The two chambers of the National Assembly last week rejected a bill seeking to achieve gradual devolution of power in the ongoing review of the 1999 constitution, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO, who monitored the proceedings captures reactions.
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 states Houses of Assembly 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 restructuring could be achieved, albeit gradually, through this round of constitution review.
Deputy Senate President and Chairman 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, that 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 actualized 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 fall 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.
With the pattern of voting last week, all the hopes and promises becomes idle. This development within a few days elicited reaction from various groups.
Atiku Alleges Sabotage:
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, in reaction to the decision of the National Assembly, accused the lawmakers working for personal gains, rather than working on issues that affect the polity.
Atiku who is a proponent of restructuring, described the failure of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Senate to approve power devolution as a betrayal of the party’s promise.
The former vice president frowned at what he described as the reluctance of democratically-elected lawmakers to remove the insidious structural impediments to development, which decades of military rule had foisted on our nation.
“Instead of building the foundations for a true federation, a small group of so-called progressive senators decided to stick with the new party line, pretending they didn’t know what restructuring was all about, and that even if they knew, it couldn’t be done. I think this is disingenuous. I think it is a sad day for our party. But I am confident the APC will learn the right lesson from this self-inflicted defeat, and remember the mission and mandate given to us by the people,” he said.
Ohanaeze in shock:
The Pan-Igbo Socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, expressed shock and disappointed over the decision on power devolution.
President-General Chief John Nwodo, in a statement noted that: ”The barrage of voices in this country lately shows clearly that majority of Nigerians are desirous of the country running a true federal system and one expected the NASS to have appreciated this in all their actions especially in constitutional amendment,” Nwodo said.
The umbrella body Igbo people enjoined the National Assembly to rather than go into constitutional amendment at this time that the mood of the country was tuned towards total restructuring, concernthemselves in making the legislative enactment to empower the convening of a national conference for real constitutional drafting.
He said any action by either the executive or legislator that does not address the agitation of Nigerians would not yield results.
“Any action whether legislative or executive in this country today that is not programmed to respond to the yearnings of the populace will amount to exercise in futility. Ohanaeze therefore urges the National Assembly and other legislative levels involved in the constitutional amendment in the country to put the interest of the country first and ensure that its actions are such that would help to douse the tension and stabilise the country,” the statement reads.
The Igbo group also urged the National Assembly to revisit the 2014 Conference Report which implementation had generated heated argument among the political class.
IPOB Hails Senate:
In a twist however, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) praised the National Assembly for rejecting the proposed restructuring of the country, as it may support their agitation.
A statement by the group’s spokesperson, Emma Powerful,said: “We are equally thanking them for voting down the controversial call for restructuring that cannot benefit anyone in Nigeria.”
Still, 10 pro-Biafra groups, including the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB, lambasted the National Assembly, for rejecting the restructuring of the country, saying that there would be no future elections in the old Eastern Region if genuine efforts were not made to start the process before October 1, this year.
MASSOB, in a statement by its leader, Comrade Uchenna Madu said that it was not surprised that the National Assembly rejected the call for the restructuring of Nigeria, as the outcome was evidence that the country’s leaders were not prepared for equity and justice in the country.
The other nine pro-Biafra groups which met in Enugu argued that the 1999 Constitution which was handed over to Nigerians by the General Abdusalami Abubakar’s military administration was more of a decree and hence unworkable as a constitution.
The groups included the Eastern Consultative Assembly, ECA, South- East Elders Union, SEEU, the South East Christian Network, Igbo Women Assembly, Igbo Traders Association, South East/South Youth Assembly, Ofuobi Cultural Association, Igbo Students Union and Igbo Youth Movement, IYM.
It’s an exercise in futility – Afenifere
Pan Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere decribed the ongoing amendment as an exercise in futility as it failed to address fundamental problem facing the country.
The group which insisted on restructuring, infer that the amendment is meaningless without devolution of power.
Spokesperson of the group, Yinka Odumakin, said: “The constitution review voted upon by the National Assembly is an exercise in futility as it fails to address the fundamentals. They have majored in minors while rejecting the critical issues of federalism or avoiding it totally. They have confirmed the fears that nationhood cannot be addressed through NASS. They have only put Nigeria on the road to auto-restructuring,” he said.
We’ll make our position known after consultation – Northern Govs:
The Northern States Governors Forum has set up a 12-man committee to come up with the region’s position on Nigeria’s restructuring.
According to a communiqué issued after a two-day meeting of the governors in Kaduna on Friday, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State would serve as Chairman of the committee with the Deputy Governor of Plateau as Secretary.
Other members of the committee include the governors of Nasarawa, Gombe, Benue, Bauchi and Kaduna States.
Other members include the Emirs of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, Emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris and Emir of Gummi, Hassan Lawal Gummi as well as Estu Nupe, Alhaji Yahaya Abubakar and Gbong Gwom Jos Jacob Gyang Buba.
The committee was mandated to collate opinions from across the region and come up with acceptable, tenable and sustainable position for the North in consonance with provisions of the Constitution.
On his part, Renowned lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), had harsh words for the senate in particular.
Sagay, in a statement written in his personal capacity and not as the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, said “their rejection of devolution of some powers to the states involving transfer of some items to the concurrent list, their scrapping of States Electoral Commissions, entrenching local governments as a tier of government in a supposed federation, clearly demonstrates their hostility to federalism and to the empowerment of the 36 states in order to make them more independent and effective.
“On the other hand, their inordinate self-love is demonstrated by their craving for immunity, participation in the Council of State and elimination of the President’s power to approve constitutional amendments.”
Recall that the APC had earlier constituted a nine-member committee headed by Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State to address the increasing agitations for the restructuring of the country’s polity.
With the recent move by the National Assembly dominated by the its members, Nigerians wait to see how the party will handle the evolving situation.