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RESTRUCTURING IN NIGERIA – A CASE FOR LEGISLATIVE INTERVENTION

Background

Since the inception of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, it has almost become customary for a newly inaugurated National Assembly to review the Constitution of the  Federation. It has now become a ritual conducted every four years to which huge taxpayers’  money is expended, yet such reviews have had minimal or no positive impact on the general populace. The current National Assembly has called for the submission of memoranda by individuals, corporate bodies and interest groups as it commences another circle of constitutional review. Some interest groups have come out to challenge the National Assembly to take a bold step from the ritualistic constitutional review which has been argued to be more of motion than movement to a constitutional restructuring of the country.  

There is no need to make a fuss about the word restructuring, which simply refers to making  changes or modifications to an organization or a system. In other words, it presupposes  bringing government as closely as possible to the people at the grass roots. Change is a  constant phenomenon of human existence and human organizations and the Nigeria political  structure is not different in this regard.  

The whole idea of restructuring according to a columnist, Eugene Uwalaka, is to achieve unity  of objective, efficiency and effectiveness by creating and locating our significant political,  economic, social technological, educational and legal units as near as possible to the people  at the grass roots.  

Since independence, the Nigerian political structure has been subjected to different levels of  restructuring. Specifically, shortly after independence in 1960, Nigeria practiced a  Federal/Parliamentary system of government headed by a Prime Minister selected from the  party with the highest representatives in the parliament and a Ceremonial President.  

Also, there were four regional governments during that era, namely: Northern, Western, and  Eastern Regions, which were each headed by a Premier. A fourth region, known as the Mid Western region, was added to the equation in 1963. This structure favoured the socio-political  and fiscal considerations of the country as each region was allowed to use a larger chunk of  the revenue derived from its resources to develop its region. Revenue from: cocoa and other  agricultural produce was used to develop and embark on landmark projects in the West;  groundnut and other agricultural produce were used to develop and embark on landmark  projects in the Northern Region; and palm oil and other agricultural produce were used to  develop and embark on landmark projects in the Eastern Region. All the projects had direct  and positive impact on the indigenes of the regions including those in local and remote places  of the region.  

Current Structure and it Challenges  

In 1967, the military government restructured the country into twelve States under the  supremacy of the Federal Military Government and that marked Nigeria’s departure from  Federal and Regional governments into federal and state governments with majority of  powers retained by the Federal Government. The Federal/States structure changed the  political power and fiscal configuration of the country and this has continued till date.  Generally, under the new structure, States have to rely on monthly federation allocation for  the running and development of their States. States with key mineral resources such as crude  oil merely get thirteen (13%) derivation from the revenue that accrues to the Federal  Government from the exploration of crude oil in the country. Value Added Tax and Stamp 

Duties tax which accrual depends on the different level of commercial activities going on in  each state is unreasonably shared equally among States.  

Thankfully, it appears the country is now tending to formally and legally do more about the  exploration of gold and some other related resources, however, the downside is that its  regulation is constitutionally within the purview of the Federal Government as mining is under  the Exclusive List of the Constitution, therefore States where the resources are situated are  at the mercy of the Federal Government in respect of the revenue therefrom.  

The Local Government system is in a state of near comatose as Local Government Councils  are currently designed to be subject to the exclusive whims and caprices of the State  Governments. Worst still, the State Governments have hijacked the federation allocations due  to these Local Councils under the guise of having a joint account. Elections to the Local  Councils have become a means of rewarding political friends as against allowing them reflect  the desires of the grassroots people. In some cases, there are no elections to the Local  Councils for 3 to 4 years, but in the place of conducting an election, these greedy State  Governors appoint Caretaker Committee Executives (with emphasis on the word “appoint”)  in clear contravention of the provisions of the Constitution. These and many more are the  problem that have bedeviled and/or hampered the workings of the Local Councils and their  primary responsibility of touching the lives of the people in the grassroots.  

Further, an attempt by the current Federal Government to ensure some level of independence  for the Local Governments by promulgating an Executive Order titled, “Guidelines to Reduce  Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawals from LG Funds throughout Nigeria in May 2019  met a stiff opposition from the State Governments. If implemented, the Executive Order would  allow the Local Governments to have direct access to the federation allocations and other  internal revenues that accrue to them and these if used judiciously would lead to increase  socio-economic development in the Local Councils.  

There have been some other less successful attempts to use Executive Orders to restructure  some other modus operandi of our system of government, especially in relation to financial  autonomy for the judiciary and legislature. However, as rightly noted by the revered Professor  Ben Nwabueze in his piece titled “Buhari’s Executive Order 10 is a subversion of our Federal  System, Unconstitutional” and published on 18 June 2020 in Vanguard Newspaper and some  other platforms, where he was of the considered view that we cannot by executive fiat attempt  to restructure the current political and fiscal set up of the country, and therefore, such practice  is not only an affront on the Constitution, but also a counter-productive approach towards  restructuring.  

Also, in view of the current security meltdown in almost all geopolitical zones in the country,  some State Governments have moved to establish a somewhat local security structures such  as “Amotekun” by the South Western States, but in order not to offend the current  constitutional security architecture which places the governance of the country’s security set  up, such as Army, Navy, Air Force and Police Force, under the Exclusive List of the  Constitution, the scope of the operations and capabilities of these local security structures will  be largely limited by the Federal security apparatus and this will impart negatively on the  effectiveness of these local security structures, thereby leading to a defeat or near-defeat of  their core objectives of securing the lives and properties of the people at the grassroots.  

A Case for Legislative Intervention  

There has been endless clamor for the President to implement the reports of the 2014 National  Conference which made many recommendations for the restructuring of the country, 

however, from the foregoing, there is an inkling that even if a president has the political will  to implement such reports, the National Assembly has a pivotal role to play lest any attempts  towards the implementation by the President will face legal and constitutional impediments  which will in turn affect the effectiveness of such implementation.  

This is the crux of the matter. Individuals and interest groups which were part of the 2014  National Conference (“2014 Confab”) and who are aware of the recommendations of the 2014  Confab should take advantage of the latest attempt to review the Constitution to strongly  clamor for the National Assembly to consider some recommendations as it review the  Constitution and some extant laws.  

As we continue to test the will of the Federal Government to execute a reasonable  restructuring of the political and fiscal fabrics of the country by way of advocacy, we can also  test and challenge the political will of the National Assembly which graciously is a mixture of  different political lining and affiliations to initiate the much-needed restructuring through the  review of the constitution. There is no better platform to debate and initiate the political and  fiscal restructuring of the country than the legislative arm of government. By virtue of section  9 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended), the National  Assembly and Houses of Assembly of each state have been given the powers to review the  Constitution, and there is no gainsaying that the persons who are members of this arm of  government are the immediate and direct representatives of the local people for the purposes  of legislating desired and progressive changes for the country.  

Should a President not be on the same page with the legislature in the amendment of any  law, section 58 of the 1999 Constitution grants the legislature the power to override the veto  of the President. If the legislature can challenge the executive openly with regard to its  constitutional powers for oversight on executive activities, then it can definitely challenge the  executive by making bold constitutional amendments that tend towards the restructuring of  the country. The amendment of the Constitution is the best starting in restructuring the  structure and operations of the Nigerian State and there is no better time than now.  

 Great Akaraugo Media Office

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