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New Constitution: NASS walks tight rope

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On the table: *State creation* State police, Revenue formula* Fiscal federalism* Citizenship* Role for traditional rulers, others

By Richard Ihediwa

On Wednesday, the Senate at a news conference told Nigerians that all is now set for the commencement of the next round of constitution amendment. It fixed July 2013 to finish the job and give the nation another version of the apex law that would further reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people.

Already, the Senate Committee on Constitution Review headed by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu has started sitting and has started going through the issues already before it.

If the next round of amendment sails through, the nation would have had the 1999 Constitution altered the third time to further reflect the interests of the people.

Critics however fear that the current amendment may become a tight rope for the National Assembly as lobbyists have already started besieging the committee with demands for critical changes in the constitution.

Though the Ekweremadu committee has not disclosed the issues that are on the table, it was gathered that they include creation of new state, derivative formula, revenue formula, fiscal federalism, state police, citizenship (abolition of indigene/settlers dichotomy), local government autonomy, tenure of office of executive, statutory role for traditional rulers, provisions on land use among others.

Currently, there are anxieties that debate on the issues, especially those of state creation and fiscal federalism might become very contentious as stakeholders are already divided on them.

Despite the anxieties, the Ekweremadu committee had remained convinced that there would be some amendment and it has already started building consensus with the Deputy Senate President saying the doors were still open for more memoranda on the issues.

Stating that the Senate now has the benefit of experience and history as well as goodwill from Nigerians, having successfully amended the 1999 Constitution twice, the committee informed that lines of communication have been opened for wider consultations with critical stakeholders such as the Governors’Forum, state houses of assembly, traditional rulers, labour fronts and the general public for inputs.

In the last amendment, the National Assembly used the instrument of consensus building to alter certain sections of the 1999 constitution including the granting of operational and financial independence to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), determination of period, methods and order of elections, time line for registration of voters, determination of tenure of office of the President and governors, clipping of executive powers to disqualify candidates and transfer of executive powers to subordinates, determination of population among others.

Political analysts believe that the National Assembly may find itself in a tighter corner than in the last amendment as the issues currently on the table are more controversial than those in the last amendment.

Already some of the issues especially, those of fiscal federalism and state creation are fast polarizing the nation with powerful lobbies already arguing along northern and southern lines.

Fiscal federalism (Resource control)
This is seen as the major issue that may become very contentious if allowed to surface in the current amendment exercise. This is because, the idea has already pitched  political leaders from the south against their northern counterparts as some elements from the south are now mounting pressure for a review of relevant sections of the constitution so as whith the  federal control of mineral finds in the country.

This agitation is coming against the backdrop of insistence by the South especially the South South, where crude oil, which contributes 70 percent of the federal earning, that it must be allowed to have absolute control of the find.

While the constitution currently vests the control of mineral find in any part of the country on the Federal Government which also oversee the sharing among the federating states based on a revenue formula, some southern elements are demanding a situation in which all states are allowed to control their mineral finds and pay royalty to the Federal Government.

On Monday, leaders from the South South including the governors of the six states in the geo-political zone, all National Assembly members from the zone, all state House of Assembly members from the zone and the representative of the President rose from a meeting in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom state capital demanding that true fiscal federalism and resource control should be introduced.

The call which was contained in a communiqué issued at the end of a one-day meeting also called on each state in the federation to develop and control its natural resources as oil presently found in the region, may soon dry up.

The South South leaders had rejected the call by northern governors for a review of the nation’s revenue formula insisting that ‘’the issue to be addressed was the introduction of fiscal federalism’’.

The meeting attended by South-South Governors, members of National Assembly, Speakers of the state Houses of Assembly of South South states questioned the rationale of not exploiting other mineral deposits in different parts of the country while the depleting crude oil and gas reserves of the South-South region.

Critics believe that this is one of the key issues agitators for the Sovereign National Conference want to push to the fore ahead of the next amendment of the constitution.

In a swift reply to insinuations that the region was being parasitic of the south, leaders from the north had called the bluff saying the region can survive even without the oil revenue from the south. In fact, the leaders went ahead to declare that the north can survive even if the country breaks.

The body of elders in the North, who met under the aegis of Arewa Elders Forum (AEF), on Wednesday told southerners who are agitating for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) that the North can survive if the country divides.

“We know this is an old call; it’s been long for over 20 years, they have been saying this corporate existence of the country, that the federal system is faulty”, said Prof. Ango Abdullahi, a chieftain of the forum and aide of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo,

“They are keen in sitting down to discuss what kind of arrangement would be conducive for Nigerians. This is an old call and it is not a new thing. Some people are hiding under the guise of this agitation to show that they are tired of staying in a united Nigeria,” he said.

