Yesterday at the various centres across the country where members of the constitution review committee listened to the yearnings of Nigerians, the loudest message was, you either do something to alter the constitution to significantly to satisfy the quench the agitations in the land, or you agree on a memorandum that would usher in an entirely new constitution.
The things the attendees demanded for, ranges from devolution of powers to the states, restructuring and fiscal federalism, clamours for creation of state police, creation of more states among other things.
The two-day public hearings are being organised by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review.
In Lagos, the State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, canvassed a special status for the state, which hitherto hosted the nation’s capital.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) was also very loud and clear as it also submitted a 72-page document, seeking the retention of the minimum wage, among other demands, while local government workers under the aegis of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) asked the lawmakers to make local governments autonomous.
In Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, advocated a return to 1963 Constitution, while his counterpart in Delta State, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, called for a new constitution and not an amendment of the 1999 document.
In Lagos, the participants called for restructuring of the federation to reflect true federalism, saying only such a move would engender unity, progress and the prosperity of the country.
The state Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, and the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa, reiterated the need for a special economic status for the state and the creation of state police. They also called for true fiscal federalism.
The Lagos centre hosts participants from Lagos, Ogun and Oyo States made submissions to the Senate Committee
In their presentations they spoke of the need for devolution of powers whereby the local government system has the greater share and so it is empowered to carry out effective administration of the polity since it is closest to the people.
They also called for the creation of state police, re-inclusion of magistrates in the constitution, review of the retirement age for magistrates from 60 to 65 years.
There were also calls for a declaration to make the Higher National Diploma (HND) equivalent to a university degree; need to ensure gender equality, judicial and electoral reforms, as well as revenue allocation, among others.
President of the NLC, Ayuba Wabba, Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Moyosore Onigbanjo (SAN), and representatives of civil society organisations, associations and professional bodies, among others, presented and submitted their memoranda to the committee.
Sanwo-Olu said: “For us in Lagos State, the issues of state police and fiscal federalism are at the top of the priority list for us, in this ongoing review process. Equally fundamental, particularly for us in Lagos State, is the issue of a special economic status for Lagos, considering our place in the national economy and the special burdens we bear by virtue of our large population and limited landmass.
“I believe the need for this special status has been sufficiently articulated and justified. It suffices for me at this point to restate that this request is by no means a selfish one, but one that is actually in the interest of every Nigerian and of Nigeria as a nation.
“The progress and prosperity of Nigeria are inextricably linked to the progress and prosperity of Lagos State. A special status for Lagos State, therefore, must be a concern not only for the people of Lagos State alone but for all Nigerians.”
Obasa, who was represented by the Deputy Speaker, Wasiu Eshinlokun-Sanni, stated that the most fundamental aspect of the call by the state government is the 30 per cent derivation on natural resources for the domiciling states, as well as the criminalisation of undue interference in activities of the legislature by the executive.
Onigbanjo, while presenting the Lagos memorandum, advocated an amendment to make the constitution reflects a federal system, among other prayers.
“We also propose that the Value Added Tax (VAT) Act be repealed by the National Assembly because it prevents states from utilising the Sales Act to generate revenue and this has caused confusion and a lot of court cases.
State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Revd, Steven Adegbite, queried the establishment and functionality of Sharia Courts since the constitution said there would be no state religion.
He said that CAN might be forced to vie for canon courts in the spirit of equity and justice.
Wabba, insisted that labour and the national minimum wage is retained on the exclusive legislative list.
He stated that since Nigeria has domesticated 26 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which governs labour matters, ‘it would be anomalous, incongruous and contemptible of global standards and order to even contemplate removing labour from the exclusive legislative list.”
The venues are Enugu and Owerri for the South-east; Lagos and Akure for South-west, Kaduna and Sokoto for North-west, Bauchi and Gombe for North-east, Port Harcourt and Asaba for South-south, and Jos and Minna for the North-central.
Various groups from the four North-west states of
Kaduna, Kano, Katsina and Jigawa attended the one for North West zone held in Kaduna with a total of 24 memos submitted from four states as at Wednesday.
Chairman of the Senate Committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya, said the committee received a total of 24 memos from the four states, adding that more memos were being submitted.
