In his first response to the deafening clamour for the restructuring of the country’s federalism, President Muhammadu Buhari, passed the buck on discussions to the National Assembly and the National Council of State. ADEBIYI ADEDAPO captures reactions to the president’s position.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in a nationwide broadcast following his return from a 103-day medical vacation in the United Kingdom, disclosed that the National Assembly and the National Council of States are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse on restructuring.
The President, who by his statement, effectively slammed the door against the report of the National Conference, for which he has never hidden his disdain in the past, also restated that Nigeria’s unity was not negotiable.
He also warned that his administration would not allow irresponsible elements to trouble the nation, but at the same time acknowledged that there are legitimate concerns.
Giving credence to the President’s position, Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Garba Shehu, in a statement explained that Buhari has no power to impose restructuring on the country by military diktat.
Sheu explained that the President is constitutionally bound to work with the National Assembly to deal with such complex issues, reminding critics that the president would not exercise arbitrary powers or bypass the legislature in taking such fundamental decisions.
According to him, calling Buhari an enemy of Nigeria is in extreme bad taste, noting that nothing in the president’s service record would justify such scurrilous language.
The Presidency declared that President Muhammadu Buhari has no powers to restructure the country by military fiat.
The statement noted that restructuring and other constitutional changes are within the purview of the National Assembly members who are the elected representatives of the people.
The statement however advised opinion leaders in the country to exercise restraint in their choice of words to avoid heating up the polity and causing acrimony across the country.
Despite the detailed explanation by the presidency, Buhari’s position on the restructuring debate yet elicited reaction from different quarters. Southern leaders drawn from the South-west, South-east and South-south geo-political zones in their reaction, collectively expressed strong opposition to the President’s position.
A legal practitioner, rights activist and lawyer, Oghenejabor Ikimi disagreed with the presidency over claims that the National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse.
The Warri based lawyer described the statement as false saying, as he said by virtue of his position in accordance with the constitution, “Mr. President has the powers to discourse the unity of Nigeria.”
Ikimi explained that by the virtue of his position as head of state, chief executive of the federation and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, he has the constitutional powers and fiat to initiate any national discourse on the social contract that could bind Nigerians together.
“I wish to pontificate without mincing words that President Muhammadu Buhari, by virtue of his position as head of state, the Chief Executive of the Federation and commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the federation, vested with executive powers of the federation in accordance with Sections 5(1) (a) and 130(1) & (2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, has the constitutional powers and fiat to initiate any national discourse on the social contract that could bind us together as a nation including but not limited to the vex issue of restructuring our nation along the lines of true fiscal federalism within our present democratic framework via a constituent assembly or a constitutional conference in a bid to producing a brand new people oriented Constitution to guarantee unity, peace and progress in our country.”
Although, Ikimi agreed nobody should tag the president an enemy of Nigeria as he said such statement was in bad taste, he disagreed with the President’s position which suggested that only National Assembly and the Council of State could discuss the matter.
“I agree with the Presidency that while Nigerians are free to comment on the vex issue of restructuring, calling President Muhammadu Buhari an enemy of Nigeria by some faceless persons on the social media was indeed in bad taste and I condemn same as satanic, but I however differ with all sense of responsibility with the press statement from the presidency to the effect that it is only the National Assembly and the Council of State that can handle agitations for restructuring and other constitutional changes in the country.”
Puncturing claims of Buhari that the National Assembly and the National Council of State are the legitimate and appropriate bodies for national discourse, Ikimi said: “By Sections 4(2) (4)(a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, the National Assembly can only make laws for the peace, order and good government of the federation in respect to matters included in the exclusive and concurrent legislative list as set out in part 1 and the first column of part II of the second schedule to the 1999 Constitution as amended,” Ikimi noted.
In the same vein, leaders, who recently converged on the Colonnades Hotels, Ikoyi, Lagos, to take a stand on the president’s broadcast, opined that only restructuring will ensure the unity, peace and development of Nigeria.
The regional leaders in a statement jointly signed by Chief Edwin Clark and Albert Horsfall for the South-south; Chief Nnia Nwodo and Prof Joe Irukwu for the South-east; and Chief Reuben Fasoranti and Chief Ayo Adebanjo for the South-west, concluded that Nigeria was in a ‘very bad shape and requires statesmanship in its leadership’.
According to them, Buhari, in his broadcast, barely acknowledged the growing agitation for the nation’s restructuring, and only stated that the appropriate institutions for national discourse were the National Assembly and National Council of State.
