Although calls from various quarters across the country have intensified in recent times in support of restructuring, the Senate, on Wednesday, in what will be interpreted as an utter and firm rebuff of agitations, rejected certain amendments which though limited, represented components of the restructuring agenda.
Their passage would have at least been a consolation for staunch advocates, as they would lay a foundation for more far-reaching and wholesale restructuring amendments subsequently.
The agitation for fiscal federalism has been on for years, with various groups within the South-South and South-East, as well as the South-West, advancing very staunch defence of it.
In the South-South, the clamour for fiscal federalism anchored on resource control has been championed for decades by rights activists, elder forums, youth groups, and more notably, militants. The widespread militancy represented by groups such as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and more recently, Niger Delta Avengers, advocated for full fiscal autonomy and resorted to kidnappings and attacks on oil installations to strongly make their case.
In the South-East, different political and separatist groups have championed the call not only for regionalism and confederalism, but also for secession. On the cultural and political front, Ohanaeze led the calls. The Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) led by Ralph Uwazuruike and the now-dominant Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) led by the highly influential and divisive Nnamdi Kanu, have championed calls for secession, hinting at confederalism as the only possible compromise acceptable.
The South West has not been without its restructuring advocates. Loud calls for restructuring have been heard from groups such as the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, and the now-factionalised Yoruba nationalist group, Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) made prominent by the armed struggle-advocating Gani Adams. The South West has pushed an abundance of proposals mostly centred around true federalism.
For the most part, the North has been firm in its rejection of calls for fiscal federalism as it views it as an attempt to economically disempower it since the bulk of Nigeria’s shared revenue come from the oil-rich Niger Delta.
With the seeming death of the report of the 2014 National Conference, many restructuring advocates had hoped the constitutional review effort of the National Assembly will take into cognizance what they viewed as a broken and flawed federal system in approaching the process, and finally fix the system by approving wholesale restructuring that will be anchored on fiscal federalism.
These wishes and expectations have now been disregarded by the Senate, in a move that will certainly irk advocates in this region, and only spur greater agitation.
That the central issues around restructuring, highlighted by fiscal federalism, would not be considered for debate did not come as a surprise as it was already in public domain. Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Joint Constitution Amendment Committee confirmed the absence from the final review report prior.
He even went ahead to confirm the worst fears of advocates for true federalism and restructuring by stating that there was no hope for consideration of fiscal autonomy anytime soon owing to lack of consensus, meaning that the rights of states to exploit their resource deposits will remain an unsettled issue for the foreseeable future.
He stated that, “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… Restructuring would not happen as a bill because it would not succeed”.
Ekweremadu hinged his optimism for the success of his proposed incremental approach to restructuring majorly on the inclusion of devolution of powers into the final report which he believed will pass in the senate.
Therefore, his revelations, many believe, already clearly exposed the lawmakers as adherents of the politics of convenience, choosing to take flight from the controversial but truly fundamental issues that hold the potential to redefine the country in such a way as will guarantee balance and equity.
And on the evidence of Wednesday’s proceedings, many will conclude that the senate has been shown to have an even weaker spine, as Ekweremadu’s consolation offer of devolution of powers was killed.
The upper chamber dumped the Devolution of Powers Amendment Bill which had sought to alter the Second Schedule, Part I & II to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to states. It had also intended to delineate the extent to which the federal legislature and state assemblies can legislate on the items that have been moved to the Concurrent Legislative List.
This was not all; other restructuring-associated amendments touching on issues of indigeneship, state creation and Land Use Act, were also killed.
To this end, the senate rejected the State Creation and Boundary Adjustment Bill, Citizenship and Indigeneship Bill, and Deletion of the Land Use Act Bill.
What many will see as a total defiance of the widespread and prevalent call for restructuring is sure to be considered an affront on the interests of especially the South-South and South-East, and will only add further fuel to the already intense and heightened agitation for urgent restructuring of the country
Details of all the amendments considered by the senate and their status are presented below:
Under item 11 of the amendment bills, which provides for a Timeframe for submitting the Names of Ministerial or Commissioner-Nominees, the Senate rejected a clause which had provided a 35 per cent affirmative action for women at the federal level and 20 per cent at the state level.
Amendments passed include Composition of Members of the Council of State. This bill seeks to amend the Third Schedule to include former Presidents of the Senate and Speakers of the House of Representatives in the composition of the Council of State.
Authorisation of Expenditure Bill was passed. This bill seeks to alter sections 82 and 122 of the Constitution to reduce the period within which the President or Governor of a state may authorise the withdrawal of monies from the consolidated revenue fund in the absence of an appropriation act from 6 months to 3 months.
Others bills passed are Financial Autonomy of State Legislatures, Distributable Pool Account, Local Government, The Legislature and Political Parties and Electoral Matters.
The Senate also considered and passed Political Parties and Electoral Matters, Presidential Assent, Timeframe for submitting the Names Ministerial or Commissioners Nominees, Appointment of Minister from the FCT, Change of Names of some Local Government Councils, Independent Candidature, The Police and Restriction of Tenure of the President and Governor bills.
Separation of the Office of Accountant-General, Office of the Auditor-General, Separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and of the State from the office of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice, Judiciary, Determination of Pre-Election Matters and Civil Defence bills were debated and passed by the Red Chamber.
Similarly procedure for Presidential veto in Constitutional Alteration, Removal of certain Acts from the Constitution, Investments and Securities Tribunal, Reduction of Age Qualification, Authorisation of Expenditure 1, Deletion of the NYSC Decree from the Constitution, Deletion of the Public Complaints Commission Act from the Constitution and Deletion of State Independent Electoral Commission were considered and passed.
