Constitution review committee begins retreat in Lagos

Eniola Ajayi, Lagos

A four-day joint working retreat of the Constitution Review Committee of Nigeria’s National Assembly has opened in Lagos.

The joint committees comprising Senators and members of the House of Representatives are saddled with the responsibility of reviewing the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

While declaring the retreat open at the Intercontinental Hotel on Victoria Island, Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode challenged the legislators to critically look into the issues that have occupied the front burner in the nation.

Governor Ambode maintained that the time had come for federating states in Nigeria to have their respective police in the spirit of true federalism.

He stressed that the exclusive legislative list should also be reviewed in a manner that leads to proper devolution of powers at the centre.

“The defining feature of federalism is the autonomy and recognition of the separateness and independence of each government that makes up the Federation; if this is true, we must therefore ask ourselves these salient questions: why should States be precluded from performing several important Constitutional responsibilities? Why should the Land Use Act, NYSC Act, Code of Conduct Act form part of the Constitution?”

“Should the Constitution not confer power on State Houses of Assembly to establish State Police with clear jurisdiction and well-articulated protocols for the regulation of its relationship with the federal police?” 

“The effect is that whilst the States are precluded from performing several important constitutional responsibilities, the Federal Government is equally unable to function effectively as it holds legislative and executive powers on matters of local concern which over-stretch its administrative and supervisory abilities,” according to the Governor.

Fiscal federalism

The Lagos State Governor also noted that the current revenue sharing formula among the Federal, States and Local Governments should be reviewed adding that the proposed Stamp Duties Bill before the National Assembly, would cripple states’ internally generated revenue.

He then reminded the Constitution Review Committees that Lagos State still deserved a special status due to its high population density and its critical role as Nigeria’s economic nerve centre.

“The Bill is presently before the National Assembly and it is a grave threat to the principles of fiscal federalism and as representatives of the true beneficiaries of the Act as it presently stands.”

“We need to be truthful and frank about fiscal federalism, the current revenue allocation formula by which the Federal Government takes as much as 52.68% of centrally-collected revenues in the Federation Account, leaving the States and Local Governments with 26.72% and 20.60% respectively has created a glaring and unacceptable imbalance in the financial resources of the three tiers of government,” he said.

Speaking in an interview with Voice of Nigeria, the Senator representing Lagos East Senatorial District, Gbenga Ashafa said the controversial areas of the nation’s legal document would be critically looked into.

Local Government Autonomy

Senator Ashafa added that local government autonomy would also be given consideration depending on the consensus reached by all the parties concerned.

On his part, a consultant to the joint committees on the constitutional review, Mr Opeyemi Bamidele said there would be innovations in the reviews, stating that the amended sections would be presented in batches in form of bills for Presidential Assents.

“We will present the bill in batches; this is one of the innovations the Eight Assembly is bringing in, so that any area of conflict will be treated in isolation without affecting other very important bills,” Mr Bamidele said.

Senator Dino Melaye from Kogi West Senatorial District, who also lent his voice ahead of deliberations, said that the issues of the section 171 of the Nigerian Constitution that concerned the appointment and confirmation of nominees from the presidency would be on the front burner.

Senator Melaye said that the ongoing process had provided an opportunity for the National Assembly to look into the section.

The Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, revealed that the committees would finish their work before the end of 2017.

Senator Ekweremadu also expressed optimism that before the 2019 general election, the amended Constitution would have been in place.