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Governors, Lawmakers Move to Curb FG’s Power

25 Nov 2012

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Ike Ekweremadu


Seek to remove items from Exclusive List

Chuks Okochaa in Abuja       
It emerged at the weekend that moves have begun towards working on a plan that would curb the perceived excessive powers of the central government in Abuja.

THISDAY learnt that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) is at present working on a document detailing the powers and functions of the Federal Government that should be devolved to the states.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Constitution Review and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu prepared the document.
Only two days ago, NGF Chairman and Rivers State Governor Chibuike Amaechi canvassed devolution of power to the states and also gave indication that the governors would oppose any constitution amendment seeking to make local councils one of the federating units.

He urged the National Assembly to insist on the sanctity of only two federating units – states and Federal Government – in the Nigerian federation.

There are indications that the governors may in the ongoing constitution amendment process seek to fully move local government administration to the Residual List, which contains items that are neither in the Exclusive List nor in the Concurrent List.

THISDAY gathered that Ekweremadu had at a meeting in Abuja late October intimated the governors with items that may be delisted from the Exclusive legislative list and placed under the Concurrent and Residual lists.

The Exclusive list contains items under the sole powers of the Federal Government to determine, Residual is for states while items on Concurrent list can be legislated upon by both the states and the Federal Government.

The items planned for delisting from the Exclusive list are contained in a document entitled, “Devolution of Powers Under Nigeria’s Federal System: A Review of the Federal Legislative Lists Under the 1999 Constitution,” which Ekweremadu presented to the governors at the meeting.

In the paper obtained by THISDAY, Ekweremadu stated, “The Exclusive list appears to be unwieldy, cumbersome, containing several items which over stretched the divide between the central and state governments and undermine the practice of true federalism in Nigeria.”

According to him, “A careful examination of the Exclusive list reveals that several items contained therein are properly fit for the Concurrent list, to be shared between the central and state governments.

“The allocation of these powers to the federal government in the Exclusive list skews the balance of powers unnecessarily in favour of the central government, making it enormously stronger than the component units.

“It also leads to an over concentration of powers in the centre, with the resultant over burdening of the central government, leading to ineffective execution of the legislative and executive functions.”

Ekweremadu listed some of the items and explained why they should be moved to the Residual or Concurrent list.
He listed items to include, “Designation of securities in which trust funds may be invested, labour, including trade unions, industrial relations, conditions, safety and welfare of labour, industrial disputes, prescribing a national minimum wage for the federation or any part thereof and industrial arbitration, prisons and stamp duties.”

Others are “ancient and historical monuments and record and archaeological sites, formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages, other than marriages under Islamic laws and customary laws, and public holidays…

“Prescribing minimum standards of education at all level, trade and commerce, establishment of a body to prescribe and enforce standards of goods and commodities for sale, insurance, fingerprints identification and criminal record.”

On prison matters, the Deputy Senate President stated, “The issue of maintenance of prisons extends to treatment of criminals, suspects and criminal procedures. In this respect, states are already empowered to regulate criminal procedures within their jurisdiction, and it is in this line with this that there should be allowance for state run prisons where offenders convicted of state offences will be kept while federal offenders will be remanded in federal prisons.”

He cited the status of marriage in the laws of the United States of America, explaining that in Nigeria as a multi-cultural society, the federal government has no business in issues relating to marriage.

On stamp duties and public holidays, the chairman of the Senate Constitution Amendment Committee said, “These are issues that should be open to both the central and state governments to legislate upon.

“States should be able to impose stamp duties tax transactions within their jurisdiction as revenue drive and control over proprietary transactions within their jurisdiction.

“Public holidays are declared for various reasons and it should be open to both tiers of governments to declare holidays in honour of certain notable events or celebration. For the states, this will create an opportunity to honour events or traditional festivals not given national acclaim.”

Ekweremadu noted that insurance should not be on the Exclusive legislative list as, “states have an interest in regulating issues such as motor vehicle insurance and housing insurance within their jurisdiction. Thus, insurance should be a matter on concurrent list with both tiers of government exercising legislative powers thereon to the extent of their respective interests.”

He said though the constitution was silent on the residual list, “matters relating to civil service, administration of local government affairs, state accounts and budgets, residency issues within states, state judiciary and appointments” should be under the residual list.

On local government, the deputy senate president said the Supreme Court, “in the Attorney General of Lagos vs. the Attorney General of the Federation and other landmark cases have held that matters outside the exclusive and concurrent lists are residual matters which are exclusive to the states.

“The absence of a clearly defined Residual List in the constitution, however, creates ambiguity as to its exact scope and content, leading to several clamours for its express function by the constitution.”

On local governments, he told the governors, “Crucially, local governments are left out in the allocation of powers between tiers of government, despite being established as a distinct tier. Rather, the constitution merely provides for their functions under the Fourth Schedule while subordinating them to the control of the state governments.”

But when THISDAY contacted the deputy senate president for his reaction on the document, he declined to comment.
However, one governor who preferred not to be mentioned told THISDAY last night that they were working on the document in order to come up with a joint decision on the issue.

State Chief Executives Meet Tuesday
Meanwhile, the governors are expected to meet on Tuesday to discuss the continued deductions from the Federation Account by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and for the purpose of the Sovereign Wealth Fund.

The meeting is coming in the wake of the failure of the Presidency and governors to reach an amicable resolution of the matter currently before the Supreme Court.

The Presidency and governors were expected to report to the Supreme Court Thursday with the agreed terms of settlement but they could not do so because no agreement had been reached.

Counsel to the Federal Government, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), told the court that no agreement had been reached on the terms of settlement.

He, therefore, prayed the court for an adjournment to enable the two parties reach acceptable settlement terms. The governors are expected to take a final position on the issues and other matters at their meeting on Tuesday.

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