By Dayo Benson Asst. Editor
As the seventh National Assembly is trying to settle down to legislative business , the imperative of another constitution amendment is inevitable. For stakeholders, the constitution may well be amended as often as it is necessary until it becomes a perfect document.
Top of the list of those who have been setting agenda for the Federal lawmakers is lingering issue of true federalism and the need to strengthen institution. Former president of the Nigeria Barr Association NBA, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN some what set the ball rolling last week when he addressed the media. His position is in tandem with that of the Action Congress of Nigeria ACN which had charged its legislature to pursue fiscal federalism.
Not a few Nigerians including the political elite had at different fora risen against over concentration of power at the centres . For those who hold this view; a major step towards attaining true federalism is devolution of power from the centres to the state.
This is the refrain in Agbakoba’s thesis in an address titled “setting a big agenda for 7th NASS – enacting a people’s constitution“ Agbakoba said that since the National Assembly is the only legitimate organ that could amend the constitution, then it owes Nigeria a duty of giving them the people’s constitution .
According to him , true federalism could only be attained through constitutional amendment by the National Assembly.
The type of amendment he recommended towards achieving true federalism is subject by subject amendment of the document.
But more importantly , he submitted that the most important amendment is the one that would strengthen institution and provide basic amenities for the people.
There is no doubt the Nigeria ‘s democratic governance in the last 12 years have not really touched the life of the average Nigerians, as poverty, ignorance and diseases are still the lot of the people. Rather than improve the well being of Nigerians , successive political leaders are more interested in their own welfare.
With the present recurrent expenditure , the nations democracy is perhaps one of the the most expensive in the world
Another issue in Agbakoba’s thesis is the devolution of some of the powers on the exclusive legislative list to the state e.g issuance of driver license . As a step further , he advocated constitutional recognition to existing six geopolitical zones and devolution of power to them .
He recommended that states in the geopolitical zones should be knocked down to form unions e.g union of south west . States in each union should be linked by mutual infrastructure, for instance — Rail system.
Further more, the call for state policing re-echoed as he proposed that each union, for the sake of autonomy, should have state police and state court with regional court of appeal.
This, he said was necessary because the local issue like land dispute originating from Ore in Ondo State for instance need not get to the supreme court which may not know much about land issue in that area . In the words of Agbakoba, who is also a member of the National Judicial Council NJC“
The 1999 Constitution is actually Decree No. 24 signed as a Constitution by a Military General. NASS should therefore hit the ground running by confronting this matter and resolving this lingering and outstanding issue once and for all by producing a People’s Constitution. A legitimate Constitution is the vital framework we need to go forward. This is what a People’s Constitution represents.
We need a Constitution based on principles of True Federalism. The present Military Constitution consists of 802 governments made up of 774 local governments, 36 state governments, and 1 Federal government. All the 801 governments in Nigeria are in combination weaker than the FG. Nigeria is a Federation of excessively strong centers Government.
The power pyramid at the centres must be freed and devolved downwards to the bases .
It is clear that Nigeria is not working; and can only realize it’s potential when it embraces true federalism.
NASS must address this as a matter of urgent national importance. But to do so requires some admissions,
Secession? Break up of Nigeria?
Some Regions are afraid of losing control and patronage; Others are tired of dominance and seek autonomy.
But in spite of fears – Nigeria is determined to remain a country. Various proposals have been made towards producing a Constitution that will address our diverse interests and aspirations.
Sovereign National Conference model has not worked.
The National Assembly is the key Theatre of Action, subject to the LEGITIMACY test by the people.
The FG exercises power by virtue of 68 items on the exclusive list of the Constitution and also exercise further power by virtue of 30 items on the concurrent list. The States actually exercise power at the pleasure of FG.
A very easy and simple way to devolve power from the centre to the States is to amend the Constitution”
Meanwhile, Agbakoba has instituted fundamental right action against the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The suit which was filed for himself and on behalf of the South East Zone was on ground of discrimination pursuant to S. 42 of the 1999 constitution . Some of the ground include. “Total neglect of the Applicant’s Geopolitical Zone by the 1st Respondent in terms of infrastructure and general federal presence making the Applicant feel not part of the 1st Respondent.”
Consequently, , he sought declaration “that the Structural Composition of the States in the 1st Respondent in this distribution: North-West, Seven States; North-Central, Six States; North-East, Six States; South-West, Six States; South-South, Six States; and South-East, Five States .”
He is also seeking an order that “directing the 1st Respondent to forthwith prepare and release for immediate execution a comprehensive SouthEast Development Master Plan (SEDM) for urgent turn-around of the infrastructure in the South-East Geopolitical Zone, and the phased execution of such Master plan to be pursued with dispatch and vigour; which Master Plan must include immediate relief in the following identified areas of neglect: Complete overhauling of all Federal Highways in the Zone and designing and construction of new ones, including the Anam-Nzam Federal Road linking the South-East with the North-Central at Idah in Kogi State.
Exploration of Oil/Gas Reserves in the Anambra Basin. Re-engineering of Niger Bridge at Onitsha and construction of a Second Niger Bridge at Onitsha. Dredging of the Lower Niger and construction of a Lighter Berth at Onitsha, and Developing a modern international cargo airport in the Eastern Heartland at Owerri
His prayer also include perpetual injunction “restraining the 1st Respondent, whether by itself, its agents, servants or privies, or otherwise howsoever from further acts of discrimination against the Applicant or any member of the Group/Class represented. “
Speaking on the suit Agbakoba said matter which is before Justice Mohammed of Federal High Court Enugu is meant to even the distribution resources of the country with a view to equalize the present situation in favor of the South East.
This he explained , should be what is obtainable in a loose federation which he is clamouring for. He however pointed out that even if he wins the case , the Question of true federalism remains unresolved. But the question is, will the National Assembly live up to the challenge and give Nigerians true federal constitution?