How lawmakers pay lip service to restructuring
The nationwide clamour for restructuring the country for better economic performance would soon fizzle out except the necessary legal steps are taken in that regard by the lawmakers. Restructuring is a constitutional matter, which can only be followed constitutionally. The people who have the mandate to make laws that can amend or change the constitution in any way are members of the National Assembly. Any law they refuse to make or change remains there. Clamouring alone cannot change anything, except the people have a way of forcing their lawmakers to do what they are supposed to do.
This clarification is necessary because most uninformed Nigerians think that President Muhammadu Buhari is the one who should restructure Nigeria. But it needs to be emphasised that President Buhari has no power, under the democratic dispensation, to single-handedly restructure Nigeria. The president would have been able to do that in a military government. But we are not in a military government and so, the president doesn’t have that power anymore.
However, he can only follow a democratic process by way of initiating an executive bill for restructuring, which must be sent to the National Assembly for consideration and passage. Being that Buhari, as an individual, is opposed to restructuring, no one can expect him to initiate such a bill. Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, is also opposed to restructuring. That being the case, the responsibility falls squarely on the lawmakers to do the needful.
Regrettably, no lawmaker has been touched patriotically enough to initiate a restructuring bill at the National Assembly. All they are doing is to voice their support to restructuring, which, in no way is different from what the man on the street is saying. Mere support for restructuring carries no weight. The lawmakers must show patriotism if they are really sincere.
Among the lawmakers that have voiced their support for restructuring are Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), who is also chairman Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT); Hon. Gaza Jonathan Gbefwi (Karu/Kefi/Kokona Federal Constituency, Nasarawa State); Hon. Leo Ogor (PDP – Delta); Hon Rima Shawulu, chairman House Committee on the Army and Hon Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, chairman, House Committee on Public Relations. These, and many others, have declared their unflinching support for restructuring Nigeria, pointing out that Nigeria is held hostage by Section 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Section 44 (3) states: Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall vest in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
Beyond any conceivable imagination of Nigerians, this section of the constitution, unreservedly and with total finality, confers the ownership and control of all mineral resources of the country, including those found in the adjoining territorial waters, on the Federal Government. That is to say, whatever authority at Abuja, has unwavering powers to exploit the minerals as it deems fit without hindrance or opposition. This is the crux of Nigeria economic problems.
Granted that the constitution made that pernicious provision that is totally not in Nigeria’s interest that should not be the end of the story. The constitution is not cast in iron. There is provision for amendment, which is the job of the lawmakers to deal with.
Why then are the lawmakers bemoaning what they have all the powers to change? What is holding them? Why have these lawmakers who have openly declared support for restructuring not joined forces to initiate a bill to expunge the obnoxious Section 44 (3)? Why are they shedding crocodile tears? Do they think that by merely crying wolf over restructuring, they would gain acclaim from Nigerians? Who is deceiving who?
The call for restructuring dovetails into the clamour for economic diversification. The two face the hurdle in Section 44 (3) of the constitution. Unfortunately, the same lip service paid to restructuring is also paid to diversification. Everyone in government talks about diversification without mentioning the constitutional hurdles facing it. And not until this constitutional brick wall is torn down, there would be no headway for Nigeria, at least, economically.
The other day, the Senate listed what it calls solutions to the present economic recession that added nothing new. Two issues drew my attention, namely granting of autonomy to states and local governments and diversification of economy.
What sort of autonomy does the Senate want granted to states and local governments that would help end recession when these tiers of government have no powers to harness their God-given mineral resources? Or, is the Senate talking of political autonomy, which the states already have. Each state is quasi autonomous with governor and House of Assembly that makes its laws. The Senate must be talking of economic autonomy which the constitution has denied the states and local government councils.
The second, which is diversification, is not in any way different. Apart from agriculture, which seems to be the only focus of government’s diversification preachment, what else can a state do, under the extant law that alienates them from their natural endowments? Diversification can only take place when different states are engaged in different economic activities based on what they have comparative advantage over others. Except that is done, let government and the lawmakers continue to refrain diversification and autonomy daily in their deliberations and see that it would all come to naught. No diversification will occur and the country will continue to retrogress.
If the lawmakers are sincerely patriotic and really want to help Nigeria out of economic backwardness, then, they must do one thing. The lawmakers that support restructuring and economic diversification must join forces and initiate a bill to abrogate Section 44 (3) of the constitution to make way for a new law that confers ownership and control of mineral resources to the states and local governments.
There would naturally be opposition to the bill. The lawmakers should do their homework well by way of lobbying. Nigerians could be sensitised to coerce their representatives to vote in support of the bill or risk recall or vote out in the 2019 elections.