State Assemblies Support Devolution of Powers

The Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly yesterday berated the National Assembly for not passing the Devolution of Powers Bill, saying that Nigerians rather prefer devolution of powers more than other forms of constitution amendments. There was disagreement between the national and state lawmakers over the rejection of devolution of powers and the proposed local government autonomy. LEADERSHIP Friday recalls that the 33-item amendment process of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was voted on at National Assembly on July 26 and 27, 2017. The Constitution Review Committee of the National Assembly had proposed 33 alterations in the Constitution which were drawn from 27 bills, but only 29 of the clauses were approved by the federal lawmakers and transmitted to the state Houses of Assembly for adoption.
During the amendment, the National Assembly rejected four of the proposed clauses which were devolution of powers to states; deletion of Land Use Act from the Constitution; state creation and boundary adjustment, and 35 per cent affirmative action for women. Yesterday, the Speakers of the 36 states of the federation visited the National Assembly and presented the copies of 15 clauses in the proposed amendment of the constitution. However, Lagos and Rivers states shunned the constitution amendment process largely because the National Assembly failed to vote for devolution of powers to states. Although there was no breakdown of all the 15 clauses adopted by the state assemblies, but findings revealed that the ‘not-too-young-to-run bill’ and the financial autonomy for state assemblies bill were passed while autonomy of local government bill was rejected by the state lawmakers. The chairman of the Conference of Speakers and Speaker of the Kebbi State House of Assembly, Hon Abdulmumin Kamba, stated this while transmitting report on state Houses of Assembly resolutions on constitution amendments carried out by the National Assembly last year. “Though as requested and constitutionally empowered, the State Houses of Assembly went through the 29 constitution amendment bills sent to us and concurred with the National Assembly on 15 of them.
“But during our interactions with stakeholders at the grassroots on the proposed constitution amendments, they expressed their displeasure on the absence of devolution of powers from all the items sent . “Various stakeholders during the sessions yearned for devolution of powers from the centre to the states, the absence of which made them to see the items considered as somewhat cosmetic and not substantive,” he said. He, however, disclosed that one of the striking items in the constitution amendment voted for by the state Houses of Assembly was financial autonomy for state assemblies aside the not-too-young-to-run bill. In his remarks, the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, assured the speakers that the devolution of powers legislation that Nigerians yearn for would surely be attended to by the National Assembly soon.
He, however, urged the State Houses of Assembly to also ensure the passage of amendment on local government autonomy when sent to them again. He said:”The conclusion of this process today is another great testament to the growing stature of our democratic practice and the maturity that all of you in this room and those outside it have shown. I am proud of the value and the patriotism you have exhibited to get us this far. I commend your hard work and your forthrightness. “The process of amending the constitution is a solemn process that is not flimsily embarked upon. These current amendments which have passed through the last constitutional hurdle will help strengthen the bonds of our unity, strengthen our institutions to provide good governance.
“We remain resolved to continue to take on the hard-national issues that hold us down with a view to using all legislative and constitutional measures to resolve them for the welfare and security of our people.” On his part, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said the role of the legislature was important in shaping the growth of a nation and that no government can be seen to be democratic if it does not have a firm legislature. According to him, acceding to the independence of the legislature would enhance the smooth workings of democracy at the state levels. He further queried why the state Assemblies refused to adopt the local government autonomy bill to foster rapid development at the grassroots.
State Assemblies Failed Nigerians On LG Autonomy – Dogara
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, has expressed disappointment over the failure of state legislatures to grant autonomy to local government in the ongoing constitution amendment. Dogara, while receiving the reports of the voting by States Houses of Assembly on the Constitution Amendment Bill transmitted to them for assent by the National Assembly, said all hope is not lost as they can still decide to give their approval when the National Assembly presents the bill again in the future for the sake of deepening and delivering the dividends of democracy to the grassroots. He, however, commended the lawmakers for granting state legislatures autonomy, saying they took a bold step.
“I must commend you for deciding that the legislature in states should be independent. However, this is not an expression of the opinion of the National Assembly; I want to appropriate this as my personal opinion. I can say that I am disappointed because I thought that the courage demonstrated by these highly skilled legislators, some of whom are seated before us, would have delivered the long awaited local government autonomy, but unfortunately, maybe our courage didn’t go that far. “But you see, courage isn’t really the absence of fear, but it is acting in spite of your fears. And if it was not because of men and women of courage, I tell you that the democracy that we experience now wouldn’t have been possible. When William Wilberforce said slaves must be free, he belonged to the party majority of whom were slave owners and on account of that a revolution started,” he told the state legislators. Hon Dogara noted that while most of the measures the National Assembly was seeking to introduce might not be popular, if they stood by them, the kind of future that will come from it will only ensure the deepening of democracy in Nigeria.
“Just as this one (financial independence for state legislatures) failed the other time, maybe in the next exercise, because our state legislatures are now independent, they will be able to extend this same independence to local governments. We all know the benefits of the independence of the third tier; we all know that.” The speaker urged President Muhammadu Buhari to give assent to the bill, especially as it represents the wishes of the Nigerian people expressed through the federal and state legislators. Clauses approved by the State Houses of Assembly include the reduction of period for extra budgetary expenditure by the executive from six to three months, legislative immunity for lawmakers, new regulations governing conduct of by-elections by INEC, removal of the word “Force” from Nigeria Police, limiting the tenure of presidents and governors to eight years by not taking oath of office more than twice, reduction in age for elective offices, stipulation of date for budget presentation by the president, and inclusion of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps in the constitution, among others.

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