Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Mr. Rotimi Amaechi
By Chuks Okocha
The meeting of the governors of the 36 states of the federation Tuesday failed to reach a conclusion on the planned constitution amendments that would see the Federal Government shed parts of its responsibilities and the amendment of the 1999 Constitution to introduce a state police for each of the states of the federation.
In the meeting which lasted for more than five hours (from 10 am to 3.20 pm), the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, read a two paragraph communiqué, thus:
“We the governors of the 36 states of the Federal Republic of Nigeria at our 13th meeting held today November 27, 2012, at the Rivers State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, deliberated on several issues, including devolution of power, revenue allocation, local government autonomy, Land Use Act, National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Act and security.
“Discussion on these issues, all other issues relevant to the constitution review are ongoing,” he said.
But, Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, while shedding lights on what happened at the meeting, told journalists that no agreement was reached on the issue of state police and devolution of powers.
According to him, “We deliberated on so many issues and we did not arrive on any particular decision on any matter and we are hoping to do so very soon.”
On the issue of state police, Okorocha said: “We have divided opinions, some people believe that we should have state police and other said no, “explaining that state police in the hands of politicians might be abused, “While others believe that state police, community police is the best way to handle the increasing security crisis in the country.”
Okorocha said: “We should encourage all segments of smaller and smaller police systems. I think there is the need to distinguish the responsibility of the federal police and state police.”
On the devolution of powers, the governor said: “We have not taken any particular position, but we believe that power should be devolved as the Federal Government is carrying too much than it can handle and that since majority of our people live at the state level, we can devolve more powers to the states and to the local governments, where the services and facilities can move faster and torch the people.”
Also, there was no agreement among the governors on whether to amend sections 214 and 215 of the constitution as regards the state police.
The Deputy Senate President and the Chairman of the National Assembly Constitution Amendment Committee, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, had in a paper presented to the NGF in October this year titled: ‘Devolution of Powers Under Nigeria’s Federal System: A Review of the Federal Legislative Lists Under the 1999 Constitution’, said: “The exclusive list appears to be unwieldy, cumbersome list containing several items which over stretched the divide between the central and state governments and undermine the practice of true federalism in Nigeria.”
On local government, the deputy senate president stated that 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 were exclusive to the states.
According to him, “the absence of a clearly defined ‘residual list in the constitution however creates ambiguity as to its exact scope and content, leading to several clamour for its express function by the constitution.
“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 provide for their functions under the fourth schedule while subordinating them to the control of the state governments,” he told the governors.
Ekweremadu further, said: “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 told the governors.
He listed the items to be delisted from the exclusive list 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, Stamp duties, 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.”
Others are, “to prescribe 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 said: “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 as example the status in the United States of America, explaining that Nigeria as a multi cultural society, that the Federal Government has no business in issues relating to marriages.
On stamp duties and public holidays, the Chairman of the National Assembly 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 a 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”, he said.
Ekweremadu said 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 tier of government exercising legislative powers thereon to the extent of their respective interests.”
He said though the constitution is silent on the residual list, but recommended that “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.