â€¢ Nâ€™Assembly begins clause-by-clause consideration of constitution review
â€¢ Amendments include decongestion of Exclusive List, abrogation of joint state-LG accounts, ministerial representation for FCT
Damilola Oyedele and James Emejo in Abuja
The Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of the Joint Constitution Amendment Committee of the National Assembly, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, has said the effective and comprehensive restructuring of Nigeria could only be done incrementally to ensure gradual acceptance of the thorny issues after adequate enlightenment of Nigerians.
He added that the clamour for restructuring was not just about devolution of powers to allow states the rights to explore and exploit the mineral resources located within their regions, but one that would also entrust states with the responsibilities to provide amenities which are currently the obligations of the federal government.
Speaking Monday night on Arise News Network, the broadcast arm of the THISDAY Newspaper Group, the deputy Senate president said some of these responsibilities include the generation and transmission of electricity, provision of an efficient railway system, and the establishment and financing of state police for enhanced security.
Ekweremaduâ€™s remarks came on the heels of the decision by the Senate and House of Representatives to begin the clause-by-clause consideration of the proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution Tuesday, following the submission of the final report of the Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review last week.
Ekweremadu expressed his support for restructuring, but advocated the intensive enlightenment of Nigerians, so that citizens understand that restructuring would benefit the country and accelerate socio-economic development, rather than harm the country.
Restructuring, he said, would ensure peace and stability, as there would be equitable distribution of resources and equal opportunities for all Nigerians.
He added that some of the issues being discussed in the restructuring discourse would be voted on by the Senate and House during the clause-by-clause consideration of the committeeâ€™s report, which begins Tuesday.
Ekweremadu disclosed that while the committee, in the course of its work in reviewing the 1999 Constitution, was able to build a consensus on the devolution of powers, which would move some of the over 60 items on the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List with only 16 items left, the committee was unable to build a consensus on fiscal federalism.
The pending amendments to the constitution, therefore, do not grant states the rights to exploit their minerals resources, he said, adding that his committee went round the country to get the input of Nigerians, but because it was unable to build consensus on fiscal federalism, it was not introduced in the constitution amendment.
Lending some insight into how the issue of fiscal federalism could be addressed in subsequent constitution reviews, he said: â€œIn terms of fiscal federalism, two things would happen, first we would look at Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution, under which all monies go to the Federation Account.
â€œWhat we have done in the present exercise, we said if you put all the money in the Federation Account before you start distributing it, you have to take away 10 per cent of it, and save.
â€œThat was not there before; then we now share the rest based on the agreed formula, one of which is that not less than 13 per cent would go to where derivation is coming.
â€œSo we can now say less than 13 per cent should be given to the three tiers of government, we can also now say less than 50 per cent, we can also say lets remove that aspect and let everybody be in charge of their resources and pay a certain tax to the federal government for the common good.
â€œAnd then we can also have sufficient funds in the Federation Account that can also take care of the less endowed states like they do in Canada for equitable growth to ensure that everybody is on the same standard in terms of education, healthcare and all that. So everybody is benefitting.
â€œDonâ€™t forget that it is not just oil, we also have solid minerals. We are talking about fiscal federalism, so it is not just about oil. What we need to do is to make sure there is opportunity for everyone; there are available resources to go round.
â€œWe are going to create the enabling environment for states to be able to exploit what they have. I can say on good authority that every state in Nigeria can be viable because of the resources buried in the ground.â€
Continuing, Ekweremadu stressed that though fiscal federalism was not touched during the constitution review, the committee was able to build consensus on the issue of devolution of powers.
â€œWe would take some of the items on the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List, that is the way to go.
â€œSo if we are patient and we go about restructuring in an incremental manner, I give it three, four, five years, we will get to where we want to be,â€ he said.
Ekweremadu, who expressed full support for the restructuring of the country, was of the view that the issue was not one that needed to be subjected to a referendum, but rather a â€œconversationâ€, so that Nigerians would understand that they would not be worse off as a result of restructuring.
â€œRestructuring would not happen as a bill because it would not succeed. There are some states that are less endowed than Rivers State, so they are worried. If you say let Rivers State take everything that comes to them, what happens to other the states?
â€œYou need to reassure them that there is going to be a fund that takes care of them. If you do not explain that to them, they would never support you,â€ he explained.
Ekweremadu also observed that the clamour for restructuring might be a major campaign issue during the 2019 general election, but added that most of the current conversations around the subject were elitist, noting that the debate needed to be taken to the grassroots.
â€œWe need to explain to the people. Government has agencies and programmes for explaining programmes of government to the people. Part of the job of political parties is to educate the electorate.
â€œIf you say you are going to form a quorum on a ticket that is supporting restructuring, and you tell them that we are going to remove the issue of resources from Section 162 of the constitution, so let everybody be a master of his own destiny, you would need to explain to them how that is going to work.
â€œIf you tell them that you would move solid minerals away from the Exclusive List, you would need to explain how they would benefit from it.
â€œFor instance, Zamfara has a lot of gold, they can make more money than even Akwa Ibom if they have restructuring in such a way that solid minerals now moves to the Concurrent List.
â€œA lot of states in the North-west are blessed with gold which is what is sustaining most economies in Central Africa.