The southern leaders noted that the president, in his broadcast, handled some very important issues with levity that did not give cognisance to the level at which they affect the overall well-being of Nigerians.
“We have studied the national broadcast by Mr. President on Monday, August 21, 2017 and after a careful and thorough analysis of the speech, we make the following observations: the president expressed his disaffection about comments on Nigeria while he was away that ‘question our collective existence as a nation’ and which he said had crossed the red lines.
“Against the background of the threat to treat hate speech as terrorism, we see a veiled threat to bare fangs and commence the criminalisation of dissenting opinions in our national discourse.”
The southern leaders also accused President Buhari of using the imagery of late Igbo leader, Chief Emeka Odumegwu Okukwu to down play the plight of southern Nigeria.
“The president deployed the imagery of the late Chief Emeka Ojukwu to play down the demand for the renegotiation of the structure of Nigeria by saying they both agreed in Daura in 2003 that we must remain one and united. While we agree with them, the meeting between the two of them could not have been a sovereign national conference whose decision cannot be reviewed. The fact that we agree on their conclusion that we should remain united does not foreclose discussions of the terms and conditions of the union.”
The leaders contended that the claim that Nigeria’s unity was settled and not negotiable was untenable on the grounds that “every country is in daily dialogue and there is nothing finally settled in this life”.
According to the statement, stable nations are still fine-tuning details of the architecture of their existence now and then, let alone Nigeria, which they described as a country yet to attain nationhood.
Meanwhile, there seems to be no hope for restructuring in the 8th National Assembly as the only bill which hinges towards devolution of power in the ongoing amendment to the 1999 constitution (as amended) suffered ill fate in the National Assembly.
Although, some lawmakers, including the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila have assured that the bill will be reintroduced, its success is still dependent on the voting pattern of individual lawmakers.
The amendment titled “A Bill For An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to States; and for related matters,” was on Wednesday rejected in the Senate, while the House also voted in favour of its rejection on Thursday.
If amendment had passed, it would empower State Houses of Assembly to make laws for the states with respect to electricity and the establishment in that state of electric power stations; the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to areas not covered by a national grid system within that state.
State legislators would also be allowed to make laws relating to agricultural policies, management and regulation of lands for agricultural purposes within states.
Other items captured in the rejected bill include; arbitration, environment, railway, health, stamp duties, road safety, pensions and youths.
However, rejection of the bill dashed the hopes of several groups and individuals who had hoped that the much clamoured for restructuring could be achieved, albeit gradually, through this round of constitution review.
Deputy Senate President and shairman of the Joint committee of the National Assembly, on the review of the 1999 constitution ( as amended), Senator Ike Ekweremadu, had assured that effective and comprehensive restructuring of Nigeria could only be done incrementally to ensure gradual acceptance of the thorny issues after adequate enlightenment of Nigerians.
Ekweremadu, who expressed support for restructuring, disclosed that the committee, in the course of its work in reviewing the 1999 Constitution, was able to build a consensus on the devolution of powers, which would move some of the over 60 items on the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List.
According to Ekwerenmadu, although fiscal federalism was not touched during the constitution review, the committee was able to build consensus on the issue of devolution of powers.
“We would take some of the items on the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List, which is the way to go. So, if we are patient and we go about restructuring in an incremental manner, I give it three, four, five years, we will get to where we want to be,” he said.
In the same vein, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, promised Nigerians that restructuring could only be actualised through alteration and amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
Dogara, who made the disclosure at a public hearing organised by the House Ad hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution at the National Assembly, also assured that the National Assembly will not ‘constitute a stumbling block’ to the aspirations of Nigerians for genuine changes in the constitution.
The Speaker also explained that the process of amending the Constitution by the 8th House of Representatives is in phases, adding that it is a continuous exercise as envisaged under section 9 of the Constitution.
According to Dogara, “Agitations for restructuring of the governance framework for Nigeria can only be done through alterations of the Constitution. I wish to say, that the House of Representatives and indeed the National Assembly is ready to do its part in terms of amending the Constitution when consensus have been reached on any matter by stakeholders and Nigerian citizens.”
Despite these promises, only 46 senators voted in support of the bill, which fell short of the needed 73 which is the two-thirds majority it needed to pass. In the House of Representatives, 210 members voted a yes, which also did not meet the 240, two-thirds majority.
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