Nigeria News

NIGERIA: The Debate Begins

After several weeks of suspense, the Senate  Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution submitted its report during the week with lots of intrigues accompanying the recommendations. For advocates of state creation, it was end of the road as chairman of the committee and Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said none of the requests met constitutional stipulations.

Ekweremadu told journalists after submitting the report that he had no apology for not recommending state creation because advocates of the agenda should have taken time to study constitutional stipulations regarding the subject matter before sending proposals. According to him, advocates of state creation thought all it required was just to submit memoranda and go to sleep without carefully studying its nitty gritty as spelt out in the constitution.

He said the process of creating states was herculean, which according to him, includes the approval of two-thirds of councillors in all local government areas where states are expected to be created as well as signatures of lawmakers representing affected constituencies. “People think they will come to Abuja and submit memoranda and the National Assembly will deliberate on it and then subsequently announce that so and so states have been created. Unfortunately, that is not the case. What happens is that you have to receive requests pursuant to Section 8(1) of the Constitution,” he explained.

Another intriguing issue is the single term of six years recommended by the committee for heads of executive arm of goverment. If the recommendation is approved by the National Assembly as well as two-thirds of members of state Houses of Assembly, then curtain is drawn on second term ambition of President Goodluck Jonathan as well as all first term governors.

Ekweremadu said recommending a single tenure for heads of executives became compelling “considering the financial expenses often associated with re-election and to ensure that the executive heads are freed from distractions to be able to concentrate on public policy issues.”

The committee also sealed the political ambition of any vice president and deputy governor who ascends the seat of his boss on account of death, by barring them from standing for election, saying if the former is allowed to contest for fresh election, the objective of a single term tenure, which he said was meant to forestall overheating of the polity, usually caused by second term ambition, would have been defeated.

However, having shown the general public the Senate’s proposal for constitution amendment in 2013, the general public can now join the debate. Public debate on these recommendations will go a long way in shaping the eventual decision of both the National Assembly as well as state legislatures which have the final say on the review process as the mood and reactions from the general public will no doubt provide a direction for the lawmakers ahead of voting.

It will also affect the decision of the state legislators who will vote on proposals sent to them by the National Assembly. Therefore, all and sundry have been enjoined to join the debate now; or else, as it is usually said during a church wedding, anyone who does not speak out now, should elect to be silent forever.

A Return Move to National Planning
For two full days, the Senate Committee on National Panning and Poverty Alleviation, organised a public hearing on national planning and budgeting process last week. The aim of the hearing was to secure the opinion of the general public on the fresh move by the Senate to return Nigeria to the path of national planning which it abandoned over 30 years ago.

The move followed a motion by Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi (Ekiti North), which traced Nigeria’s stagnation to derailment from planning backed by effective budgeting process. Accordingly, stakeholders submitted that the decay in infrastructure, economic stagnation, increasing spate of poverty, among others, were part and parcel of the failure of respective governments in the nation to draw up development plans.

In his opening remark at the occasion, Chairman of Senate Committee on National Planning and Poverty Alleviation, Senator Barnabbas Gemade, did not mince words to emphasise that “a nation that fails to plan, has planned to fail.” This expression appears to succinctly describe the current state of Nigeria where its leaders every year prepares huge budget but fails to draw up the roadmap to which the budget will be channeled.

It was against this background that all stakeholders agreed that numerous woes befalling Nigeria today, began during the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd), when national planning which had driven Nigeria’s growth since 1962, was jettisoned.
Gemade also argued that national planning “enables a nation to make a conscious choice regarding the rate and direction of its growth,” adding: “The input of national planning policies in budget making in Nigeria today is almost limited only to providing data on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) usually generated by the National Bureau of Statistics.”

In the same vein, a Professor of Economics and Vice Chancellor of Veritas University, Nigeria, Mike Kwanashie, while speaking on the topic, ‘’Reviewing of National Planning and Budgetting Process,” recalled that since planning was abandoned in the 80s, “planning infrastructure was relegated to the background and the manpower was scattered throughout the civil service. The absence of long term planning to drive growth and development reflects in the current underdevelopment of many aspects of economic life of the nation.”

Also speaking at the event, Prof. Olu Ajakaiye, of the Centre for Shared Development Capacity Building, Ibadan, advocated a synergy in planning process between the private sector-oriented economy and the federal government, noting that the move would help in “building consensus among all stakeholders, in all parts of the federation on the vision of development and securing agreement on the basic strategy as well as priority action plan for realising this vision at all levels of government of the federation.” It is expected that policy makers will seize this opportunity to put Nigeria on the pedestal of development once again.

End of Second Legislative Session
During the week, senators ended their second legislative session and expectedly proceeded on a two-week recess. The recess which began on June 7 will end on June 25. The two-week recess period is a week shorter that the earlier three weeks scheduled in this year’s legislative calendar. According to the calendar, the recess ought to end July 1.

However, the senators seemed to have opted to reduce its break by one week in view of urgent legislative activities requiring their prompt attention. One of such urgent tasks is the debate on constitution amendment report and the pledge to complete the process by July and push the rest to the House of Representatives and state Houses of Assembly. This move by the Senate to shorten its break appears to be thoughtful and patriotic.

Senate President, Senator David Mark, had told his colleagues last Wednesday to adequately prepare for the debate on the amendment report, saying voting will not be done by the regular voice vote. Rather, Mark said: “Everyone will answer his father’s name during the voting exercise.” Whatever this means, the day will explain it. It is expected that the recess period will be a moment of lobbying and background politicking. Until then, the status quo remains.

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