BY EMMANUEL AZIKEN, POLITICAL EDITOR
The nation’s governors will meet tonight to strategise on their positions in the ongoing constitution amendment exercise being spearheaded by the National Assembly. Their plot is to fend-off the domineering powers of the Federal Government and hammer out how to keep the local governments totally subservient to them.
THIS evening’s meeting of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, is expected to again stir up the clamour for state police as a response to the increasing insecurity in the nation. The arguments for and against the establishment of state police recently split the NGF along a North-South divide.
After an initial agreement by the governors to jointly push for the establishment of State Police, southern governors were taken aback recently when their northern colleagues pulled out from the initiative.
However, beyond the arguments for and against state police, other issues concerning the constitution review are expected to be tackled by the governors at today’s meeting, which was rescheduled from a previous appointment on account of the just concluded Ramadan fast.
The constitution limits the process of constitution amendment to the legislature at the federal and state levels with the still unsettled argument of the role of the President in giving his assent to the final bill as passed by the National Assembly and endorsed by two-thirds of the state legislative houses.
It is as such not surprising that governors are clubbing together to fight for a common cause in the ongoing review of the constitution by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The governors, remarkably, are conscious of the fact that despite their dominant positions in the polity they indeed have no specific role in the process of constitution amendment. They are, as in many other cases, expected to pull the strings using the state legislative houses.
The last time the constitution was amended the governors scored an extra-ordinary success when they compelled the majority of state legislators to reject the amendment that would have granted the state legislative houses autonomy in funding. It was the case of a slave throwing away the key of the lock chaining him!
Governor Rotimi Amaechi, the Chairman of the NGF gave an insight of the feelings or perhaps frustrations of the governors on the present constitutional framework that some allege places them as errand boys of the president.
From left; Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State, Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State and Chairman of Governors’ Forum, during a meeting of the governors in Abuja.
Speaking at the recent retreat organized by the Senate Committee on Constitution Review, SCCR, in Asaba, the Delta State Capital Governor Amaechi said: “We want the Federal Government to reduce the responsibilities that they have as well as the resources that they have because I am first of all a Rivers citizen before I became a Nigerian.”
Making one of the strongest arguments for State Police that day, Amaechi said: “I used Rivers resources to train 300 policemen; these policemen were trained by the Israelis. We had an understanding with the police authorities in Abuja that they will remain in Rivers for sometime after their training. But the moment a certain IGP came, just because he did not like a certain Amaechi, he posted the policemen out. But if we have State police, such a thing will never happen,” he argued.
The Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is chairman of the SCCR, had at that same occasion given indication of the direction of the ongoing move of the Senate during the constitution review exercise.
“It is expressed that the legislative list in our constitution is skewed in favour of the Federal Government and needs to be revisited, to give our constitution a true Federal character,” he said during his welcome remarks at the retreat.
Just before that retreat, Ekweremadu at another forum at the Sixth Annual York University Oputa Lecture on Governance in Africa, delivered at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, Toronto, Canada, also noted the deterioration of the federal set up in the country.
“At independence, the Exclusive Legislative List contained 44 items while 28 items were contained in the Concurrent List. However, in the 1999 Nigerian Constitution born forty years after, out of 28 items on the Concurrent List in the Independence Constitution, 16 items – which translates to roughly 57 per cent – were lost to the Exclusive List in the 1999 Constitution.”
The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mohammed Uwais, who moderated the panel discussion at the Senate retreat concurred with Ekweremadu that the powers of the Federal Government were progressively increased from independence to the present situation where the Federal Government now has a domineering influence on the states.
Exclusive and concurrent lists
“By 1960, 44 items were on the exclusive list, while 28 were on the concurrent list. In the Republican constitution, 45 items were on the exclusive list, while 29 were on the concurrent list. In the 1979 constitution, 67 items were on the exclusive list, while 12 were on the concurrent list. In the 1999 constitution, 68 items were on the exclusive list, while 12 items were on the concurrent legislative list.
Since 1979, the powers of the central government have increased to the detriment of the states,” Uwais submitted during the panel discussion, which incidentally was chaired by him. The other panelists at the Asaba Senate retreat, who also spoke in the same manner included Professors Maxwell Gidado, Enefiok Essien, Governor Amaechi and Tayo Oyetibo, SAN.
“The Federal Government has no business building schools and hospitals. All it needs to do is to set minimum standards and allow the states to build them. State police can be set up, to take adequate care of our internal security challenge. We could also consider setting up a regional court appeal, to allow quick dispensation of justice,” Gidado said.
“A situation where a matter takes 15 years to go through appeal and sometimes five years or more to go through the Supreme Court is not healthy for our system. We have enough states, no need to create additional ones. If states are allowed to develop on their own, people will not clamour for more states. Decentralization or devolution of powers will not lead to disintegration; rather it will lead to development.”
Amaechi said: “You have resources somewhere, you kept it, but you say you want to legislate on oil, it will not happen. How can I employ workers, yet it is the Federal Government that will fix salaries for the workers? I have never seen a federal system where this is obtainable, except here in Nigeria. All matters relating to states should be left for states.
“These suggestions are not for me, but for those coming behind, and it may be you. Amaechi will leave by 2015. The palm oil in the South East has disappeared, same with the groundnut pyramid in the North. Let us live like a nation, not as individuals. If there is justice, nobody will ask for more states. I used Rivers resources to train 300 policemen; these policemen were trained by the Israelis.
“We had an understanding with the police authorities in Abuja that they will remain in Rivers for sometime after their training. But the moment a certain IGP came, just because he did not like a certain Amaechi, he posted the policemen out. But if we have State police, such a thing will never happen.”
Oyetibo, in his own comments, also flayed the implementation of federalism in the country. “Most of the matters reserved for the National Assembly to legislate upon are not of national interest. For instance, Evidence Act, Labour and registration of common business name among other matters. What we have is not in tandem with federalism. Devolution and application of powers as we have today tend more to unitarism than federalism, even though the 1999 constitution links it to federalism,” Oyetibo submitted.
Essien was, however, an exception as he strongly kicked against State Police though he supported the application of fiscal federalism.
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