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Constitution amendment: The North/South battle
Again, the North and the South are singing different tunes on the ongoing efforts at constitution amendment. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, examines the underlying factors and the behind-the-scene scenarios fuelling the impending blockade of the real attempt to constitution engineering.
IN July, the Senate Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution held a widely publicised retreat in Asaba, Delta State. That appeared to be the beginning of the march towards the fresh effort at securing the second amendment to the 1999 Constitution. Though the retreat was held in July, it was a process that was originally kickstarted a year earlier in 2011. The Senate Committee on Constitution review was constituted in July 2011 shortly after the inauguration of the Seventh Assembly. The aim was to fast-track a wholesale amendment of the 1999 Constitution, away from the tokenistic approach adopted in 2010, which in itself was a child of circumstance.
Lawmakers across the political divide all agree that the nation needs a constitution that would meet the yearnings of the people. Twelve years after the inauguration of the 1999 Constitution, the eyes of operators as well as citizens have opened to the inadequacies and contradictions in the law. Many have said that the very first postulation of the 1999 Constitution, where it states that “We the people--’’was false and that the ground norm needs thorough redrafting. That was also the position in 2008 and 2009, until politics took over and elements in the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua moved against the efforts at constitution amendment. It took the wisdom of Senate President David Mark and his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, to swim across the tide and secure the first amendment to Nigeria’s constitution in 2010. To do that, the Senate had to jettison the Joint Committee on Constitution Review (JCCR), which usually coordinates the exercise and is headed by Ekweremadu, and also dropped all the other key issues slated for amendment in the constitution, while selecting only issues that had to do with the conduct of elections for amendment. It was such an emergency decision, aimed at satisfying the forces that were set to truncate the amendment exercise because it was seen as not politically correct for the administration aimed at frustrating the exercise under the Yar’Adua government.
Having sailed that huddle in 2010, the ground appears a lot level at the start of the current exercise. Though the House of Representatives, which was the catalyst in the plot against the review exercise between 2008 and 2009, has set itself apart from the Senate, preferring to keep the JCCR at bay, it also appeared to have woken up to the need for a new constitution. Indeed, the lower chamber had held a retreat on the new constitution in April and it appears set to see through a successful process.
But as soon as the senators left the venue of the retreat in Asaba, which featured many of the stakeholders, including governors, reps and speakers of the Houses of Assembly, a number of arrows were immediately ranged against the review exercise. The influential caucus of Northern State Governors’ Forum (NSGF) met in Kaduna to kick against key aspects of the planned constitution review. The governors rose from their meeting in Kaduna where they rejected the bid to introduce state police and also reject the planned autonomy for local governments.
The NSGF, a strong arm in the northern push for constitution amendment, has also been holding series of meetings to articulate issues on the constitution review exercise. At the level of the House of Representatives, northern interests in the constitution review exercise are being monitored at the level of the caucuses of the respective parties. Somehow, the respective northern caucuses of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and even the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) have been speaking with one voice. Some of the major issues which the North is against include state police, resource control, key aspects of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), autonomy for local governments, fiscal federalism and single tenure for executive office holders.
Incidentally, the southern agenda for constitution amendment, which is not as packaged and streamlined like that of the North, has been severally reviewed and analysed through the various constitution conferences held since 1999. Most of the items on the southern agenda also found their way into the items listed for review by the Senate and House Committees and were prominently canvassed by participants at the Asaba retreat. Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Amendment, said that the committee had identified 16 key areas, which demanded thorough scrutiny, for amendment. He stated that the conclusion was drawn from reports of previous exercises which were providing insights into what needed to be done.
Some of the areas he mentioned include: devolution of powers; whether the exclusive legislative list is to be scaled down to give more roles to the states; creation of more states; which he said the request has reached 56, possibility of recognition of the six geo-political zones in the constitution; constitutional role for traditional rulers; local government autonomy; extracting of the Land Use Act, NYSC Act and the Code of Conduct from the constitution to remove the cumbersome nature of reviewing them; fiscal federalism (the fiscal relationship that will drive competition and yet take care of all the component unit of our Federation needs to be worked out); amendments to boundary adjustments to remove ambiguities; retention or otherwise of immunity clause for the President, vice president, governors and their deputies as well as the review of the laws relating to the Nigerian Police to ensure effectiveness in internal security. Other issues on the agenda include the judiciary, to facilitate process of adjudication; tenure of office of the executive, whether single or multiple or rotational; gender issues; mayoral status for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), as well as indigenship and residency provisions.
