Christopher Isiguzo and Gideon Arinze in Enugu, and Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
There are indications that the devolution of powers bill, which suffered a devastating defeat in the two chambers of the National Assembly last month, would be revisited by the lawmakers when they resume after their recess. This is amid rising separatist agitations and pressure on the ruling All Progressives Congress to make good its electoral promise to restructure the federation and devolve more powers to the federating units.
APC said yesterday that it would on Monday commence consultation on the restructuring of the federation in the three geopolitical zones of the South. But the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party said it would not participate in the talks.
Issues around the restructuring of the polity are encapsulated in a devolution of powers bill proposed as part of the on-going subject-by-subject amendment of the 1999 Constitution by the federal lawmakers. But the bill was separately rejected by both the Senate and the House of Representatives last month when they voted and passed different bills on aspects of the constitution pencilled in for amendment. The bill, which required the two-third majority vote of the 109 senators and 360 members of the House to be passed, was shot down after receiving only 48 and 210 votes, respectively, in the two chambers.
THISDAY gathered at the weekend that the lawmakers were considering revisiting the devolution of powers bill, when they resume next week, to address some of the perceived imbalances in the polity that are widely believed to be fuelling the current agitations.
Chairman of the Constitution Amendment Review Committee and Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, confirmed that the bill on devolution of powers would be revisited when he responded to questions on the issue.
“We will deal with it when we resume,” Ekweremadu said by mobile text message.
Ekweremadu, a major proponent of restructuring, was, however, more elaborate in a statement issued soon after the defeat of the devolution bill last month.
He had stated, “We are also conscious of the fact that Nigerians are worried about some of the recommendations that did not pass. Let me use this opportunity to further appreciate and reassure Nigerians that we are sensitive to their feelings and that we are likely going to revisit some of the issues they are concerned about when we return from our vacation.
“Some of the issues did not scale through because there is need for fuller understanding as well as more consultations and consensus building on them and their implications for our people.”
A senator, who did not want to be mentioned because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said revisiting the bill “is the ideal thing to do” to ensure that the National Assembly “remains on the side of Nigerians.”
Speaking in a similar vein, a member of the House of Representatives said, off the record, that the lawmakers were being encouraged to support the bill when it is tabled again. “Yes, there has been lobbying. Although, it stands a better chance, I doubt if we will get the required two-third,” he stated.
The bill No. 3, 2017 (Devolution of Powers) seeks to alter the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, Part I and II, to move certain items to the Concurrent List, from the Exclusive List, in order to give more legislative powers to the states.
Yesterday in Abuja, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, said the upper chamber planned to meet soon with the security chiefs over the growing tension in the South-east, where a pro-autonomy group, the Indigenous People of Biafra, has been clashing with security agents, resulting in fatalities.
Saraki, who disclosed this in a statement Saturday, said, “The Senate leadership will soon meet with security chiefs and we will work for the promotion of dialogue as well as peaceful resolution of all contentious issues. Once again, I plead with our people to avoid taking laws into their hands or antagonising our neighbours.”
The senate president said the tensions in the country had their roots in the hash economic conditions, stressing that the government is working to ease the difficulties. He appealed to the citizens to avoid acts capable of “stoking ethnic or religious fires.”
In the latest incidents last week, the military invaded the house of the IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, in Umuahia, and his whereabouts have been unknown since then. Following the recent clashes with the military and other security agencies, the Defence Headquarters had on Friday declared IPOB a terrorist organisation. But the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, yesterday dismissed that categorisation, saying in a statement that IPOB is not a terrorist group. In a nine-point communiqué issued after a meeting at the Nike Lake Hotel, Enugu, and signed by President General of Ohanaeze, Chief John Nwodo, and its Secretary General, Uche Okwukwu, the organisation reaffirmed its belief in a united Nigeria under a restructured system of government that guarantees justice, equity and fairness. It condemned the military operation in the South-east, code-named “Operation Python Dance II” and demanded its immediate cessation.
Governors of the five South-east states met in Enugu on Friday and banned the activities of IPOB in the zone, on the same day that the military declared the group a terrorist organisation. But IPOB condemned the ban in a statement yesterday and called on the federal government to produce Kanu whom they said had been missing since after the military invasion of his house.
Ohanaeze in their communiqué said, “The Imeobi resolved that IPOB is not a terrorist organisation. There are processes under extant national and international laws, especially the Terrorism Prevention Act 2011, as amended in 2015, to determine whether a group is a terrorist organization.” It rejected the current military operation in the South-east, saying, “Military option is never a solution to the problem of nation building. We refer, for instance, to the goings on in Spain, Scotland and other parts of the world to reaffirm that only through dialogue can the national question be resolved.”
In an attempt to douse the tensions, APC said it would tomorrow begin nationwide dialogue sessions on restructuring from the South. It is the first in a series of consultations aimed at getting the feedback of Nigerians on key issues behind the current agitations, like true federalism, resource control, and greater autonomy of the federating units. APC said the sessions would hold simultaneously in Enugu (South-east), Benin City (South-south), and Ibadan (South-west).
A nine-member special panel appointed by APC said the restructuring dialogue would be led by designated teams comprising serving governors, former governors, and other high-ranking members who will seek to aggregate the responses of members of the public to the burning national issue. It said the team for Enugu will be led by the former governor of Edo State, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor, Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello, and Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.
THISDAY gathered that the APC committee took the decision to deploy its team to the southern part of the country first based on the understanding that the agitations for restructuring were stronger in the region. A member of the committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said the group considered the tempo of agitation in the South-east and South-south before deciding the venues for the event.
The secretary of the APC committee on restructuring, Senator Olabunmi Adetumbi, said the panel had analysed the reports of the national conferences held in 2005 and 2014 and summed up 12 cardinal agenda for discussion. He listed the issues slated for discussion to include state creation, power devolution, local government autonomy, rotational presidency, resource control, and the type of legislature Nigeria needs.
However, PDP has asked its members not to participate in the dialogue sessions organised by APC, saying the ruling party has no genuine interest in restructuring the country. Addressing journalists on Saturday at the party’s headquarters in Abuja, the PDP spokesman, Dayo Adeyeye, said APC was using the public hearing to buy time.
“It is a delay tactic meant to kill the demand for restructuring and we are not interested and we will not participate in such hearing because the APC has no genuine interest in restructuring the country,” Adeyeye stated.
He also rejected the classification of IPOB as a terrorist group by the Defence Headquarters, stating, “I believe that the power to proscribe an organisation lies essentially with the National Assembly and the federal government of Nigeria. It does not lie with the governors or the military.”
In the meantime, the Nigerian Navy Saturday said its deployment in the southern part of the country was not targeted at IPOB. Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, stated this during the Nigerian Navy Third Quarter Route March, at the Mogadishu Cantonment, Abuja. Ibas said the Navy was fully committed to protecting Nigeria’s unity, notwithstanding the current ethnic tensions.