During the outgone week, the National Assembly embarked on voting for approval of bills that will scale the federal hurdle of amendment and alteration of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended. The bills that scaled the hurdle will thereafter be forwarded for the concurrence of state Houses of Assembly before being presented for presidential assent. One of the most interesting bills that came up for the vote was the bill to alter the constitution and devolve more powers to the states. In other words, it was a bill to reduce the powers of the centre and decentralise some of the powers to the states where such powers would be better managed in the interest of the people.
As a background, it will be recalled that the ruling All Progressives Congress had in its manifesto and electoral promise to the Nigerian people stated that it would devolve powers from the centre to the states. The party understood that the skewed federalism was not working and not delivering in terms of sustainable development and welfare for the people. The overbearing centre has accumulated powers and duties it was not properly positioned to perform and execute and therefore, over the years, had behaved like a dog in the manger. It could neither propel sustainable development nor allow other tiers of government to do so. Specifically, in Section 25 dealing with Politics and Governance, it states that: “APC believes that our politics is broken. Our nation urgently needs fundamental political reform and improvement in governance to make it more transparent and accountable. APC will: (1). Initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench Federalism and the Federal Spirit”.
But when the time to deliver on the promise came, the APC started performing dance steps only cognisable to it and its members. President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier consigned the report of the 2014 National Conference to the dustbin and rejected any move to reshape the federation from the current structure and state to anything new. His command and control approach could only reaffirm the status quo and nothing more.
The reaction of the APC moved to the next level when key members like Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State called persons (indeed, senior members of the APC) who restated his party’s position, “political opportunists”. The party simply pretended it never made such commitment. It set up a committee to take a position on a promise which was getting overdue to be delivered. The Northern Governors Forum also set up a committee on restructuring. Before any of these committees could deliver and report on their assignments (which reports could be quite predictable), the National Assembly voted along regional lines – the North-South divide to reject the devolution of powers. At the time of these developments, the party never reached out to its members in the National Assembly (or the leadership) who had the powers to amend the constitution. Neither were the members included in the committee set up by the party. So, Nigerians are faced with a fait accompli.
The implication of this development is clear. Nigerians have been conned, lied to, taken for granted and led by the nose by a party that promised what it never ever intended to fulfill. The party was not under any obligation to make the promise. It was one voluntarily and freely made and as such, needed no reminders to be fulfilled. This refusal to implement the devolution promise is legally and morally wrong and stands deprecated by all right-thinking minds who can rise above the politicking of party labels.
The rejection of the bill, coming at a time of intense political pressures from major stakeholders in the country, shows a misreading of the political environment. The Boko Haram insurgency is picking up in intensity and more persons have been killed in the last couple of weeks contrary to the claim by Lai Mohammed it had been “technically degraded”. The agitation in the oil producing communities has yet to abate whilst the renewed demand for the state of Biafra in the South-East is ongoing. And we have the Arewa youths who have asked persons of Igbo nationality to leave their territory on or before October 1, 2017. The scourge of killings by Fulani herdsmen is still a recurring decimal which is even threatening crop and animal production due to its destructive nature. There is general discontent in the land and the leadership and its structure apparently have no answers to the economic recession, political agitations and social disharmony.
We need to recall that we have bottled up the initiative, drive and the latent energies of our people in the chocked up centre. We generate energy and feed into a collapsing national grid that cannot wheel more than 5,500 megawatts of electricity across the country. The government seems to only think of crude oil and a few of its derivatives and the oncoming post-fossil energy world is the least of its concerns. And on the basis of this, the government is still searching for oil in the Chad Basin instead of investing in renewable energy and replacements of the internal combustion engine. The National Assembly thinks not of a process of devolving powers that feed talent, creativity, innovation and technology. It thinks not of Nigeria launching rockets, building electric cars, exploring space, producing items for export, etc. No, Nigerians must live and die for crude oil. Indeed, the other mineral resources no longer exist and may not be needed until either oil finishes or its price crumbles to zero due to disruptive technologies.
Devolution of powers is about recognition of opportunities and harnessing them. What kind of mindset is this that fails to recognise opportunities and liberate energies for productive work? What kind of mindset is this rent-seeking mentality? Must someone lead when he lacks leadership qualities? Anyone who has come to the end of his thinking capacity has no business in the corridors of powers and the chambers of the legislature. Must other parts of Nigeria move at the speed of its most slow members? Enough of this crab mentality that drags down anyone who seeks to climb.
Nigerians, especially the young, whose future is being mortgaged should carefully study the happenings this time and use the results to perform their civic duty of electing their leaders in 2019. Promising and deliberately failing to fulfil is cheap; it is obtaining votes by false pretences, the proverbial “419”. There is nothing noble about it.