Mark, who also made a submission at the Asaba retreat, equally highlighted some issues in need of urgent touch in the constitution amendment process. The areas he listed include devolution of powers; fiscal federalism; concept of federating units; system of local government administration, including funding, creation and autonomy; judicial reforms; creation of states; national security – terrorism and insurgency; boundary adjustment; further amendments to the electoral system; state police; citizenship versus indigeneship; role of traditional rulers and the prisons. Mark urged the committee to jettison the wholesale approach to the review exercise, while sticking to the incremental approach t adopted in 2010. He submitted: “I urge that we jettison the holistic or wholesale approach. Rather, attention should for now focus on those areas that compel urgent review. Ours is a complex society in which the forging of a national consensus on borderline issues is an arduous, if not impossible, task.
“As the Senate braces for this phase of constitution review, it is important to bear in mind that a constitution, being the fundamental law, or the grundnorm, must define, with imagination, the terms of the social contract. It must guarantee fundamental rights and civil liberties, and the mechanisms for their enforcement.” While also exuding enthusiasm, Ekweremadu also told his colleagues that success awaited the review exercise at the end of the day. He posited that even though the task was arduous, the committee was sure of achieving success, while hinging his optimism on the generous contributions by way of memoranda to the committee and the support of various professional groups.
He said: “However, while the task is certainly tough, it gladdens my heart to note that we are success bound because we have many things going for us. We have the confidence and popular support of an increasingly politically aware mass of Nigerian people who are keen to see fundamental changes in various aspects of the 1999 Constitution. We have the benefit of experience, precedence, and already established rules of procedure.
The committee has also always enjoyed the goodwill, cooperation and total support of the Senate leadership and the entire Senate. Importantly, we have a steeled will to excel.”
He also assured Nigerians that the committee would be open to ideas from all quarters and that its members had not made up their minds on any particular item. The Deputy Senate President also assured that his committee would partner with the State Assemblies, the governors’ Forum and other stakeholders as well as the media and civil society. He said that the committee would adopt information technology to advantage, while also taking the Parliament to the people to ensure full participation.
He submitted: “Meanwhile, I wish to reassure Nigerians that we will be open and true to them. We have no position on any issues except those taken by the Nigerian people through their inputs, whether through their memoranda, contributions at public hearings, and their elected representatives at both the National and State Assemblies. We bear no allegiance to any, except that which we owe to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have no interest to protect, except that of the generality of the Nigerian people and posterity.
“We will be driven by the force of superior argument and public will. What we owe our people is leadership, legislative due process, transparency, inclusivity, and popular participation. We want to ensure that the generality of Nigerians own and drive the process to be able to take full responsibility of the eventual outcome.
“Importantly, let me assert that this committee is highly time-conscious. While we seize the opportunity of this retreat to work out the remaining details concerning our assignment, I wish to assure Nigerians that, by July 2013, we would have been through with this project. The time frame may well be hard on us, but we are committed to paying the price for the good governance, prosperity and structural health of our nation, it is necessary to conclude this set of amendments well ahead of the 2015 general election.”
With the words of assurances from the Senate President and his deputy, no one should be left in doubt as to the intention of the lawmakers to ensure a process that would be all encompassing. But the politics of North/South dichotomy immediately took over the stage soon after the retreat. Northern governors, who had a week before the retreat participated in a meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) where the issue of state police was adopted, later met in Kaduna and repudiated the state police agenda. The governors also rejected the bid to recognise local governments as federating units, while also hammering on fiscal autonomy that would guarantee more resources to the zone. In effect, while the majority of the southern leaders are comfortable with resource control, which the people of South-West termed true federalism, what the North wants is a new revenue formula that would redistribute resources and possibly reduce the current intake of the oil producing Niger Delta states.
At a recent meeting of the CPC leaders, which featured members of the Senate and House of Representatives caucuses of the party, the issue of constitution amendment was equally raised and what constituted the interest of the North was discussed. A leader of the CPC who confirmed the August 4, 2012 meeting with the lawmakers said that the legislators confirmed that what was paramount to them was the constitution amendment and the PIB and that they were out to ensure that the North was not “shortchanged.”
One of the leaders said that while the issues had been straightened out, many of the lawmakers had not closed their positions on them. One lawmaker was said to have briefed the CPC meeting thus: “Apart from the constitution, the only issue of concern to the Northern Senators in the Senate presently is that of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which is now before the National Assembly. The PIB Bill has remained a unifying factor bringing the northern senators and Reps together.”
