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Nigeria: State Lawmakers slow down Constitution review

Tutu Folashade-Koyi laments that Nigerian State law makers seems not to be taking serious the need to review the 1999 Constitution

At a time when all that was needed for our lawmakers, both federal and state, was to dot the i’s and cross the t’s, another unfortunate spanner was thrown into the works.

Last Thursday, more than 48 hours after the ceremony was supposed to have taken place, the Conference of Speakers was supposed to hand over their resolutions on the altered 1999 Constitution to the leadership of the National Assembly.

Taraba State Speaker and Chairman of the group, Istifanus Gbana was supposed to hand over the “resolutions” to the Chairman of the National Assembly, David Mark, who is also the President of the Senate.

Two days earlier, the group reportedly pleaded for understanding that some of the ‘resolutions’ were being collated. In fact, feelers from some state Assemblies indicated that they were against any provision for First Line Charge for the Legislature!

For those who do not know, First Line Charge means that Legislatures in Nigeria, both federal and state would have their budget released directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund ( CRF) rather than go cap in hand to the Executive.

The present scenario is that the Executive and the Judiciary get their funding directly from the CRF yet Nigeria operates a system of government where there are three tiers of government.  It is only the Legislature, of the tripod that is not truly financially independent.

It is an open secret that national and state assemblies rely on the good grace of either the President or the governor to function well in their legislative duties. There have been instances where activities of state assemblies have ground to a halt simply because the governor withheld their “allocation.”

For some state assemblies whose leadership are in a chummy relationship with the governor, bliss is the word as their “allocations” are released on time.

So, for once, the National Assembly in its wisdom felt that for us a nation to say that we are truly implementing the Presidential system of government, all the three tiers of government must be in charge of their financial destiny; after all, the Executive and Judiciary get their funding directly without having to go through a third party.

But whosai! The news emanating from the states is that they would rather prefer to still go cap in hand to their governors for their financial needs rather than get their funding directly from the federal purse. Sounds odd, doesn’t it?

But then, this is Nigeria and who doesn’t know that the state assemblies were not really saying what they felt rather than what their puppeteers were telling them to say.

Anyway, the real gist is that having waited for more than 30 minutes for the Speakers to tender their “resolutions” (a ceremony which should have been over in less than half an hour), federal lawmakers knew something was amiss when there were no “resolutions” in sight.

In fact, the Speakers trickled into the hall where their seniors were comfortably seated, waiting for them.

With the reality that the presentation was a no-show, Gbana had the onerous task of concocting an excuse, which to the discerning mind was akin to a string of sentences especially strung together to suit the mood of the moment.

Mark, Speaker Dimeji Bankole (very rare sight these days) and principal officers of the National Assembly were already seated when they suddenly left the venue to confer with Gbana and others outside.

After some minutes, they filed back into the room again. Thereafter, it devolved on Gbana to explain to the whole house why the ceremony could not take place.

Some of the states, Gbana said, opted to organise public hearings before deliberating on the clauses, which led to further delays at the time the National Assembly was promised the “resolutions.”In fact  Gbana added that some of the Houses of Assembly were on recess as at the time the National Assembly transmitted the bill to the 36 states!

He offered more explanations: “Basically, I think that what I can say for now is that the procedure that was adopted for the passage of these resolutions differ. Some states organised public hearings, others adopted the same procedure for a bill before the House and you know these two procedures are not the same and one will consume more time.

“So I think, basically that was why some states are left behind and they have not been able to pass the bill. But that does not mean that they have not started any process towards the passage; it is just that they have not been able to conclude the process.

“Secondly, by the time the National Assembly transmitted the harmonised copy of the document to the Houses of Assembly, some of our colleagues were on recess and they had to reconvene immediately to start this process. This is where we had some of the delays.”

More than that, another plausible explanation from Gbana was that some of his colleagues were still on their way to Abuja and were communicating with him, pleading for understanding and extension of time. Some of them even asked that the ceremony be delayed so that they could hand in their “resolutions.”

My own assessment of that Thursday charade was that the state Assemblies were not ready and didn’t even pretend about it. We all know the relationship between state assemblies and their executives.

Something tells me that the state Assemblies were forced to go along with the National Assembly in this charade of altering the 1999 Constitution because of the backlash from Nigerians should they decide to do otherwise.