According to the information from the Office of the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ahmed Wase, who is the co-chairman of the committee, the bills assented to by the President included those devolving powers from the Federal Government to the states as some items were moved from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List in the Constitution.
Many lawyers and analysts have argued for years that the exclusive legislative list, comprising matters which only the Federal Government could legislate on, was too heavy and that it needed to devolve power to the states.
The power devolution bills that passed legislative requirements include those on power, railway, airports and prisons as well as biometric and criminal records. While the President signed the bills seeking to grant state legislature and judiciary autonomy, majority of the state Houses of Assembly opposed independence for local governments.
The National Assembly in January transmitted 35 Constitution Alteration Bills passed by the state House of Assembly, out of the 44 bills sent to the states.
To amend a clause in the constitution (two-thirds or four-fifth) majority of each of the Senate and the House need to approve the amendment after which it will be transmitted to the state Houses of Assembly, where two-thirds or 24 out of the 36 of them have to concur.
Out of the 36 states, 27 Houses of Assembly – Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun Rivers and Yobe – forwarded their resolutions on the bills.
The House had urged Houses of Assembly in Gombe, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kwara, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states “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.”
On Friday, however, a statement from the deputy speaker’s office quoted Wase as commending the President for assenting to “some momentous legislations.”
According to Wase, the legislation was fragmented into 16 bills. They are, “Fifth Alteration (1) The bill seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to change the names of Afikpo North and Afikpo South Local Government Areas; and for related matters.
“(2) to change the name of Kunchi Local Government Area; and for related matters; (3) to change the names of Egbado North and Egbado South Local Government Areas; and for related matters; (4) to correct the name of Atigbo Local Government Area; and for related matters; (5) to correct the name of Obia/Akpor Local Government Area; and for related matters.
“(6) The bill seeks to alter the constitution to provide for the financial independence of state Houses of Assembly and state Judiciary; and for related matters; (8) to regulate the first session and inauguration of members-elect of the National and State Houses of Assembly; and for related matters; (9) to delete the reference to the provisions of the Criminal Code, Penal Code, Criminal Procedure Act, Criminal Procedure Code or Evidence Act; and for related matters.”
Others are, “(10) to exclude the period of intervening events in the computation of time for determining pre-election petitions, election petitions and appeals; and for related matters; (12) to provide for the post call qualification of the Secretary of the National Judicial Council; and for related matters; (15) to delete the item ‘prisons’ in the Exclusive Legislative List and redesignate it as ‘Correctional Services’ in the Concurrent Legislative List; and for related matters; (16) to move the item ‘railways’ from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List; and for related matters.
“(17) The bill seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to allow states generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid; and for related matters; (23) to require the President and Governors to submit the names of persons nominated as ministers or commissioners within 60 days of taking the oath of office for confirmation by the Senate or state House of Assembly; and for related matters; (32) to correct the error in the definition of the boundary of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja; and for related matters.
“(34) The bill seeks to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to require the government to direct its policy towards ensuring right to food and food security in Nigeria; and for related matters.”
Essentially, the Fifth Alteration Bills No. 6, 7, 16, and 17 deal with devolution of power, promoting true federalism and strengthening state Houses of Assembly and judiciary. The deputy speaker congratulated members of the ninth Assembly for working “tirelessly” to ensure the passage of what he called the legacy legislation.
Meanwhile, one of the bills assented to by the President include the provision that presidents-elect and governors-elect should submit the names of persons nominated as ministers or commissioners within 60 days of taking the oath of office for confirmation by the Senate or state House of Assembly.
The PUNCH reported in 2015 that Buhari did not appoint his cabinet members until about six months after he was inaugurated, a development that sparked public criticism.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Babajide Omoworare, in a statement on Friday said the President also assented to three other bills, to wit: The Nigerian Institute of Leather and Science Technology Act, The Nigerian Institute of International Relations Act, and The Federal Medical Centres (Amendment) Act.
Reacting to the development, the leader of the Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, Ayo Adebanjo, who has for years advocated restructuring, said the power devolution was a welcome development but that it wasn’t the ultimate solution.
He told one of our correspondents in an interview, “It is a step in the right direction but I don’t believe in the amendment. Why didn’t he sign the state police amendment into law? He is just deceiving himself.
“They can’t amend the constitution, moreover the constitution they are amending is not our own, it belongs to the military. I have said it long before now, if he doesn’t want to accept the 2014 constitutional conference, he should call all the ethnic groups, all the nationalities that the colonialists colonised before they brought us together.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Olalekan Ojo, said the President and the National Assembly must be commended for working on the bills, saying it would make the state more functional.
He stated, “Some of these bills signed by the President, including that of railways and others are welcome. Hitherto, the establishment and control of railways have been on the exclusive list but with these bills now, state governments can embark on the construction of rail lines within their states. They can even do inter-state railways. Lagos State has shown the lead even before this bill. It will make our states truly functional and ensure that Nigeria’s federalism is truly federal.”
Also, Mr Afam Osigwe (SAN) noted that the laws would devolve more powers to the states. He added, “It is only fair that the Federal Government give up some items in the exclusive legislative list to the domain of the states. It will make Nigeria a more federal state and not a unitary one.
“The idea of devolving powers to the state is very important because in a federation, more powers should be given to the states in certain items and the Federal Government should have no involvement in them.”