Stirring hornet’s nest with rejection of devolution bill
For swimming against the tide of public opinion in its recent rejection of a bill to facilitate devolution of powers, the Senate has continued to receive barrage of criticisms by Nigerians who accused it of not acting in tandem with representative democracy.
Like the 7th Senate that was on the wrong side of public opinion because of allegations of corruption and insensitive jumbo remuneration, the current eighth federal legislature has incurred the wrath of the majority of Nigerians for its decision to shoot down the popular demand for devolution of powers from the overburdened central government to the federating units.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly, during the debate on constitutional amendment on Wednesday July 26, rejected moves to decongest the exclusive list in favour of the concurrent one in accordance with agitation for devolution of powers to the states. The Senate also overruled a proposal to remove the Land Use Act, which would have relaxed federal control of land, from the 1999 Constitution.
For these and many other moves that run contrary to the expectations of majority of Nigerians, the National Assembly has been vilified and accused of bad representation for a people who believe that only proper restructuring can move the nation forward.
Even before the decision to knock down power devolution was made, elder statesman, Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade, former Chief of Defense Staff, in an interview with The Guardian last year, was skeptical about the sincerity and commitment of the present lawmakers to make laws that would move Nigeria forward.
As if he was preempting the lawmakers, Akinrinade said a critical observation of what was happening in the current legislature, even apart from the issue of constitution amendment, “have not and may not achieve anything.”
He was emphatic that the lawmakers cannot handle anything that will benefit Nigeria and that they are not even in the frame of mind to legislate anything that will save the country from becoming a failed state.
His argument that the lawmakers do not even understand the country they are supposed to be legislating for and thereby cannot comprehend the serious nature of the danger ahead of the nation.
To many political analysts, Akinriande’s position about the Senate was confirmed when the upper chamber rejected the critical bill of power devolution.The rejection of the bill did not incur the anger of only prominent personalities across political and regional divides but also that of hundreds of members of civil society groups and ethnic nationalities in the country including some progressive leaders from the northern region, who were initially opposed to the restructuring of the federation.
Expressing disgust over the lawmakers’ decision, former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who spoke during the second annual lecture of Chief Akintola Williams last week, insisted that the current system is not likely to work as it has not worked since it was created.
Delivering a paper titled: ‘Reestablishing Nigeria’s Leadership Position in the World,’ Anyaoku said, “Those of us who were of discerning age in the early years of Nigeria’s independence would, I am sure, readily agree that our country experienced what can truly be described as the golden age of Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa and in the wider world.”
He noted that it was expected of Nigeria to provide Africans with a seat at the table with other great powers but that the current system is robbing the country of an opportunity to provide leadership for the black race across the globe.
He said there is need to restructure the country to solve the current wave of agitations, saying, “The system of government being practiced in the country is a great handicap to the progress and development of Nigeria.
“They said charity begins at home and so we must put our state of affairs right and when we do that, I am sure that many of our country men and women who are dying to go abroad will stay back. We need to put our nation back to when people across the world were coming to the University College Hospital in Ibadan which was highly defined and regarded hospital in providing treatment, now, we are going abroad for treatment.”
In his remarks, Chairman of the Editorial Board of The Guardian, Professor Wale Omole also castigated members of the National Assembly for their inability to right the wrongs in the Nigerian polity that are creating the myriads of problems that the nation is currently facing.
He noted that the problems that set Nigeria back started with the January 1996 military coup “unfortunately, those great and marvelous achievements of Nigeria during the era being referred to as the golden years between 1954 to 1966, when we practiced true federal system as contained in the First Republic Constitution handed over by our founding fathers, was destroyed and the military converted to unitary system, which we still practice till today.”
The former Vice-Chancellor said it was unfortunate that many people do not understand the meaning of restructuring thinking that the call was for splitting of Nigeria into pieces, “this is not what we meant when we are saying restructuring, what we are only saying is that Nigeria should be returned to the true federalism it practiced during its golden era before the military intervention.
“This is not about modifying the 1999 Constitution but the need for a new one. The current National Assembly is not capable of restructuring this country; to me they are not legislators but legislooters.
He warned the political leadership, including members of the National Assembly, to urgently take measures that would save the country from persistent and rapid drifting, saying, “anything other than these would pose grave consequences. Our leaders must not discard the agitations of the youths and also that of the various ethnic nationalities. It is painful that we are not just cooperating with God to develop this nation, where a lot of natural and human resources have been divinely deposited.
“Corruption is a very big problem. The challenges we have in Nigeria cannot be addressed by modification of the 1999 Constitution but through committed and genuine restructure.
“It is fraudulent to call this nation Federal Republic of Nigeria because the country is not. Rather we have a unitary system of government. Nigeria needs a new constitution rather than modification. Nigeria needs self-governance and proper federalism. When you have a lot of agitations from the youths, don’t ignore them. The structure of what we used to have is the kind of restructuring that Nigeria need. Our leaders have not really given the youths a strong legacy.”
