David Mark Gov. Fashola on 1999 law review
At the South-west public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution at the Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, Senate President, David Mark, seconded Governor Babatunde Fashola’s call for a special status for Lagos metropolis being a former capital city. This, however, formed the kernel of issues that later dotted the deliberations. Gboyega Akinsanmi reports
A new era is already in sight in Nigeria, and its process is at its peak. Only last week, the seventh National Assembly organised a more comprehensive public hearing on the on-going review of the 1999 Constitution than what it actually did in 2010. The process, indeed, took a new dimension penultimate Saturday when public sessions were simultaneously held at 360 federal constituencies. On Wednesday, all senators held public hearing in the 109 senatorial districts across the country.
On Thursday too, the process was capped with the public hearing organised across all the six geo-political zones. The purpose was captured in the words of the Senate President, David Mark while addressing the political leaders, civil society practitioners and human rights activists in the South-west geopolitical zone’s public hearing on the review of the constitution held at the Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja.
Mark simply assured the Nigeria people on the commitment of the National Assembly to produce a working federal constitution, which according to him, would largely tackle critical issues generating conflicts between the federating units and principal institutions of government. He said the Senate and the House of Representatives “have no hidden agenda contrary to what critics have said. The only agenda the National Assembly has is to collect the aggregate of people’s views.”
Amongst the 36 items listed for deliberation, demand that Lagos be accorded a special status got a senatorial endorsement at the public session, which almost all the South-west federal and state lawmakers attended. The endorsement was contained in Mark’s opening remark, who contended that former capitals “are normally accorded special status the world over”.
Mark’s public acknowledgement indeed justified a course that the Lagos Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; Senate Minority Whip, Senator Ganiyu Olanrewaju Solomon; House of Representatives Minority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila; House Committee on Legislative Compliance, Hon. Moruf. Fatai-Akinderu and his Agreement and Treaties counterpart, Hon. Ekundayo Bush-Alebiosu, among others had aggressively pursued even before the first review of the constitution.
The position of the Senate President however caught many Lagosians unawares. But he explained the rationale behind his support for Lagos special status. He said Lagos people “are not calling for something extra-ordinary,” adding that he did not know of any former capital in the world that has not been accorded a special status. He cited instances of New Delhi in India, Rio in Brazil and New York in the United States.
Mark said when the call for special status “comes up in Lagos State, the people of the state are not asking for anything out of the ordinary. But I am here to collect the views of the people. I believe Fashola’s view on the special status is the view of Lagos people. But we are not here to impose our views. We are all here to collate the views and review our federal constitution based on what people want.”
But he was quick to add that the position only represented his “humble suggestion” and that it was built on the federal practice in different countries of the world, mainly those that “have cause to change their capitals. All of you are conversant with New Delhi in India, Rio in Brazil and New York in the United States. I only know former capitals have special status in these countries.”
Mark’s reference to Brazil and India has a lot of implications. At least, it shows that Lagos is not asking too much, being Nigeria’s economic capital. It also underscored the fact that according special status to former capital is a global practice, which denotes that Lagos’ case should not be an exception in anyway. Thus, the insertion of the ‘special status clause’ in the next constitution could mark a turning point in Nigeria’s federal practice.
However, the push for Lagos’ special status was not the only item that came up for discussion at the public hearing. Other issues included the increasing public support for the amendment of section 214 of the constitution to allow for state police and section 8 (3) that will make the creation of additional local governments remain the sole power and responsibility of each state government without undue interference.
On state police, Fashola gave two cogent justifications. First, policing requires the service of personnel, whom he said, know the nooks and crannies of their communities and states. Second, the governor explained the expanding scope of crime, which he believed the Nigeria Police do not have capacity, especially since incidences of kidnapping and terrorism had crawled into the country’s national space.
