labour and Sport; Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government; Committee on Electoral Matters; Committee of Foreign Policy and Diaspora Matters; Committee on Land Tenure and National Boundary; Committee on Trade and Investment; Committee on Energy; Committee on Religion; Committee on Public Finance and Revenue Generation; Committee on Immigration; Committee on Immigration; Committee on Public Service; and Committee on Law, Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Reforms.
It was agreed after a heated debate that each member should indicate which committee he would want to serve while election of committee chairmen and deputies would be decided by the committees.
The session adjourned at 6.10 pm to resume today.
Meanwhile, a former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, has raised the issue of the National Conference clashing with the 2015 general election.
He said: â€œIt is important, I think, to ask this question: What happens if the time requirement of the National Conference clashes with the 2015 elections timetable? That is, if the conference requires more time than envisaged and threatens the 2015 elections.
â€œDo we suspend the conference and go for the elections or do we continue with the conference and push up the elections? In Igbo, we say that one must first secure the space (land) before the mat. It makes sense to suspend anything about the election, if it clashes with securing the permanence of one Nigeria. The National Conference may, indeed, play the role of fuse in the political system.â€