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Back on the blocks

By Tony Momoh

IN spite of my loud and clear assertion that the National Assembly is the wrong body to initiate constitutional amendments that will lead to a more manageable polity, I will recall what I have said at many fora  for years now about what we need to cut our political coat to our economic size.

With the volume of funds that flows into the accounts of public officers, it is not in the personal interest of those affected to moderate changes in the instrument of governance that would put them as a disadvantage.

But I hear the constitution amendment train of the National Assembly is moving to the South West and will be hosted by Lagos State. I, therefore, welcome them to the State with this memorandum of mine on what we need to make sense of a democratic order that we have chosen and that we have all seen is not sustainable as is.

Many aspects of the sustainability of what we have opted for were discussed during the week in Lagos at a forum organised by Newswatch Communications Ltd. The theme was democracy, electoral reforms and good governance. And the top names in the different areas were there to lighten up their areas of expertise.

Two words ran through the topics – sustainable democracy. Then followed what the presenter was to focus on – the judiciary, anti-corruption agencies; responsibility of the legislature; the role of INEC; the role of political parties; the rule of law and the Nigerian experience; the role of the press and civil society.

Many other areas were zeroed in on, but I saw the word sustainable as the redeeming feature. If we had had to discuss how to sustain what we had, as many people did, there would have been little to worry about.  But I saw more work to be done when the word has to do with whether or not we can sustain what we have chosen.

And I have always said we cannot. So, I devoted more time to the political albatross we call democracy, emphasised its unworkability and pleaded for, as I have said, cutting our political coat to our economic size. It is what I pleaded we should have that I share with you herein.

There were ways I said we could achieve the constitutional changes and the gains we would record doing so peacefully. But let me tell you what I said we needed, and which is my own contribution through this forum to the meeting on constitutional review that Lagos is going to host at Ikeja.

Here is a summary of my submissions. We should retain a three-tier arrangement – The central government, the regional government and the state government. The present local government structure should be an affair of the regional government, and should be funded by it.

We should retain a central government to be headed by an elected president so that we may all continue to have a sense of ownership of the head of the Nigerian state.

The law-making body should be the present Senate of 109 members. There should be a nominated upper house of elders, one from each state of the Federation and Abuja. The number will thus be 37. This would be like the arrangement in the First Republic.

The powers of the centre should be reduced and only those powers that would mould the federating units should be retained exclusively by the centre, like defence, external affairs, citizenship and currency. Let us be advised by the experience of the United States of America over the years.

There should be six regional governments on the lines that have emerged as zones – North-West, North-East, North-Central, South-West, South-East and South South. These, and not the 36 States should be the federating units.

The   law-making bodies in the Regions should be those elected from the present House of Representatives constituencies. Each regional government should be headed by a governor.  He may be elected by the Region or appointed by the party that forms the majority in the Regional House.

This is a decision to be taken by the region. Once upon a time, our regions had their constitutions.  Why not now?  There will be 36 State Houses of Assembly as at present. The reason they will be retained is that no state would like to lose its autonomy.

It is a fact we have to live with. But ideally, a country that knows it has to seek the welfare and security of its citizens would collapse the states and retain only the regions and creating local governments on sub-ethnic lines. The position of executive governor is unnecessary and untenable and should be cancelled. We should restore the parliamentary system at the state level.

The present office of governor should be re-designated premier or prefect or any other name we may choose. He will contest elections to the House like any other member of the House, and can be appointed by his party if it wins the majority of seats in the House. All members of the state executive council would come from the House of Assembly.

If what the governor does now can be better done in the House, the expense of electing him to straddle the state treasury and do what he likes with it, as has happened to many state governments since May 29, 1999, can be saved and channelled to development of the state.

There are at present 774 local government councils with elected council chairmen and councillors who are “working” fulltime. This level of government is the greatest fraud that has been visited on our democratic outing since May, 1999, and has been responsible for the lack of growth in the local government area.

We should have elected councillors who will elect one of themselves as chairman. Each councillor should earn a sitting allowance of N2,000, with such sittings not being more than seven in a quarter. It means that no councillor would be taking home more than N42,000 per annum.

The chairman should earn N3,000 per sitting. The day-to-day running of the council should be the responsibility of the secretary who would be appointed by the Local Government Service Commission, and would have the status of a permanent secretary in the public service.

The local level of government should be the affair of the regional government. It means that all the 774 local government councils would be inherited by the Region into which they fall.

The region can increase the number or reduce it as it deems fit. The need to go back to the starting blocks is advised by the huge sums we spend on full time public officers whose productivity is doubtful, and whose motto is greed.

And even more urgent is the need to arrest a future danger now because of the armouries we are prepared to deplore is retaining power at the centre in the event of a contract between groups being uprooted by the provisions of the Constitution and what the aggrieved party would rightly say – that laws are made for men not men for laws!

And then the bubble will burst and we would embark on a journey whose end is uncertain but whose outcome is chaos.  But who will bell the cat?


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