“I remain of the view that the recommendations of the Conference particularly the issue of devolution of power need to be revisited. If considered and adopted most of the recommendations will address the issues of marginalization and other problems underlying most ethnic agitations in Nigeria”.
Last week I identified the over emphasis on the national identity without any serious prior attention to the diverse nature of the ethnic identities that make up Nigeria as the cause of most of the problems encountered by Nigeria since independence including the recent agitation for the creation of the State of Biafra. I referred to the Canadian Constitution which recognizes and preserves the identity of the aborigines even though they are by the same Constitution regarded as Canadians. I have also in times past referred to the Australian Constitution which preserves the diversity of its people. The difference between these Constitutions and ours is that the people were involved in their Constitution making process. To drive home this point the Australian Government Solicitor stated as follows in 2010;
“The Constitution was drafted at a series of conventions held during the 1890s and attended by representatives of the colonies. Before the Constitution came into effect, its terms were approved, with one small exception, by the people of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and Tasmania.
The Australian Constitution was then passed as part of a British Act of Parliament in 1900, and took effect on 1 January 1901. A British Act was necessary because before 1901 Australia was a collection of six self-governing British colonies and ultimate power over those colonies rested with the British Parliament. In reality, however, the Constitution is a document which was conceived by Australians, drafted by Australians and approved by Australians. Since that time, Australia has become an independent nation, and the character of the Constitution as the fundamental law of Australia is now seen as resting predominantly, not on its status as an Act of the British Parliament, which no longer has any power over Australia, but on the Australian people‘s decision to approve and be bound by the terms of the Constitution.
What has been judicially described as the sovereignty of the Australian people‘ is also recognized by section 128 which provides that any change to the Constitution must be approved by the people of Australia.”
I particularly made reference to the above quotation at the start of the last Constitutional Conference as I saw the convocation of the Conference as an opportunity to fashion for Nigeria, a true people’s constitution which would once and for all address all issues of diversity including the corporate structure of the Country. Regrettably the major recommendations of the Conference have yet to see the light of day. For the avoidance of doubt, the major recommendations of the Conference were:
- Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State policy – Chapter Two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 contains principles which are meant to guide governments at all levels. However, by the said provisions of the chapter are not justiciable before a court of law. The Constitutional Conference now recommends that certain aspects of the provisions of Chapter 2 be made justiciable so as to promote social citizenship.
- Devolution of power – The Conference has made recommendations for the devolution of power between the various arms of government by the removal of some items from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list. An example of such is registration of births and deaths and copyright which at the moment are on the exclusive legislative list.
- Federalism – amongst other the Conference advocated a separation of the office of Accountant General of the Federal from the office of Accountant General for the Federal Government.
- Revenue Allocation – the Conference recommended the following formula for allocation of revenue amongst the three tiers of governments.
Recommended Formula Existing Formula
- Federal Government – 42.5% Federal Government- 52.68%
- State Governments – 35% State Governments – 26.72%
- Local Governments – 22.5% Local Governments – 20.60%
- State Creation – The Conference recommended 18 additional states in response to aspirations of several movements across the country for the creation of more States. There is however a caveat that such States must be economically viable and should have human, natural and material resources. It appears nonetheless that the recommendation may not totally meet the expectation of some whose States did not make the list. Soon after the submission of the report, an organization known as the ‘BoriState’ movement addressed the press complaining about the failure of the Conference to recommend the creation of Bori State.
- Modification of Presidential System – There is a recommendation for the adoption of a modified system of government in which the president will pick the Vice President from the legislature.
- Rotational Power – The Conference recommends that the Presidency should be rotational among the six geo political zones of the country. At the State level, it is recommended that the governorship should rotate among the three senatorial zones in each state.
I remain of the view that the recommendations of the Conference particularly the issue of devolution of power need to be revisited. If considered and adopted most of the recommendations will address the issues of marginalization and other problems underlying most ethnic agitations in Nigeria. I say this as the Conference of over 500 members was more representative of the diversity that exists in Nigeria today than the National Assembly. Members of the Conference were drawn from the various ethnic groups in Nigeria including minorities. What is more, the Conference ensured representations amongst even interests and professional groups. This ensured that the debates leading up to the recommendations were thorough and all encompassing. Representation in the National Assembly on the other hand is based on geographical and political party considerations. Happily the Conference did not itself recommend a wholesale abandonment of the 1999 Constitution. So in effect some parts of the current Constitution should be merged with the approved recommendations to form a new Constitution. It is important that this process starts now.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D, D.Litt, FNSE