By Law Mefor
The Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution just turned in its report. It contains some substantial insertions and alterations that will move the country many steps towards true federalism if eventually passed into law. The Committee commendably achieved at least half of its original intentions for a full amendment. In pluralistic country such as Nigeria, reaching consensus on a variety of far-reaching issues as it has, is indeed no mean feat for the Ekweremadu Committee.
With Sen. Ike Ekweremadu as Chairman, the 49-member Committee drawn from all the States of the Federation, reeled out 17 substantive areas for alteration at the onset. Based on submissions and inputs made as at 2012, the Senate Committee ambitiously articulated the following as areas for possible amendment for the country to arrive at a balanced federation, stronger democracy and better governance: Devolution of Powers; Creation of more States; Recognition of the Six Geo-political Zones in the Constitution; Constitutional Role for Traditional Rulers; Local Government; Taking out the following Acts of the National Assembly from the Constitution: The Land Use Act, NYSC Act, Public Complaints Commission Act and the National Security Agencies Act; Fiscal Federalism; and Amendment of Provisions relating to Amendment of the Constitution; State Creation and Boundary Adjustment.
Other areas were removal of Immunity Clause; Nigerian (State) Police; Judicial Reforms; Rotation of Executive Offices; Gender and Special Groups; Mayoral Status for the Federal Capital Territory; and Residency and Indigene provisions.
Admirably, there was massive response to the call for memoranda by the Committee. The successful amendment of the 1999 Constitution in the 6thNational Assembly may have propped up the confidence of the Nigerian people in the capacity and commitment of the National Assembly to amend the Constitution for the good governance, prosperity and health of the Nigerian State. Remarkably, Senator Ike Ekweremaadu reassuringly told Nigerians then that the Senate had no interest to protect, except that of the generality of the Nigerian people and posterity, saying that the lawmakers would be driven by the force of superior argument and public will. This has turned out to be a promise kept.
The purpose of the Committee’s far-reaching recommendations, which is now the Alteration Bill, is to remove contradictions and ambiguities, supply omissions, and make the Constitution more practical and relevant to the needs of Nigerians in this twenty-first century.
One major flaw of the 1999 Constitution is the structure and running of States, which has made them amorphous and governors demigods. To correct this dysfunction and with an eye to balancing out the federation, the amendment seeks to insert Section 121 – creation of first-line charge for certain bodies and offices at the State level. This provision aims to engender accountability and efficient service delivery by making the State Houses of Assembly, State Independent Electoral Commissions, Auditor-General of the State and the Attorney-general of a State to get their funding directly from the State Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Sections 135 and 180 – Single Tenure – are revolutionary also and if eventually passed into law, Nigeria will never be the same again. Considering the expenses often associated with re-election and to ensure that executive heads are freed from the distractions to be able to concentrate on public policy issues, a provision for a single term of 6 years for President and Governors is now strategic. What is more, President and Vice as well Governors and their deputies seeking reelection are disqualified by the single term provisions.
Sections 150 and 195 seek to unbundle the Office of the Attorney General to guarantee its independence and separation from that of the Minister of Justice or Commissioner for Justice.
Section 162 – Removal of State – Local Government Joint Accounts is also one amendment most Nigerians are looking forward to. The obnoxious joint account has permitted the governors to sit on the LG funds and this killed local government system. Thus, to make for accountability and effective Local Government system, the committee recommends the expurgation from the Constitution the State-Local Government Joint Account. This provision will restore the LGs and grassroots development if passed and therefore very desirable.
Section 302 seeks elected mayoral system of administration for the Federal Capital Territory. Accordingly, a mayoral status to the FCT is not only in keeping with the practice in many capital cities of the world, but it is also to ensure efficient administration of the FCT.
While the foregoing are recommended insertions to be made to the 1999 Constitution, the following are the actual alterations, namely: direct funding from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation to be made for the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Auditor-General of the Federation, Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission; and the National Human Rights Commission.
The second alteration is devolution of powers. The Committee is equally right for concluding that the exclusive list under Part 1 of the Second Schedule to the Constitution is jam-packed, cumbersome and unwieldy and attempted to decongest it by maintaining only items of utmost importance to the federation as a whole, while transferring items of concurrent interests to the concurrent list. The Committee therefore was right in removing Pensions, Prisons, Railways, Stamp Duties and Wages from the Exclusive Legislative List. It also went further to add new items to the Exclusive and Concurrent lists namely: (Concurrent List) Arbitration, Environment, Healthcare, Prisons, Railways, Road Safety, Stamp Duties, Wages, Land and Agriculture, Youths, Public Complaints and Aviation and (Exclusive List) National Security. So, we should expect things like State-owned prisons to take care of criminals they generate by themselves and so on.
The Committee also recommended an elaborate provision in Section 9 of the Constitution for a procedure to bring an entirely new constitution into being. This is predicated on their belief that the incremental approach to constitutional amendment may not be sustainable in the long run. There is also a new provision in the Draft Bill to resolve the impasse where the President neglects to signify his assent or that he withholds such assent.
However many Nigerians will be disappointed that the Committee dropped State Creation despite 61 requests as none complied with the entire conditions set out in section 8(1) of the 1999 Constitution. They also failed to recommend the recognition of the 6 geopolitical zones in the country.
Fiscal Federalism/Derivation was another area that failed to pass as well as State Police. The Committee recommended that the status quo be maintained in line with the current mood of Nigerians in these areas. They equally rejected Special Status for Lagos,Ministerial Slot for “Indigenes” of the FCT, since they would get a mayoralty, Rotation of Executive Offices, Prohibition of Foreign Accounts, and Diaspora Voting.
The Committee was simply afraid of biting more than it could chew, to avoid mistakes of past Senates. Building consensus at this stage is crucial and obviously led to the dropping of highly contentious issues such as State Police, State creation and so on. Since constitution review is a continuous process and with the benefit of hind sight, the Senate has adopted an incremental approach to achieving true federalism in Nigeria rather than lose it all once again.
Many are optimistic that since nearly half of the Senators drawn from all the States 0f the Federation, were involved in the Committee, most of the recommendations will be passed. Where there appears to be landmines is in the States where concurrence in 24 of them is required for each amendment to become law, for the reason that governors are bent on opposing LG, SIEC and State Assembly autonomy, among other things. It also remains to be seen how the President and his Vice as well as governors that may be seeking second term will react to their ban.
The time for solidarity and sacrifice of Nigerians is now, to give the nation a fighting chance to survive and make progress like her Asian Tiger peers that have long left her behind.
• Law Mefor, author and forensic psychologist, is national coordinator Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM) Abuja; tel.+234-803-787-2893;email:firstname.lastname@example.org