The proposal by South-West governors for a six-region structure in the country is generating controversy in the region as Yoruba Elders rejected the proposal, insisting on a new Constitution rather than the amendment of the one currently in use.
Contrary to the position of the governors, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) said what the nation needs is not constitution amendment but a new Constitution that will give expression to the differences of the component units and reflect the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people.
“The 1999 Constitution (as amended) from its very first sentence lied against itself by saying ‘we the people of Nigeria’, whereas we the people were never consulted”, the Secretary General of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, said.
The South-West governors had proposed the conversion of the present six geopolitical zones into federating units, as part of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly.
The South West Governors’ Forum, in a document presented to members of the National Assembly from the zone, made other proposals to weaken the central government, while allocating more powers to states.
The proposals were reportedly presented to the South-West Caucus of the National Assembly penultimate Tuesday.
The governors had met with the lawmakers in Abuja behind closed doors.
The governors at the meeting were Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo State), who is also the Chairman of the South West Governors’ Forum; Seyi Makinde (Oyo), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Gboyega Oyetola (Osun), Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos) and Dapo Abiodun (Ogun).
After the meeting, Akeredolu had said the South-West would be approaching the Constitution amendment with a common front.
He added that the meeting had set a committee made of up senators, led by the Caucus Chairman, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, the House of Representatives Caucus, led by Hon. Femi Fakeye, and attorneys-generals of the South-West states.
“The committee is to harmonise our position so that we can present it when necessary before the two Houses and, at the end of the day, have a Constitution amendment and have our serious inputs”.
“The structure of Nigeria is highly defective and this is why we are against the devolution of powers they are talking about.
“Devolution of powers rarely means what the South-West governors are saying.
“Bringing power to the state, giving local government autonomy, that is anti-federalism.
“In a federal system of government, the local government should be the responsibility of the state; in fact it is not usually listed in the national Constitution.
“Each federating unit is supposed to have its own Constitution where the names of local governments are listed.
“Funding of local governments has to be through the percentage of the resources of the state government and, if any governor does not comply, it will be an impeachable offense under the state Constitution.
“National Assembly has no business with the funding of local government, so there is lack of understanding of this system because, if you allow the Federal Government to fund local governments directly, whatever political party is in power at the center can undermine state governments in opposition through the funding.
“This is why in a proper federal system, local government business is entirely state business”.
According to the YCE Secretary, the South-West governors are proposing direct funding and local government autonomy, saying local government cannot have autonomy under Federal Government but autonomy under states.
“Then the resources must not come from the Federal Government; it must be part of the resources of the states. The state should hold a minimum of 50 to 60 per cent and pay royalty to the center for a few services to be held by the centre”, he added.
“Let me ask you, what has Abuja got to do with primary school education? They have no business with it. What is the business of the Federal Government with federal roads in states in a federation? It should be inter states’ roads and the federal capital territory roads.
“What business has the Federal Government got with agricultural when they have no land? Land belongs to the federating units, so you can begin to see the anomaly and paradox in this Constitution.
“That is why this is the fifth amendment, and the amendments will go on indefinitely.
“Let us have a people’s Constitution.
“The Constitution of USA was adopted in 1774. I think it has less than two dozens’ amendments; that is well over 200 years down.
“So, once the people sit down to write their Constitution, then each federating unit, in turn, will write its own Constitution.
“There will be no need for this ritual. This is a way to enrich our National Assembly members because, traditionally, it is the Deputy Senate President that heads the amendment committee and they vote billions there every year.
“So we must stop fooling ourselves, we are not fools in Nigeria, we need a brand new Constitution that will realize the diversity and heterogeneous nature of this country.
“Then our governors are talking about six regions, where did they sit with us to agree that we want to be a region?
“Even those of us in South-West states, we didn’t have any meeting, yes, we elected them governors but that does not give them the power of life death over us.
“For example, I know my Ekiti people don’t want to come down to Ibadan again and I’m sure about Ondo people too and I have many friends and governors in the North who swear they would never go to Kaduna.
“So these things are not as easy as our governors are presenting it.
“It is an attempt at self-preservation, let us go back to the basics, let the Nigerian people elect people to the Constituent Assembly to write their Constitution, let us appreciate the fact that we are heterogeneous.
“We have over 250 ethnic groups, those who want to work together will voluntarily agree to work together, you don’t lump them together.
“There are Yoruba in Kogi and Kwara who don’t want to be there. We have Ekiti people in Kogi who want to join Ekiti, there are other ethnic groups in Kogi who want to join Osun, ditto in Kwara and then you haul all of them into a region.
“It doesn’t work like that. Then when you go far in the North, you discover that it is more complex.
“And it is much more complex than that, the governors’ proposal is too simplistic in approach.
“That Constitution (1999) establishes highly commercialized politics in Nigeria and puts it beyond the reach of Nigerians who genuinely want to serve their country, whereas politics is meant to be service and not a commercial venture; it puts politics far beyond them, because in the First and Second Republics we had college principals becoming governors, we had lawyers becoming governors, journalists becoming governors.
