Law & Human Rights

July 31, 2019

Reviewed confab reports can produce peoples constitution — Obayuwana


Dr. Osagie Obayuwana

By Alemma-Ozioruva Aliu

Mr. Osagie Obayuwana is an activist and former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Edo State. He was also a former National Chairman of the National Conscience Party, NCP. In this interview, he spoke on the need to review past conference reports to produce a peoples constitution, decentralisation of the police command, among other national issues.


How will you describe the recent decision of the Federal Government to send local government allocations directly to the councils instead of going through the states? Can the councils attain full autonomy through this?


Dr. Osagie Obayuwana

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Local governments are not the federating units. In matters of federalism, it is actually between the states and the Federal Government,  so that is why local governments are placed squarely under the authority of the state Houses of Assembly. You will recall the fight Lagos State Government under Governor Bola Tinubu had with the Federal Government under General Olusegun Obasanjo and there have been numerous court cases which have affirmed our practice as far as true federalism is concerned, so in my view, what the Federal Government is seeking to do is to whittle down the influence and authorities of the states over local governments.

There is a clamour for true federalism whereby areas and tiers of authority as contained in the constitution, are reordered in such a way that the over centralism of functions would go in the opposite direction. I see what is happening now as part of that fight by the Federal Government to whittle down even further, the influence of the states wishing now to deal directly with the local governments which are not even in a position to contend with the Federal Government as far as the re-organisation of spheres of influence is concerned.

So at the surface level, it may appear as if we are decentralising, we are taking the local governments from the shackles of an overbearing state governments but quite honestly, it does not in my view address the fundamental issue, it doesn’t remove from the awesome powers that the Federal Government has but rather it weakens the states which are in a better position to contend with the Federal Government, so if these measures are taken side by side with the aim of strengthening of the state governments, then we can say okay, perhaps we are decentralising but that is not the case, so it does not address the distribution of spheres of influence which is really the case that the states have been championing over the years.

What is your view on the call for a fresh national conference to agree on the practice of federalism in Nigeria?

Nigerians are conference weary, in other words, sovereign National Conference was a cry even under military dictatorship which was several decades ago.  The history of conferencing in Nigeria has been backed by a deliberate subverting and sometimes accepting to confer but without really having the commitment to implement decisions and recommendations reach thereof.

You will recall that the conference organised by Dr Goodluck Jonathan was more or less a political ploy at that time to buy time because his government was coming to an end under circumstances that he wasn’t in a position to implement and of course the Buhari government does not seem care. But in so far as the issue remain, this is not a matter that should be left to few office holders, we must confer but the issue and the challenge now is, how do we ensure that this one will differ from what had been our terrible past experiences.

If you go way back even to the period of the military dictators, Babangida organised a political debate, Abacha also had his own conference but at the end of the day, the popular wish was not upheld and so the challenge really is not that we don’t want to hear anything about conference but as in the case of Babangida, it was just time buying, for Abacha, and other conferences and constituent assemblies, at the end of the day, these people just do what they want to do without fundamentally bringing about any changes,  so in order words, there is room for conferencing, but we don’t want to waste our time again with people who are not serious.

We can’t amend our constitution because eventually,  these issues are to be resolved at the level of constitution amendement.

I don’t want to be disrespectful of the National Assembly but by and large, if you look at the squabbles that attended to the primaries of the political parties by and large, they are a hand-picked bunch. Somebody had argued that we have a duly constituted National Assembly and state Assemblies and that the people must leave these issues to them but if you are dealing with a hand-picked bunch, I think the civil society, professional groups have shown sufficient prestige and commitment to national development such that if at the end of the day, we are going to talk about a peoples constitution,

‘We the people of Nigeria,’ then the people must play a decisive role and that was the whole essence of a sovereign national conference,  so that it is what the people have agreed upon throughout the length and breadth of the country that gets produced as the new constitution. Of course,  we have been witnesses to bloc voting whereby certain legislators from the same area would always vote the same way and would want to use what they claim is their majority votes to prevent changes from coming about.

There is still a lot of job to be done and to get this job done requires impute, conferring with a bid to ensure that it is the popular will at the end of the day that is brought out, so when General Obasanjo said there is need for a conference, I agreed with him but of course being mindful of the issues that had attended earlier conferences.

What is your view on Nigerian police structure at present?

For instance, the security challenge, the Nigerian police force has not been altered in terms of their modules right from the colonial times; the colonial government used to post policemen to areas different from where they came from in which case when the time comes for suppression or resistance and protests, sentiments will have no role to play in it.

That was the practice up till date in the sense that you cannot find the Commissioner of Police from Edo State serving in Edo State and that is replicated nationwide but that shouldn’t be. You know when the Aninis of this world were terrorising our people in old Bendel state, they had to go and get the DIG Parry Osayande to come to the then Bendel State because he knew all parts of the place, he could relate with the populace on the basis of some measure of trust, so all those things are also at play, so if we don’t address the question of decentralisation, then we are still going to have problem. How can you say the governors are chief security officers of their states and under our constitution, but before a commissioner of police can abide by the directives from the governor of the state, he has to seek clearance from the Inspector General of Police?

What is the way forward?

The issues are real as far as security is concerned and unduly duplicative as far as agriculture, education and all of that, so clearly there is the need for true federalism to empower the states the more. If you look at the presentation of the Enahoro led groups and even the groups led by Wole Soyinka and co towards the end of military dictatorship in Nigeria,  you remember we even had a model constitution,

so there are modalities to be looked at, series of existing documents that had already been produced by civil society, by professional groups, even the one that emanated from Goodlcuk Jonathan’s constitutional conference, a new conference can take all these and see what is good in them collectively considered especially, if that good intention is there, if the purpose is not to circumvent the people once again, certainly there is need for a conference rather than decreeing into existence our laws all these years.