On Wednesday, July 26, the Senate in its quest to preserve Nigeria’s corporate existence dealt a deadly blow to the agitation for the restructuring of the country. In flagrant and complete indifference to the yearnings of the Nigerian public, it rejected a bill to decongest the Exclusive Legislative List in favour of the Concurrent List, in line with the agitation in the polity for the devolution of powers to the states. Ironically, it approved the proposals to grant autonomy to local governments through the abrogation of joint state/local government accounts while denying un-elected local government administrators recognition and funding. It also took steps to curtail the powers of the executive, strengthen the arms of the legislature and redefine the electoral space through the approval of independent candidature in elections.
Not surprisingly, the Senate’s rejection of the the bill which specifically sought to devolve the powers to handle railways, collect stamp duties and regulate electricity and tertiary health institutions to the states threw the polity into uproar, with many of the groups representing ethnic nationalities in the country pointing out the dangerous implications of the move. For instance, Afenifere, the apex Yoruba sociopolitical body, averred that the Senate was merely engaged in an exercise in futility, while leaders of thought in the northern part of the country such as Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, berated it for betraying Nigerians. For their part, 10 pro-Biafra groups, including the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), Eastern Consultative Assembly (ECA), South-East Elders Union (SEEU), the South East Christian Network and Igbo Women Assembly, among others, insisted that there would be no future elections in the South-East if genuine efforts were not made to start the restructuring process before October 1 this year.
In their communiqué entitled “Enugu Declaration,” the groups stated: “The General Abubakar Decree 24 popularly known as the 1999 Constitution and its militarily-imposed unitary structure simply makes it impossible for the hapless electorate to choose their own leaders.” They also berated “the struggle by a tiny clique to sustain by all means, the status quo imposed on Nigeria by unelected soldiers by issuing threats of war in the false hope that the 196 million Nigerians held down in unacceptable squalor, fear, helplessness and arrested development will be cowed by these threats of military action and therefore back down from the noble struggle to save Nigeria, through a peaceful restructuring.”
It is indeed an alien from Mars who would fail to come to grips with the fact that the country is currently undergoing perhaps the most turbulent period in its history following the divisive tendencies from different sections of the country, moving gradually from a divided country into a fragmented one. Sadly, without addressing the fundamental roots of the nation’s problems, the Senate went on a wild goose chase, constraining the powers of the Executive (president and governors) by altering Sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the president or governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the consolidated revenue fund in the absence of an appropriation act from six months to three months.For the avoidance of doubt, the senators’ setting of a time-frame within which the president or a governor shall forward to the Senate or State House of Assembly, names of nominees for confirmation as ministers or commissioners while throwing out the basis for a federal system is unacceptable. It is crude, self-serving and short-sighted, and betrays a callous indifference to the plight of their constituencies.
Devolution of powers, we aver without fear, constitutes the meat of the restructuring process, and is the only viable antidote to the current desperation to be at the centre. In this regard, using the excuses of hate speeches, tension and bad blood to reject the agitation for restructuring is nothing but an exhibition of naivety. Were the Senate truly intent on fast-tracking the process of creating a new nation which all Nigerians would be proud to call their own, it would not have lumped the critical issues bordering on restructuring together with other items for amendment. While nearly every informed commentator in the country has, time and again, pointed out that the Federal Government’s omnibus position is too dysfunctional, the Senate chose to ignore the fact that this was only because it (the Federal Government) has always usurped the powers of the states through the contraptions called constitutions handed over to the country by the various military juntas that set the country’s developmental path backwards by several centuries.
Given the current ugly scenario in the country, we call on the restructuring advocates to form a powerful lobby group and make even those ignorantly opposed to it to see that it is the right way to go for the country. The consequences of failure are too dire to even contemplate.