Heeding Attahiru Jega’s ConstitutionalCounsel
The mixed reactionswith which Nigeria’s 60th anniversarywas celebrated by Nigerians, revealed the depth of resignation and cynicism pervading the nation at a time, when debate on restructuring has takenthe political centre stage.The debate which persists against the backdrop of rising ethnic agitations, will either serve as a trigger for restructuring or a tripwire for an uncharted change. Political leaders and pundits divide between supporters and sceptics of restructuring. Into this breach steps Professor Attahiru M. Jega, a professor of Political Science and former Chairman of INEC, who in the past three years, alone or in collaboration with other like-minded persons,made contributions to the debate on three important public policy issues. These are reflected in the titles of:"Pastoralist-Farmers Conflicts and the Search for Peaceful Resolution"(2018); and “Time for Dialogue is Now” (2020) published under the auspices on Nigerian Working Group on Peacebuilding and Governance. “On Constitutionalism: Towards Restructuring Nigeria” (2020), his third piece, was solely authored by him.
The tone, style and substance of all the three papers elicit admiration. They are devoid of threats and diktat – a sad carryoverattribute from the military era that many highly-placed Nigerians seem unable to transcend. More importantly, the exposés outlined common sense proposals for dealing with some contentious national issues. For instance, on the pastoralists-farmers conflict, Jega and his group observed that “Pastoralism is not sustainable in Nigeria over the long term due to high population growth rate, expansion of farming and loss of pasture and cattle routes… but the traditional form of pastoralism should continue for a period to be agreed upon.” More crucially, they argued that a “programme for the country’s transition to modern forms of animal husbandry must be accelerated” and advocated the “need for permanent settlement of the pastoralists…with commercial ranches established in the sparsely populated zones in the North East (Sambisa Game Reserve in Borno State) and North West (Gidan Jaja Grazing Reserve in Zamfara State).” Had these sensible proposals been embraced and enacted as the centerpiece of public policy on addressing the herders’challenges, the ensuing tensionsand controversies would have been avoided. It’s noteworthy that even the FGN’s policy choice, the National Livestock Transformation Planhas not doused lingering suspicions and pushback on the matter.
Jega’s contribution on the urgent need for dialogue on national issues is both important and germane to any serious efforts at nation-building. But it is Jega’s most recent contribution on ‘constitutional reforms’ that deserves much appreciation. In seeking to provide a solution to some constitutional issues bedeviling Nigeria, especially modalities for restructuring, Jega asked what “restructuring” of the Nigerian federation should entail. In laying out his proposals for constitutional reforms, Jega asserts that “statements like ‘Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable’ or ‘Nigeria’s continued stay as one country is not negotiable’ are factually incorrect, wishful thinking and politically abhorrent to those making the demand”.Hehelpfully suggests that the unity of every nation is subject to negotiations and “continuous improvement”. Indeed, that is why constitutional democracies periodically enact and embrace amendments to their constitutions. He, then, offers wide-ranging proposals, covering the [federal] structure, power sharing, resources and revenue allocation -– all predicated on his observation that “the 1999 Constitution has concentrated too much power and resources in the hands of the federal government, [requiring] adispassionate review of the 1999 Constitution.”
Herein, we will focus on only five of the myriad proposals by Jega. He proposes that Nigeria should: (1) revert to the two-tier system: Federal and States, with Local Government Areas subsumed under the states; (2) abjurethe merger of existing states, except by referendum in which two- thirds majority have voted yes, adding that under no circumstancesshould the merger or reconfiguration of existing states into regions as federating units, analogous to what obtained in the past, be contemplated; (3) have a short federal exclusive list, consisting of foreign affairs, national defense and security, monetary policies and commerce with a short concurrent list, consisting of policing, taxation and tertiary education/health and whatever is no listed belongs to the residual powers of the states; (4)retain the federal character principle withidentified challenges in its implementation must be redressed;and (5) review upwards the derivation formula to 18 percent and adjust the revenue allocation formula so that the federal government would be entitled to a maximum of 40 percent and the states 60 percent.
Jega’s proposals represent an opening bid for negotiations on constitutional reforms. Still, his proposals, like those under consideration by the Senate Ad hoc Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution,falls short of a major overhaul of the constitution by convening of a Constituent Assembly. Since the path of constitutional incrementalism is what is currently on offer, we propose some amendments to Jega’s proposals. To enhance the fiscal viability of the states, the derivation formula should be increased to 25 percent. The exclusive of legislative items should not include water resources and the federal government should abandon the water bill now under consideration. The objection is based on both practice and principle. As a practical matter, the federal government has been a poor steward of the oil and other mineral resources creating many tensions. In principle, the current bill further deepens the centralisation of powers on water issues beyond the spirit in Schedule II (64) of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended), which itself requires to be reviewed in favour of the states. While the federal character principle can be retained, precisely because its implementation has gone terribly awry, more sustained efforts would be required to retain public confidence in it. National cohesion and solidarity cannot endure infinitely, when federal principle has witnessed deeply troubling distortions. Rather than promote equity and inclusivity, federal character principle has deepened faultlines.
* Otobo is a Non-Resident Senior Expert at the Global Governance Institute, Brussels.
Obaze is Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Selonnes Consult in Awka