The establishment of a 56- member Committee by the Senate to further review the 1999 Constitution as amended has availed yet another golden opportunity to the lawmakers to scrutinize the document and propose fresh amendments that will promote good governance at all tiers of government and make life more meaningful for the citizenry.
We demand therefore, that no stone should be left unturned in this latest attempt to correct glaring deficiencies of the existing document and make it people-focused and be able to effectively deal with the myriads of socio-economic challenges confronting Nigerians.
This is because some major factors hampering Nigeria’s socio-economic development can easily be traced to overt omissions and defects in the past and current Constitutions leading to faulty federalism and debilitating effects with some sections of the country clamoring for a fundamental return to true federalism to move the nation forward.
So, we welcome the commencement of the current journey to rectify obvious defects in the 1999 Constitution and challenge lawmakers in both the National and States Assembly to take principled and patriotic stance on major and contentious sections of the document in course of their assignment for good governance to take firm root.
The amendment should focus on among others, strengthening extant laws to intensify the war on corruption, reduce the cost of running the government, resource control, removing security from the exclusive legislative list, devolution of powers from the centre to federating units and overhauling the electoral system for the introduction of electronic voting to restore waning voters’ confidence in ballot.
The other areas of focus in our view, should be new revenue allocation, ethnic nationalities and minority question, resolution of the herdsmen and farmers’ crises, part time legislature, removal of immunity clause for criminal matter, independent candidacy, the Diaspora participation in voting, unbundling of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and other recommendations that will deepen democracy.
In other words, the time to strengthen the autonomy of the local government which is closer to the grassroots constitutionally is now in order to take it completely out of the control of the governors is now because a viable council will handle basic functions like refuse disposal, primary healthcare and mending of dilapidated roads without waiting endlessly for the governors to intervene.
We believe that with such an amendment, governors will no longer be in a position to call the shots at the council level while more credible and qualified Nigerians are expected to come forward and contest elections there knowing full well that they will not be at the beck and call of political godfathers.
Consequently, councils will be in vantage position to create wealth and unleash development while politicians will prefer staying at the grassroots and state level to contribute their quota and engage in productive ventures to meet the people’s aspirations and contribute to national development. Unlike the current dispensation, such an amendment will make federal public offices less attractive and politics not seen as a do- or- die affair.
We are convinced that strengthening the states and councils will unlock great potentials trapped under the existing system with each state being able to develop natural resources where it has comparative advantage, grow its wealth and contribute to the national coffers unlike the current practice whereby the centre is taking everything and doling out little to the federating units.
Under the present dispensation whereby the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory rely mostly on monthly allocation from the Federation Account, productivity has not been maximized which is the reason why most of them cannot function effectively.
The point we are making is that if we strengthen the Constitution to enthrone true federalism for states to evolve fresh strategies to boost productivity and contribute to national coffers, more job opportunities would be created, less unemployment and improvement the people’s standard of living.
Indeed it goes without saying that devolution of powers in favor of federating units will make them financially solvent, serve as catalyst for accelerated development with improved capacity to provide more infrastructures and public utilities as well as the needed conducive environment for micro, small and medium scale enterprises to thrive.
Therefore, we propose that a new revenue sharing formula of the funds accruing to the Federation Account among the three tiers of government in the following manner: Federal Government – 42.5%; State Governments – 35% and Local Governments 22.5% as against the prevailing 52.68 %, 26.72% and 20.60% respectively.
This has the capacity to curb criminality and promote peace and security nationwide considering that hitherto idle hands that would have taken to criminality would have the option of engaging in productive ventures like agriculture and mining thus contributing their quota to Gross Domestic Product, GDP.
We believe strongly also that a constitutional review to amend the extant laws to strengthen anti graft agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related offences Commission, ICPC to fast track trial of suspected looters and enforce stiffer sanctions will go a long way to reduce the high rate of corruption in the country and in the national interest.
The current dispensation whereby corruption cases are prosecuted ad infinitum by the agencies does not augur well for the war against graft and standing the campaign for accountability and transparency in the land on the head.
The issue of security under the review, should be encapsulated under concurrent list so that the states will also have more say on security matters so that the issue of regional security such as ‘Operation Amotekun’ that the people of South West have been clamoring for will become a reality unlike now whereby only the Federal Government has the exclusive right to control security architecture, the armed forces, the Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSDC and other para-military agencies. This will empower the state governors to address security challenges ravaging the country in their respective jurisdiction holistically.
We are encouraged by the recent declaration of the Deputy Senate President and Chairman of the Review Committee, Sen. Ovie Omo-Agege that the ad-hoc body will consider the over 620 recommendations of 2014 constitutional conference and the Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai-led committee on restructuring earlier set up by the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
The committee should also not hesitate to solicit the support of members of the House of Representatives, the State Houses of Assembly, civil society organizations, CSOs to collaborate and build consensus through compromise with all stakeholders across the six geo-political zones to ensure the emergence of a new document that the people can truly refer as the people’s Constitution that they have been agitating for many years in order to meet the ever-changing needs of Nigerians.
Above all, the Committee should be mindful that the cardinal role of the Constitution, as the ground norm of any democracy cannot be over emphasized to guarantee national harmony, unity, peace and progress of our country.
For a better society