Constitution review: Lagos participants call for true federalism

 Participants at the ongoing Lagos zonal public hearing on the 1999 constitution review have called for a total amendment of the constitution to reflect true federalism.

Topping the list of issues presented was the need for total devolution of powers whereby the local government system has the greater share and so is empowered to carry out effective administration of the polity since it is closest to the people.

Participants also called for creation of state police, re-inclusion of Magistrates in the constitution, review of the retirement age of Magistrates from 60 to 65.

There were also calls for a declaration to make the Higher National Diploma (HND) equivalent to the university degree; need to ensure gender equality, as well as revenue allocation.

The two-day public hearing, holding at the Lagos Marriott Hotel, Ikeja, started yesterday. It was attended by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu (host), Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central and Chairman of Hearing Committee), Olamilekan Adeola (Lagos West), Tokunbo Abiru (Lagos East); Senators Ibikunle Amosun, Tolu Odebiyi (Ogun State); Senators Teslim Folarin and Abdulfatai Buhari (Oyo State), among others.

Governor Sanwo-Olu, who opened the event, noted that the constitutional amendment process would provide Nigerians the opportunity to express their minds on issues they want reflected in the constitution. ‘This is what true democracy is all about – the exercise of the sovereign will of the people. The voices and wishes of the people must always be heard loud and clear, regarding how they are being governed and how they wish to be governed,’ he said.

The governor, who also said it would be impossible to reflect every expressed wish in the revised constitution, urged the people adopt the spirit of give-and-take, ‘with a willingness to mutually compromise and avoid unnecessary tension and division along the way’.

He added: “For us in Lagos State, the issues of state police and fiscal federalism top the priority list for us. Equally fundamental is the issue of a special economic status for Lagos, considering our place in the national economy and the special burdens we bear by virtue of our large population and limited land mass. I believe the need for this special status has been sufficiently articulated and justified. It suffices for me at this point to restate that this request is by no means a selfish one, but one that is actually in the interest of every Nigerian and of Nigeria as a nation. The progress and prosperity of Nigeria is inextricably linked to the progress and prosperity of Lagos State. A special status for Lagos State therefore must be a concern not only for the people of Lagos State alone, but for all Nigerians.”

Deputy Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly Wasiu Eshinlokun Sanni, who represented the Speaker Mudashiru Obasa, also reiterated the need for Lagos to get a special status. He advocated 30 per cent derivation on natural resources for the domiciling states, as well as the criminalisation of undue interference in activities of the legislature by the executive.

Sanni added that it was also expedient that state police be created to improve security at the grassroots.

Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Moyosore Onigbanjo advocated an amendment of the unitary constitution to a federal one, among other prayers.

He said: “The constitution we operate now is unitary; but we seek amendment of this document so it would operate true federalism. The exclusive legislative list used to have just nine items, but it increased to 68 items. The centre keeps grabbing power that should otherwise be exercised by states, and we are saying we should go back to the system whereby the state’s list has more items because they are closer to the people and so their powers should not be taken away.

“We also believe that states should have the exclusive powers to create local governments and not seek federal approval. The states know the number of local governments that will suffice and render quality service to its people, so it should be given the powers to do so.

“The policy which also apportions 52.68 per cent of revenue collected in the country to the federation account is not fair, equitable and just. We are proposing a radical change where the Federal Government gets 34 per cent, states 42 per cent and local government 23 per cent.

“The principle of derivations should also apply to every revenue-generating natural resource in states, and not apply to only petroleum. Any state that has the resources where revenue is derived must be entitled to the derivation principle. This must cut across all resources generating revenue for government.

“We also propose that the Value Added Tax (VAT) act be repealed by the National Assembly because it prevents states from utilising the sales act to generate revenue and this has caused confusion and a lot of court cases. We also propose that appointment and promotion of judges should lie with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of states and not the National Judicial Council (NJC).”

State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Rev. Stephen Adegbite queried the establishment and functionality of sharia courts since the constitution said there would be no state religion. He hinted that CAN might be forced to vie for Canon courts in the spirit of equity and justice.

Chairman of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) Comrade Ayuba Wabba insisted that labour and the national minimum wage be retained on the exclusive legislative list. He argued that since Nigeria has domesticated 26 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which governs labour matters, ‘it would be anomalous, incongruous and contemptible of global standards and order to even contemplate removing labour from the Exclusive Legislative List’.

He said: “Any contemplation to remove the national minimum wage from the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent legislative list would only expose Nigeria to international ridicule and opprobrium.

“Our prayers are that the National Assembly should retain the national minimum wage on the exclusive list as currently listed in the 1999 constitution, and also retain the general administration of pension as currently captured in Section 173 of the 1999 constitution.

“We also pray that the National Assembly should favourably consider our demands for the full realisation of local government autonomy, legislative autonomy and autonomy for the judiciary arm of government.”

Senator Tinubu, who read the welcome of the Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege, said the zonal hearings were coming before the national hearing because the senate decided to adopt a bottom-top approach by first listening to Nigerians at the geo-political level.

She said: “A constitution review represents a critical phase in our development and advancement as a nation. At the commencement of this ninth Senate, we had set for ourselves a legislative agenda as a basis on which we are to be assessed. Sitting prominently in that agenda is the need to address, by way of constitutional amendments, topical issues like judicial and electoral reforms, local government autonomy, and devolution of powers. If we get those items through constitutional processes of alteration successfully, then our constitutional democracy will be set on the right pedestal and, ultimately, Nigeria will take its pride of place among the enviable constitutional democracies in the world.

“The success of the review process will be dependent on your beneficent support and partnership. This exercise is your exercise and I implore you all to embrace and own it.”

Issues to be addressed in the hearing would bother on increased participation of women and vulnerable groups in governance, local government administration and autonomy, state police, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation, judicial reforms, electoral reforms, among others.


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