For some months now, there seems to be a drift towards the restructuring of certain aspects of governance in Nigeria. In times past, there has been a lot of clamour from Nigerians, for the All Progressive Congress (APC) led government, to fulfil its promise of restructuring. By way of reminder, the APC had covenanted in its Manifesto, before the 2015 general elections, to “initiate ACTION to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit.” You would well agree with me that you can only “entrench” that which does not hitherto exist. So, the APC was well aware that Nigeria has not been operating “true Federalism”, and thus, the major campaign theme for the 2015 election for the APC, was devolution of powers. The party has been under severe criticisms hence, for abandoning its own Manifesto, after it secured power, following its victory in the 2015 and 2019 general elections.
In the words of the learned authors of Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to RESTRUCTURE is “to change the makeup, organization or pattern of” something, meaning that restructuring involves some fundamental alteration of the existing structure. The structure of the entity presently called Nigeria is spelt out in a document referred to as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. Although it claims to be a federal Constitution, but it was in fact enacted by the military regime of General Abdulsalam Abubakar (Retd.), as a document imposing a unitary system of government on the people of Nigeria, by concentrating all powers in the federal government and leaving the states and the local governments totally powerless, and I dare say, rudderless.
I concede that the President has made very bold attempts at some surface restructuring, for which we must commend him and his team indeed. The most significant of it is the enactment of the Financial Autonomy of State Legislatures and State Judiciaries (Fourth Alteration, No.4) Act of 2018, which cleared the way for the funding of the Houses of Assembly and Judiciary of the States, directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation. The Act amended the existing section 121 (3) of the Constitution by stating that “any amount standing to the credit of the House of Assembly of the State and the Judiciary, in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the said bodies respectively; in the case of the judiciary, such amount shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.” It was a bold step indeed, taken by the President, to liberate the legislature and judiciary of the states, from the grip of the governors. The President didn’t stop there but further proceeded, as a mark of demonstration of his commitment to this bold initiative, to set up The Presidential Implementation Committee, for the enforcement of the provisions of the 4th Alteration Act, comprising mostly of seasoned professionals and other stakeholders, thereby throwing the gauntlet back to the people, to grab this golden opportunity to free these two critical partners of democratic progress.
The President then moved on to strip the states and their overbearing governors, of the power of control over the local governments. Through the National Financial Intelligence Unit, action was initiated to pay all funds accruing to the local governments from the federation account, directly to them. It was all over the news last week, that the no nonsense former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, stated that his local government never had up to N500,000 in its account since 2002, but the same account was credited with N157m, just a week before, due to this courageous act of the President. Expectedly, the governors have kicked against this move, to the extent of even filing an action in court, to stop it, though it was largely unsuccessful. The issue of the autonomy of the local governments has been a big challenge for successive governments and the bold initiative of the President in this regard is indeed inspiring. Next to that is state police. After the presentation of the report of the committee set up to work out comprehensive reform of the dreaded police outfit called Special Anti-Robbery Squad, the President mooted the idea of establishing state police and then directed the committee to work out its modalities. Expectedly, the governors have kicked against this also, albeit understandably, given the enormity of the financial implications of such an entity, upon the resources of the states, which is barely enough to settle their monthly wages.
So, why do I call all these distorted restructuring? Please come along with me. Section 153 (1) of the Constitution established the following federal agencies:
Code of Conduct Bureau, Council of State, Federal Character Commission Federal Civil Service Commission, Federal Judicial Service Commission Independent National Electoral Commission, National Defence Council, National Economic Council, National Judicial Coucil, National Population Commission, National Security Council, Nigerian Police Council, Police Service Commission, Federal Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
From all the above, it can be seen that the powers of the federation called Nigeria are all concentrated in either this “federal” institution or that “national” agency. In fact, some states do not have any agency as such, of their own, established for any purpose, other than these federal bodies. Not stopping there, the Constitution then finally castrated the states and the local governments, by enacting the following provisions, in section 4:
“4 – (2) The National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the Federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive Legislative List set out in Part 1 of the Second Schedule to this Constitution.”
