Constitutional Review: Restructuring or Distraction

Amendment fails to address the clamour to empower states

Ayuba Iliya | Friday, 28 July 2017 6:03pm | opinion

National Assembly complex, Three Arms Zone, Abuja | Temidayo Johnson / The BusinessPost

As Nigeria nose-dived into recession and the subsequent hardship associated with it hit hard on many, there seem to be sudden and heightened reawakening to some of the major challenges - agitations for ethnic nationalism, secession, herdsmen crisis and restructuring - rocking the nation for decades.

The unprecedented long absence of President Muhammadu Buhari and the evident lopsidedness in federal government appointments by his administration have not done much to dampen the agitations. At the state government level salary delays are not helping the situations either. Quit notices have been issued to non-ethnic groups to leave parts of the country. This is really a worrying time for us as a nation, not like it has never been.

Arguably, one could say we are not entirely alone in these trying times. After all, many nations are equally at crossroads; the world just witnessed the clamour by a majority of Britons for the exit of one of the most powerful nations (Great Britain) from the comity of European nations and the unfriendly immigration policies upon which the United States President, Donald Trump, won the United States Presidential election. However, there is a significant difference in between our own struggles and theirs - ours do not seem to be receiving genuine responses from the leadership, and the ever seemingly helpless followers alike.

The question of where all of these leave the Nation is critical in determining the future of the country.

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Constitutional review headed by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu submitted its report to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki for onward consideration.

The Committee inaugurated in January 2016, with a mandate to reprocess aspects of the fourth alteration bill rejected by the former President, Goodluck Jonathan submitted 34 recommendations, among which 29 were passed and 5 declined.

This is coming few weeks after the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, held series of meetings with leaders of thought from the North and South Eastern part of the country, as a response to a counter threat of eviction issued by a group in the North.

The timing of the constitutional amendments raises suspicion to the intent of the lawmakers as it denies approval to one of the amendments seeking to address the recent clamour for restructuring Nigeria’s federalism and passed the amendments giving more powers to the lawmakers.

At the centre of the agitations for restructuring is the issue of devolution of powers to the states - to enable them be more self-sufficient.

Between December to date, the federal government shared at least N760 billion to the 36 states, mainly to clear the backlog of salaries being owed by the states. Despite the disbursement of over N500 billion in the first tranche of the Paris Club fund in December, some states still failed to clear the salaries in they owed, six months after.

The above underlines the over dependency of the states on the central authority for meeting one of the basic needs required of a state, which is to ensure the welfare of its citizens. Against this backdrop, it has been argued that Nigeria cannot attain its full potential as a federation without the federating units having some level of autonomy and being able to sustain its self.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary definition, federalism is “the system of giving power to a central authority”.

However, within the context of Nigeria, the central authority gives power to the federating units as evident in the existing revenue allocation formula where the Federal Government takes 52.68%, States 26.72% and Local Government Councils 20.60%.

One of the amendments rejected by the lawmakers seeks to alter the Second Schedule, Part I & II of the constitution to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to the States. It also delineates the extent to which the Federal Legislature and State Assemblies can legislate on items that have been moved to the Concurrent Legislative List.

There are 68 items under the exclusive legislative list while the concurrent list has only 30 items it can legislate upon in the 1999 constitution.

Contrary to this, in Canada one of the most successful federal systems, there are very few areas were the two tiers of government act independently. In most policy areas, federal and provincial (state) governments have to coordinate their actions.

Consequently, Provinces are active in promoting their own industrial development thus transfers from the federal government constitute only 13 percent of provincial revenues (though this varies greatly by province), according to study on devolution of powers in Canada by Simeon and Papillon.

Recent report by Economic Confidential Magazine revealed that 14 out of Nigeria’s 36 states may not survive without the monthly disbursement of the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC), as their internally generated revenues constitute less than 10 percent of their allocation.

Moving some items to the concurrent legislative list therefore is assumed to be a step towards actualizing fiscal federalism for the Nigerian federation, where the federating units have some level of autonomy to make laws that will benefit the people and in turn promote development at the grassroots. Sadly this was turned down by the lawmakers.

In their arguments for rejecting the devolution of powers amendment, Chairman of the committee said that the lawmakers were of the opinion that states do not have the capacity to manage some of the issues in the exclusive list.

According to him: “Regrettably, some of our colleagues especially those from the Northern part of Nigeria felt that it was not time to devolve power further to the states.

“And the argument on their part is that if you are going to do so, you have to make sufficient provision in the revenue allocation to states, that states needs more money, in addition to more powers, because if you are giving them more responsibilities, you have to give them more resources”

This implies that with the existing revenue allocation formula, it is impossible to empower the states and local governments where the larger population of Nigerians are, thus the need to reverse the allocation formula, which is in the powers of the lawmakers.

Boadway & Watts in their study of fiscal federalism in Canada, US and Germany (2004) state that “the extent of genuine autonomy of the governments of the constituent units in their areas of constitutional responsibility gives an indication of the degree to which the political system is genuinely federal.”

It shows therefore, that the ongoing constitutional review may not address the agitations for restructuring but rather an opportunity for the lawmakers to ratify more powers to themselves. This is evident in the approval for former Presiding Officers of the National Assembly to have seats at the Council of State, immunity for utterances and writings of lawmakers in plenary, and the power to overrule the President’s veto where he withhold assent to constitutional amendments.

Indeed, some of the amendments such as contained in the bills seeking direct funding for state assemblies, separation of local government accounts from state accounts, and democratic leadership in the local governments will strengthen governance and development at the state level. However it doesn’t change the status of the states and local councils as mere dependents of federal allocations.