National Assembly’s missed opportunity – Thisday

The devolution of political power has become an imperative. It is in the nation’s interest the lawmakers revisit the bill

The timing could not have been more auspicious for the National Assembly to make an indelible mark in the quest for a new Nigeria anchored on productivity, equity and distributive justice. But much against common sense, both chambers of the federal legislature rejected a proposed amendment to the 1999 constitution to devolve more powers from the bloated exclusive list to the concurrent list.

The bill (Devolution of Powers) had sought to alter the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, Part I & II, to give more legislative powers to the states. It also delineates the extent to which the federal legislature and state assemblies can legislate on items that have been moved to the concurrent legislative List. It was a move aimed at restructuring certain aspects of our federation that impede development and often lead to needless tension.

If passed, the bill would empower state houses of assembly to legislate on land use and management, railways, health care, agriculture, road safety, pension, environment, youth development, and stamp duties. Simply put, it would put the responsibility of the development of some percentages of the listed sectors on the states and reduce the powers of the federal government. The idea was to accelerate development through competition.

Unfortunately, in the Senate where it required a minimum of 73 votes (two-thirds of 109 senators) to pass, the bill secured an abysmal 46 “Yes”, and 48 “No” while in the House of Representatives where it needed a minimum of 240 votes (two thirds of 360 members), it secured 210 “Yes”, and 71 “No”. Given the excuses that the bill failed because its separate components were not broken down into clauses, explanations that it was misunderstood, and speculations that it will be revisited, it is unfortunate that such a critical issue was treated in a cavalier manner by the federal lawmakers.

We have clamoured for restructuring of the governance structure of this country in a manner that would ensure equitable development and better use of resources. Uneven development is a major cause for different modes of agitations across the country, some of which threaten the existence of Nigeria as a single entity. Endorsing the devolution of powers bill at this critical time would have therefore been a crucial step towards advancing the cause of good governance.

However, we have also taken note of arguments that devolution of powers cannot be fair without a review of the revenue sharing formula. Granted that this excuse is legitimate, the states have to realise that they have not helped their cause with the manner in which many of the governors treat issues of transparency and accountability. The question then is: If they cannot properly account for what their states are currently getting from the federation account, what is the guarantee that the people would benefit with more resources granted them?

Meanwhile, we agree that there can be no power devolution without a review of the revenue sharing formula. Under such an arrangement, states would no longer be able to pass off their inefficiencies to the federal government. But all factors considered, it is very clear that the current system is not working for majority of Nigerians and cannot for long endure. It is therefore necessary that the bill be revisited by the National Assembly.

We must also register our disappointment that all the pro-gender bills were defeated in this round of constitutional amendment. While affirmative action for appointive offices failed in the Senate, the House of Representatives made a meaningless show of passing it. Both chambers however rejected a bill that would allow married women to choose their indigeneship by marriage or state of origin for appointive or elective purposes.

At the end, what came out from the National Assembly as constitutional amendment was no more than an elaborate charade.

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