By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
THE Supreme Court decision on December 16, 2016 voiding the sack, on October 29, 2010, of the 16 local government councils in Ekiti State was unarguably the best breather for democracy at the grassroots. The decision with its implication that governors and State Houses of Assembly cannot sack local governments has been largely applauded by democracy enthusiasts, who welcomed it in the face of the unrelenting assault on that tier by governors and state legislators.
Just as former Governor Kayode Fayemi did in dismissing the 16 elected councils, many governors, sometimes in cahoots with Houses of Assembly, have endangered democracy at the third tier with their cavalier dismissal of elected councils at that level. The actions of the governors and the state legislators is despite constitutional provisions as stipulated in Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution spelling that democracy should be firmly exercised at the local government level.
The provision states thus: The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.
However, the ambiguity in that stipulation as to the tenure of the local governments had been exploited by the governors and state legislative houses to mock the practise of democracy at the third tier. It was thus welcoming that even before the Supreme Court decision, that the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution had initiated moves to address the issue. The Senator Ike Ekweremadu led committee had in its status report tabled just before the legislators proceeded on the yuletide break unfolded measures to address the issue through proposals to amend the constitution.
The move by the Senate aims to amend the constitution to give constitutional guarantee to the practise of democracy at the third tier. The move by the Senate Committee follows the mandate given it to consider aspects of the Fourth Alteration Bill that had received popular approval from stakeholders.
The Ekweremadu Committee in reprocessing Section 7, had strengthened it with the following proposal;
- A uniform three-year tenure for elected local government council officials; •That Local Governments without a democratically elected council shall not be entitled to any revenue from the Federation Account. “These amendments amongst others we believe will ensure effective service delivery and insulate local governments from undue and counter-productive interferences from state governments,” the committee chairman had deposed.
It is remarkable that besides Senator Ekweremadu, Speaker Yakubu Dogara has also been passionate on the fragility of democracy at the local government level and was among those to have welcomed last December’s Supreme Court decision on the Ekiti local government councils. Whether the House Ad-Hoc Committee on Constitution Review would follow the lead of the Ekweremadu Committee with the passion shown by Speaker Dogara is yet to be ascertained.
Meanwhile, other key constitutional alterations being proposed by the committee include a proposal to alter Section 162 to provide for a Distributable Pool Account that would, among others, “provide for national savings of 50 percent of oil revenues above the bench mark for a particular year and 10 per cent of any non-oil revenue paid into the Federation Account.
Also towards strengthening the hand of the local governments, the committee proposed to “abrogate the State Joint Local Government Account and paying monies due to Local Government Councils directly into their respective accounts.”
Perhaps to curtail the late presentations of budget to the legislature, the committee also proposed to alter Sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President or a Governor may authorize the withdrawal of monies from the Consolidated Revenue Fund in the absence of an Appropriation Act from six months to three months.
The committee also proposed the amendment of Section 121 of the constitution to give financial autonomy to the State Houses of Assembly. The proposal which was presented in the Third Alteration Bill was rejected by some state Houses of Assembly leading to the failure to form the two-third majority needed to push the amendment through. The committee proposed to push through the creation of a mayor for the Federal Capital Territory to replace the minister as presently appointed by the president.
Another fundamental proposal is to amend Sections 147 and 192 to ensure that the President and Governors designate and assign portfolios to persons nominated as ministers or commissioners respectively prior to confirmation by the Senate or State House of Assembly.
Also, the amendment would compel the president and governors to forward their cabinet picks within 60 days of inauguration and ensure that 35% of the nominees are women.
It is also being proposed that the president be constitutionally compelled to deliver a State of the Nation Address annually to a joint sitting of the National Assembly. The proposals also address one of the most controversial clauses of the constitution as seen in Section 315 of the 1999 Constitution which gives the president the right to make laws as contrary to the provisions of Section 4 of the same constitution which stipulates that the lawmaking powers shall be solely exercised by the National Assembly.
The proposal by the Senate Committee is to completely remove that provision from the constitution.