From: FRED ITUA, Abuja
Governors of the 36 states of the federation and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, have renewed hope of a likely revisit of the devolution of powers by the National Assembly.
Ekweremadu, who is chairman of the Constitution Review Committee and the governors, debated this, when he briefed the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), on the ongoing constitution amendment exercise.
Ekweremadu, who met with the Forum at the Presidential Villa, on Wednesday night, said the National Assembly had not given up on the proposed amendments of Second Schedule, Part I & II to move certain items, such as railway and power, to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to states.
“Besides making governance difficult, concentration of so much power at the centre fuels the struggle for federal power. We believe that devolving some power to the States will improve good governance and also make the centre less attractive,” Ekweremadu stressed.
He explained that of the 33 bills in the proposed amendments, 21 were passed by the Senate and House of Representatives, while 12 failed to scale through.
Ekweremadu, however, explained that efforts were on to build consensus around some of the failed bills, especially the bill on devolution of powers, with a view to revisiting it to unbundle and make the Federal Government more efficient.
On the concerns that it was an aberration of Federalism for states’ Houses of Assembly and the Local Governments to draw revenues directly from the Federation Account, Ekweremadu explained that amendments towards financial autonomy for both tiers of governments only seeks to alter Section 162 of the Constitution to abrogate the State Joint Local Government Accounts and create the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State from which all allocations due to the Local Government Councils and the State Assemblies shall be directly paid from the Federation Account.
The federal lawmaker also said the proposed amendments would guarantee the democratic existence, funding, and tenure of local government councils.
He said that financial autonomy for local governments would not return primary education to the era of unpaid salaries. He explained that although education remained the constitutional responsibilities of the local governments, provisions had been made to deduct, from source, the monthly financial obligations of the Local Governments to primary education for remission into the account of state agencies overseeing basic education.
The lawmaker further maintained that altering Section 134 and 179of the Constitution would avail the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, sufficient time for INEC to conduct bye-elections; and section 225 to empower it to de-register political parties was not total.
“INEC’s power to deregister parties will apply strictly to non-fulfilment of certain conditions such as breach of registration requirements and failure to secure/win either a Presidential, Governorship, Local Government chairmanship or a seat in the National or State Assembly or a Councilorship seat.
“Bill No. 10, seeks to alter sections 58, 59 and 100 only seeks to resolve the usual situation where the President or Governor neglects to signify his/her assent to or veto of a bill from the legislature.
“So, the President or Governor will now have 30 days to signify his/her assent/veto rather than keep everyone in endless suspense, while passed bills gather dust in the shelf. In the United States, the Constitution provides for only two weeks. So, the intent is to enable timely passage of laws for good governance.”
On Bill No. 4, which seeks to set a timeframe of 30 days for the President and Governors to nominate the Ministers and Commissioners along with their proposed respective portfolios, he maintained that the 1999 Constitution did not envisage a situation where some governments would run without cabinet for months or years.
“It will also serve the nation better if members of the National Assembly can screen nominees based on specific portfolios. That way, we are able to ascertain their suitability as we see in developed democracies like the United States,” he added.
Sen. Ekweremadu allayed the fears that independent candidacy could make the electoral process cumbersome, noting that INEC would, by law, set the modalities for qualification as an independent candidate.
Ekweremadu said that Bill No. 16 seeks to restrict a person who was sworn-in as President or Governor to only completing the term of the elected President or Governor from contesting for the same office for more than one term.
On Bill No. 21, he explained that the successful amendment of the Constitution in 2010, which set the timeframe for the determination of election petitions, had greatly improved the nation’s electoral system, hence the need to replicate it in the area of pre-election disputes.