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Constitution Review: What geo-political zones want from Senate

BY  Okey Ndiribe, Tony Edike, Jimitota Onoyume, Abdusallam Muhammad & Peter Duru

South -South: Firm on fiscal federalism

THOUGH a zone with various languages and culture  the people demonstrated again at the just ended South -South zonal senate committee public hearing on amendment of the 1999 constitution that they are united by the common pain and plight they suffer in the Nigerian federation.

While declaring open the event in Port Harcourt Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi summarized the nucleus of the central demand of the region when he stressed the inclusion of fiscal federalism in the emerging constitution as a condition for all sections of the country to actualize their God given potentials.

david-mark-2According to Amaechi, fiscal federalism would promote healthy competition among all states in the country as it will lead to diversification of our economy. It will bring about a shift from over dependence on oil as the main stay of the nation’s economy. Fiscal federalism according to the governor would further encourage states to industrialize. Over dependence on oil the governor noted has caused many sections of the country from tapping and developing their resource base like agriculture etc.

He challenged the legislators to ensure they come up with a constitution that would satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people.

This trend of argument ran through virtually all the presentations at the two day event. Deputy governor of Delta state, Prof Amos Utuama (SAN) who mounted the box after governor Amaechi, added that the new constitution should include mechanisms that would promote the concept of true federalism in the country.

Like other states in the region, the Delta state government also canvassed removal of the land use act from the constitution and make land tenure more dynamic and flexible in line with cultural peculiarities and socio economic changes which vary from state to state.

While calling for traditional rulers to be given constitutional roles the Delta state government also canvassed decentralization of the judicial powers and powers of INEC. Accordingly, it said state electoral bodies should be responsible for conducting elections to the office of the governor, deputy governor, and the state House of Assembly.”The appointment of the chief judge and judges of the High court and Customary court of Appeal must be started and concluded within the state”, the state added.

The state also called for decentralization of police powers in a manner that would allow states to also raise the necessary machineries to secure public order and safety in their domain

Prof Nimi Briggs who spoke for the Rivers state government called for the removal of item 45(police) from exclusive legislative list to concurrent list. “Amend section 214 (1) to delete the last line i.e.” no other police force shall be established for the federation in any part thereof of”

A unique aspect the Rivers state government brought into its presentation was to ask for an immediate upward review of derivation to the state from, the 13% to 50 percent as is currently provided for in the 1999 constitution.

Bayelsa state government stretched the positions further when it demanded absolute control and ownership of resources of the state by the states and also subscribe to the retention by the state of a hundred percent of the revenue accruing from such resources and paying to the federal government equitably determined taxes as is the case in almost all the nations operating a federal system of government in the world

Secretary to the Bayelsa state government, Hon Gideon O. Ekeuwei who read the position of the state noted that under a federal system the exclusive legislative list must contain only matters of common interest to all the federating states and strategic to the well being of the federation.

South -West: Fiscal federalism and Electoral reforms

Senate President, David Mark joined Governor Babaunde Fashola in articulating Lagos position.  Senator Mark  noted that the Senate was in  support of Lagos call for the implementation of the core recommendations of the Justice Uwais Electoral Reform Panel that sought  to guarantee the independence of the electoral umpire and its  impartiality must

He said that the senate was committed to free and fair elections in 2011 urging the zone to feel free to say whatever they felt should be amended in the constitution

“We do not have a position of our own. That is why we are here to listen to the comments of the people of the South West,” he said.

He however cautioned that the success of elections should not be narrowed to the brilliance of an individual reminding that there are guidelines and documents which ought to be worked on to ensure the irregularities that trailed past elections are avoided come 2011.

He also called on participants to be sincere in their positions regarding the amendment of the constitution saying that “once an issue does not favour one or two persons and they have the opportunity to make it appear as if the issue is wrong, or that part of the document is wrong”.

“ We must examine ourselves and make sure that we are all sincere in our criticisms, our stands should be constructive, let it be the one that can  change things for the better not the one that would look at our individual interest”, he cautioned.

Mark also faulted the 1999 constitution for not recognizing traditional rulers saying that despite the fact that communities and societies recognize them, “the official document of the country does not”.

On his part Gov Fashola,  called for  true federalism, saying that the country could only develop if the constitution would recognise the diverse interests of every federating unit.

He said, “What will be acceptable in my view is a document that truly seeks to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of Nigerians. This document must recognise that even though we are 36 states, we are many mini- nations, occupying the territory of Nigeria . This document must recognise that we speak different languages, we live in different terrains, we have different strengths and weakness and that we cannot all do the same thing at the same time to the same efficiency.”

According to Fashola, the most ideal platform that can accommodate such differences is a federal arrangement that enables diversity to thrive, which promotes competition as the bedrock and basis for national growth and demonstrates concern and support for those who are not endowed with competitive abilities.

South East wants additional state

The two-day public hearing by the National Assembly Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution held in Enugu on Monday and Tuesday witnessed massive turnout of people from the five South Eastern states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo but majority of the memoranda submitted to the zonal team led by Senator Julius Ucha from Ebonyi State centered on the request for the creation of a new state from either of the existing states in the zone.

Only participants from Ebonyi State did not present request for state creation as the state government only presented the state’s position on the review of the constitution detailing flawed areas of the present constitution and went ahead to make recommendations that should be considered in the proposed amendment.

On the first day when Enugu and Ebonyi States made presentations to the committee, it was an unprecedented turnout of political leaders, traditional rulers and other stakeholders from the entire states of the zone.  The venue of the event which was the legislative chambers of Enugu House of Assembly was filled to capacity.

