By Emmanuel Addeh
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), has written to the Senate, proposing that powers should be devolved to the nation’s federating units in order to forge a stronger union.
In the letter addressed to the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, Agbakoba, a rights activist, said there is no one-size-fits-all kind of “true federalism,” noting that the country must choose its own model, considering its peculiarities.
He called for a review of the exclusive and concurrent lists, with the 98 items re-jigged to give more powers to the states, which are powerless given the lopsided nature of the legislative lists.
He stated that the simple proposal to what is considered a complex issue will help resolve many of the challenges currently besetting the nation and expressed his willingness to appear in person before the Senate to explain his position clearly.
He stated: “Nigeria has been long engaged in the federalism question. It is clear that because of our diverse nature and large size, the political system best suited for Nigeria is a federal system.
“But the challenge has been what type of federalism. Many proposals, including restructuring, have been put forward without success. I believe there is a simple solution. This is the devolution of powers.
“The constitution has two legislative lists namely, exclusive and concurrent. These lists have 98 items of powers. The federal government exercises exclusive power over 68 items on the exclusive list. The states in concurrence with the federal government, exercise power over 30 items on the concurrent list.
“But the states may only exercise power on the concurrent list, only if the federal government has not already ‘covered the field’ on any of the 30 items. In effect, state governments really have no power.”
Agbakoba suggested that to resolve this, a committee may be set up to review the 98 items on the exclusive list and assign what is best to the federal government and what is best to the states based on the principle of subsidiarity.
“I also suggest the exclusive list and concurrent list be renamed as the federal legislative list and state legislative list. The federal government will exercise reserved powers. The states will exercise devolved power,” he said.
He explained that as president of the NBA, he worked with the Forum of Federations, which reviewed diverse models of federalism which can be of assistance to the National Assembly.
He said: “In their book: ‘Federalism: An Introduction by George Anderson,’ the author points out that many federal models have strong central governments; yet other models have a weak central government.
“Some models have interlocking features where the principle of cooperative federalism enables the federal and state governments to jointly share heads of legislative powers.
“I enclose a copy of the book as I believe it will be of value to the National Assembly. In truth, the concept of true federalism is a myth and does not exist. Every nation chooses its form of federalism.
“I have enclosed a draft schedule of how powers can be devolved from the federal government to state governments.
“In my opinion, the simple process of devolved powers can be by virtue of an enactment styled, constitution alteration (devolution of powers) bill. This will resolve the self-imposed complex issue of restructuring.”