Professor Abdullahi said northerners would not cause Nigeria’s break-up, adding that “if, however, others decided that the country be divided and they insisted that Nigeria break up, we won’t say no, because we realised there is nothing we are getting in the current arrangement that other sections of the country are not getting.”

Commenting on the issue Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu in a lecture he delivered recently on Nigerian federalism described it as “deformed” and “feeding bottle” fiscal federalism saying such cannot guarantee growth.

Ekweremadu, who made the observation while delivering the Sixth Annual Oputa Lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, Canada, last week regretted that the brand of fiscal federalism in place today looks every inch that of master and servant relationship and is therefore killing industry, initiative, and creativity, while promoting indolence, bad governance, and rentierism.”

Senator Ekweremadu said the resurgence of debate on Nigeria’s fiscal federalism underlines the fact that the nation needed to “move away from the current military-imposed ‘feeding bottle’ federalism to enthrone one predicated on self-reliance, hard work, enterprise, resourcefulness, and ingenuity to catalyse development”.

He also faulted the current power sharing formula which he said laid the foundation for the nation’s distorted federalism as the centre appears to have amassed more powers that it actually needed or could manage.

As the debate continue to gather steam, southern leaders have already started arrangements to introduce the demand for fiscal federalism as a major issue for debate in the next round of constitution amendment and this may overshadow the other issues such as review of the revenue formula and creation of new states even as there are fears that it could result in possible division in the National Assembly during the exercise.

Revealing the position of the lawmakers from the south, Senator Ayogu Eze (PDP Enugu) maintained that the entrenchment of fiscal federalism is the answer to the nation’s economic problem as according to him the problem with the country was over dependency on the federation account which he said has resulted in the inability of states to harness and utilise the mineral resources available in their territories in such a way that their comparative advantages are fully maximised.

In his words, “I think that what we should be doing is to look at our revenue formula in a manner that will give states opportunities to take responsibilities for deposits and mineral finds within their geo-political confines and pay royalties to the Federal Government. What has happened so far is that we have not tried to look at how we can maximise the potentials that our states have. I felt strongly about this issue and I felt I should come and make my personal opinion, speaking on behalf of my constituencies and like-minded senators and Nigerians who think like me”, he said.

However, as the two regions poised for the critical debate, the questions critics ask; is fiscal federalism actually the answer to the nation’s economic, social and political problems? Will it result in the much desired massive infrastructural development in the country?

It is the view of many analysts that the outcome of the debate on fiscal federalism will determine the position on other issues such as state creation since such would be predicated on the viability of the areas for the prospective and their ability to sustain themselves in a federal states being canvassed by the south.

Revenue Formula/ Derivative
On the flip side of the argument for true fiscal federalism is the agitation for the review of the revenue formula in such a way that states and local governments would have more allocation than the Federal Government as presently obtainable in the constitution.

Those agitating for this wanted the states to get up to 42 percent of the federal revenue in addition to the devolution of some powers of the Federal Government in a way that it will be vested on the states and local governments to bring more development since they are closer to the people.

The agitators want the states and local governments to take care of matters such as education, health, provision of water, internal policing, agriculture, sports, transport, environment, commerce and industry, roads, housing, labour among other things, while the Federal Government should handle issues with national concerns and spread such as defence, aviation, foreign affairs, finance and monetary issues among others.

This agitation came to the fore when state governors cried out about the inability to pay the N18,000 minimum wage due to paucity of funds and as such needed a bail out from the center. Though the National Assembly approved the demand for the review, lawmakers and governors from the south appeared to have jettisoned that idea and are now calling for resource control instead.

There are however, feelers that the southern elements may actually be pushing for increase in the derivative from oil above other states but had to use the extreme position of total resource control to up the stakes. Critics believe that the southern elements may at the end of the day settle for such and jettison the cry for complete resource control. Some leaders from the South South have in the past demanded for an increase in the oil derivative to 50 percent.

This item might be used during the constitution amendment as a soft landing for the more volatile demand for fiscal federalism which many fear could tear the nation apart.

State creation
The push for the creation of new states in the country has intensified with the resolution of the National Assembly to treat every demand equally based on merit. Currently, demands for new states have hit 45 and the number may still go up.

If the National Assembly and the state assemblies grant the already tabled 45 demands in the next round of constitution amendment, the nation will have a total 81 states at the least.

