The leader of “The Patriots”, a group of pro-national conference elder statesmen, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN), explained yesterday why he turned down his appointment as a member of the National Conference Advisory Committee.
The retired university teacher said that his age and fragile health stood on the way of the national assignment, adding that he had been battling with prostate cancer for years.
The committee chaired by former university don and politician Dr. Femi Okunrounmu, was inaugurated last week by the President. Ahead of the inauguration, the frontline legal scholar declined the offer and nominated another legal luminary, Chief Solomon Asemota (SAN), to represent The Patriots.
Nwabueze, in a statement in Lagos, said he was not expecting President Goodluck Jonathan to make him the chairman of the Advisory Committee. He said The Patriots only expected to nominate one of its members to serve on the committee.
He, however, promised to contribute to the conference’s proposals by mobilising lawyers and political scientists for a deliberation on the matter at the proposed Uyo National Summit.
Nwabueze said following the deliberation, he would submit “a Draft Peoples Constitution” to the Presidency and the National Assembly for consideration, stressing that this move would not conflict with the vague terms of reference given to the committee by the President.
The statement reads: “I cut short my stay in London for medicals and returned to Nigeria on Saturday 12 October, 2013 to keep a long-standing commitment to chair the Anambra Literary Creativity Festival at Awka on 15 October. It may be necessary for me, after my Awka engagement, to go back to London to continue my medicals.
“It is not generally known to people that I have been fighting prostrate cancer for some years now, and have been kept going by consultations from time to time with, and treatment by, a Consultant Oncologist at Charing Cross Hospital, London. My appointment with the Consultant Oncologist had been shifted many times because of several postponements in the dates of The Patriots meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan and the National Summit at Uyo, both of which eventually took place on 29 August and 3/4 September respectively, leaving me free at last to travel to London on 8 September for my medical appointments.
“After The Patriots fruitful meeting with the President, a member of our team who has access to him on a personal basis was mandated to go back to get him to set up the Committee on the National Conference of which he had earlier given a hint. My understanding from the contacts with him was that The Patriots would be asked to nominate a member to the Committee. I never expected to be appointed chairman or member of the Committee, and would, quite frankly, have considered such an appointment inappropriate in the circumstances. It is an appointment for a younger person, not for an old man of 83 years afflicted by ill-health.
“But The Patriots remain willing to work with the Presidential Committee, and to give it all necessary assistance, if called upon to do so.
“While still in London and before the setting up of the Presidential Committee was announced, I wrote to 13 prominent lawyers and political scientists to join me in a committee to prepare a Draft People’s Constitution which will be submitted for deliberation at the Uyo National Summit when it re-convenes in terms of Paragraph Seven of the communique adopted at the 3/4 September meeting, and thereafter to be presented to the Presidency and the National Assembly as a working Paper for the National Conference proper.
“This is the area in which I think my contribution to the work of the Conference would be particularly useful, and I do not see this as in any way conflicting with the Terms of Reference of the Presidential Committee, although they (i.e. the Terms of Reference) contain a somewhat vaguely worded item, to wit, “to advise government on legal procedures and options for integrating decisions and outcomes of the national dialogue/conference into the constitution and laws of the nation.