By Opeyemi Agbaje
The House of Representatives recently released what it called outcomes of public hearings held in respect of its process of amending the 1999 Constitution. If those touted outcomes become law, they will mean de facto and de jure end of the concept and practice of federalism under Nigeria’s constitution.
In virtually every instance, the Representatives voted against federalism! It is shocking, given the agitation for a return to some semblance of a federalist constitution from our current unitary-federalism that the House chose to further erode the last vestiges of federalism left in Nigeria’s constitutional order.
Item 16 of the House platform endorses the amendment of section 197 (1) (b) of the 1999 Constitution to abolish state election commissions and have all elections conducted by the national electoral commission, INEC. If this provision becomes law, INEC will conduct future local government elections!
This follows the effective nationalization of the judiciary through the National Judicial Commission; transfer of virtually all important legislative matters to the exclusive legislative list controlled by the federal government; nationalization of policing and security; and other federalist aberrations in the constitution. It is unbelievable that our Representatives believe the way to go is to further worsen the constitutional balance in favour of the federal government!
If you thought the House’ inclination to increase rather than reduce federal powers, and reduce rather than increase state powers, at a time most enlightened Nigerians call for devolution of powers to subsidiary levels of government, (and even unitary nations such as the United Kingdom are devolving powers to sub-national levels!) was an innocent mistake, you would be wrong given other decisions taken!
Item 15 was a modest attempt to move some sinecure items (fingerprints, identification and criminal records; insurance, labour, prisons, public holidays, railways, bankruptcy and insolvency and registration of births and deaths from the federal government’s exclusive legislative list to the concurrent list. This would not have prevented federal legislation on those matters.
Rather any federal law would still over-ride state laws as every student of constitutional law knows! But our anti-federalist House of Representatives platform rejected even this small step towards redressing our defective federal structure!
The worst assault on the federal principle was in respect of local government administration. In a series of positions contained in items 10 to 14 of the House platform, the Representatives systemically seek to make local governments accountable to the federal rather than state governments. In item 10, the House adopts the position that local government funding should be transferred direct to them by the federal administration, bypassing states; item 11 categorically and overwhelmingly rejected a sensible attempt to make local government creation an exclusive affair of state governments as they are in other federal systems; item 12 demonstrates in unmistakable terms the intent of the House by voting explicitly to make local government a third tier of government with its own legislative list! And item 14 seeks to prescribe in the national constitution the tenure of local governments!
These positions are shocking and aberrant and show that our representatives do not understand the imperative of the nation for federalism! It is sad that rather than redress the erosion of our federal constitution, the House would rather seek its final destruction by further weakening the states and centralizing additional powers.
There are several other indicators of the House’s abhorrence for the concept and practice of federalism in the recently published platform. The House rejected both a modest proposal in item 4 for recognition of the six geo-political zones “for administrative purposes only” and a more ambitious proposal in item 5 that they be treated as “another tier of government”.
Evidently in the view of our Representatives, Nigeria is just perfect the way it is! Some cynics will say, “Why wouldn’t they think so? They are just fine the way they are-allowances, constituency projects, “oversight” and all!!!” Not surprisingly given its other preferences the House in items 35 and 36 rejects entrenchment of the principle of derivation, and in items 19-21 overwhelmingly rejected the establishment of state police and unambiguously affirmed that the current police system and structure should be retained completing the rout of the federalist principle at least in the opinion of our current members of the House of Representatives!
I am aware that House members will argue that these obnoxious outcomes do not represent their personal opinions or House resolutions, but are decisions reached by their constituents in the public sessions conducted by them. I do not accept this position! From reports I have received, those public sessions were so poorly and shabbily organized, publicized and attended that they cannot represent the views of Nigerians.
My suspicion is that these positions reflect the personal and preconceived views of the Representatives and their consultants, rather than popular positions!!! Those outcomes certainly appear perverse and are unlikely to reflect the views of many constituencies in Nigeria. Certainly not mine!!!
Nigeria needs federalism both as a political and economic imperative. The evidence is overwhelming that the strategy of centralization and unitary prebendalism is already destroying the nation. By the time you centralize all elections, police, armed forces, security, judiciary, all important legislation, local government, and most resources under one national leader, Nigeria would be ready for full civilian or fascist dictatorship!
The House of Representatives must not be allowed to drive the final nail in the coffin of Nigerian federalism and democracy.
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