Enugu state governor, Sullivan Chime, who was represented by his deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi, welcomed the senators on behalf of the South East governors and stated that “as a people, we feel the time has come for the National Assembly to do a review of the constitution and get it right, adding that “the exercise means the National Assembly is understanding the pulse of our nation.

On the second day, Abia, Imo and Anambra States took their turns in presenting their positions to the Constitution Review Committee and the issue of state creation also featured prominently among other issues canvassed. While Abia State demanded the creation of Aba State, Imo state government only said it would support any state that would be created from Anambra and Imo State, arguing that Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi States have had their shares in the previous exercises.

Although a section of Anambra State had expressed their willingness to join their kits and kin in neighboring Imo state in either Njaba State or Orashi State, the state government represented by the State Commissioner for Information, Chief Macha Umeh, said it has no interest in any particular state as its concern was to get an additional state for the South East and thereafter the people of the zone would come together and decide its composition.

The neutral position of the state was hailed by some observers in view of the confusion which so
me people behind state creation movements have caused in the zone.  Seven States canvassed for creation at the public hearing were Adada, Njaba, Orashi, Ugwuaku, Etiti, Equity and Aba.

What many saw as very disturbing during presentations in support of the state agitations was the appearance of the former Biafran leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu at the arena to defend the call for Orashi state.  Some powerful politicians from Imo State including Senator Arthur Nzeribe had on noticing the overwhelming support given to Adada state proposition on the first day, lobbied Ojukwu to appear in person and declare his support for Orashi.

The Ikemba Nnewi who is from Nnewi North Local government only told the committee that his reason for supporting Orashi was the fact many of his good friends emerged from the Oru settlements of Imo and Anambra States proposed to constitute the new state, adding that his late mother hailed from the area.

North West: Echoes of Sharia reverberated

The just concluded Zonal Public Hearing on the proposed Alteration to the provision of 1999 constitution in Kano saw the North West states canvassing for the supremacy of Sharia legal system over the constitution on one hand and calling for the entrenchment of population as the bases for sharing the proceed of oil wealth.

Kano set the tone of the argument for the supremacy of the Sharia  in its position papers,  when an Elderstateman, Alhaji Magaji Dambatta declared that the  ‘constitution should not have a sweeping effect on Sharia where the need arises’

Magaji Dambatta stated that the Sharia legal system has not been accorded its rightful position as for the governance of million of Muslim faithful, adding that the senate should utilized the opportunity to set it right.

The Kano position attracted wild applause from the scanty crowd that grace the public hearing shunned by North West Governors, Traditional Rulers, top flight politicians, Legislators, and respected opinion leaders.

Cuing behind the Kano position on the supremacy of the Sharia legal system over the Constitution was Sokoto state,  through its Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice,  Alhaji Inuwa AbdulKadir while contending the fact appeal to Senators to delete ‘personal and civil’ from the code to make it more effective.

The North West block was unanimous that the staus quo ante should be maintain on Land matters, while jettisoning the current arrangement that concede 13%derivation to oil producing states of the Niger Delta Region.

Thei Kebbi state Government gave a hard knock to the current arrangement that concede 13 percent of the total oil revenue to the Niger Delta suggesting it to be reduced to 8%.

The position by the tiny north west state was conveyed in a paper presented to the Senate Sub Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, North west Zone explains that the practices breeds uneven development.

The position paper presented by Alhaji Abubakar Udu Idris, Permanent Secretary, Administration, Cabinet office, Kebbi noted that Kebbi state Government sympathize with plight of the oil producing states, however stressed that similar concessions should be granted hydro electro state in the face of environmental impact.

Kebbi state Government that delved on Electoral Reform, land and other matters submitted that consideration should also be given to cash crop producing states, and other state within the federation exposed to impact of climate change.

North Central: Independent candidature, the removal of  immunity  clause

In the North Centrak zone, 42 oral submissions covering a wide spectrum of constitutional issues were presented by all the states in the zone, civil society organizations, stakeholders and the federal capital territory.

While the constitutional issues presented include independent candidature, the removal of the immunity clause of state governors, creation of local government and boundary adjustments and the creation of new states vis Apa, Confluence, Okun, Okura and New Abuja States.

According to the communiqués which was appended to by Senator Abubakar Sodangi and eight other members, issues that dominated proceedings at the two day event include the proper funding of INEC, staggered elections funding of the legislature from the consolidated revenue fund, the land use Act and roles of traditional rulers to be enshrined in the constitution.

The Senate Committee assured the people of the North central zone that their views would be seriously considered and reflected in the reviewed constitution.

It also note, “The consensus of most stakeholders that the review exercise be conducted incrementally, with issues touching on electoral reforms placed on the front_burner”.

Meantime, the Senate President, David Alechenu mark has declared that the Senate would not allow the hijack of the constitutional review process by few self seeking politicians to the detriment of the generality of Nigerians.

Mark who spoke in Makurdi at the public hearing of the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution for North Central States, stressed that the Senate would not also allow a vocal few to dominate or usurp the process.

He maintained that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has no preconceived ideas or notions as to what would be churned out at the end of the review process.

According to him, it is only the views of the generality of Nigerians presented via memoranda that would determine the final document.

He assured that the constitutional review and amendment process would be done in haste without unnecessary delays to enable the next general elections benefit from the process.

While declaring his support for the creation of Apa State out of the present Benue State, Mark however warned that the agitation should not be misconstrued by the Tiv ethnic nationality to mean an act of hostility by their Idoma brothers.


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