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National Assembly under pressure to restructure Nigeria

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh
14 July 2016   |   4:57 am
As the two chambers of the National Assembly intensify efforts to subject the Constitution to another round of amendment, they have come under pressure to consider popular requests and agitation for the restructuring of the Nigerian nation.
Saraki and Dogara

Saraki and Dogara

2014 Confab report may serve as working document for constitution review

As the two chambers of the National Assembly intensify efforts to subject the Constitution to another round of amendment, they have come under pressure to consider popular requests and agitation for the restructuring of the Nigerian nation.

Since the return to democracy in 1999, the constitution has been subjected to amendment three times. The current effort will be the fourth one.

But of these efforts only one attempt was successful while the other two were stalled at advanced stages. Even the 2010 successful attempt was unable to address key issues of national restructuring that have been the subject matter of series of agitation over the years.

Challenged by its failure to achieve a successful constitution amendment last session, the leadership of the National Assembly has been mobilising its committees in charge of Constitution Review not only to ensure that the failures of the past were averted, but to carry out the amendments in such a manner that meets up the expectations of Nigerians.

But there appears to be a much bigger responsibility this time. While many prominent citizens kept drumming it into the ears of lawmakers that the time has come for the much awaited restructuring of Nigeria to be accomplished particularly through the instrumentality of Constitutional amendment, many others including members of the National Assembly believed that the 2014 confab report was a ready tool to be explored.

Deputy President of the Senate, who also doubles as the chairman of the Senate Committee on the Review of the Constitution, Ike Ekweremadu, has been an unrepentant advocate of one leg of the much canvassed restructuring, that is, State police.

Last month, he led members of his Committee on Constitution review to a retreat in Lagos where he disclosed that it would give priority to all those amendments that were not approved by President Goodluck Jonathan last year before introducing new issues.

He said the committee has however not ruled out other issues that could be suggested by other members of the National Assembly among which might be the adoption of the 2014 confab document ‎for use as working document for the modification of the constitution.

He said he regretted the non-assent to the Fourth Constitution (Alteration) Bill, but assured that the amendments contained in the Fourth Alteration Bill were not lost, as the document would form the framework of the current exercise.

According to the Senator, major proposals that scaled through, having received the approvals of the National Assembly and at least 24 State Assemblies, included the removal of presidential assent to Constitution Amendment Bills, and prescription of a 30-day time limit for presidential assent to bills or return passed bills by the National Assembly.

Others are: Separation of the Office of the Minister of Justice from the Office of the Attorney-General to promote justice and anti-corruption war; financial autonomy for State Assemblies; and streamlining of legislative lists and devolution of more powers from the “Exclusive List” to the “Concurrent List.”

Also passed were clauses setting timeline for the conclusion of pre-election matters and creation of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federal Government different from the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation to promote accountability, transparency, and good governance.‎

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Constitution review led by the Deputy Speaker Suleiman Lasun has already taken a step further by adopting the 2014 confab report as a guide in the Constitution amendment.

The confab report recommended 54 states, modified presidential system of government, state police as well as a revenue sharing formula whereby Federal Government gets 42.5 percent, states receive 35 percent and local governments earn 22.5 per cent among others.‎

The House Committee announced last week “Copies of the report have been circulated to members of the committee to go through and come up with recommendations to the committee, while the consultants to the committee have been given the report to advise the committee on how to go about it.

“Some of the salient proposals in the report will be turned into draft bills, which will be presented to the House for adoption and passage”, the Deputy Speaker had disclosed in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Wole Oladimeji.

Even as President Muhammadu Buhari insisted that his administration would have nothing to do with the confab report, let alone the restructuring of Nigeria, some other prominent Nigerians have expressed their preferences for the document.

At the anniversary of his first year ‎in office, the President did not hide his opposition to adopting the report. He said that he had not even read the confab report and that it would remain in the archives where according to him it rightly belongs.

He said: “I advised against the issue of National Conference. You would recall that ASUU was on strike then for almost nine months. The teachers in the tertiary institutions were on strike for more than a year, yet that government had about N9billion to organise that meeting (National Conference), and some (members) were complaining that they hadn’t even been paid. I never liked the priority of that government on that particular issue, because it meant that what the National Assembly could have handled was handed to the Conference, while the more important job of keeping our children in schools was abandoned.

That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or ask for a briefing on it, and I want it to go into the so-called archives.”

However, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, recently lent his voice to the growing calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation, when he declared that the sovereignty of the nation was negotiable.

He urged the President to consider implementing the recommendations of the 2014 confab report to address the thorny issues stressing that decentralisation of the country would ensure healthy rivalry among the component units.

The Nobel Laureate said it was wrong for previous administrations in the country to say that Nigeria’s sovereignty was non-negotiable, submitting that the position was antithetical to development.

He said: “I am on the side of those who say we must do everything to avoid disintegration. That language I understand. I don’t understand (ex-President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s language. I don’t understand (President Muhammadu) Buhari’s language and all their predecessors, saying the sovereignty of this nation is non-negotiable. It’s bloody well negotiable and we had better negotiate it. We better negotiate it, not even at meetings, not at conferences, but everyday in our conduct towards one another.

“We had better understand it too that when people are saying ‘let’s restructure’, they have better things to do. It’s not an idle cry; it is a perennial demand. The Pro-National Conference Organisation was about restructuring when this same Obasanjo said it was an act of treason for people to come together to fashion a new constitution. Those were fighting words; that you’re saying, ‘I commit treason because I want to sit with my fellow citizens and negotiate the structures of staying together’ and ask the police to go and break it up and arrest us.

Within the National Assembly, many lawmakers have kept raising the stake on the need not only to embrace the restructuring mantra but insisted that the 2014 confab report be quickly adopted.

In his submission, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, who is also of the upper chamber Constitution review committee, maintained that the problems facing the country would be solved to a great extent when all, or part of the confab report was implemented.

Anyanwu said: “ The most sincere way to actually address the various social and economic problems currently facing the country is to put politics aside and allow the National Assembly use all or part of the recommendations in the Confab report during its Constitution review exercise.

“The report is the best thing that could happen to this country because it contained provisions and recommendations that could assist us as a nation. The problem of Nigeria will continue if we neglect the Confab report.”

Similarly, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, advised top government functionaries at all tiers, to forget about politics and explore ways to move the nation forward.

He said, “The issue of politics should end after election. Both the party in government and the opposition should collaborate towards ensuring that policies and programmes aimed at moving the country forward are implemented.

“The Federal Government should revisit the issue of the Confab report because apart from the fact that it contained recommendations that could restructure the country and end all the social crises currently being experienced, it was carried out with the taxpayers’ money.