By Prof.Epiphany Azinge, SAN
THE history of Nigeria up to 1999 must be clear to students of history and politics. Basically, by 1954, Nigeria was already a federation and the journey to independence did not alter the equation or calculation in any form.
Consequently, by independence in 1960, Nigeria had the three regions of North, West and East. The regions were the federating units and the 1960 constitution shared powers between the central government and the regional government. The creation of Midwestern region altered the calculation a bit. Instead of three regions, Nigeria now had four regions. The republican constitution of 1963 never tampered with certain fundamental principles of government apart from enthroning a full republican status instead of the monarchical supervisory role of the Queen of England in Nigerian affairs.
Devolution of power
By 1966, when the army struck, Nigeria retained its federal structure and the parliamentary system of government. There were some peculiarities of the federal structure in place which made the regions very powerful. Devolution of power was such that each region controlled its resources to a large extent- to wit, North its groundnut, West its cocoa and East, its palm produce. As regards the judiciary, Regions had their appellate courts which were distinct from the federal appellate courts. Such was the state of the nation when the military intervened.
With the military intervention began Nigeria’s romance with the unitary system of government. This is understandable given the command structure of the military. So by 1979, when the military returned power to civilian democracy, the constitution fundamentally altered the arrangement of devolution of powers.
The enthronement of presidential system of government which conferred enormous powers on the president, unlike the parliamentary system did not help matters. At least under the parliamentary system, it was impossible for a president or a prime minister as the case may be to wield overbearing powers as is the case in a presidential system.
All subsequent constitutions followed to a large extent the pattern of the 1979 constitution, thereby throwing overboard the position of things as at 1960. It must therefore be stated that in the course of military governance, states were created for both political and administrative convenience. So also were local governments. Indeed, it is on record that apart from Midwest Region, no state has been created under a constitutional democracy. What is crucial to note is that with the creation of states, the states in Nigeria automatically became the federating units. They still are.
This is the background that has brought us to this stage of clamouring for restructuring. So the question is, restructure from what to what? From states as federating units back to region? To make the geo-political zones a component of our federation with constitutional recognitions? Or what?. Second,m is to agree in principle that there is need to restructure from what is the architectural blueprint that is currently prevalent.
To restructure in the main is to change to a large extent what is currently in place. It will require tinkering with the constitution as well as possibly inserting new clauses in the constitution in order to perfect the restructuring mechanism. Areas of possible intervention are as follows:
- Federating Units: This presupposes an acceptance that Nigeria retains its federal Status.
The notion of confederation will not be entertained therein. The debate is that the states remain the federating unit for purposes of restructuring. This is without prejudice to states merging to become regions if they so desire, and geo-political zones also assuming a constitutional status without necessarily being the federating units. So ideally, the argument endorses states and state creation and de-emphasises regionalism and geopolitical zones as parameters for political restructuring.
- Devolution of Powers: Noticeable imbalance flowing from power sharing between the Federal (Central) Government and State governments is evident from a perusal of the legislative powers shared in the 1999 constitution.
Whilst we have 68 items under the Exclusive Legislative list, there are just 8 items under the concurrent legislative list. Item 45 of the exclusive legislative list stipulates “Police and other Government, Security Services established by law” Proponents of state Policing will naturally want this to move to the Residual list which will be controlled by the state. Other items that requires serious interrogation for purposes of restructuring are: Item 48- Prison, item 51 public holidays; item 39 – mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas. There are still a host of the 68 items that can be restructured in favour of the federating Units. Even the inclusion of Electric Power under the concurrent list is part of the problem we have in respect of power. Under the doctrine of covering the field, the federal legislature has enacted laws which seem to have emasculated the state legislative in matters dealing with electricity.
- Judicial System: Many have also argued that our judicial system is over centralised.
Land ownership and inheritance
There is argument to return State Appellate Courts or even Supreme Court. It is still confounding why matters of land ownership and inheritance generally still come to Court of Appeal or Supreme Court when such matters can end at state or regional or geo-political zone Court of Appeal or Supreme Court as the case may be.
- Unicameral or Bicameral legislature. Again, this is a decision Nigerians may want to take for purposes of restructuring. Do we go back to bicameral legislature at the state or regional level or do we retain the status quo. Other issues to be grappled with for purposes of restructuring will include state creation, local government administration, prospects of including Rotation of Powers in the constitution as well as conferring constitutional imprimatur on idea of geo-political zone.
Also along this line is a determination of whether it is still fashionable to continue with ‘Presidentialism’ or we return to parliamentary system.
Political consideration: The idea of restructuring is certainly not likely to sit well with many Nigerians. Opposition is definitely coming from those who feel satisfied with the status quo and believe that any attempt to restructure will affect their interest negatively. But selfish interest should not be an overriding consideration in the issue of restructuring. What is critical is the overall interest of Nigeria as a Nation State.
What is important for now is that all segments of the country are keying into the argument of restructuring. The position is not whether or not to restructure, but how best to restructure.
The opinion expressed recently by the governors and leaders of the South- East is worth applauding. Their support for restructuring as against secession is commendable. But that does negate the fact that the right to self determination is not recognised as a legitimate instrument under international law. Though our 1999 constitution proclaims the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria state, it does not presuppose that in exercise of freedom of expression, people cannot agitate (non-violently) for self determination.
The 2014 national conference report is an available specimen to kickstart the process of architectural overhauling. Basically, there must be an agreement on how to proceed. In terms of devolution of powers, which items should devolve to the states and which should be retained at the centre. Secondly, are we all agreed on ‘’Resource Control” by the federating units? Third, do we go back to regionalism, parliamentarianism or do we retain state structure (new states creation permissible) and also continue with presidentialism? How do we confer legitimacy on Geo-political Zones? Do we enthrone it as a constitutional parameter with endorsement of all Nigerians. What will be the role of referendum (if at all) in the process of restructuring? A lot of emphasis must be placed on local government status. The situation where local government are instruments of manipulation by state government is also a point to be seriously addressed for purposes of restructuring.
It is instructive to note that the Senate has called for the report of the 2014 conference. Also to be applauded is the fact that APC as a political party has set up a committee of governors and party members for the purposes of restructuring. May I invite the government of the day to set up a small committee to distil from the Confab report and submit to government for critical appraisal and assessment. Alternatively is for government to re-submit the report to the National Assembly for further action.
Again, government in its wisdom may decide to set up a panel specifically on restructuring. The panel will be charged with the modalities of working out the logistics or bases of restructuring. A white paper flowing from this can then be handed over to government for onward transmission to the National Assembly.
It is for the National Assembly to identify issues that require constitutional amendment, legislative promulgation whilst allowing issues that require administrative or executive imprimatur to be handled by the presidency.