THE National Assembly failed to strike the right chord with Nigerians when it rejected power devolution in the ongoing process to further amend the 1999 Constitution. This is a huge setback in the quest for national rediscovery, misguidedly contrived by 48 senators, with the House of Representatives in tow. It is a rank failure that will continue to haunt the parliament led by Bukola Saraki.
But recklessness like this amid a wave of restless agitations across the country has spawned an avalanche of protests, leading to calls for a return to the 1963 Constitution, which embodied the principles of federalism. The founding chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Bisi Akande, led the charge last week when he declared that the current piecemeal alteration of the constitution would achieve nothing significant. The document, according to him, breeds and protects corrupt practices and criminal impunity in governance; and, therefore, should be dumped in the trash bin, being a relic of military adventurism in politics. Consequently, he wants a totally new people’s constitution, while the 1963 document serves only as a stop-gap measure. We agree.
So much is wrong with this constitution. Among other strong features of a federal state, including the powers of the constituent units to substantially control their resources, Section 5 of the 1963 Constitution of the Federation made provision for regional constitution. Section 105 (7) states, “Nothing in this section shall prevent the legislature of a Region from making provision for the maintenance by any native authority of local government authority established in the province or any part of a province of a police force for employment within that province.”
Today, Nigeria is short of many things, but corruption and weapons are not part of them. In shooting down state police, the senators subordinated national interest to their self-interest. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who also chairs the National Assembly Constitution Review Committee, in a recent interview, admitted this much: “Our colleagues in the National Assembly said that the governors will use it against them and stuff like that.” The insensitive senators also rejected the scrapping of the Land Use Act, women’s rights to citizenship in the domain of their spouses, among other critical issues begging for urgent consideration.
Indeed, the 1999 Constitution has had first, second and third amendments without dealing with the core issues responsible for our wobbly federation. One of the inherent contradictions in Nigeria’s federalism is the adoption of the present 774 Local Government Areas as part of the federating units. This is in clear breach of Chapter 1, Section 2 (2) of the constitution, which states expressly, “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory.”
This aberration confers political and fiscal advantages on a section of the country, which it is not willing to give up. Thus, inequality is entrenched in the polity with all its noxious consequences. The 2014 political conference saw this as a rampart against national unity and nation-building. Therefore, it recommended that the councils be removed from the constitution, just as it demanded that the 68 items in the Exclusive Legislative List be pruned as a foundation for re-structuring the federation. But this did not matter to the federal lawmakers.
Nigeria is a fractured land. The grim reality is that it is in a hurry to implode, going by the many auguries hobbling it. It is the ugly mirror the separatist agitation from the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra typifies. So are the Arewa youth October 1 quit notice to the Igbo in the North, the militancy in the Niger Delta and the latest Pan Niger Delta Forum ultimatum to the Federal Government to meet its 16-point demand by November 1, or lose the extant rapprochement it is enjoying in the region, which has guaranteed stable crude oil production and improved oil revenues for the country.
We cannot continue to live in denial forever. We insist, as always, that Nigeria is a plural society, and should be run in accordance with the basic tenets of federalism. Indeed, anything to the contrary is a farce; and sows the seed of mutual distrust and anarchy. Our founding fathers avoided this chaos when they drafted the 1963 Constitution. A return to this orderliness cannot be through a self-serving constitutional patchwork. Therefore, we need lawmakers that appreciate the current political temper and then set in motion a process that will bequeath to Nigeria a new constitution, reflective of our diversity.
It is irrational that while Nigerians clamour for the centre to shed its weight and make it less attractive for corruption, abuse of public office and rent-seeking behaviour, the parliament is inclined to giving it more powers, amplified in the responsibility to conduct local council elections it ceded to the Independent National Electoral Commission. No federal system does that.
Giving more constitutional responsibilities to Abuja is ridiculous. It means that the current revenue formula of 52.6 per cent for the Federal Government; 26.72 per cent (states); and 20.6 per cent for Local Government Areas will be skewed further in its favour. A constitution review that vests more power in the centre cannot be Nigeria’s dream constitution. Growing insecurity in the country today stems from the inadequacy of the existing policing system. This compelled the Nigeria Governors’ Forum to demand the creation of state police on July 20, as it had done several times in the past, after its meeting with the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, in Abuja.
The truth is, Nigeria is falling apart. Nigeria’s history is one of division and conflict, etched in the dominance by a section of the country. It is becoming harder to turn a blind eye to the depth of injustice in the annoyingly twisted federalism.
The leaders of the National Assembly may have realised that it goofed with their seeming apologies last week for being out of touch with the people they purport to represent, on the devolution of power rejection, thus expressing optimism of its likely resurgence. Enough of this betrayal and playing the ostrich. Time, indeed, is running out.