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Monday, 24 May 2021

Botched Constitution Amendments Could Have Set Nigeria on the Right Path - Ekweremadu

Former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu has said that Nigeria could have been on the right path but for past constitutional amendment proposals that were botched.

He said that present challenges of insecurity and poor state of the economy could have been successfully navigated by the solutions proffered by the constitutional amendment proposals that were derailed.

Uche Anichukwu, media aide to the lawmaker quoted him as making the comments in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, on Monday in a paper titled “2021 Constitution Amendment: The Expectations and Challenges”, which he delivered at the 2021 Conference of Nigeria Bar Association’s Section on Public Interest and Development Law, SPIDEL.

Senator Ekweremadu who chaired the Senate Committee on Constitution Amendment in the Sixth, Seventh, and Eight Senate, said although constitution amendment efforts had recorded numerous successful amendments, mainly in the areas of electoral reforms and institution building, the efforts could have yielded more dividends had the Executive assented to several other critical amendments.

Among such proposals, he said, were those pertaining to devolution of powers, state police, fiscal federalism, Local Government reforms, compulsory savings from oil revenues.

He particularly regretted the non-assent to the Fourth Alteration Act 2013, which he said comprised over 26 amendments that could have served as a major step towards constitutional repositioning of Nigeria.

“A mere look at the constitution review exercises over the years would easily reveal a high mortality rate of proposed amendments because most of the issues we are working on today were previously addressed.

“We successfully pulled critical amendments through the National Assembly, and they ratified by State Assemblies. They include amendments to Second Schedule of the Constitution to devolve more powers to the states by reorganizing the Legislative Lists to move Railway, Aviation, Power, Stamp Duty, among others from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List.

“We amended Sections 150, 174, 195, 211, 318, and the Third Schedule to the Constitution to separate Office of the Attorney General of the Federation/State from the Office of Minister/Commissioner for Justice, and this included financial autonomy and security of tenure for the Office of the Attorney-General to insulate it from political control.

“We altered Sections 147 and 192 of the Constitution to provide for timeframe for submission of ministerial nominees, which must also be accompanied with their respective portfolios.

“We amended Section 162 to provide for compulsory savings of a defined percentage of oil revenues for rainy days.

“Unfortunately, these amendments were denied presidential assent. Some of them were again passed in the Eighth Assembly, but still denied presidential assent”, he stated.

He, however, said the current constitution amendment exercise presented the nation yet another opportunity to quickly do the needful.

“Currently, the Bill for the Establishment of State Police, with provisions to guard against abuses in the hands of state chief executives, which I sponsored, is one of the Bills the National Assembly will be considering. This is the second time the Bill is coming before the Senate, having been sponsored in the Eighth Senate. Let us hope that the nation does the needful this time around because insecurity can only get worse under a centalised policing system.

“Ideally, in a federation, the federal government is usually in charge of matters such as defence, foreign policy, and currency. The states exercise some of the remaining powers concurrently with the central government (Concurrent List), while also being in full charge of others (Residual List).

“Unfortunately, what we have experienced in Nigeria is that the federal government has become a behemoth, biting off much more than it can chew.

“Today, it is becoming clearer to many informed Nigerians that the country will never move forward until the central government sheds some weight and allows the devolution of powers to subnational governments. Let us hope that better judgment prevails over sentiments and power-mongering this time around.

“Also, in a lecture on remaking the Nigerian federalism, which I delivered at the Osgoode Hall Law School in York University, Ontario, Canada way back in 2012, I had warned that Nigeria would surely run into stormy weather very soon unless we reinvented our federalism, moving away from the current military-imposed “feeding bottle” federalism to enthrone one predicated on self-reliance, hard work, enterprise, resourcefulness, and ingenuity to catalyse development.

“The jury is out and things will surely get worse unless we do the needful. In the face of a mono-product economy where oil price has plummeted and oil is fast loosing relevance, in a situation where the Constitution encourages indolence among the states through monthly handouts, and in a situation where we are producing next to nothing as a country, there is no magic to preserve the value of naira or prevent it from hitting the rock bottom”, he stated.

He regretted that whereas Section 14 of the 1999 Constitution entrenching the Federal Character Principle as well as Section 42 of the Constitution prohibiting discrimination against any Nigerian on the grounds of his/her community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion, political opinion, etc., avails the nation a fairly sufficient provisions to deal with our diversities, cries of marginalisation and separatist agitations had become worse now than at any other time since the end of the civil war.

“What has happened over the years, and has become worse under the current administration, is a willful disregard for the Constitution in dealing with some parts of the country. In fact, some sections of the country have been reduced to second-class citizens.

“I do not know how the current administration goes to bed and sleeps comfortably, knowing that it has totally alienated the people of the South East and excluded them from the headship of the security and paramilitary agencies of the country”, he added.


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