Agitation for Local Government Autonomy and subtle opposition against it, between the National Assembly and State Governors within the last 10 months, ended penultimate Tuesday with the federal lawmakers eating the humble pie. Taiye Odewale reports
Constitution Review and the agitation for LG autonomy
For purposes of good governance and better workings of the Nigerian federation, each session of the National Assembly from the 5th (2003 and 2007), to the present 9th National Assembly, has carried out some reviews or amendments on some provisions of the 1999 Constitution successfully or otherwise.
In furtherance to such amendments, the 9th National Assembly like the previous ones, in October 2019, set up Ad – hoc committees at both chambers for fifth alteration of the 1999 constitution or better put, amendments of some of its provisions.
The ad – hoc committees separately headed by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo – Agege and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon Idris Wase, after months of deliberations and engagements of critical stakeholders on required constitution amendments , came up with 66 items in March last year for consideration and passage at both Chambers, i.e, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Two out of the 66 constitution alteration bills, were financial and administrative autonomies proposed for the 774 Local Government Councils in Nigeria.
The two items being very important to the federal lawmakers were among the 44 voted for, out of the 66 presented by Ad – hoc committees and subsequently forwarded to the 36 States Houses of Assembly for required concurrence by at least 24, as constitutionally stipulated.
NASS, Governors battle for supremacy over LG autonomy
After six months of transmitting the 44 items to state Houses of Assembly for concurrence in March 2022, the Deputy President of the Senate, Ovie Omo – Agege, raised alarm in October that state governors were sabotaging the process, in form of subtle opposition to local government autonomy.
Omo – Agege in a press briefing held at the Senate wing of the National Assembly on October 18, 2022 said as at that time , only 11 out of the 36 State Houses of Assembly, have concurred to some of the 44 items constitution amendments transmitted to them.
He pointedly said that based on available records and information at their disposal, state governors were manipulating many of the State Houses of Assembly to vote against items on Local Government Autonomy since establishment of State Police was not part of the proposals considered and voted upon by both Chambers of the National Assembly.
His words: “Let us be clear. The bills the National Assembly transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly as required by the constitution are not about members of the National Assembly.
“It transcends our personal and political interests. It is about the people who have graciously given us the temporary privilege to serve them. The offices and positions we each hold belong to the people. And they yearn for a government that is honest, accountable, and responsive to their needs.
“It is, therefore, disheartening that some State Houses of Assembly, through the Conference of Speakers, would give the National Assembly conditions before fulfilling their constitutional obligations.
“Although the Conference of Speakers did not allude to it in their letter, we are aware of the undue interference with legislative processes and the political capture of some State Houses of Assembly by some state governors.
“No doubt, some state governors have worked tirelessly to turn the Conference of Speakers and some State Assemblies into political puppets, thereby undermining and de-legitimising the legislative institution at the state level.
“This interference has been ramped up, especially in opposition to the bills granting financial and administrative autonomy to local governments.
“This posturing by the conference of speakers of state assemblies should be shown for what it truly is — a total disregard for the Nigerian constitutional system”.
He on behalf of the National Assembly then, threatened to mobilise labour, particularly local government employees, against refusal of State Houses of Assembly to concur with proposals for local government autonomies.
Eating of the humble pie by NASS
However, after three months of grandstanding, the National Assembly, Tuesday before last, succumbed to the governors on rejection of autonomy for local government by resolving to transmit to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent, the 35 items concurred with, by 27 of the states.
The 35 items as approved in the Senate were: “Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 3 (Change of Names of Afikpo North and Afikpo South Local Government Areas (Ebonyi State), Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 4 (Change of Name of Kunchi Local Government Area (Kano State); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 5 (Change of Names of Egbado North and Egbado South Local Government Areas (Ogun State) and Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 7 (Correction of the name of Atigbo Local Government Area (Oyo State).
Others were: “Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 8 (Correction of Name of Obia/Akpor Local Government Area (Rivers State);
Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No 9 (Financial autonomy of State legislatures and State Judiciary); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 10 (Enforcement of Legislative Summon); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 11 (Inauguration of Members-Elect), Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 21 (Deletion of reference in the Constitution to the provisions of the Criminal Code, Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Act, Criminal Procedure Code or Evidence Act), Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 22 (Provision for Intervening Events in the Computation of Tine for the Determination of Pre-Election Petitions, Election Petitions and Appeals therefrom).
Also included were ÷ Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 24 (Expansion of the Interpretation of Judicial Office); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 25 (Appointment of Secretary of the National Judicial Council); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 29 (Devolution of Powers (Airports)); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 30 (Devolution of Powers (Fingerprints, identification and criminal records).
Others were: “Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 31 (Devolution of Powers (Correctional Services), Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 32 (Devolution of Powers (Railways), Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 33 (Devolution of Powers (National Grid System); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 39 (Power to enforce compliance of remittance of Accruals into the Federation Account and Review of Revenue Allocation Formula) and Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 40 (Independence of Certain bodies).
Also in the list were: “Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 41 (Removal of Transitional Law-making Powers of the Executive, Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 43 (Domestication of Treaties); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 44 (Timeline for the Presentation of Appropriation Bills); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 45 (Timeframe for the Submission of the Names of Ministerial or Commissioner Nominees); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 48 (Power to summon the President and Governors); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 49 (Authorization of Expenditure); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 50 (Replacement of the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation with the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federal Government); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 51 (Creation of the Office of Accountant-General of the Federal Government), and Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 53 (Separation of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and of the State from the office of the Minister or Commissioner for Justice).
Others are, Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 54 (State of the Nation and State of the State Address); Bill No. 55 (Composition of Members of the Council of State), Bill No. 57 (Restriction on Formation of Political Parties); Bill No. 62 (Correction in the Definition of the Boundary of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 63 (Fundamental Human Rights); Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 65 (Food Security) and Constitution (Fifth Alteration) Bill No. 66 (Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps)”.
Though the Senate urged the following State Houses of Assembly – Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kwara, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba, Zamfara; that are yet to forward their resolution on the Bills to do so in fulfillment of their Constitutionally imposed legislative obligation to the Constitution amendment process but that will not in anyway, pave way for passage of constitution amendment proposal for local government autonomy.
Little wonder that the former majority leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (PDP Kebbi North), in his remarks, said even if the Nine State Houses of Assembly yet to act on the amendment proposals, voted for local government autonomy, it would still not see the light of the day in the ongoing process, as many of the 27 States Houses of Assembly that concurred with 35 items, voted against it financially and administratively.
Possible way out in the coming 10th National Assembly
Possibly for such proposals which are somewhat antithetical to the principles and doctrines of federalism to scale through in the coming 10th National Assembly, establishment of State Police, will have to be part of constitution alteration bills.