He questioned the capacity of the police to deal with issues such as rape and sexual abuse, an issue he said should include the key matters that “can come under the responsibilities of the state governments. The establishment of the state police must come under the devolution of powers. But it can also come under the debate of what is most important for us to deal with in this public hearing.
“I think it is our national security. Without it, we will continue to live in fear. Without it, there is very little achievement that we can make together or individually. It is only in an atmosphere of peace and security that we can do business and that we can move forward as a country in spite of our diversity. The Federal Government has been unable to recruit enough men to distribute across the state.
“There are state laws relating to local issues that even the federal police are not bothered about anymore because as the level of insecurity increases, the attention of the federal police moves to higher issues. A few years ago, the most important item on the agenda was armed robbery. But that agenda now has a menu of kidnapping and spiced with dose of terrorism. So, where is the capacity of the police to deal with issues such as rape? These include the key matters that the states can effectively deal with.”
Fashola also dwelt on the need to institutionalise a true federal system and offered a view that the best way “is to allow each independent state to develop at its own speed, within its own resources and its own ability in a way that the prosperity of each state can become the prosperity of Nigeria”. He argued that issues like fiscal federalism and political federalism should be put on the top of the ladder.
Section 8 (3), which deals with the creation of local government, sparked a lot of reaction from Fashola and Oba of Lagos, Oba Rilwanu Akiolu. His reaction, perhaps, was due to what happened after 37 additional local council development areas (LCDAs) were created under the administration of former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the refusal of the National Assembly to accord the LCDAs with recognition.
Fashola argued that the case of states “to deal with their local government is too meritorious. The local governments are most impactful units of government in the states where they reside and our constitution must allow the states to deal with the problem of adding and creating local governments within the territory of their state so long as the boundary of the state is not expanded or adjusted”.
On state creation, the Ijebu State Movement canvassed for the carving out of Ijebu State from the existing Ogun State while the Lagoon State Movement called for the creation of Lagoon State from the existing Lagos State. But Fashola offered an advice, which he said, should “be looked at by balancing the agitation for the creation of more states in any part of Nigeria within the realities of our finances.
“The people of Nigeria are strong in their views that there is too much money being spent in government. Therefore, let me advise that the constitution does not create any organ without responsibilities. With responsibilities come personnel; with personnel comes funding. So, if we decided to create more states and more regions, it could mean more money going to government,” Fashola explained.
He also agitated for the constitutional roles of traditional rulers, but spoke against an attempt to nationalise the country’s traditional institutions. He maintained that as agitation for their constitutional roles “persists, my advice is simply that we should not nationalise our diversity because the appointment of traditional rulers varies across several diversities and regions. This is my view and it is advisory”.
But the constitution itself is not an end, according to Fashola. He sees it as “a means to an end and that end is our collective prosperity, a prosperity that is achievable in my view only in a Federal Republic of Nigeria. This federal arrangement is not negotiable because that is the only way that the diversity of this country can be harnessed. We are so different, yet the same. We are so diverse, yet one being.”
It is on this note that Mark expressed the federal lawmakers’ commitment “to ensure objective review of the 1999 Constitution. Nobody can say what will happen and what will not. When we collate views, we would review them and take the agenda. There are so many issues that people have discussed. We may not be able to take all of them in one single slate, which is going to be difficult if we indeed attempt to do so.
“Since 1999, my idea has been that if we try to chew so much at a time, nothing will happen. But we would take time to prioritise all the issues and then the ones we could take we would take. I will suggest humbly and innocently that any amendment we are making must take two critical issues into consideration. Any amendment that will improve security should be prioritized. Any amendment that will bring development nearer and quicker to the people must be seen as a priority.
“There are lots of issues we want to discuss. There are issues we should address from a patriotic and nationalistic point of view not only a selfish point of view else, everyone will want to have his own local government. But essence of this meeting is to allow Nigerians participate fully in the amendment so that the slogan that the military bequeathed to us a constitution will no longer be there,” Mark explained.