By JimitotaÂ Onoyume
Port Harcourt – THE South South region is an area united by the oil resource generated from their lands for the sustenance of the nationâ€™s economy.Â Consequently, almost all sections of the region suffer the problem of environmental degradation and pollution arising from oil exploration. They also share a common problem of political marginalization in the Nigerian state owing predominantly to their status as a minority.
So, it was not surprising to observers of political developments in the country when the region, with one voice, demanded true federalism with the structures of fiscal federalism firmly in place at the just concludedÂ two-day Senate Committee public hearing on the amendment of the 1999 constitution for the South South zone in Port Harcourt.
Declaring open the event, the chief host, 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 pre-condition for all sections of the country to actualize their God given potentials. According to Amaechi, fiscal federalism would promote healthy competition among all states in the country as it will lead to diversification of our economy.
To him, the proposed dispensationÂ would bring about a shift from over dependence on oil as the main stay of the nationâ€™s economy andÂ further encourage states to industrialize. Over dependence on oil,Â the governor noted, has stoppedÂ many sections of the country from tapping and developing their resource base like agriculture, etc. He challenged the senatorsÂ 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 hearing. Deputy governor of Delta State, Prof Amos Utuama (SAN), who mounted the box after Amaechi, added that the new constitution should include mechanisms that would promoteÂ of true federalism in the country. He maintained that true federalism would enable all states in the federation to effectively tackle its peculiar problems and challenges. He explained thatÂ states should also be vested with powers to create local government councils. â€œAnd these councils should not be seen as the third tier of government and as such the provisions of the constitution naming local government councils and making local government councils beneficiaries of the federation account should be expunged,â€ Utuama added.
HeÂ canvassed removal of the Land Use Act from the constitution to pave the way forÂ land tenure that isÂ more dynamic and flexible in line with cultural peculiarities and socio-economic changes which vary from state to state. 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. â€œAmend section 214 (1) to delete the last line i.e.â€ no other police force shall be established for the federation in any part thereof .â€ A unique aspect the state government brought into its presentation was to ask for an immediate upward review of derivation to the state from 13 per cent to 50 percent as is currently provided for in the 1999 constitution.
â€œThe government and people of Rivers State make these proposals for amendments to the 1999 constitution with a deep sense of responsibility. We wish to observe that the interim action that is being sought for the upward review to 50 percent derivation is within the purview of the national assemblyâ€.
Bayelsa State government stretched the positionÂ further when it demanded absolute control and ownership of resources of the state by the state and also subscribed 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.
Ijaw National congress (INC), on its part, argued that a Nigeria that is just, fair and stable should exist only as a federal union of ethnic nationalities with the Ijaws having a federation of their own. Each federation, according to the president of the body, Dr A.W. Obianime, should have its own constitution. Meanwhile, the union government shall be headed by the president and vice president. The president of the union should serve for a fixed term of four years, renewable once. The union executive, he said, should be a broad based government with a bicameral legislature.
And each federation shall send an equal number of representatives to both the upper and lower chambers of the union parliament. The forum was also an occasion for many groups to come up with demand for states to be created for them. The INC called for the creation of two additional states for the Ijaw areas to be known as Torebe and Oil Rivers states.Â Dr Sokari Abiyo, who spoke for the Kalabari, called for a constitution that would create Minji Se State with its headquarters in Degema. Dandison Hart spoke for the physically challenged, sayingÂ Â the constitution should recognize them. According to him, in some countries they have representatives in parliament.
The Urhobo Progress Union, in its presentation, called for the creation of Urhobo State. President general of the body, Olorugun Felix Ibru, said the constitutional review should include matters bordering on state creation. Second republic Senator Gbene Saros Nunieh, in his presentation, called for the creation ofÂ Ogoni State. There wasÂ also callÂ for the creation of Ahoada State.Â O.C.J. Okocha (SAN), who presented the position of the Ikwerres, said states should be created along ethnic homogenous lines and on the basis of economic viability. States that cannot survive on their own, he said,Â should be merged.Â Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), in its 122 page document, said the 1999 constitution is no longer a grundnorm because of its several weaknesses. Chairman of the University of Port Harcourt chapter of the body, Dr Andrew Efemini, who spoke. called on the National Assembly to ensure it comes up with a comprehensive review that would go beyond electoral reforms.
The new revenue formula according to the body should be on the basis of derivation just as it stressed on citizenship as very crucial to the Nigerian state. According to Dr Andrew, Nigerians should be free to live in any part of the country and enjoy equal opportunities. A coalition of civil society groups spoke against cross carpeting by elected political office holders, noting that it is immoral and unconscionable to transfer the mandate given to a political party to another party that was defeated in an election.
The group also called for INEC to be unbundled with the aide of political partiesâ€™ registration and regulatory commission. Â Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP)Â called for a state to be created for the Ogonis. Its president,Â Ledum Mittee spoke against the concept of six geo-political zones as currently being practised in the country, saying it serves areas like the South South region where there are several tribes and culture no good.
While calling for implementation of the Uwais report on electoral reform MOSOP noted that no serious reform could take place unless the nation â€œdepoliticizes the census exerciseâ€. Meanwhile, in his opening remark earlier, Senate deputy leader/chairman, South South zone, Senator Victor Ndoma Egba (SAN), said the Senate had set aside March 2010 as the delivery date for amendment on the electoral reform and land use issues.
He said the Senate resolved to take on issues for amendment in piece meal. Egba, who read the speech on behalf of the deputy president of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said the approach the Senate had adopted would guide it away from pitfalls of the past. He said the committee had also listed state creation, local government, fiscal federalism, true federalism, devolution of powers, gender issues and judicial reformsÂ among matters to be given consideration during the amendment.