Law News
Lawyers: Senators Goofed over Power Devolution

Barely 72 hours after the quest for devolution of power collapsed at the National Assembly, some senior lawyers yesterday expressed fears over what would become of Nigeria’s restructuring bid.

According to them, Nigeria may ‘hit the rocks’ if the senators’ rejection of devolutions of powers, resource control and many other issues threatening the nation’s corporate existence were not addressed.

The senate last week rejected the quest for devolution of power to states while the House of Representatives also followed suit in their quest to amend the Constitution.

But some lawyers slammed the lawmakers for “digging Nigeria’s grave deeper’’ rather than working on how to move the country out of the woods.

A governorship aspirant under the All Progressives Congress in Oyo state and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Adeniyi Akintola said the lawmakers’ action had thwarted moves to alter the Second Schedule, Parts 1 and 2 of the Constitution to move certain items from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List in order to give more legislative powers to states.

Akintola described the senate’s rejection to devolve power to states as a deadly blow to the ‘unitarisation’ of the country, saying Nigerians now desired devolution of powers to states more than ever before.

He said: “They are digging the grave of Nigeria deeper and deeper. We have to think about the type of people we have in the Senate. Citizens were clamouring for devolution of powers and decentralization, but they still went ahead to vote against such agitations. With this action, they have threatened the unitarisation of Nigeria and it is like sitting on a keg of gunpowder.

“If there is anything that Nigeria needs most now, it is devolution of powers from the central government to states. The lawmakers should appreciate the fact that it is better to have small of something than to lose everything.

“I don’t even know what senators from the South-West are still doing inside the chambers, they should have walked out of the place. We have been fighting for devolution of powers all over the years and this is what we had at the end of the day.

“There are many of them who are my friends whom I have a lot of respect for. But I am disappointed in them to say the least. I don’t expect senators from the South-West to be part of this rejection of devolution of powers. If they are actually representing people from the South West, they should have staged a walk out.”

In his own views, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN) said the current exercise is nothing but a colossal waste of time because the National Assembly has no competence to amend the Constitution.

He said: “The National Assembly members will not sit down at their chambers and do the restructuring of the country. That restructuring has to be done by an independent body under a law made by the National Assembly. The independent body may then make proposals that will be sent to the National Assembly. The National Assembly has no competence to amend the Nigerian Constitution. I will continue to say it.

“Alteration is different from amendment, in that, although alteration is a type of amendment, it is different therefrom. Under the relevant law, Section 9 of the Constitution, the National Assembly has the power to alter provisions of the Constitution and not the Constitution itself. In other words, they only have powers to adjust provisions that already existed in the Constitution and not to originate a brand new issue under the Constitution. So, I don’t know what they really mean by devolution of powers to states. What are they devolving? What they are doing now as far as I am concern is a colossal waste of time.

“Let us settle down and do what is right. The National Assembly should set up a Constituent Assembly. It is the Constituent Assembly that will make proposal for a new or amended Constitution which can be subjected to a referendum under the Act made by the National Assembly. The lawmakers cannot just stay there and amend the Constitution because they had no such competence. This is my humble view and I stand to be corrected.

A former General-Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Deacon Dele Adesina (SAN) noted that the rejection of devolution of powers by the National Assembly is an indication that members are oblivious of the trend of things in the country.

He said: “As far as I am concern, the Constitution amendment exercise does not meet the expectations of the people of this country.

“First, on the list of items, I don’t know how they came about their scale of preference. The issue of immunity is not clear to me. I don’t know what they meant by it. What is the scope of the immunity? They are fully aware of what is called parliamentary priviledge under the Legislative Act. They are already enjoying absolute priviledge under the law. By this, it means that whatever they say on the floor of the hallowed chambers cannot be queried by anyone. So, I really don’t know the scope of the immunity they are again talking about now.

“But, the one that got me so upset about the whole process is the issue of devolution of powers which the Senate rejected.

“These people must tell Nigerians why they voted against such a very important issue. It’s not just sufficient for them to say they have voted against it and that’s all, they must tell Nigerians the reason behind their actions.

“What went in their minds and what they considered in arriving at such a decision must be disclosed.

They must tell us why they are rejecting devolution of powers at this time when it is the most contemporary issue of discourse in Nigeria.

“Sadly too, the House of Representatives could not even muster the required two-third. Before any of the Bills can be passed, the law says, under Section 9 of the Constitution, that the proposal must be supported by not less than two-third of all the members of the house, whether present or absent. So, what is required is two-third of the 360 members of that house to pass any particular one. Therefore, I am concerned about what becomes of their votes on Thursday. Where they either rejected or approved, none of the votes are not up to the required 240.

“So, for me, it appears that both Houses of the National Assembly have not really taken into consideration, the pertinent interest of the nation at this time. Even, when people say what the components of restructuring is unknown and uncertain, the issue of devolution of powers is clear and straightforward.

“However, when these issues are well debated and discussed, people can meet themselves at a point. This is because there is indeed a need to really discuss the affairs of the nation and come up with realistic proposals on how to move the country forward rather than the shenanigans going on at the National Assembly”.

In his submissions, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) said such rejection was an indication of insincerity and ignorance on the part of the lawmakers.

Ozekhome said: “It has sown and watered the seeds of sustained agitations, acrimony, decisiveness, retrogression and ethnic tensions. It’s all so shameful and incredible.

“Restructuring is an idea whose time has come. No one can kill or bury it, not even the Senate.”

To Seyi Sowemimo (SAN), agitation for restructuring was beyond just allowing regions to have control over their resources and as such it would not solve the problem.

He also berated the National Assembly for voting against devolution of powers in their quest to amend the Constitution.