â€œAlso, if people are in control of their resources and are able to pay taxes, there would be more competition. Now everybody is falling back on oil, and we have become lazy.
â€œA country like Norway is not touching its oil money, they are saving it in what they call the generation equity fund (equivalent of a Sovereign Wealth Fund), Saudi Arabia invests its money and is using the return on the investments in infrastructure and development,â€ the deputy Senate president said.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly will Tuesday begin the clause-by-clause consideration of the proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution, following the submission of the final report of the Ad hoc Committee on Constitution Review last week.
The Chairman of the Joint Constitution Amendment Committee, Senator Ekweremadu, and Deputy Chairman, Deputy Speaker Yusuff Suleiman Lasun, had presented the reports at their respective plenary sessions.
THISDAY gathered that the lawmakers plan to conclude the consideration before they embark on their six-week summer recess expected to start on Friday.
A member of the committee, who spoke with THISDAY, said the lawmakers in both chambers were determined to conclude the consideration this week and transmit the approved amendments to the state assemblies.
The senator, who preferred not to be named, said the committee was not expecting much opposition to most of the amendments from the state assemblies, as the principal officers from the state assemblies were part of the whole review process.
â€œThey were with us when we had retreats and also at the House level. They were also with us when we harmonised our reports in Lagos two weeks ago. So they know what to expect.
â€œSo by the time we resume in September, they would also be done. We expect to conclude this assignment by the end of this year,â€ he said.
Key areas of consideration in the Constitution Amendment Report, which includes 27 different bills, are a bill to decongest the Exclusive Legislative List by transferring certain items contained therein to the Concurrent List, thereby enabling the states to make laws in respect of those items; a bill to alter the constitution to abrogate the joint state, local government accounts and empower each local government council to maintain its own special account; and a bill to provide the Independent National Electoral Commission with sufficient time to conduct bye-elections and provide grounds for de-registration of the political parties.
Others are a bill that is seeking to alter the constitution to provide for the timely passage of bills; a bill that seeks to alter the constitution to provide a timeframe within which the president and governors shall forward to the Senate or the state Houses of Assembly names of nominees for confirmation as ministers or commissioners; and a bill to alter Section 147 of the constitution to provide for the appointment of a minister from the FCT, Abuja, to ensure that FCT is represented in the Executive Council of the Federation.
Another amendment includes one that seeks to bar a vice-president or deputy governor who has been sworn in to complete the tenure of a president or governor by reason of incapacitation, death or impeachment, from seeking a second term, after he might have completed the term of his predecessor and a first term in office.
The review committee also amended the constitution to provide immunity for members of the legislature in respect of words spoken or written at plenary sessions or committee proceedings and to institutionalise legislative bureaucracy; it also seeks to grant financial autonomy to the state Houses of Assembly by ensuring that their funding comes from the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) of the Federation; it further reduced the period within which the president or the governor of a state might authorise the withdrawal of money from the CRF in the absence of an Appropriation Act from six months to three months, in order to hasten the budget process.
Senate President Bukola Saraki, in a statement Monday described the constitution review process as another promise kept by the eighth assembly.
â€œYou will recall that when we first came into office, I made a promise that we will amend the constitution to reflect new realities that have arisen. Now, we are doing just that.
â€œWith just under two years left to spare in this tenure, we are wrapping up this process, which will then be transmitted to the state assemblies for concurrence,â€ he said.
He added: â€œWe will continue to ensure that all the promises that we have made to the Nigerian people will be kept. It is also our hope that we can get this amendment sent to the state assemblies quickly so that the new amendments can take effect by the new year and well clear of the political electioneering season.
â€œThis is the first time ever that we are concluding the constitution amendment process long before the election year so that people can objectively participate in the process without looking at the partisan benefits.â€
In the House, the deputy speaker also said that the lower legislative chamber would deliberate on the Constitution Amendment Report.
Addressing journalists on the 16th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth (CSPOC), which opens Tuesday at the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, Lasun, however, assured Nigerians that normal plenary proceedings would not be impeded during the four-day programme.
â€œEffective today, the House plenary sessions will have to be adjusted to commence after mid-day,â€ he said.
Lasun, who is the deputy chairman of the ad hoc Committee on the Constitution Amendment, said he could not afford to be absent during consideration and voting on the amendment, hence the adjustment of the Houseâ€™s plenary.
The deputy speaker said 10 out of the 12 speakers of the Commonwealth member countries were already in the country for the speakersâ€™ conference.
House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, is the chairperson of CSPOC, having been elected in Accra, Ghana in November 2015 when the 15th conference approved the National Assembly or Nigeria as the host of the 16th edition.
CSPOC is a bi-annual conference, which brings together speakers and presiding officers of global parliaments, to exchange information and express views on matters of common concern.
This yearâ€™s speakersâ€™ conference will be opened by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
Lasun also stated that the House would between Wednesday and Thursday consider the N135.64 billion virement request submitted by Osinbajo last week.
Osinbajo, in his letter to the parliament, had made reference to the initial agreement between the executive and the legislature prior to the signing of the 2017 Appropriation Act regarding some critical priority items for which adequate provisions had not been made.
The agreement paved the way for the executive to submit a virement proposal to the National Assembly for consideration.
The House is expected to consider the request and either approve it in whole or make amendments.