*Says 9th National Assembly committed to national interest
By Deji Elumoye
A member of the National Assembly, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, has stressed the urgent need for the Nigerian nation to be restructured.
Bamidele, who spoke in Abuja, said the time was nigh for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation on a more decentralised model in terms of sharing of powers, resources and critical functions of governance between the federal government and the 36 States.
The Chairman of the Senate committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters emphasised that the earlier the political leaders across the country stop playing the Ostrich over the issue the better.
He also stated that the Ninth National Assembly, is being wrongly perceived as a rubber stamp one due to overriding national interests by driving most of its legislative interventions and collaborations with the executive arm of government within the last one year.
According to the ruling All Progressives Congress(APC) Senator, the Nigerian federation has gravitated the more over the decades towards centralization of almost everything than decentralization, making the country to be practically unitary in nature rather than federal .
His words: ” As to the need for decentralization, I remain committed to true federalism and to the need to restructure because it is the way forward. We cannot runaway from it. Anyone who says he doesn’t believe in it is only pretending or doesn’t have a scientific understanding of what is wrong with our society and what ought to be done.
“There is a difference between what is and what ought to be done. What is right now is a structure partly handed over to us by our colonial masters and being fortified and perpetrated through a constitution given to us by the military. It was like a decree legitimised by an act of parliament.
“There will still be need for people’s constitution that will address very critical issues, including the issue of restructuring of our polity, economy, our means of sharing our common wealth. And the earlier we do this, the better. I know of people who cannot go to their states of origin, but rather stay in Abuja for safety reason, and they feel something has to be done. But if you tell them of the need for a state police, they will still oppose it even though they are stuck in Abuja, they cannot go home. Alot of things are wrong.
“The Nigerian leadership is still playing the ostrich. And my hope and prayer is that we will come to terms with the reality of our situation before it is too long. What is the percentage of our budget that goes to the federating units. Some of the states don’t have the capacity to even do anything. We have a state where after paying salaries, will hardly can even do anything in terms of income generation.
“Everybody comes cap in hand to the centre. It is a problem. No country can grow that way. This is part of what led to the situation where some people were advocating that we should go back to the regional arrangement that we had before.
But the disadvantage is that today, we have a situation where the groundnut pyramid is gone which was the bastion of the economy of the north. The cocoa export which was the bastion of the economy of the Western region is flat on the floor. It is still possible for us to revisit all these things.
“But because we found oil as a federal structure, every body abandoned every other thing and our economy became monolithic. Today, by lip service, alot of administrations had emphasized on the need to broaden the scope of our economy and take it beyond oil. But to a very large extent, we have not been able to work the talk in that regard.
“The ruling class, which also includes the opposition parties, has a responsibility of trying to descend from its olympian height and purge itself from this idea of monopoly of patriotism and knowing what is wrong with Nigeria. The ruling class, represented by the government of the day, will have to instigate it, initiate it and provide a platform for other stakeholders to come on board.
“You cannot run away from the critical issue of restructuring. My hope and prayer is that we are not going to pretend about it for too long or wait till the whole system collapses on everyone. But definitely, it is a question begging for an answer”
Bamidele, however said the Ninth National Assembly will try as much as possible to move in the direction of restructuring with committees already put in place at both Chambers for review of some of the provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended .
He disagreed with the public perception of the Ninth Assembly as a rubber stamp of the executive arm of government saying ” overriding national interest rather than confrontation has been the driving force of legislative activities of the current Assembly with attendant benefits for all.
“We are different in one thing. We are committed to serving Nigerians without grandstanding. Lately, you have seen some situation in the parliament especially with respect to NDDC probe and the disagreement on 774,000 jobs.
“Were we to be a groundstanding Assembly, things would have degenerated and the relationship between the two arms of government would have almost collapsed by now. But we chose to remain consistent on our position not to groundstand. Does that make us a rubber stamp parliament, no. My own idea of being a rubber stamp parliament is a situation where anything goes, either out of compromise or timidity.
“But if what we are doing is a calculated attempt at trying to ensure that, one, while trying to recognize the doctrine of separation of powers as a cardinal aspect of democracy, we also recognize the need for inter-dependence for checks and balances. And in doing all of these, we also understand that we are living in a peculiar time.
“The Executive arm of government come together with the legislature, the civil society and the Nigerian public on the need for us to begin to pass our budget early and the budget was passed in December. I will tell that if being able to work with the Executive to have an early budget for this country is part of why the 9th Assembly will be dubbed rubber stamp parliament, I believe it is in over riding public interest”, Bamidele further said.