Described as a groundbreaking and historic parliamentary exercise, the constitution alteration vote that was conducted by the 8th Senate on July 26 is a clear reflection of the political situation that is currently at play in the nation.
The distrust and division along regional lines in the country came into play in the voting pattern of senators that Wednesday afternoon.
Although a commendable stride for the Bukola Saraki-led Senate, four critical clauses failed to pass on that day. This is the reason:
Devolution of Power
The vote on the ‘Devolution of Power clause, which failed by a count of 48 against 46, demonstrates that our country is split – almost down the middle along political interests. With Biafra agitations in the South-East; calls for the restructuring of the federation and true federalism in the South-West; and fears of power and resource control decentralization in the North, the lawmakers voted to protect the interests of their constituents. This is because the ‘Devolution of Power’ amendment was aimed at altering the provisions of the 1999 Constitution to move certain items from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to states.
Without the aforementioned issues being at the forefront of our national discourse, say, for example, if this constitution review exercise had taken place a year ago, many senators from the North, who were clearly opposed to whittling down power at the center, would probably have voted for it. The North saw devolution of power as an attempt to smuggle in restructuring through the back door.
Land Use Act
The same reason goes for the vote on the ‘Land Use Act’, which was to have been removed from the constitution. On Tuesday, a day before the vote, senators had been sharply divided along geopolitical lines. Northern senators, who opposed the removal of this clause, moved against its passage, stating that it would lead to “resource control through the back door.”
Affirmative Action for Women
Affirmative action bid for women in appointed positions suffered a setback at the Senate because religious, cultural and ethnic interests came into play. The amendment essentially sought to guarantee at least 35 per cent of ministerial appointments at the federal level for women. This clause, which failed by a vote of 61 in favor and 35 against, would have passed if it was a vote that required a simple majority. However, being a constitutional amendment exercise, it required 2/3rd majority vote. It is important to note that the 61 votes in favour of the bill on affirmative action represents a significant and progressive step, as the upper chamber now has over 60 members who believe in affirmative action for women.
State Creation and Boundary Adjustment
The clause on ‘State Creation’, which sought to clarify the process of establishing new states, would have allowed only democratically elected local government councils to participate in the process of state creation and boundary adjustment, thereby eliminating the participation of appointed local government caretaker committees to participate.
This clause failed because several lawmakers misunderstood the implications. It was supposed to further strengthen the constitutional provisions that local government areas are to be governed by constitutionally elected chairmen and councillors instead of nominees of governors who are called caretaker committees. Thus, by the proposed provision, the contraption called caretaker committee will not participate in constitutional assignments like boundary adjustment and creation of states. However, many members thought it is about state creation and the vote failed by 47 to 48.
By Shamsudeen Adamu is resident in Kaduna