Chairman of the occasion, Professor Ibrahim Gambari who blamed the low quality of leadership in the political circle including the National Assembly on the country’s electoral system, said Nigerians need to re-examine the process of recruitment of its political leaders and policy administrators to bring the nation back to its leadership role in Africa and the world.
Also blaming the National Assembly for wasting a great opportunity to begin the process of redefining Nigeria for the utmost benefit of all, a public affairs analyst and professor of political economy, Pat Utomi said the present composition of the legislative body is not in the best position to amend the constitution to reflect the wishes of majority of Nigerians.
Speaking while delivering a paper titled: ‘Towards 2019: Setting the Stage,’ at a public lecture organized by Evangelical Christian Union Alumni Fellowship, with the theme: ‘Towards 2019: Setting the Stage,’ Utomi blamed the National Assembly for many of the problems the country is currently facing.
The professor also noted that the only reason why the lawmakers are not agitating for restructuring like other Nigerians is because it might rob them of what they consider their share in the oil wealth of the nation.
According to him, “There is this huge fallacy that the National Assembly is the only constituted body that can make for us a new constitution but they do not have that right, because the law on which the Assembly is based is not constitutional because it lied and said “We, the people” whereas it was not the people that made it.
“Moreover, how can you ask somebody to change something that brought him about? The National Assembly is an interested party. One of the biggest problems we have today is the legislature, so how can the problem resolve the problem. So, constitutional reform has to take us back to a Constituent Assembly representing the people of Nigeria, which will say, “We, the people” and put it in the referendum.
“The lawmakers are not supporting because there are many people who believe that they are entitled to a share of oil money and restructuring means taking away their share or the quantum of the share they get from oil and I find that so incredibly ridiculous because of the outcome of ignorance that is involved.
“Nigeria has a wasting asset in oil, I mean drilling it every day, in the next 30 years there would be no oil to drill economically. Just recently, most part of the world is now demanding for vehicles that do not depend on oil.”
He also called for a change in the political system saying that the current arrangement does not give politicians the means to adequately address the needs of the people.
“The nature and structure of this arrangement prevents the National Assembly from being effective in representing the people because as full-time lawmakers, they all live in Abuja and are disconnected from the people they are supposed to represent.
“In the 1960s they lived in their communities and come to Victoria Island for few weeks and make laws for the governing of the people. So they knew the lawyer who comes from Ibadan and know the problem of Ibadan based lawyers. The farmer who comes from Kwara knows the trouble of his area and when he comes to Parliament, he brings it with him.
“But today, how many of them return to their community after election? They become Abuja people so they are always disconnected from the people. That is a fundamental reason why we should reject the idea that this people can give unto us things that will lead us to progress.”
The professor also lamented that the kind of people surrounding the present politicians are non-intellectual individuals compared to the days of Awolowo and the likes.
“Those that hung around Awolowo in those days were intellectuals but today all the people around the present crop of leaders not well informed. What they are interested in is: ‘where is the next party, who will organize the girls’ that is the political class that exists now. So it should not be surprising that they don’t have the capacity to see tomorrow and the problems that lies ahead.”
In another reaction, a delegate to the 2014 National Conference, Col Tony Nyiam said the legislators are ignorant of politics, particularly those from the Southern region.
According to him, “Many politicians that we have today are only in politics but they do not know what politics is all about. Awolowo had always made it clear that when it comes to making about 33 amendments in a constitution, it is not just a minor constitutional amendment; when it comes to that or the making of a new constitution, it is not the duty of the legislature to make the constitution or make such major amendments.
“This is the universal best practice and there is good reason for this. Politicians, by their nature are always concerned about the next election and their political parties also drive them. So, when it is making a major amendment of the constitution, it goes away from representative government to direct voting democracy. When it comes to questioning the constitution, they should go back to the people who are sovereign. That has been the practice since the French revolution. And the people will exercise their sovereignty through referendum, which is called direct democracy.
“My former colleagues in the military who we always described as politicians in uniform, created a constitution which gives advantages to their kinsfolk perpetually such that it was a constitution that you cannot change anything in it by the way it was so worded and they deliberately excluded a fundamental thing that makes a constitution legitimate, referendum.”
He noted that any constitution without provision for referendum is illegitimate “any constitution not approved by the people may be legal but it is illegitimate. So, it is actually out of place for members of the National Assembly to be embarking on that major constitutional amendment. Even the constitution did not say it is their duty.”
Nyiam particularly criticised southern leaders in the ruling party for allowing themselves to be disgracefully controlled by a small minority of APC governors from a particular geo-political region of Nigeria, saying, “Why are the APC leaders from the Southwest, North-Central, South-South, Southeast allowed their party to be turned to a platform serving the interest of only the Northwest.”