Those that presented memoranda includes; Jamiya Matan Arewa (JMA), the NLC, Civil Society Groups, Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU), Kaduna Elders Forum and Kano Progressives, among others.
The Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, while speaking reiterated calls for devolution of powers.
He said the current structure overburdened the federal government with too many responsibilities, which it cannot efficiently handle.
el-Rufai, who spoke in his personal capacity, said the All Progressives Congress (APC) Committee on true federalism which he headed, had identified legislative interventions that the National Assembly could more easily undertake to achieve a truly balanced, equitable and fair federal structure.
The governor proposed 10 items which should be shared responsibilities between the federal governments and states.
He said: “The reality of our security situation today requires that Nigeria must strengthen its military and security agencies. This includes decentralising the police to enable the states to exercise effective control in securing their residents and communities.
“We need to have federal, state and community police, with each granted sufficient powers to make them effective in securing the areas assigned to them and cooperating closely with each other.’’
The governor dismissed the fear of abuse of state police by sub-national governments because a constitutional or statutory framework can be enacted to ensure federal intervention in cases of such abuses.
NLC and NULGE presentations were centred on the retention of minimum wage on the exclusive list, autonomy for local governments, gender issues and creation of additional local governments and states.
In its submission, Southern Kaduna People’s Union (SOKAPU), reechoed its long agitation for the creation of Gurara State out of the present Kaduna State.
SOKAPU President, Mr. Jonathan Asake, demanded the amendment of section 8 of the constitution, which makes it almost an impossible task for the creation of a new state.
Also, the Kaduna Development Elders Initiatives, in its presentation, called for the amendment of the constitution to make it easy for the creation of states, especially the creation of a new Kaduna State.
In Owerri, where Imo and Abia States made their submissions, Imo State Governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, said the South-east’s popular agitations and Nigeria’s problems could be addressed by amending the constitution.
In a memorandum, he submitted for Abia State, the Chief of Staff to Abia State Governor, Mr. ACB. Agbazuari, said state police would strengthen the peaceful coexistence in the South-east and check security challenges.
He urged members of the Senate Committee, which is chaired by the Chief Whip, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, to look into the state’s submission with a view to granting their request.
Theo Okire who represented Aba Mass Movement stated that additional states should be created in the South-east particularly, for Abia State to have Aba State.
Earlier in his opening remarks at the occasion, Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Senate Committee on 1999 Constitution Review, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, who was represented by Kalu, said at the beginning of the 9th Senate, the legislators had set a legislative agenda for themselves on which they would be assessed.
Kalu said he was aware that Ohanaeze Ndigbo, under the leadership of Prof George Obiozor, had articulated the position of the people of the South-east for the committee.
“What are the constitutional issues that agitate our minds: rotational presidency, state police, and indigeneship in a state after 10 years of residency, devolution of more powers to the states, resource control, and many more.
“All these issues can be resolved through constitution amendments. This is the unique opportunity this public hearing offers to our people,” he said.
In his contribution, Uzodimma stated that the Igbo are better off being part of the larger Nigeria with vast opportunities opened to them than being confined in a separate space with limited opportunities.
He said: “In every part of Nigeria outside the South-east, we form the second largest population.
“As an itinerant group, we move around to expand our economic frontiers. As citizens of Nigeria, we are afforded that lease of life. Our people are suffering harassment in South Africa and Ghana and other countries. Is that what we want to bequeath to our younger generation if, in hastily contrived indignation, we abandon our heritage in Nigeria?
“So my dearest brothers and sisters, we need Nigeria just as Nigeria needs us. Whatever be our grievances against the system, we have a golden opportunity to seek redress under the upcoming constitutional review. What we seek is justice and equity for our people to thrive. And for that, we owe nobody any apology. But we cannot achieve it through violence or threat of secession. It is through an avenue like this that we put forward our request and follows it through.”
In Asaba, where submissions were received from Delta, Edo and Bayelsa States, true federalism, state police, devolution of power, state creation and gender parity dominated the demands.
The speakers of the legislatures of the three states presented the position papers of their respective states before the committee, which was chaired by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege.
Okowa Seeks New Constitution, Not Amendment
Okowa, who declared the public hearing open, stated that Nigeria needs a new constitution.
