So restructuring died in Nigeria’s Senate!

The Senate during a plenary

It is indeed gratifying to note that it was in the hallowed chambers of the Senate of the Federal Republic the Nigerian army gave us that the people’s clamour for restructuring suffered terrible reverses last Wednesday (July 26, 2017).

In a major setback for democracy and clamour for restructuring, the Senate on that day rejected the constitution alteration bill seeking the devolution of powers, generally believed to be a major factor in federalism that would have shifted some items from the bloated Exclusive List to the Concurrent List in the 1999 Constitution, which would have given more powers and resources to the states. That is the glory house and ornament of grace to federalism that people have been asking their representatives to give them.

Besides, the Land Use Act, another blight to practice of federalism here, and affirmative action bills also suffered defeats in the upper legislative chamber during the electronic voting on the 33 bills presented to amend the 1999 Constitution.

Of the 33 bills, the wonderful lawmakers passed 29 and rejected four. On behalf of the people they failed to consult.They voted overwhelmingly in favour of bills seeking to reduce executive powers by removing the power of the executive arm of government to make laws, and provided procedures for overriding a presidential veto, in the event the president withholds assent to legislation.

In a shocking legislative move, the devolution of powers bill, which sought to alter the Second Schedule, Part I & II of the constitution, was defeated with 48 no votes. Forty-six senators voted for it, with one abstention. This is the real game changer that may have rendered even the ruling APC strange restructuring committee (led by Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasir el-Rufai) totally irrelevant. The principalities and powers in Abuja have done the hatchet job of hauling an unguarded ballistic missile on democracy!

Ninety-seven senators most of whom are of the governing party that set up a committee on restructuring, were in attendance during the voting. It requires a minimum of 73 yes votes or two-thirds of 109 votes in the Senate for an issue to sail through.

In the same vein, the bill seeking to expunge the Land Use Act from the constitution and subject it to the regular process of legislative amendment was also defeated with 46 yes and 44 no votes.

The lawmakers also rejected bills seeking to enforce affirmative action that would have given women in the country at least 35 per cent of appointive positions in government. That bill too was defeated in the Senate with 49 yes to 43 no votes and three abstentions, and at the state level with 61 yes and 35 no votes.
What is worse, bill No. 22 seeking to alter Section 25 of the constitution and guarantee a married woman’s right to choose her indigeneship by either birth or by marriage, for the purpose of appointment or election, was also defeated.

As it was widely predicted, three of the critical bills – Land Use Act, Affirmative Action and Devolution of Powers – were doomed for defeat, as the lawmakers were generally expected to band along regional lines. They did to the shame of the already broken walls of the troubled federation aptly described in book by a former chief of army staff, General Chris Ali as “the federal republic of the Nigerian army”.

Specifically, I had looked into the seed of the restructuring time two weeks ago (Sunday July 16, 2017) and had asked us to calm down and listen to a very important message: that unless we stopped agonising and began to organise for the purpose of understanding what, why, and when we need to restructure the broken walls of this federation – from Sambisa Forest to Obudu Ranch – our noisy lamentation, especially in the media would be futile. In an article titled, “cognitive restructuring before restructuring”, I had modestly noted that we needed understanding of the economic and political benefits of restructuring. I had added that we needed to suspend the heated debate on restructuring because it had been corrupted. And I had then remarked that unless we resorted to a remarkable public relations strategy for a renewal of our minds, we might lose democracy and even the rudderless country. Besides, I had also quoted Chinua Achebe as saying, “the falcon can no longer hear the falconer on restructuring of the federation”. The concern was also predicated then on the premise that the demand for restructuring itself had been over-contextualized and become a terrible buzzword and cliché that could be trivialised and conceptually misunderstood by congenital irredentists in the six geopolitical zones. Have the predictions not come to pass that sooner than later we would hate one another in the battle for the soul of the nation through federalism?