A check by Peoples Daily Weekend shows that almost every clan in the country is clamouring for one political recognition or the other and the granting of new states is seen as a major step towards actualising such.

Currently almost all the existing 36 states of the federation have one splinter group or the other, seeking the decimation of the existing entity. These are especially areas which feel they are being marginalized by larger and more domineering groups in their states especially on issues of political appointment and development.

The reasons for the agitations vary. While some are genuine and based on the legitimate aspirations of the people to bring governance nearer to them, others are products of ego trips by few individuals seeking political and pecuniary profits.

Commenting on the long list of demands, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who is also the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review listed minority fears, search for equity and speedy development as well as quest for political empires and influence by the elite class as some of the key factors responsible for the demands for new states .Some of the proposed states that are on the front burner include Aba and Equity states proposed to be carved out from the existing Abia state; Njaba state from existing Imo and Anambra states; Oduduwa, from present Osun state, Hadejia from the present Jigawa state and Ibarapa, Oke Ogun, Ibadan and Ibarapa states from the existing Oyo state.

Others are New Gurara state proposed to be carved out of existing Kaduna state, Adada, from present Enugu state, Ahoda from present Rivers state, Anioma, from the present Delta state, Katagun, from Bauchi state and Ugwu Aku, from present Abia, Imo and Anambra states and Apa State from the present Benue state; Amana, from Adamawa state and Savana from Borno state among others.

Though the National Assembly has assured that all the demands would be considered based on merit, it is not clear what criteria it would use to determine issues of viability and sustainability for the proposed states.

This is especially as some proposed states are being backed up by very powerful lobbyists within and outside the government circles and are not willing to give in. Those supporting the creation of more states believe that such will bring governance closer to the people and reduce the problems of marginalisation faced by minority groups within certain states.

Those kicking against the creation of new states on the other hand, hold that such will further divide the nation and increase the already high cost of governance in the country. They posit that many of the existing states are not viable and might collapse unless they receive external bail out.
This position has been backed up by data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission that many of the states are in distress and cannot sustain themselves.

Be it as it may, the flurry of demands for new states which cut across the country indicates that Nigerians may have reached a consensus that more states should be created and the National Assembly appears to look at the issue from this view point.

Tenure of office for executive
Another issue that may come up is the tenure of office of the executive at the state and federal levels. Already there are feelers that the executive could forward a bill to alter the existing two terms of four years. Options that might be thrown up include single term of five years or single term of six years. It is feared that this item might be thrown overboard, especially considering the outcry that erupted when the Presidency muted the idea last year.

Another issue that will come to the fore is that of prevalent settlers/ indigene dichotomy in states across the country. Social observers believe that this is one of the major causes of violent clashes in the country. Already some states have started taking steps to end the divisions but there are strong calls that such should be statutorily abolished and the National Assembly appears to be favourable to it.
Commenting on the issue, Senate President David Mark said in a recent event that a system that guarantees equal opportunities for all citizens whether indigenes or settlers must be entrenched in the country.

If the clause sails through, Nigerians would be free to live, work and exercise franchise in any part of the country as long as they abide by the laws of their host states.

LGs financial autonomy
Agitation for financial autonomy for local government areas is another issue that could surface at the exercise. Already, the Senate has passed the bill seeking to amend relevant sections of the constitution to that effect through second reading.

The bill, seeks to end the State and Local Government Joint Account, remove the local governments finance from the control of the states and vest such directly on the council authorities.

Statutory powers for traditional rulers
The arrogation of statutory powers for traditional rulers is another issue that would come up at the review. Already the two chambers of the National Assembly appear to have reached a consensus on the issue.

Both Senate President David Mark and House of Representatives Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal had in various fora assured that traditional rulers would be vested with some specific responsibilities in the constitution. The move is coming against the backdrop of insistence by some groups that the traditional institution could play vital role in restoring peaceful co-existence and check the spate of criminality and violence across the country as they are closer to the people at the grass roots.

Already a memorandum spelling criteria for the role of the traditional rulers is already among those that have been penciled out for consideration by the legislature.

Though it is not clear yet the criteria that would be adopted in choosing the category of traditional rulers that would be given statutory powers and what authorities would be vested on them, it was gathered that those that would be inculcated include apex royalties as well as top class rulers across the country.

Be it as it may, as the nation prepares for another round of debate on the constitution, Nigerians are looking forward to a set of laws that would be operable and geared towards uplifting their lots as citizens. The fear is that it might become a walk on the tight rope for the National Assembly as agitators and lobbyists on the issues have already heightened the stakes.

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