The call for Nigeria to be run like a true federation, where the almighty federal government would devolve some of its unwieldy responsibilities to the federating units, has been on for some time now.
Major stakeholders have, at one time or the other, called on the federal government to shed some of its powers to the states and concentrate on a manageable number of issues such as military; immigration/emigration; foreign affairs; visas; citizenship, naturalisation and aliens, census and some others.
Among some of those who have made such calls are the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Ijaw National Congress (INC), Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Femi Falana and civil society organisations, all to no avail. The latest to add its voice is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Governors Forum. The governors made the call in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, on Sunday, February 13, during a meeting where they were reviewing the state of the nation. It will be recalled that the governors of the Southern states had also made a similar call in Asaba, the Delta State capital, where they had a meeting on May 11, 2021.
This call has become imperative because the federal government has taken upon itself too many responsibilities that it cannot effectively handle. In the process of taking up these responsibilities and the attendant powers, and by extension a larger chunk of monies from the federation account, the federal government has made the states subordinate to it. In the practice of true federalism, the states, which are federating units are supposed to be coordinate partners with the federal government and not subirdinates.
Under Part 1 of the Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution, there are 68 items in the Exclusive Legislative List on which only the federal government can legislate. The Concurrent Legislative List, contained in Part II of the same Schedule, provides for far fewer items, which both the federal and state governments can legislate on.
But it had not always been so. For instance, the colonial era MacPherson Constitution of 1951 prepared the grounds for regional autonomy within a federal union, where regional governments exercised broad legislative powers which could not be overridden by the central government. The 1954 Lyttleton Constitution strengthened the provisions of regional government earlier espoused in the MacPherson Constitution.
So, on attainment of independence in 1960, Nigeria started with three — Northern, South-Eastern and South-Western — regions and in 1963, the Mid-Western region was added to make the regions four. The period between attainment of independence in 1960 and 1967, when regional government was abandoned, was clearly the best for Nigeria.
The federal government, then, had far less than what is on the present legislative list and this allowed the regions room to legislate over a broad range of issues. The regions controlled their resources and paid royalties to the central government and there was all-round development. It was from such proceeds that the West for instance, built Cocoa House, Liberty Stadium, Western Nigeria Broadcasting Corporation (WNBC) and financed its free education policy.
There have been several changes made to the Exclusive Legislative List over the years. Changes to the List are made either through the introduction of a new constitution — and Nigeria has experimented with nine constitutions, four during the colonial era and five between 1960 and date — or through military coup.
The period of military rule weakened all the federal structures, particularly democratic institutions. The military grabbed almost all the functions and powers of the regions, alongside their resources. The weakened democratic institutions as well as the expanded legislative list, occasioned by introduction of new constitutions and military coups, have all been inherited by present day democratic Nigeria.
The states, which were once virile, prosperous and operating with plenty of autonomy, when they were regions, have now been reduced to mere subordinates, and totally dependent on the central government as they run cap in hand to Abuja every month for their share of the allocation from the federation account.
The 1999 Constitution, which the country uses today, is a product of the military and as such inherited most of the features of the military era constitutions of 1979 and 1993, where the central government is made more powerful and richer than the states. Sixty eight items on the exclusive legislative list is clearly unwieldy and has rendered the federal government ineffective.
Besides, the power and wealth in the hands of the federal government has made the centre so attractive that politicians are prepared to do anything, including killing a fellow human being, to get to Abuja, the seat of the federal government. Making the centre less attractive through the devolution of powers to the states will reduce the incidence of violence and big money spending, which characterise our elections, from our politics.
It is for these reasons that, after more than 20 years of experimenting with the 1999 Constitution without any headway, Nigerians are calling for a serious amendment of the constitution, where power will be devolved to the states by drastically reducing the exclusive legislative list in favour of the states, since the list contains several matters that the state governments can conveniently handle. There is also a compelling need for the federal government’s overriding power over the state governments under the concurrent legislative list, to be reviewed.
The exclusive legislative list, as it is currently, is a constitutional anomaly and there is every need to amend the constitution to cure the defect. The earlier this is done, the better.