Another source said of the caucus meeting: “While the lawmakers are not as concerned on the issue of budget implementation by the executive arm of government, the issue of constitution amendment is a concern to them.”
The source confirmed that the North was vehemently opposed to the single term proposal for executive office holders, while it would continue to monitor other areas of interest in the constitution amendment process.
“The lawmakers assured the leadership of the party that they would continue to deliberate on the issues at the level of caucuses and that if they should discover any underhand arrangements on the PIB Bill and the constitution amendment, they would get in touch to arrest the trend,” another source stated.
The position of the North in the aftermath of the Senate retreat sharply contradicts that of the known leaders of the South. Rivers State governor, who also doubles as the Chairman of NGF, Honourable Rotimi Amaechi, told the lawmakers in Asaba that the constitution review exercise should answer fundamental questions about the resource course management and governance process in the country. He stated that while the Federal Government had been legislating largely on oil and leaving the myriads of mineral resources untapped, the people of Niger Delta were insisting that the trend should change and that the government should start legislating on all resources. He said that the lawmakers should set minimum benchmarks for governance, failing which an office holder could be sacked.
Another southern governor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, also called for a minimum of 50 per cent derivation formula in favour of the people of Niger Delta, adding that the region which suffers environmental degradation should benefit more from the resources.
Uduaghan dwelt on the issues of true federalism and fiscal federalism, adding that the peculiarities of the federating units should not be lost in a federation. According to him, federalism is a system adopted in a place where there are diverse nationalities with the inbuilt mechanism to promote unity without leading to the loss of peculiarities.
Uduaghan submitted: “A federation, therefore, while promoting unity among the federating nationalities, does not promote a union in which the constituents lose their peculiarities and identities. This was the vision of the founding fathers of our federation. Time and time again, it has been made clear to us that any shift from this vision will produce great disunity and less cohesion for our people in the Nigerian Nation.
“Therefore, the federating states in the federation must retain a measure of independence and autonomy that will enable them to sufficiently define and shape their internal affairs unhindered. Our view on this is that the distribution of the legislative, executive and judicial powers in the 1999 Constitution are strongly skewed in favour of the federal government with States becoming its mere appendages.”
While dwelling on the issue of fiscal federalism, the governor stated that the concern here is about allocation of resources to secure the autonomy of the respective federating units and that of the central government. He submitted that the principle of federalism as contained in the 1999 Constitution is inequitable and flawed adding that it has left the states of the Niger Delta prostrate. He therefore proposed that a 50 percent derivation principle be adopted through the ongoing constitution amendment exercise.
He further stated: “They now appear, as said earlier, to be appendages of the federal government who they go cap in hand to seek help from. As a consequence, the rich gains of a healthy federal competition which endured under the 1960 Constitution have been severely eroded. Worse still, the nationalisation of the natural resources of State and Communities particularly the Niger Delta to support the national economy is too burdensome, if not oppressive.
“This is particularly so in view of the expropriatiory provisions of the Constitution and other pieces of legislation confiscating, as it were, these resources without compensation and corresponding allocation of the proceeds to them to address the adverse impacts of oil exploration on the people and environment for the past 40 to 50 years.”
Such a submission runs contrary to what the North would want actualised. Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwakwanso, said last week that the principle of derivation had left the oil wealth being inequitably shared and called for a reversal of the onshore/offshore dichotomy question. He said that if the dichotomy issue was reviewed in favour of the Nigerian territorial waters and the federation at large, much of the resources being enjoyed by the Niger Delta states would go round the federating units. Incidentally, Kwakwanso would not be the first to raise such question from the North. The disagreement on the increment in derivation principle led largely to the end of the National Political Leaders Conference organized in 2005 by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo. While the North was in favour of the current 13 percent allocation, if it cannot be reduced, the South South wanted a minimum of 25 percent. Attached to the issue of resource control is the control of resources such as the Value Added Tax (VAT) mostly generated in Lagos, the control of Port resources and other taxes which the South West is canvassing under the true federalism question.
With such vexed agenda standing diametrically opposed, the question would be raised whether the ongoing constitution amendment exercise can live up to the sort of optimism expressed by Mark and Ekweremadu in Asaba. Will the lawmakers allow the arrows already fashioned against the ongoing process truncate it or will the National Assembly again dodge the issue and adopt another incremental approach to constitution amendment? Nigerians await the realities ahead the July 2013 delivery date proposed by the Senate.Share