Now, let us travel to the Second Schedule of the Constitution, to examine some of the matters contained therein.
EXCLUSIVE LEGISLATIVE LIST
“Arms, Ammunitions and Explosives, Aviation, Bankruptcy and Insolvency Banks, Commercial and Industrial Monopolies, Control of Capital Issues Copyright, Currency, Customs and Excise Duties Defence, Drugs and Poisons Evidence, Exchange Control, Export Duties, Fishing and Fisheries, Immigration Incorporation of bodies corporate, Insurance, Labour, Trade Unions, etc Maritime shipping and navigation, Meteorology, Military, Mines and Minerals, oil fields, oil mining, natural gas, National Parks, Nuclear energy, Passports and Visas, Patents, Trade Marks, Business names, Pensions, Gratuities, Police and Government Security Services, Posts and Telegraphs and Telephones, Prisons, Public Holidays, Quarantine Railways, Regulation of Political Parties, Stamp Duties, Taxation, Marriages, Trade and Commerce, Inland Waterways, Weights and Measures, Wireless Broadcasting and Television, etc.”
The existing structure of Nigeria from the above table, is that everything is in the hands and under the control of the federal government; the states and local governments do not exist at all, as far as the Constitution is concerned. This is the reason why the governors don’t want state police, because they simply don’t have the funds to run it. Everything that generates income in Nigeria resides in the federal government, which is controlling even domestic matters such as marriage. What kind of federation is that, where the other federating units have no capacity for survival or any chance of self-sustenance? It is a federation where the federal government sits upon all resources and then begins to hand out bailouts to the other federating units. So, in point of fact, there is nothing like the Federal Republic of Nigeria at all, but rather the Federal Government of Nigeria. No state can handle electricity, they cannot set up telephone companies or even run television or radio stations, or to even attempt to regulate the mines and minerals in their domain. Is that a true federation? Certainly not. What then should be done?
The immediate solution is in genuine restructuring, not this surface attempt of one step every year. We must encourage the President to go the whole hug and break down the Constitution into a workable template that can deliver true federalism, as stated in the APC Manifesto. The attempt that was made and aborted in the first tenure was said to be due to the handiwork of mischief makers in the National Assembly, but that has been corrected now, with the emergence of the preferred candidates of the President for the leadership of said Assembly. In the words of Meriam-Webster Dictionary, DEVOLUTION means “transference (as of rights, powers, property, or responsibility) to another; especially the surrender of powers to local authorities by a central government.” So, we cannot in good conscience be talking of devolution of powers when the federal government still controls electricity, admiralty, aviation, mines and minerals, taxation and all the instruments of economic prosperity. There has to be a deliberate transfer of powers, to the states and the local governments, if they are all expected to stand on their own and cater for the people. The President has started well with the autonomy already secured for state legislatures and the judiciary and indeed the local governments, but without dismantling the ubiquitous ELL (Exclusive Legislative List), we are going nowhere.
What is to be done? The President has to revisit the piece of legislation that was shot down by the 8th National Assembly on devolution of powers. Nigeria urgently needs that legislation to be passed and signed into law, as some form of assurance of the commitment of this government to its self-proclaimed agenda for restructuring. The APC in its Manifesto promised ACTION to amend the Constitution to devolve powers and it should not and cannot shy away from that sacred commitment. Let the states and the local governments be sufficiently and deliberately empowered, to stand and fund themselves, being the entities closer to the people. We cannot have a federation in which money and revenue only reside in just one out of the three federating units, and the other units will keep cringing to it, caps in hand, every time. That is not a good legacy to bequeath to the leaders coming after us.
In the same manner that the President was able to work around the Constitution to achieve autonomy for the state legislatures, the state judiciary and the local governments, he should work out the modalities for implementing the campaign promise of his party to restructure Nigeria. But if we leave it at piecemeal legislations and staggered actions, then we have only achieved a distorted restructuring, if at all. Let the APC as a party stand up to be counted for the integrity of its Manifesto.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, Esq is a law practitioner
Opinions expressed in this article are solely the writer’s, not ALEDEH’S