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INEC: Need to amend the Constitution and electoral law (4)

By Afe Babalola

THE past three editions of this article have been devoted to areas in the country’s legislative framework which require amendment so as to bring about the election of transformational leaders. Some of the suggested amendments which relate to the process of elections and other connected matters can be summarised as follows:

  1. Amendment to the Electoral Act to allow for realtime electronic transfer and collation of results from the unit level to other levels of the election. This will protect election materials and electoral officers from attacks as witnessed in the just concluded elections.
  2. Amendment to the Constitution to provide for the judicial resolution of all pre-election matters touching on the nomination of candidates well before the conduct of the elections.

Nomination of candidates

This will provide certainty to the electoral body, the political parties, candidates and the voting public regarding who the real candidates of the parties are well before the conduct of the election. It will prevent cases witnessed recently in which the courts even after the conduct of the last elections still made pronouncements about the nomination of candidates.

III.   Amendment to the Constitution to make political office less attractive and thereby reduce the win at cost mentality of Nigerian politicians who still see occupation of political office not as a means to an end of service to the public, but the ultimate end itself.

INEC
INEC
  1. Amendment to the Constitution to make the terms of office of anyone elected as President or Governor, a single term of six-years. This will ensure that anyone who occupies those offices will not be unduly preoccupied with seeking and winning re-election and will devote himself to performance in the single term that he has.

Conclusion: On the whole, that Nigeria is still where it is today is largely due to the fact that the country still operates the 1999 Constitution which has been shown to have failed in many respects. Indeed, it is beyond comprehension that 20 years after Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999, we have retained the 1999 military Constitution as our supreme law.

Lawyers set agenda for 9th Assembly

The 1999 Constitution continues to limit the capabilities of states and local governments to sustain developmental initiatives and projects. The current situation whereby state governments have to go to Abuja every month with the begging bowl for federal allocations is an aberration that explains the poor state of Nigeria’s federalism today.

We have gradually replaced the derivation formula and the tenets of true federalism, with an allocation formula that is only imaginable under a unitary state. The Western Region is the worst victim of the Unitary Constitution which has affected education, health and economic development. Virtually all the educational, economic and agricultural programmes put in place by Chief Awolowo had collapsed.

In a truly federal constitution, provinces or states have constitutional authority to control resources derived from their territories. Fiscal federalism as a tenet of federalism dictates equitable sharing of expenditure and fiscal instrument among the central, states and local tiers of government.

Under a truly federalist state, fiscal autonomy and responsibility is granted to subnational governments, with state and local governments having adequate resources to perform their functions autonomously, such that no tier is subservient to the other.

In Canada, for example, oil and gas resources are owned and controlled by the provinces. Section 109 of Canada’s Constitution Act, 1867 explicitly vests ownership rights to all lands, mines, minerals and royalties for oil and gas resources to the provinces in which they are derived. The oil rich province of Alberta, for example, retains its oil wealth and pays a predetermined amount of contribution to the federal government.

This is in far contrast to the current situation in Nigeria where the Federal Government exercises ownership rights and control over oil and gas resources found in different states, and in the reverse pays allocation to oil and gas owning states. This warped model of federalism serves as disincentives to states and local governments to develop other forms of resources in their territories.

For example, in the First Republic, the Western Region had a functional economy based primarily on cocoa farming and exports. Recognising the fiscal autonomy of states and local governments will go a long way to boost innovation and spur investment in other key sectors such as agriculture.

The uneven allocation of powers and responsibility between federal, state and local governments is at the heart of the ongoing agitation for a restructuring of the Nigerian federation. Although federalism has no universally applicable template, as it is a context specific notion that must be driven by the political and structural realities of every country.  However, there are few common characteristics that are basic and fundamental to a true federation, the most important of which is: an equal distribution or allocation of powers, such that each unit has ultimate sovereignty, with none preeminent over or subordinate to the other.

While the Federal Government is to have power over matters that are of general interest to the nation, states and local governments in a federalist nation ought to have powers over matters that are peculiar to their local communities. In their exercise of their powers, all tiers must retain substantial autonomy on a wide range of subjects, to enable them run their governments and manage their affairs. As summed up by Eso JSC in Nkwocha V Governor of Anambra State, “the bedrock of federalism lies in each tier of government being a master in its own domain”.

This is the kind of reform and restructuring that we need in Nigeria. Our current claim to being a federation is not only comical and deceitful, it indeed requires urgent surgical operation. Restructuring is not a call for disunity or conflict, it is a well-informed call for a speedy return to the confederation principles contained in the Independence Constitution which our regional leaders negotiated with the British between 1957 and 1959. The earlier we restructure the country to revert to true federalism, the sooner we can begin to witness economic recovery.

Fiscal federalism and financial autonomy will go a long way to address some of the perennial agitations and crises, such as the Niger-Delta crises and threats of secession by various ethnic groups that have remained insurmountable for decades. Without urgent and true restructuring, Nigeria’s search for peace, security and progress may remain elusive.


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