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Nigeria’s National Assembly at 50: It is time for stock-taking

By Emeka Umeagbalasi

On Friday, October 1, 2010, Nigeria marked her Golden Jubilee or 50 years of Independence. In 1954, Nigeria opted for Federal System of government, which was retained by subsequent constitutions including the constitution of Nigeria 1999.

The federalism started with three regions in 1946/51, four regions in 1963, 12 states in 1967, 19 states in 1976, 21 states in 1987, 30 states in 1991 and 36 states and 774 local government areas in 1996. At the 1994 Constitutional Conference and in the 1995 Draft Constitution, Nigeria was divided into six geo-political zones of the North West, the North East, the North Central, the South East, the South South and the South West.

50 years after, it is entirely correct to say that there is no equity in the Nigerian federalism, especially in the areas of distribution of national wealth, both human and material wealth, and creation and allocation of states and local government areas.

It is on the basis of the foregoing that we critically examined how the Southeast geopolitical zone had fared in the Nigerian federalism in the past 50 years and sadly observed that the zone had been brutally maltreated in many areas including fiscal allocations and allocations of States and Local Government Areas to the zone. For instance, it is a universal tradition that population, not landmass, is used when creating states and local government areas, but in Nigeria’s case, the reverse seemed to be the case.

A thorough check at the allocation of states and local government areas per geo-political zone in Nigeria shows that the Northwest is allocated with seven states, the Northeast six States, the North Central six States, the South South six states, the South West six states, whereas the South East got five states.

In the area of Local Government creation, out of the 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria, the Northwest got 180 LGAs, the Northeast 122 LGAs, the North Central and the FCT 117 LGAs, the Southwest 137 LGAs, the South South 123 LGAs and the Southeast 95 LGAs. Also the old Kano State, comprising Kano and Jigawa States got 75 LGAs (Kano -44 and Jigawa -31) as against Southeast’s 95 LGAs. Lagos State with a population of about 14million got mere 20 LGAs.

In the area of fiscal allocations, the story was and still is the same. In the block allocations totaling N16.447trillion generated and shared among the three tiers of government in Nigeria between 1999 and 2007, a period of 8 years, the following observations were made: the South South got N2.5trillion, the South West N1.410trillion, the South East N918bn, the Northwest N1.72trillion, the North East N1.169trillion and the North Central N1.119trillion.

Kano State got N370.93bn as against Lagos State’s N331.9bn. Also, out of the sum of N339bn spent on Federal Roads in Nigeria between June 1999 and September 2002, the three geo-political zones in the old North got N192bn as against N147bn spent in the three geopolitical zones in the old South. In the area of the sum of N147bn spent in old South, South South got N63bn, South West N54bn and South East N30bn.

Furthermore, the use of North South formula in determining the Presidency of the country is grossly lopsided, anachronistic and a threat to Nigerian federalism. Over the years, this dead formula has perpetually kept the Presidency to two old regions of “North” and “West” and perpetually sidelined two other important old Regions of “East” and “Mid West/Middle-belt”. The foregoing burning issues formed the backbone of our letter to the South East Governors’ Forum, dated October 1, 2010 and titled: Nigeria At 50: It Is Time To Think Home. Also, in recognition of the legislative powers entrusted in the hands of the National Assembly by the 1999 constitution, we addressed another important letter to them, dated October 13, 2010.

As we all know, history only recognizes landmark achievements recorded by persons and bodies including parliaments. History records the late Lord Denning as a great expansionist Law-Lord in the UK. History also remembers the second Republic National Assembly of Nigeria for enacting the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the National Open University of Nigeria Acts in 1983.

History has also taken notice of the enactment of the Nigeria Police Service Commission Act of 2001, the EFCC and ICPC Acts of 2000/2001 by the fourth Republic National Assembly of Nigeria. History does not seem to record the mere passage into law of Appropriation and supplementary Appropriation Bills. Therefore, we want to place it on the parliamentary and public records that there is need to constitutionally divide Nigeria’s six geopolitical zones into a 42- state structure in the following way: North West-zero State, North East one State, Southwest one State, South South one state and South East two states.

The monumental imbalance inherent in the number of and allocation of LGAs will also be redressed in such a way that the Northwest that has 180 LGAs will be disallowed more new LGAs, while other geopolitical zones especially the Southeast zone should be directed to create more LGAs to catch up with the Northwest that already has 180 LGAs.

The “principle of uniformity” created by the 1976 Local Government Reforms may be invoked in this respect. The grossly lopsided revenue sharing formulae should be reworked as well. While we reject in its entirety the allocation ( in principle) of the Nigeria’s Presidency on the basis of “North South”, it is our humbly view that the 1999 constitution, should be altered to provide for the rotation of same among the six geopolitical zones on the basis of a single term of five years.