“For example, the late Alhaji Lateef Jakande, a renowned journalist was governor in Lagos.
“But the 1999 Constitution has pushed politics virtually far beyond almost all professionals except the highly privileged, who may one way or the other have had access to the treasury of this country or have godfathers who have access to the treasury or some, who are, in fact, criminals, like a former Inspector General of Police in the Senate who openly said that most of his colleagues in the Senate he had locked up for fraudulent cases in the past.
“So that tells you that we are having mostly the wrong people in right places.
“There are still some politicians, governors and ministers who have the interest of the people at heart but the majority are there to feather their nest. We need an all inclusive people’s Constitution.
“The various amendments recommended by the South-West governors will take a lot responsibilities rightly so away from the Federal Government to states and imagine if those amendments were done, then what would be the duties of about four hundred and ninety nine people at the National Assembly?
“So you can begin to see the paradox in this so-called amendment. This amendment is designed to preserve the privileged position of the political leadership because it appears that the bubble will soon burst
“But what Nigeria requires now is not amendment, we cannot have less than 10, 000 people feeding on more than 160 per cent of the resources of Nigeria.
“We should have a Constitution that will de-monetise the system”.
On his part, a former Ambassador to Philippines, Dr. Yemi Faroumbi, recalled that the agitation for six regions started in the 1955-56 Constitutional Conference, adding, “There are only two tiers, the centre and the federating unit, and if I go by the report of what the (South-West) governors said, they want to have the centre and the regions as the federating unit.
“So, how do you start talking about local governments, how do you start talking about states?
“They are irrelevant in a true federation and that’s the truth. I therefore don’t know whether their proposal is not just to aggregate the tendencies being canvassed in the open space rather than offering the best solution for moving forward.
“If we want to have a six-zone based federation, then we would only talk about the centre and the zones; we cannot be talking about states and local governments within the context of the same federation. It is contradictory.”
Also speaking on the issue, Chief Oludotun Akanni Koleoso, former Legal Adviser of Pro-National Democracy Coalition (PRONACO), London, described the governors’ proposals of six regions, local government autonomy and resource control as “mere palliatives’ to the problems confronting Nigeria.
“The proposals are mere palliative, because these cannot solve the nation’s problems”, Koleoso said.
The 87-year-old lawyer said the cause of Nigeria’s problems is the 1999 Constitution which, according to him, is not a people’s Constitution, but drafted by the military.
“So, it does not serve the interest of the Nigerian people”, he noted.
He called the Constitution “illegal document”, stressing that everything that operates under the “illegal Constitution” is illegal.
“There is no legal thing that could be done with this illegal Constitution”, Koleoso stated.
According to him, the only solution to the Nigeria’s problems is the adoption of the Constitution that was in operation before the incursion of military into politics in 1965 through a coup.
Meanwhile, Hon Ayo Fadaka said Nigeria is at crossroads, saying the challenges in our nation, particularly since 1983, are compelling to adopt a proper federalism.
“This development gave birth to the current six geopolitical zones that currently exist” he said.
“The unconfirmed information that South West Governors have now consulted with National Assembly members from the zone will actually be a step in the right direction”, Fadaka said.
“Nigeria’s independence was negotiated on the tripod of a federalist agenda that permitted then-three regions to develop their respective economic agenda they were sure will aid their development. “The regions grew respectively and were even sustaining the Federal Government on account of tax and contributions they were making to its coffers.
“The regions had absolute power on all resources within their sphere.
“There was no command structure as we currently have and there was no herdsmen crisis. The policies and style of the Buhari administration has indeed driven the need to resuscitate proper federalism in Nigeria and it remains the irreducible minimum of the conditions that will guarantee and sustain Nigeria as a nation.
“I am sure that if such a motion should surface in the National Assembly today, not only will it be successful as four of the six zones in Nigeria today will support it.
“Therefore the prospect of that action becoming the ground norm for the rebirth of a nation currently hanging dangerously on the cliff cannot be under estimated.
“Our nation is failing today because of over centralization that continues to kill initiatives and industrialization.
“When federal policies fail, the entire nation flunks and this is wrong. I personally look forward to that day when regions will begin to harness actions for the unique development they desire, an action that will challenge other regions to wake up from their slumber and rise to fulfill their manifest destiny.
“If Nigeria had not come under the ambit of the military rule and its attendant command structure, maybe today, nobody will be talking of a non-uniform cutoff mark for students desirous of admission to our Unity Schools and universities as every region would have properly established that in accordance with its defined agenda.
“The South certainly would have built ranches everywhere while the North will of course still be searching and protecting the grazing routes!
“If the core North remains disinterested in Western education and chooses Arabic, it would have perfected its desire and maybe there will be no Boko Haram today!
“Canada continues to remain a classical example of proper federalism, a part of that nation is French speaking while others are English speaking and the nation continues to remain in harmony.
“This is the time to entrench federalism, in the interest of our nation”.