The Director-General of the institute, Professor Epiphany Azinge, said that subjecting the outcome of the National Conference to a referendum would deepen the nation’s democracy and increase people’s interest in governance.
Professor Azinge called for the enactment of a referendum act in order to fast track the use of referendum and plebiscite as a means of participatory democracy.
Speaking at a forum organised by the institute, where legal experts gathered to brainstorm on the legal aspects of referendum and plebiscite, the Director-General advised the Federal Government to engage more Nigerians in governance through referendum and plebiscite.
“Constitutionally or otherwise it would appear that only in one provision of the constitution and that is the provision dealing with the provision of states is the word referendum ever mentioned.
“But we are now at a crossroad as to how to ensure that referendum becomes part and parcel of our national life and if possible how to navigate the charted waters to know how and when we can invoke referendum either constitutionally, legislatively or administratively as the case may be”, he said.
Participants at the forum were, however, divided on the use of referendum as a form of participatory democracy.
While a lecturer at the University of Jos, Dr. Samuel Oguche, said that referendum was “a way of making people – the electorates – to be directly involved in the conduct of their own affairs as it has to do with governance”, a senior lecturer at the same university, Professor Nnamdi Aduba referred to it as a complicated process.
He explained: “There are still problems with referendum, especially on what matters can you easily subject to referendum.”
The Director of Research at the NIALS, Professor Clement Dakas, however, said: “Every single issue should be the subject of a referendum. What we need to do is to isolate fundamental national questions and subject them to referendum. That does not mean referendum does not have its challenges.”
The one day roundtable which examined the concept, process and procedure of referendum and the history of plebiscite and referendum in Nigeria, was expected to produce a working document that would make the nation’s democracy more participatory.