Though it is less than eight months to the end of the life of the present National Assembly, but the sooner these issues are critically examined and incorporated into our mother-law, the better for the Nigerian federalism. The Nigerian concept of democracy shall be “a democracy with local contents that is not repugnant to the international standards”.

Our second reason of writing this piece is to draw the public attention to some fundamental legislative activities that appeared to have been lying unattended to, before the Hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly. For instance, it is a public knowledge that some important provisions in the Nigeria’s Criminal Statues including Statutory Liability Offences, especially those under the Federal jurisdiction, still contain “colonial jargons and expressions”.

In some, monetary penalties spelt out or graded in the 60s and the 70s still bear “shillings,” “one hundred naira”, “two hundred naira”, or “six months imprisonment”. This explains why in most cases, the trial magistrates rather than ordering the convicts to pay, go home and commit no more crime, end up sentencing them, thereby congesting the already overcrowded prisons in our country.

The Nigeria Police Act, for instance, still bears “colonial jargons” and “expressions”, dating back to April 1, 1930 when it was originally enacted. Same thing applies to the Evidence Act of 1945, the Criminal Procedure Act and Code of 1950s, the Criminal Code and the Penal Code of 1950s, the Prisons Act of 1971, to mention but a few. It may be correct to say that no holistic amendment had been carried out on these important pieces of legislation since 1958 codification of same, yet Nigeria is said to have had many republics of National Assembly. While Nigeria is believed to have ratified a number of important international treaties on human rights, humanitarian laws and other international laws, most of them are yet to be domesticated in accordance with Section 12 of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999.

Also, worrying is the continued pendency of some important public-oriented Bills before the Hallowed Chambers of the National Assembly. Such Bills are “Criminal Justice Bill” meant to collapse the Criminal Procedure Legislation (Criminal Procedure Act and Criminal Procedure Code), the Criminal Statues (Criminal Code and Penal Code) and some aspects of the Evidence Act into one jet-age Criminal Legislation. Others are the Anti-Terrorism and the Freedom of Information Bills.

It is also on records that Nigeria has not incorporated into her Criminal Justice Legislation and Administration the electronics-generated pieces of evidence. This has allowed Nigeria’s security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police Force to continue to use the stone-age tools in criminal investigations and enforcement. It is a common knowledge that where Bills are not originated from the Executive in the form of “Executive-sponsored Bills”, they can come in the form of “Private_member Bills” and where such Bills are passed and the Executive withholds assent for 30 days, the lawmakers can pass them into law by two-thirds majority.

The consequences associated with being unable to put Nigeria on the right footing with respect to Criminal Justice Legislation and Administrations are very damaging. For instance, we have kept wondering what would become the fate of some criminal suspects arrested, arraigned and remanded in connection with the Nigeria’s Golden Jubilee Day’s bombings in Abuja, the FCT.

Questions have been asked as per what criminal charges that are actionable would be preferred against them since the Anti-terrorism Bill is still lying un-legislated before the National Assembly. Our Constitution prohibits trial of the offenders outside the written offences and punishments, or meting out punishments heavier than that contained in the criminal statues, which must relate to the offences allegedly committed, or using retrospective criminal legislation in the trial of criminal suspects.

It is also our observation that while Nigeria still retains death penalty in his criminal legislation and her Judge-made laws, especially in the areas of treason, property and violent crimes, her white-collar criminal legislation still contains punishments that can best be described as “simple offences punishments”. While the hand of a cow thief in Nigeria is chopped off, a white-collar criminal who steals the entire monthly allocation of his or her State is put in the protective custody at the Ikoyi Prisons, under the guise of “six months imprisonment without hard labour”.

Stiffer Penalties other than death penalty or capital punishment ought to have been the case in these areas, in accordance with the international standards. Lenient penalties contained in the EFCC, ICPC and Code of Conducts Acts should totally be overhauled, while capital punishment in our Criminal Legislation relaxed.

As per the Presidency’s recent written request for the second amendment to the Constitution and the amendment of the Electoral Act of 2010, we urge the National Assembly to ensure that the public interest is placed above any other interest. For instance, the universally acceptable norms guiding internal democracy with respect to political parties’ primaries must be provided for in the said amendments. Let credible Electoral College and ‘one adult one vote rule.’ The amendments in the Electoral Act must be in tandem with the provisions of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as to be amended.

There must not be any inconsistencies between the would-be amended Electoral Act and the Constitution as to be amended. And the controversy as for whether the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 as amended could be assented to or not by Mr. President must be resolved either politically or legally and all hands must be on deck to avert any constitutional crisis, or disruption of the May 29, 2011 Handover, or eruption of any physical violence no matter the magnitude.

Therefore, it is our call on the National Assembly to take note of the fact that history and Nigerians are watching over the proceedings in their Hallowed Chambers. And it is our fervent prayers that the leadership in the present National Assembly will still do things for which it will be remembered and have its name crafted in the gold-tower.

* Emeka Umeagbalasi is the chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law
Onitsha.


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