“The areas we need the National Assembly to concentrate on are issues pertaining to restructuring and devolution of powers. There is also the talk about returning to the regional structure and the altering of the revenue allocation formula.

“It is however sad that the Senate have voted against the devolution of powers. In essence, all that these lawmakers are doing are of no benefit to Nigerians. All the issues they have voted against are things that are of benefit to the people while those they have voted for are of little importance.

“Devolution of powers from the central government to states is actually the most important and it is what is highly desired by Nigerians at the moment. This is because the present structure is not moving us forward and it’s quite unfortunate that rather than dealing with that, these lawmakers are dealing with other issues that have no impact on citizens’ lives.

“I am indeed not impressed with what they are doing and I think it is high time these people concentrate on those things that will be beneficial to those they claimed they are representing.

“Restructuring has to be both political and economical. There is no way resource control alone can bring an end to the agitations for restructuring because the complaints have always been that the Federal Government is in charge of the greater percentage of the revenue that accrues to the country.

“We now have 36 states which is far higher than what we had during the regional government when they were three. The problem now is that the larger percentage of the revenue being generated by the country now goes to servicing of recurrent expenditure like payment of salaries and so on.

“So, we have got to have a restructuring that will reduce the wastages, probably by having lesser states, so that more funds could be allotted for capital projects and infrastructure development while at the same time the amount of money in possession of the Federal Government will also be reduced to allow states have access to more funds.

“The structural imbalances which are responsible for the agitations for restructuring cannot be addressed solely by allowing regions to control their resources.”

Also speaking, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former Lagos Solicitor-General, Lawal Pedro, noted that agitations for resource control had always been a part of the quest for the nation’s restructuring.

He said it was only when there is a total restructuring of the system of governance in the country and not when regions were allowed to control their resources that the mountain of agitations would be subdued.

“Agitations for resource control is part of restructuring. Many people have different meanings to this issue of restructuring. However, in my own estimation, a restructured Nigeria has to do with the restructuring of the government. This is what restructuring should be about and not that the country should be balkanized into three or more geo-political zones. That’s not the way to go. It’s the system of governance that should be restructured.

“There is no doubt that if regions are allowed to control their resources it will work positively in one direction and negatively in the other direction. That is why I said it does not solve the problem. For instance, if a region is granted permission to control its resources but was left out when appointments were made into key government agencies, will the region not complain? Don’t forget, the policy of federal character is still an issue to be considered when appointments are being made by the Federal Government. So, as far as I am concern, allowing each region to be controlling its resources does not solve the problem of agitations for restructuring.

“What must be our concern is to restructure the system of governance in the country to make it beneficial to all citizens. There should be some form of relationship among the regions in the country even when each of them is controlling their resources. So, what I am saying in essence is that it is when the system of governance in the country is reformed that we can subdue all these agitations for restructuring.

“When the system of governance in the country is restructured, people will be more responsive and everyone will know what he or she is entitled to while transparency will also be institutionalized.”

Another Abuja based lawyer, Chief Oladejo Olawoye noted that it was a misplaced priority for the Senate to have rejected devolution of powers to states.

According to him, devolution was the statutory granting of powers from the government of a sovereign state to government at a sub national level.

“Therefore they enjoy autonomy from the centre. This means that any one level of government is not under any obligation to refer to or seek authority from the centre in order to make or implement decisions that fall within their exclusive jurisdiction. However they must recognize that they are part of the larger state.

“The ultimate objective of devolving powers is to develop a democratic system of governance and an adequate provision of basic services. It makes government more responsible, it facilitates participatory decision making. It brings the government closer to the governed.

“It also accommodates and manages social diversity it is an anti-dote for concentration of power. It balances economic development in the whole of the country.

“So, you can see what the country will loose with the rejection of the Senate to adopt that proposal. I think the Senate president can have a rethink”, he said.

Another lawyer, Taminu Itoro, in his own reaction noted that the action of the Senate had shown non-commitment to the development of the country.

“I think we have been on this for long. The only panacea to still have an indivisible Nigeria is for each state to be allowed to control its resources. It is certain that the lawmakers know this. But, they have avoided it because of their selfishness.”

In his own views, lawyer and Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumuni, said agitations for restructuring will only filter out when there is a total restructuring of the country’s economy and not when regions were permitted to be controlling their resources.

He said: “I don’t know what restructuring means in practical terms but whatever form it might take, I believe that the only thing that matters in Nigeria is how common citizens will survive economically.

“In the first republic, regions controlled their resources and the resources were effectively deployed. That was why we had all those developments in the first republic.

“The major problem that we had was that until recently, the Nigeria economy has been mismanaged and that was the reason why we are in recession. That was also why there were general poverty in the land. I believed that the moment we are able to solve poverty problems among Nigerians, the agitations for restructuring will filter out.

“We have been running our lives as if we will have oil forever and those who are seeking resource control are talking about oil. But, in the alternative, I think discussions should be centered on how to make life more meaningful for ordinary Nigerians.

“My concern about resource control is that even when it is allowed but it was mismanaged, what will happen at the end of the day is that the region concerned will be grounded. So, I want to advice that we should be talking more about economic restructuring in order to make life better for Nigerians.

“All those that are making noise about restructuring are looking at it from the point of view of occupying political space. But, the question is, what does Nigeria stand to benefit when those political spaces are occupied? State governors collected money from Paris Club refunds and some of them cannot account for it. That was why majority of them cannot pay salaries and pensions. So, to me, what we should be calling for is sincere and proper management of Nigeria’s resources and not for a region to be clamouring for resource control.”

Source: New Telegraph

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