By Epiphany Azinge, SAN
Before the Military
The history of Nigeria up to 1999 must be clear to students of history and politics. Basically, by 1954, Nigeria was already a federation and the journey to independence did not alter the equation or calculation in any form.
Consequently, by independence in 1960, Nigeria had the three regions of North, West and East. The regions were the federating units and the 1960 constitution shared powers between the central government and the regional government. The creation of Midwestern region altered the calculation a bit. Instead of three regions, Nigeria now had four regions. The Republican Constitution of 1963, never tampered with certain fundamental principles of government, apart from enthroning a full republican status instead of the monarchical supervisory role of the Queen of England in Nigerian affairs.
By 1966, when the army struck, Nigeria retained its federal structure and the parliamentary system of government. There were some peculiarities of the federal structure in place, which made the regions very powerful. Devolution of power was such that each region controlled its resources to a large extent- to wit, North, its groundnut, West, its cocoa and East, its palm produce. As regards the judiciary, Regions had their appellate courts which was distinct from the federal appellate courts. Such was the state of the nation when the military intervened.
With the military intervention, began Nigeria’s romance with the unitary system of government. This is understandable given the command structure of the military. So by 1979, when the military returned power to civilian democracy, the Constitution fundamentally altered the arrangement of devolution of powers. The enthronement of the Presidential System of Government, which conferred enormous powers on the President, unlike the parliamentary system, did not help matters. At least under the parliamentary system, it was impossible for a President or a Prime Minister as the case may be, to wield overbearing powers as is the case of a presidential system.
All subsequent constitutions followed to a large extent the pattern of the 1979 Constitution, thereby throwing overboard the position of things as at 1960. It must therefore, be stated that in the course of military governance, states were created for both political and administrative convenience. So also were local governments. Indeed, it is on record that apart from Midwest Region, no State has been created under a constitutional democracy. What is crucial to note is that, with the creation of states, the states in Nigeria automatically became the federating units. They still are.
The Clamour for Restructuring
This is the background that has brought us to this stage of clamouring for restructuring. So the question is, restructure from what to what? From states as federating units back to regions? To make the geo-political zones a component of our federation with constitutional recognitions? Or what? Secondly, is to agree in principle that there is need to restructure from what is the architectural blueprint that is currently prevalent.
To restructure in the main, is to change to a large extent what is currently in place. It will require tinkering with the Constitution, as well as possibly inserting new clauses in the Constitution, in order to perfect the restructuring mechanism. Areas of possible intervention are as follows:
a. Federating Units: This presupposes an acceptance that Nigeria retains its federal status. The notion of confederation will not be entertained therein. The debate is that the states remain the federating units for purposes of restructuring. This is without prejudice to states merging to become regions if they so desire, and geo-political zones also assuming a constitutional status without necessarily being the federating units. So ideally, the argument endorses states and state creation and de-emphasises regionalism and geopolitical zones, as parameters for political restructuring.
b. Devolution of Powers: Noticeable imbalance flowing from power sharing between the Federal (Central) Government and State Governments, is evident from a perusal of the legislative powers shared in the 1999 constitution. Whilst we have 68 items under the Exclusive Legislative list, there are just 8 items under the concurrent legislative list. Item 45 of the exclusive legislative list stipulates “Police and other Government, Security Services established by law”. Proponents of state policing, will naturally want this to move to the Residual list, which will be controlled by the state. Other items that require serious interrogation for purposes of restructuring are: Item 48- Prison, item 51 public holidays; item 39 – mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas. There are still a host of the 68 items that can be restructured in favour of the federating units. Even the inclusion of Electric Power under the concurrent list, is part of the problem we have in respect of power. Under the doctrine of covering the field, the federal legislature have enacted laws, which seem to have emasculated the state legislature in matters dealing with electricity.
c. Judicial System: Many have also argued that our judicial system is over-centralised. There is argument to return to State Appellate Courts or even Supreme Court. It is still confounding why matters of land ownership and inheritance, generally still come to Court of Appeal or Supreme Court, when such matters can end at state or regional or geo-political zone Court of Appeal or Supreme Court, as the case may be.
d. Unicameral or Bicameral legislature: Again this is a decision, Nigerians may want to take for purposes of restructuring. Do we go back to bicameral legislature at the state or regional level or do we retain the status quo. Other issues to be grappled with for purposes of restructuring will include state creation, local government administration, prospects of including Rotation of Powers in the Constitution, as well as conferring constitutional imprimatur on idea of geo-political zones.
Also along this line, is a determination of whether it is still fashionable to continue with ‘Presidentialism’ or we return back to the Parliamentary System.
Professor Epiphany Azinge, SAN, Immediate Past Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies