Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Local Govt autonomy: Govs set to battle NASS

A major showdown looms between state governors and members of the National Assembly over some areas of amendment carried out to the 1999 Constitution last week, Sunday Tribune has learnt.

The state chief executives are particularly angry about some amendments they considered as undermining the federal and the state as constituting the federating units at the moment.

The governors are uncomfortable with the amendments granting a semblance of financial autonomy to local government by scrapping the Joint Account for local councils and the taking over of the conduct of local government elections the Independent National Electoral Commission by (INEC).

In Lagos, a top government source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, with Sunday Tribune, said what the country needed was complete restructuring and not giving autonomy to local governments or stopping LASIEC or any of the State Independent Electoral Commission from conducting elections into local governments.

The source, while recalling that financial autonomy had been given to local governments in the past, asked, “but what did they do with it? They messed up it up by not being able to pay their workers and carry out their basic obligations to the people at the grassroots.”

The source stressed that such proposal would not sail through in the state House of Assembly, suggesting that what Nigeria needed to replace the existing local governments are “counties as they exist in the United States and Britain.”

According to him, counties will be a better way out, assuring that they will perform better than local governments if Nigeria can have them established.

“They (LGs) don’t do much, counties should be made to replace them, and they should be made to take charge. We don’t need local governments. Local governments have not been effective in Nigeria,” the source said.

Speaking on the call for the scrapping of State Indpendent Electoral Commissions (SIECs), the source kicked, saying the other way to ensure the independence of the commissions was to remove the governors’ influence by not allowing them to appoint not only the chairmen of the commissions but also their members.

“In that way, they would be able to do a better job of conducting free and fair poll,” the source said, even as he queried how credible had been some of the elections conducted by the INEC.

On his part, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State has stated that the recent constitutional amendments by the National Assembly will be looked into on merit when they are forwarded to the state House of Assembly.

The governor added that while it believed the state lawmakers would be guided by the wishes of the electorate, the executive would not be stampeded in swallowing hook, line and sinker, the amendments with regard to financial autonomy and conduct of election for local governments.

Speaking on behalf of his boss, Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr Charles Aniagwu, told Sunday Tribune, on phone on Saturday in Warri that a true federal structure should not jettison powers of the states on the altar of amendment.

He said when the powers of the state were not eroded by the National Assembly, states would take decisions they deemed fit for their people and that would promote national cohesion.

He specifically noted that the amendment as regards INEC conducting local government elections in states might not be a popular or best decision.

According to him, “what’s most expedient is for the National Assembly to make states’ electoral bodies discharge their duties to reflect democratic principles, yearnings and aspirations of the people.

“When the different amendments done by the National Assembly are forwarded to the state assembly, we’re convinced that our lawmakers will look at the faces of our people, how they see the issues, in a united and prosperous Nigeria and deal with the issues having that at the back of their minds.

“We have our views. But we’ll not stampede our members, because they represent our people in the 25 local government areas.

“We’re confident, because they’ve demonstrated that sense of patriotism and responsibility that they’ll be able to look at these issues, knowing that they’re there on behalf of the electorate,” Aniagwu affirmed.

Meanwhile, attempts made to speak with some lawmakers in the state assembly were not successful.

Mr Dennis Otu, who’s Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker of the House, Sheriff Oborevwori, did not respond to questions texted to his mobile phone.

Also reacting to the issue, Osun State governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, on Saturday contended that local government councils remained the creation of state government, saying his position over the contentious issue of granting autonomy to local government would not change.

Speaking through his director, Bureau of Communication and Strategy, Mr Semiu Okanlawon, the governor said granting autonomy to the local government by the National Assembly constituted an aberration that negated the principle of federalism.

He insisted that local governments are under absolute control and ambience of states, and that the only organ of the state empowered by the constitution to make laws for them is the state House of Assembly.

According to Aregbesola, “because of their frustration in some aspect of administration, some people are equally making mistakes and the correction is that a federation has two tiers of government. There cannot be three tiers in a federation. The moment you have three tiers, you no longer have a federation.”

He noted that it is not by assaulting the fundamental principle of federalism that the challenges and weakness being faced by the administration of local governments can be corrected.

Rauf Aregbesola

When contacted, the chairman, Osun State House of Assembly on Information and Strategy, Bosun Oyintiloye said “the position of the legislature over the granting of autonomy to local government by the Senate can only be obtained after getting the opinion of the Speaker, Hon Najeem Salaam and the Majority Leader of the House, who attended the constitutional amendment process in Abuja.

However, calls put through to the mobile phone of the Speaker rang out without a response, neither did he reply a text message forwarded to him by our correspondent.

There are strong indications that the amendment on State Independent Electoral Commission SIEC and local government autonomy might run into a hitch anytime the draft is passed to Plateau State House of Assembly.

Sunday Tribune findings revealed that the position of the Senate and House of Representatives on the issues have been generating ripples and becoming subjects of discourse among the state lawmakers.

Though none of the state lawmakers wanted to make a categorical statement on the issues, they expressed different opinion. While members of All Progressives Congress (APC) are yet to take a position, their PDP colleagues are likely to throw their weight behind the amendment.

Minority leader of the House, Honourable Daniel Dem, said if the amendment got the nod of required Houses of Assembly it would sanitise the system and genuinely enshrine democratic rule at the local government level. He added that state electoral commissions have messed up democratic process of election into the local government.

“Most governors often ensure that their cronies constitute the commission with instruction to dance to the tune of the ruling party, hence they often record 100 per cent victory. So, this will inject sanity. I am going to vote in its support along with local government autonomy and I am sure party will do same.”

Sunday Tribune findings further revealed that the state government is silent on the issue and probably studying the situation. There is the possibility that APC members in the House along with the executives might harmonise their positions on the issues before the draft gets to the state Assembly.

The Special Adviser on Media to the governor, Mr Daniel Manjang said it was a matter for the House not the executive, adding that the position of the state would be determined by the legislature saddled with the responsibility to make law.

“The House is an independent arm. No matter the position of the government, it will not change the stance of the Assembly in line with the yearning of people of their various constituencies. In Plateau State, we respect the independence and sanctity of the House of Assembly,” he said.

THERE are strong indications that the defeated bill on devolution of powers during the constitutional amendment may resurface in the National Assembly after members resume from their recess which began last Friday.

Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, who gave the hint, said the bill still had chances of being passed again as part of the amendment to the 1999 Constitution.

Speaking with journalists in Ilorin at the weekend shortly after receiving a delegation of the #NotTooYoungToRun group, the senate president blamed the defeat of the bill on the current wave of hate speeches across the country and mistrust among Nigerians.

He said the fact that the bill was defeated once was no reason to conclude the battle had been lost in the legislative process and tradition.

“As you know we have three senators representing each state and FCT and they all represent their constituencies and whatever they do there they must engage and have feedback from their constituencies. I believe that if this constitutional amendment had come maybe eight months ago, the devolution would have passed easily.

“But I think we must be honest with ourselves that there is a lot of mistrust in the country at the moment; the air is very polluted and let us be very frank that blame must go all round; whether it be the politician, or some who are doing commentaries and even some of you in the media who sometimes write stories that are more like hate speeches, that are inaccurate.

“And I think what happened was that a lot of people misread or misunderstood or were suspicious of what the devolution was all about; whether it was the same thing as restructuring in another way. And the y made a lot of appeal that we had not consulted with our constituencies and you can see what is happening; there was a meeting in Kaduna yesterday where it was clear that certain part of the country wanted more time to understand what restructuring is for discussion.

“So its clear that not all senators were on board. We have spoken a lot with the senators because we cannot bully them or stampede them, because at the end the day this country belong to all of us; you cannot hassle me out of the country neither can I hassle you out.

What we must do is dialogue; reassurance and let people understand that this is for making a modern Nigeria; that it is not going to in any way undermine any part of the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, a constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, says Nigeria needs a new constitution, and not amendment of the existing 1999 Constitution midwifed by the military.

He was reacting to the amendment carried by members of the National Assembly which has drew flak from a broad spectrum of the society.

In a piece entitled, Nigeria Needs a New Constitution, not Amendment, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) maintained that the various amendments of the document done by successive governments were a clear admission that there was something fundamentally wrong with the constitution.

He averred that the problem with the current document was not the content, but more with the way and manner it was validated through a decree by a military regime.

“Consequently, such a constitution that is militarily imposed which was not made by the people for the people and of the people, suffers credibility problems. It suffers legitimacy and acceptability crisis.

Ozekhome said the constitution was made by a tiny military cabal of about 28 members of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC), and which was later given to Justice Niki Tobi, then of the Supreme Court, to cobble together, hence it was never made for the “Nigerian people,” hence the virus bedeviling the document could not be cured or remedied by amendments.

“The proper thing, therefore, is to look at the issues from a more fundamental angle, because if you want to uproot a tree, you do not succeed in doing that by cutting off the branches.

“The branches will sooner than later grow and the tree will stand again. What you do is to go to the taproot of the tree and remove it and then it will be dead forever.

“What Nigerians need to do is to make a brand new constitution, a constitution that is home grown, made by the people, subjected to popular referendum or plebiscite of the people as was done to the Midwest Constitution of August 9, 1963, when Midwest seceded constitutionally and legally from the Western Region.

“The constitution was subjected to a plebiscite of the Midwesterners and they all voted for it to become a constitution that derived its legitimacy from the people of the Midwest Region.

“So, for us to have a constitution that derives its legitimacy from the Nigerian people, we have to go back to the 2014 National Conference, where I was a member and headed the subcommittee on Constitution drafting, human rights and legal reforms and that committee made recommendations, which were subjected to the plenary session and were consensually adopted.

“Whatever things we needed in the 1999 Constitution that were administrative, could be used in amending the present chronically defective constitution.

“Better still, there will be need to have a totally brand new constitution for the people of Nigeria, since the 492 members that were at the National Conference represented all strata of the Nigerian people; the Labour, the trade unions, the youth, students, the Civil Society, the market women, the professionals, the technocrats, the military, the Police, the civilians, traditional rulers, educationists, members of the diplomatic corps, the physically challenged.


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