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Monday, February 27, 2006

How third term campaigners hijacked hearing in South West

By Loremikan, Campaign for Democracy, CD

IT will not be strange to you that we in the UAD and the CDHR for years, have been deliberating on the need to have a people’s participatory constitutional and democratic government. As a matter of fact we intensified our work on the concept of constitutionalism immediately we had a civilian administration in 1999, despite our reservation on the persons and parties that found themselves in our various public offices.

Between that 1999 and 2003, we had promoted, hosted, organized seminars, workshops, and lectures across the six geo-political zones of the country. While CDHR as an organisation, has promoted and floated over 40 Constitutional Clubs in the higher institutions of the country. Till date, some of these clubs still operate and promote our interest in certain universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education in the country and UAD has drafted a model Constitution for Nigeria as a reference point for Constitutional amendments. Essentially, our concern on the issue of constitutionalism that is significant to human development and progress, encouraged our presence at Osogbo on February 22 and 23, 2006.

However, we got to Osogbo only to find out that the gathering there is a pre-determined one. We were confronted with a group of persons, including public officers who have made up their minds, on who to admit to the venue, who to recognize, and who to allow to make speech. As if that was all, the gathering have also agreed somewhere, somehow on who and what the speakers should say. Namely extension of the present administration or call for a third term for the offices of the president, vice president, governors and deputy governors of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

You will only appreciate what we went through if you were with us at Osogbo. Right at the main gate of the Osun State House of Assembly Complex, were fully armed security operatives, made up of regular police, mobile police and operatives of State Security Services. Our experience with this law enforcement officers suggested they have instruction not to allow certain persons, groups or organisations into the complex.

Aside these, people who came with different opinions as to the third term agenda for the President and Governors were shouted down, intimidated and insulted in manners liable to insinuating public disorder. While this was going on, members of the Panel could not caution the over zealous pro-third term agents lurking around the hearing premises.

A glaring example was that of Mr. Bamidele Aturu who was not allowed to express the position of his organization based on an untenable excuse that he refused to apologise for or withdraw a statement he made earlier concerning the South-west Governors’ dilemma on the third term issue. After series of bullying, intimidation, witch-hunting and untold insults from the pro-third term people, Mr. Bamidele Aturu was ushered out by security operatives at the instance of the panel leadership. We view this as a flagrant violation of our fundamental human rights to expression of opinions and fair hearing as entrenched in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Africa Peoples’’ Charter on Human and Political Rights and even the subsisting much faulted 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Moreso, we berate in strong terms, the conduct of the hearing exercise which was made an exclusive reserve of PDP office holders and gladiators only. Contrary opinions were supplanted to give way to the self-serving third term agenda of President Olusegun Obasanjo. While the stage-managed close door hearing exercise was going on inside the Assembly Complex, the armed mobile policemen at the gate of the Complex have already descended on persons who have also being alleged to have come with contrary positions, as opposed to the conspiratorial third term agenda. Mr. Abiodun Aremu, the Convener of the United Action for Democracy (UAD), Mr. Muyiwa Jimoh, the President of Apapa Youth Movement, Lagos and several student activists from higher institutions in the South-west were molested, brutalized, assaulted, stripped half-naked; their two hands were callously tied backwards with their wears after which they were bundled into the Mobile Police truck with Registration Number PF 5645 SPY and then taken to an unknown destination.

On the second day of the panel’s hearing which was Thursday, 23rd February, 2006, the panel’s disposition towards many organizations that attended the hearing showed that the entire process was masterminded and pre-programmed to uphold the selfish vendetta of the PDP-led Administration most especially the much touted third term agenda.

Several civil society organizations like the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights represented by Mr. Shina Loremikan, Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) represented by Dr. Bamgbose (UNAAB), Electoral network Reform represented by Mr. Eze, Gender and Constitution Reform Network (GECORN) which Barrister Biola Akiode came to represent were all barred from expressing their positions.

In a swift turn of events and abject disservice to public conscience, some imaginary Non-governmental organizations that were not in existence up to the last six months were assembled by the pro-third term PDP gladiators and the panel subsequently granted them the opportunity to present their memoranda thereby lending credence to their treacherous third term phenomenon while organizations like CDHR, CFCR, GECORN, ASUU, ERN, CF, JODAR and NADL all of which have made serious contributions to Constitution-making since the year 1999 were disallowed from ventilating their views in the just concluded exercise. An organization like CDHR organized a Conference on the 1999 Constitution, Constitutionalism, Democracy and the Rule of Law in the year 2000 and subsequently published a book which was a compendium of the series of contributions made at the conference.

The book “Path to Peoples’’ Constitution\” was the memorandum intended for presentation by CDHR at the public hearing but the panel and its staff frustrated all efforts at expressing the popular opinions of Nigerians on the 1999 Constitutions as contained in the book.

The hearing exercise was abruptly brought to an end before noon on Thursday, 23rd February, 2006 with the panel not adducing any reason for closing so early an event which should reasonably last till 6.00 pm in the evening. All the organizations mentioned, despite being registered after much persuasion were denied the opportunity of expressing their positions. The entire exercise was therefore a close door meeting for the ratification of the third term agenda of Obasanjo. We strongly detest this development and view it as a serious threat to the sustenance of democracy in Nigeria for it is in itself a gross misrepresentation of the popular interest and aspirations of the Nigerian people. On a last note, we demand for an unconditional release of the Convener of UAD and the twenty-three activists that are presently detained at Ayetoro Police Station, Osogbo, Osun State.

The names of the organizations prevented from airing their views at the South-West public hearing on the review of 1999 Constitution at Osogbo, Osun State on Wednesday, 22nd February, 2006 (1) Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) (2) Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER) (3) United Action for Democracy (UAD) (4) Apapa Youth Movement (5) Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR) (6) Children’’s Rights (7) Women Advocacy, Research and Documentation Dentre (WARD C) (8) National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADL) (9) Campaign for Democracy (CD) (10) Academic Staff Union of Nigerian Universities (ASUU) (11) Citizens’ Forum (CF) (12) National Association of Labour and Civil Society Organisation (NALACSO) (13) All-Nigeria Autobike Owners and Workers Association (ANACOWA) (14) The Grassroots Initiative (GI)

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