Federalism is the answer, after all – part 33

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan (left), and Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege

In apparent recognition of the contradictions of the Nigerian federation in practice and as engrossed in the 1999 Constitution, the Nigerian upper legislative chamber, the Senate, early last year set up a Constitution Amendment Committee under the leadership of the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo-Agege. The committee after initial stalling called for memoranda from Nigerians. In the last few weeks, it began a quasi-process-led public hearing across the country to aggregate public opinions on the amendment process. Politics being a sphere of political contestation, this development has generated its own momentum underlined by controversies relating to the essence of the process as well as the reinstatement of the many contradictions of the extant 1999 Constitution as amended.

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Adverting to the issues in the call for restructuring of the country, the Governor of Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, urged the National Assembly to reconsider power devolution to the states, review revenue allocation formula, oil derivation and state police in the amendment to enable Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to provide revenue allocation formula proposal before the lawmakers. On his part, the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu identified the issues of state police and fiscal federalism as priority issues and argued for a recognition of the special economic status, which should be granted for Lagos because of its prime place in the national economy and the special burdens it bears because of the large population and limited landmass.

In the same vein, Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai underscored the need to restructure the country for functionality and also he argued that, “devolution of powers is necessary because the current structure overburdens the Federal Government with too many responsibilities.” He further noted that the ongoing legislative intervention could pave way for a truly balanced, equitable and fair federal structure. Besides, issues like granting local government autonomy and ensuring gender equality have also been canvassed in the zonal hearings.

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Others have viewed the exercise as one that would be futile and called for a national conference to the right thing or the outright adoption of the 1963 federal parliamentary constitution truncated by the military. For example, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN) described the proposed amendment to the 1999 Constitution as a futile exercise even as he urged the National Assembly to call for a national conference to discuss and make a new true federal constitution.

“It is common knowledge that the 1999 Constitution was made by the military which, in its wisdom, claimed that it was made by the people. The constitution says among other things that, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, having firmly and solemnly resolved…do hereby make and give to ourselves the following…Of course, this claim is false. The truth is that there is no way the National Assembly can amend the 1999 Constitution to cure the inherent defects. First, you cannot cure fraud. Second, it is impossible, by way of amendment, to take away the military system of government under the 1999 Constitution or the power and control of public funds by the President.

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Or can we, by way of amendment, change the judicial powers of the President under the 1999 Constitution?” He further argued that, “you cannot amend a coconut tree which has no branches to become and Iroko tree, which has branches. It is a well-known fact that everything about the 1999 Constitution is wound around the presidential system of government…Why then is the National Assembly afraid of calling a national constitutional conference to fashion out a new true federal constitution and come up with a parliamentary system of government like we had in 1963.”

Equally, the Chairman of Plateau State Council of Traditional Rulers, the Gbong Gwom Jos, Jacob Gyang Buba, said the 1999 Constitution was not deep enough to address problems confronting the nation.

The obvious from the foregoing is that many issues have been accentuated concerning the review of the 1999 Constitution. One, do we need a review or make an outright new constitution? How do we go about a new constitution? Any role for the National Assembly? If review is inevitable, what are the salient areas for change? Is the federal legislature sincere with Nigerians given seemingly biased statements that the leadership had made? Are they simply trying to placate Nigerians who have been very restive following the steady collapse of the country? Will the desired changes by Nigerians be birthed by the Constitution? So what is the way forward?

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The above posers are not as complex as they seem. The most important capital in a political process is political will. This is what has been demonstrated by the Chileans in a constitutional referendum conducted to replace the Pinochet compacted constitution that was undemocratic in content. The Chileans as the first step voted in a yes or no referendum to replace the constitution before the actual engrossment of a brand new constitution for the peoples of that country. So constitution making is a well-known pathway. The reluctance to change the status quo, feudal essence and allows for freeloading exploits by a lazy, warped and depraved ruling elite of the obstacle to the birth of a new Nigeria. It is for this exceptional reason Nigerians doubt the sincerity of the present enterprise of review of the 1999 Constitution. And perhaps, eliciting the vaunting of commitment from the Deputy Senate President, whose committee has adopted a bottom-up approach to underscore the critical importance the review committee places on the sub-national levels of governance in Nigeria.

Nevertheless, we emphasise here that always, and experientially, the people are the repository of political sovereignty; the lawmakers are the interim custodian of that sovereignty, which can be recalled. The problems with the Nigerian pseudo federation have been well canvassed and articulated and summated as the question of genuine federalism. The attainment of this state structure for Nigeria or its disintegration is the twenty-first-century question that stares the country in the face. This is a golden opportunity for the governing party to engage the leadership of their party and the country to seize this momentum to restructure or lose the country that the entire black race and indeed Africa have been waiting for as a tower of strength.

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