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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 7

By Editorial Board
10 December 2020   |   3:35 am
The foundational problems of Nigeria remain topical on the agenda, though with conflicting perspectives. However, they are problems we must resolve.

The foundational problems of Nigeria remain topical on the agenda, though with conflicting perspectives. However, they are problems we must resolve. It will be recalled that against the backdrop of resource control and overall restructuring of the state system, the incumbent political leaders had 2015 before their election made restructuring a manifesto item. According to the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) manifesto, an APC government would “Initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit” among other constitutional reforms.

There was obvious hesitation on the part of the government once it assumed office. It took years in office to activate the El-Rufai Committee on restructuring. The committee carried out its consultation and compacted its report submitted since January 2018, which is yet to be implemented. 

In a manner historical in terms of repetition of efforts, the Senate set up the Omo-Agege-led Committee to collate opinions, data, and referenda. Nevertheless, the agitation for radical constitutional engineering to ground the country around federalist principles appears to be moving along the polarity of those for and against the restructuring agenda despite glaring national contradictions and the weakening of national unity. The emerging current is that the process has also hit brick walls.  The Omo-Agege-led Senate Committee on restructuring and constitutional amendment is currently hampered by financial difficulties. In ways dramatic, some have said they do not know how to go about it. These trends are, in the main, prevarications. Also, they are ridiculous and amount to toying with life and death matters for the country.

It should be emphasised that state restructuring, in other words, constitution-making is a road well-travelled. Before the country’s independence, there were several conferences held in the Lancaster House in the United Kingdom in the colonizers’ attempt to fashion a constitution for the country including the Ibadan Conference of the 1950s. Upon independence, the country engrossed for itself a republican constitution in 1963 and even through referendum created a new region and a year earlier through a United Nations-mediated referendum which allowed Southern Cameroon to go with Northern Cameroon.   In between the truncated republics, the military in its characteristic transition to democracy programmes has always constituted constituent assemblies either on the basis of electoral or/and selection principles. More important is the fact that the extant 1999 Constitution has provisions for the amendment of the constitution. The amendment procedure states inter alia in Section 9 (1) and (2): “1) The National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section, alter any of the provisions of this Constitution. 2). An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which section 8 of this Constitution applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the states.”

To be sure, we have more recent examples. Upon ascent to power, the government of Macky Sall in Senegal restructured the country’s legislative chambers by outright abrogation of the upper chamber, the Senate.  It did so to save money to solve the national problem of flooding. A few weeks ago, the Constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile was changed through the democratic method to the acclamation of the people. In the referendum, which recorded 78 per cent, Chileans settled two questions, namely, a new constitution, and second, what kind of body they would want to draw it up. A hitherto recalcitrant President Sebastian Piñera acknowledged the extent of the contradictions in his country’s constitution, which are underlined by the division of Chileans and urged them to work collectively for the new constitution to lay the foundation for democracy unity, stability, and the future of their country.

Commendably, the Eminent Elders Forum (EEF) led by Senator Ibrahim Mantu has even advocated a return to the 1963 Republican Constitution to save the country from its present appalling state. In its statement, an outcome of its meeting held on November 21 and 22, 2020, the forum called for a “Replacement of the 1999 Constitution with the 1963 Constitution with amendments to reflect today’s realities in Nigeria” as well as a reversion “to parliamentary system of government because it is cheaper and the burden of governance is lighter with less corruption and more development-oriented” and a federal system  “with strong federating units but with right provisions to make it difficult for any of the federating units to pull out of the Union.” In a similar strain, the governor of Ekiti, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has also argued an end to “feeding bottle” federalism by a reduction of the items in the exclusive list to defence, national security, and customs operations to save the states from what he called the “tyranny of unfunded mandate.”  

The foregoing reflects elements of constitutionalism, which the famous Tanzania scholar, Issa Shivji gave a democratic bent when he refers to it, “as a process for developing and utilising, adopting a political compact that defines not only the power relations between political communities and constituencies but also defines the rights, duties, and obligations of citizens in any society.” Indeed, constitution-making must be inclusive and issues understood by the people. We believe that the issues have been well-canvassed by the representatives of the people. That is why we need to reiterate here that refederalising the country is imperative. The times are not for dithering but for action on restructuring within the construct of federalism – to save Nigeria before it is too late.