The conclusion of the constitution review exercise is coming nineteen months after the Senate constituted its Constitution Review Committee, which was headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu.
Soon after the voting exercise, President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who presided, said the upper chamber has laid a solid foundation for future generations.
He said by the passage of the amendment bills, issues which hitherto hampered the development of the country will be resolved.
In all, about 95 senators were present and voted. Suspended former Leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume, was not present. Anambra Central Senatorial District is still yet to be filled.
In all, there are currently 107 senators, including Saraki. About twelve out of this figure, did not attend yesterday’s plenary. As at the time of filing in this report, Ripples Nigeria could not ascertain the identities of those who were absent.
For any section of the constitution to be amended, two-third majority of 109 senators must vote in the affirmative.
For Section 9 of the Constitution to be altered, two-fourth majority of 109 senators must vote as well. These are the procedures adopted in the National Assembly during constitution amendment exercises.
On the issue of Composition of Members of Council of State, 95 members voted in favour of the bill.
Authorisation of Expenditure Bill got 93 votes, while one senator voted against it. One lawmaker abstained.
On Devolution of Powers Bill, which deals with restructuring, 46 senators voted in favour of it, while 48 voted against it. One senator abstained.
Financial Autonomy of State Legislatures Bill got 90 favourable votes, while 5 voted against it. No senator abstained.
Distributable Pool Account Bill which seeks to abrogate the State Joint Local Government Accounts and empower each local government council to maintain its own special account, got 84 votes. Only 8 voted against it. One lawmaker abstained.
Local Government Bill which seeks to strengthen local government administration in Nigeria, got 88 votes. 7 senators voted against it. Only lawmaker abstained.
State Creation and Boundary Adjustment Bill got 47 votes. 48 lawmakers voted against the controversial bill. No lawmaker abstained.
The Legislature Alteration Bill got 93 votes. Only 1 senator voted against it. No lawmaker abstained.
Political Parties and Electoral Matters Bill which seeks to provide sufficient time for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct bye-elections, got 90 votes. No lawmaker voted against it, although some abstained.
Presidential Assent Bill got 95 votes. 1 senator voted against it. No lawmaker abstained.
Timeframe for submitting the Names of Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees Bill, got 75 votes. 19 voted against the bill. No one abstained.
Appointment of Minister of the FCT Bill got 77 votes. 12 senators voted against and 3 abstained.
Change of Names of Local Government Councils Bill got 84 votes. 2 senators kicked against it, while 2 abstained.
Independent Candidature Bill which was carried with 82 votes, while 5 voted against it. Only 3 abstained.
The Police Bill which seeks to change the name of the Police from Nigeria Police Force to Nigeria Police in order to reflect their core mandate got 87 votes. 2 lawmakers voted against it and 1 person abstained.
Restriction of Tenure of the President and Governor Bill got 88 votes. No lawmaker voted against it. Only 1 person abstained.
Separation of the Office of Accountant-General Bill got 89 votes. No lawmaker voted against it. None abstained either.
Office of the Auditor-General Bill which seeks to make the office financially independent by placing it on first-line charges in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation and the States, got 95 favourable votes. None voted against or abstained.
Separation of Office of Attorney-General of the Federation and of the State from the office of the Minister or Commissioner of Justice bill got 95 votes. Only 1 person voted against it, while 1 other abstained.
Judiciary Bill which seeks to alter the composition of the National Judicial Council and empower Justices of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal to hear certain applications in chambers, got 97 votes. None voted against or abstained.
Civil Defence Bill which seeks to reflect the establishment and core functions of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, got 79 votes. About 15 voted against it, while one lawmaker abstained.
Citizenship and Indigeneship Bill which seeks to guarantee a married woman’s right to choose either her Indigeneship by birth or by marriage for the purpose of appointment or election, got 49 votes. 46 voted against. None abstained.
Procedure for overriding Presidential veto in Constitutional Alteration Bill, got 92 votes. 4 persons voted against it, while no lawmaker abstained. This is the only aspect of the amendment that requires one-fourth of votes to be passed.
Removal of certain Acts from the Constitution Bill got 89 votes. 3 voted against it. No lawmaker abstained.
Investment and Securities Tribunal Bill which seeks to establish the Investment and Securities Tribunal under the constitution, got 76 votes. 14 lawmakers voted against it, while 5 abstained.
The controversial Reduction of Age Qualification Bill, which was initially rejected by lawmakers during their retreat in Lagos, got 86 favourable votes. 10 persons voted against it, while 1 abstained.
Authorisation of Expenditure Bill which seeks to provide for the time within which the President or Governor should lay the Appropriation Bill before the National or State House of Assembly, got 94 votes. No one voted against it. None abstained either.
Deletion of the National Youth Service Corps Decree from the Constitution Bill, got 88 votes. 3 lawmakers voted against it, while none abstained.
Deletion of the Public Complaints Commission Act Bill, got 90 votes. 1 person voted against it, while 2 abstained.
Deletion of the National Securities Act from the Constitution Bill got 92 votes. 2 lawmakers voted against it. No lawmaker abstained.
Deletion of the Land Use Act from the Constitution Bill, which many lawmakers believe will transfer ownership of natural resources to states, got only 46 votes. 44 senators voted against it, while none abstained.
The last item on the list, Deletion of State Independent Electoral Commission from the Constitution Bill, got 73 votes, which is the exact figure needed to pass an amendment. Only 1 person against it, while 2 abstained.
As soon as the House of Representatives passes alteration bills and a conference committee meets to harmonise the differences, the document will be sent to the 36 State Houses of Assembly for concurrence.
Twenty four Houses of Assembly, out of the 36, must concur before the final document can be sent to the President for assent.