Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, yesterday assured Nigerians that the defeated bill on devolution of powers still has chances of being passed again as part of the amendments to the 1999 Constitution after both chambers of the National Assembly resume from their annual recess, which commenced last Friday.
Saraki gave the assurance in Ilorin, Kwara State, while speaking with newsmen shortly after receiving a delegation of the #NotTooYoungToRun# group in the state yesterday.
The delegation, which was led by the state coordinator, Olasupo Abideen, had visited the Senate President to express gratitude over the passage of the Not Too Young To Run bill and solicit his support for the remaining parts of the proposal by the Joint Committee on Constitution Amendment.
The Senate President told the journalists that the defeat of the devolution of powers bill was as a result of the current wave of hate speeches across the country, noting that the current mistrust among Nigerians contributed to the failure of the bill.
He said some stakeholders had misunderstood the intent of the proposed amendments in the bill as a clever way of introducing restructuring and were not ready to back such a move without proper consultations with their constituents.
He said the level of distrust and suspicion among Nigerians at this point in time was unimaginable and had created division along regional lines in the way people voted on the constitutional issues.
“This is expected with the level of agitations in the country and the way opinion leaders are helping to accentuate hate speeches and emphasising issues that could pitch one area against the other. The votes in the National Assembly reflect the state of the country today. People voted to reflect the position of their constituents. However, the National Assembly is still the best forum for uniting the country and mending our fault lines. That is why I believe there is still the opportunity to re-examine important issues like devolution of powers to states with a view to changing the present position on it,” he said.
Saraki expressed confidence that with more consultations, Nigerians would have a bill that devolves more powers to the states. He, therefore, appealed for calm and understanding of Nigerians over the current development. He said the fact that the bill was defeated once was no reason to conclude the battle had been lost in the legislative process.
He added: “As you know, we have three senators representing each state and one from the FCT and they all represent their constituencies and whatever they do there, they must engage with and get feedback from their constituencies. I believe that if this constitution amendment had come maybe eight months ago, the devolution of powers bill would have passed easily.
“But I think we must be honest with ourselves that presently there is a lot of mistrust in the country; the air is very polluted and let us be very frank, that blame must go all round; whether it be the politicians or opinion leaders, socio-cultural group leaders and some others who are running commentaries and even some of you in the media who sometimes write stories that amplify hate speeches and view points that are inaccurate.
“I think what happened was that a lot of our colleagues misread, misunderstood or were suspicious of what the devolution of powers to states was all about; whether it was the same thing as restructuring in another way or an attempt to foist confederation on the country or to prepare the ground for other campaigns now going on in the country.
They made a lot of appeal that they had not consulted with their constituencies and you can see what is happening; there was a meeting in Kaduna yesterday where it was clear that certain parts of the country wanted more time to understand what restructuring is all about before joining the discussion. So it is clear that not all senators were on board.” He continued: “My own advise — we have spoken a lot with the senators because we cannot bully them or stampede them because at the end of the day, this country belongs to all of us.
You cannot hassle me out of the country, neither can I hassle you out. What we must do is dialogue; reassure each other and let people understand that this concept is for the purpose of making a modern Nigeria; that it is not going to in any way undermine any part of the country.
“I want to appeal for calm. I am sure that with the engagement going on, there will be dialogue. I am also sure that by the time we come back from the present recess, people generally would have a better understanding that devolution of powers to states as regards some of the issues that were put in that bill is not a threat to any part of the country and I am hopeful that there would be change of mind and position.”
He added further: “Nothing is foreclosed in this exercise; you don’t foreclose passage of a bill. We must have a good understanding of how parliament works; it is not foreclosed. It has been defeated as at today but it does not mean that it would be defeated when it comes tomorrow.
The gender bill was defeated in the bid to include it in the constitution but what was not reported in the media is that the sponsors got a victory in that they got an undertaking from members that what was defeated would be included in the Gender Opportunity bill. That was something that would not have happened before.
So, the fact that devolution of powers to states lost that day does not mean that after the recess, if a lot of consultations are done again, it will not scale through.”