By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
PAN Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, umbrella body of monarchs, leaders and stakeholders of the coastal states of Niger-Delta, has warned the Presidency and National Assembly, NASS, that any amendment of the constitution to create an impression that Federal Government heeded the demand for restructuring would not stop the agitation.
PANDEF, which made submissions to the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution at the South-South public hearing in Asaba and Port Harcourt, last week, said: “There are also insinuations that the process is merely an attempt to distract citizens and douse the momentum the clamour for restructuring has garnered.”
National Publicity Secretary of PANDEF, Ken Robinson, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard, said: “Nobody should be under any illusion that two or three peripheral amendments in the Constitution would address the growing disaffection and demands for the restructuring of the country.
“It is also instructive to note that the cost and consequences of ignoring the agitations for fundamental changes to the constitution and structure of the country could be dire.
“Let us emphasize that the position of PANDEF remains that Nigeria needs to be restructured, a complete alteration of the military imposed 1999 constitution and structure of the country.
“While we agree to a united, indivisible Nigeria, it must, however, be based on equity, fairness and justice. The present structure of Nigeria has become grossly defective and inappropriate for a heterogeneous society like ours. Restructuring has, therefore, become not only imperative but a necessity.
“Though we have doubts on whether this process would be conclusive, and that it is not just another effort in futility. There are also insinuations that the process is merely an attempt to distract citizens and douse the momentum the clamour for restructuring has garnered. Let the National Assembly and the Presidency prove skeptics wrong.
“We are likely to also make a similar submission to the House of Representatives Committee at their public hearings scheduled for next week. We are in a constitutional democracy, and the constitution amendment could be the simplest path to restructuring. And restructuring itself needs certain constitution amendments to be effected.
“And the Niger Delta region is the biggest victim of the present flawed federal system. How do we explain the situation in which the zone that produces the resources of this ration, benefits little or nothing, whereas zones that do not contribute anything significant to the national treasury, appropriate and monopolize favorable benefits to themselves?
“Tribute so much, get so little. Meanwhile, oil and gas exploration activities continue to degrade the hitherto luxuriant, healthy ecosystem of the Niger Delta, and attenuate the indigenous people’s means of livelihood, with little or no effort to ameliorate their consequential dire standard of living.
“The submission is in tandem with our ‘three pillars of restructuring’ and it addresses seven critical sections of 1999 constitution within six of the 17 issues listed for the public hearing by the Senate Committee: The federal structure; power devolution; local government administration/local government autonomy; public revenue, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation; constitutional provision for the establishment of state police; electoral reforms that will make INEC deliver transparent, credible, free and fair elections, political parties, independent candidature and election management; states and local government creation.
2 tiers of govt
“It is our well-considered opinion that there should be only two tiers of government; the federal or central government and the states as the federating units. Having three tiers of government in a federal system is an abnormality. Local governments should not constitute a tier of government as is currently the case. We, therefore, recommended that Chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1, (6) of the 1999 Constitution should be expunged.
“Accordingly, the names of the 774 local government areas and six (6) area councils of the Federal Capital Territory should be removed from the First Schedule, Part 1 of the Constitution.
“We are not unaware of the concerns of some individuals and the organized labour but we should not, for any reason, support the subsistence of abnormalities.
“Furthermore, the 1999 Constitution undermines the principle of federalism by the overt concentration of power and resources at the centre, this has impeded national development, security, peace and stability.
“We recommend that the Second Schedule, Part 1 of the 1999 Constitution (the Exclusive Legislative List) should be amended. That, at least 40 of the 68 items listed should be moved to the Concurrent List, including Item 39, which deals with Mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas; and item 45, relating to police and other government security services established by law.
“Again, PANDEF supports that funding, administration and creation of local government areas should be left to the federating units; the states should determine, develop and enact laws for the local government system, its structure and administration, depending on the peculiarities and needs of each State.
“This is, indeed, congruent with the spirit and letter of the 1999 Constitution in Chapter 1, Part 2, Section 7, which provides that, ‘The system of local government by democratically elected local councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall …ensure existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.’