Okowa said what Nigeria actually needed was a “new constitution” rather than a review.
The governor urged the National Assembly to look into power devolution to the states, review revenue allocation formula, oil derivation and demand for state police in the amendment to enable the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to lay revenue allocation formula proposals directly before the lawmakers.
Bayelsa State also called for the devolution of power, state police and “true federalism with 100 per cent resource control.”
Edo State delegation, led by Hon. Marcus Onobun, submitted proposals for about 30 alterations, including demands for state police, gender equality and true fedederalism.
The position paper for Delta State dwelt on demand for a 50 per cent derivation fund, a special ecological fund to mitigate the effects of oil and gas exploration as well as true federalism and state police with authority for states to purchase and control arms.
Declaring the event open in Minna, the Governor of Niger State, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello, said the North-central zone was not opposed to the restructuring of the country as being demanded by the South.
“We don’t have problem with restructuring,” he said, adding that “at the end of the constitution review exercise, justice should be done to all segments of the country.”
The governor stated that “Nigeria is better and stronger as one country.”
Fiscal federalism, devolution of powers to federating units, electoral reforms and state police also dominated presentations at the zonal hearing in Akure, the Ondo State capital, where submissions were received from Ondo, Ekiti and Osun States.
Akeredolu Seeks Return to 1963 Constitution
Akeredolu, set the ball rolling as he backed the call for the country to return to the 1963 Constitution, which gave powers to the regions to develop at their own pace.
The governor said the 1963 Constitution, which reflected the republican status of the country, remained the best document for a country as heterogeneous as Nigeria.
Akeredolu stated that the powers of the federal government at the present must be trimmed as it was the major source of friction in the country.
Akeredolu warned that the current attempt at constitution amendment should be taken beyond the usual jamboree conceived and executed to arrive at a predetermined result.
“The current exercise, therefore, must not toe the path of the previous attempts at tokenism. The basic law of any country must not be reduced to frivolities reflecting preferred whimsies,” he added.
Presenting the position of Ekiti State, the Deputy Speaker, Hon. Akeem Jamiu, like Akeredolu, said the new constitution should allow only five political parties, allow independent candidate e-voting and diaspora voting.
He advocated a new revenue formula, which should be in favour of state and local government.
Jamiu also said states should be allowed to collect VAT and remit only five per cent to the federal government.
He also said that there should be state police.
At the North-east zonal hearing in Bauchi, Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, identified inadequacies in the constitution to cover revenue allocation, security provision and inclusiveness in running the affairs of the country.
He expressed the hope that the move would provide the change needed for the betterment of the country.
According to him, the North-eastern part of the country as the most devastated by insurgency and educationally disadvantaged was shortchanged in the constitution, hence the need for the review.
In Gombe State, the state Governor, Senator Muhammadu Inuwa Yahaya said the evolving dynamics of the Nigerian state made it imperative for a periodic constitution review in order to accommodate new realities and the concerns of the Nigerians.
On his part, Governor of Sokoto State, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, said citizens’ participation in the ongoing constitution review would strengthen democracy.
Tambuwal, at the Sokoto venue of the North-west zonal hearing covering Kebbi, Sokoto and Zamfara States, described the constitution as a reference point of democracy.
Tambuwal was represented by his deputy, Muhammad Manir Dan’Iya.
On his part, the Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, implored the stakeholders to deliberate and come up with what will generate more money for the states to enhance development.
In Enugu, devolution of power and creation of state police also topped discussions at the public hearing.
Chairman of the Enugu Zone and former Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said this was not the first time the National Assembly was amending the constitution.
He stressed the need to decentralise the police for improved security and for local government reforms.
Also, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State expressed his support and that of the state to the constitution amendments, which he said would enhance Nigeria’s unity and prosperity, especially “in an environment where justice, fairness and equity shall prevail”.
In Jos, the Plateau State Governor, Mr. Simon Lalong, expressed the hope that the constitution review would help in addressing the security challenges in the state and other parts of the country.
“Hopefully, this constitutional review should lead to better policing that is closer to the people to stop this kind of unacceptable murders,” he said.
He said his administration had always advocated community policing as a viable tool in addressing the current security challenges in the country