Now that the snake called restructuring has been scotched by the Senate before it is killed by the House of Representatives, can we ask major political activists, leaders, protagonists and governors some vital questions? Before the actors, let’s ask the governing party, the APC, what it did when it was announced that the Senate dominated by members of the Party were going to vote on 33 bills to alter Nigeria’s constitution. Or they want the APC’s Committee on Restructuring to complete its own version of restructuring blueprint and wait for the next session of the National Assembly (2019-2023)? In any case, it would be relevant to know what the governors’ forum did to lobby their representatives to vote for devolution of powers that they would have benefitted from. Besides, what did former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, a well-known political strategist and a strong advocate of federalism/restructuring, do to tilt the balance in favour of federalism before last Wednesday’s votes? What efforts did the governors of South West, South East and South South make to lobby their federal representatives in Abuja to do the needful before last Wednesday’s tragic accident for democracy?

Why on earth is there a correlation between what president Buhari said about the 2014 constitutional conference report on assumption of office and what the Senate did to devolution of powers on that black Wednesday in Abuja? Can’t we all see that that there is but one mind in all the politicians and leaders in the nation’s capital and all bent against the people and development?

My last but question in this paragraph is: why are even elected leaders always unafraid of the people in Nigeria and indeed in Africa?
Does anyone understand what the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki was saying, in this tragic moment when he remarked at the end of the voting that “…the Senate had made history and laid the foundation for far-reaching reforms for Nigeria’s political, economic and social development”?

The son of Senator Oloye Olusola Abubakar Saraki, former Senate Leader in the Second Republic that fell to the same General Buhari’s December 31, 1983 mutiny against democracy had carelessly added, “We have today, through the amendments, redefined our budget process. We have addressed issues that have held our country down for many years.

We have addressed the issue of saving money earned by the federation, which has always been an issue in this country for many years. The fact is that as a nation, we now have a constitution that makes it paramount for the country to save for the rainy day.The No.3 citizen also added, “We have also by the amendments shown our commitment to the fight against corruption by providing for the separation and financial autonomy for the Offices of the Accountant General, Auditor General and particularly, the Attorney General of the Federation.

“More importantly also, we have opened the road for a new Nigeria where younger people can be elected into all the positions. Also, by the work we have done today, we have helped to improve administration at the local government level which will strengthen our democracy by and large and ensure more credible elections by some of the provisions that we have passed.

He repeated the phrase, “more importantly” ”We have introduced constitutional provisions that would help our judiciary in the timely dispensation of justice.“By these 29 bills, distinguished senators, I will say that we have laid a new foundation for a new Nigeria that will be more committed, create opportunities for our young people and place us firmly among the nations of the world that are really prepared for the years ahead…To be part of that history is a great honour for all of us and I want to thank you, my colleagues. May God Almighty bless Nigeria”.

Where in all the meretricious decisions did they lay foundation for a new Nigeria when we are still going to suffer under the yoke of the foundation laid by the military class of 1966 when they actually overthrew federalism that was the high point of 1963 Constitution? Where did Senator Saraki and his allied forces against democracy and good governance get the impression that they made history last Wednesday, when they threw away democracy and the fundamental principles of development of any federation? Where did they get the impression that the unitary system the military imposed on the people since 1966 will still provide miracles that will develop the country that regional governments in all the geopolitical zones, namely, the West, the North, the East and later Mid-west, lifted without oil wealth in the regions before the 1966 rebellion against the people? How do we make progress without devolution of powers to the states? What kind of autonomy for local governments that can work without devolution of powers to the states the local governments were created from? How can the loaded Exclusive Legislative List be left with the combined effects of Land Use Act just because some ‘patriots’ are afraid of resource control?

The conclusion of this first part is that from the Senate last Wednesday, the N125b worth of National Assembly let the most populous black nation on earth down. And by the grace of the One who created the heaven, the earth and the black race by His great powers and outstretched hands, the federal legislators will pay dearly for this coup against the people.

In this article:
Martins OlojaSenate
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