Asaba Public Hearing Dwells on Power Devolution, Resource Control

Asaba Public Hearing Dwells on Power Devolution, Resource Control

The House of Representatives public hearing, Asaba zone, dwelt on several important issues but was heavy on issues of power devolution, fiscal federalism as well as the establishment of state police. Broadly, major areas of concern at the two-day public hearing include, federal structure in governance and power devolution, public revenue, fiscal federalism and revenue

The House of Representatives public hearing, Asaba zone, dwelt on several important issues but was heavy on issues of power devolution, fiscal federalism as well as the establishment of state police.

Deputy Speaker House of Reps, Hon Ahmed Idris Wase and Speaker Delta House of Assembly, Hon Sheriff Oborevwori

Broadly, major areas of concern at the two-day public hearing include, federal structure in governance and power devolution, public revenue, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation; and constitutional provision for the establishment of State police.

The public hearing held a public hearing on the review of the 1999 Constitution in Asaba was for three states of Bayelsa, Delta and Edo. The event which took place at the Event Centre Okpanam road, Asaba witnessed robust presentations of memoranda from diverse groups and interests along the suggested 16-thematic areas as proposed by the National Assembly Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution.

Among the Stakeholders that presented documents to support their positions from the three States mentioned earlier were labour organizations, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), National Council of Women Societies of Nigeria (NCWS) and National Council of Traditional Rulers of Nigeria (NCTRN).

In his opening remark, Delta State Governor, Senator Dr. Ifeanyi Arthur Okowa, at the occasion said the first step on the road of national redemption and cohesion was to produce a constitution that reflects the yearnings and aspirations of the Nigerian people.

The Governor who was represented by the Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborovwori emphasized the urgency required in coming up with a constitution that will be acceptable to all, adding that it was evident this country can no longer continue on the present trajectory of alternating between cycles of crises.

He explained that agitations for separation by some ethnic nationalities were getting louder due to perceived marginalization in the existing structure and stressed the need for decisive and urgent actions to calm the raging storm, regain confidence in the Nigerian project and halt the seeming drift into anarchy.

The Governor said that the State had examined proposed areas of amendments exhaustively, especially in the areas of fiscal federalism, devolution of powers, State police and Local Government creation by States.

Among the amendments proposed from the zone to be removed from the Exclusive list of the 1999 Constitution and added to the Concurrent list under the demand for devolution of powers to the federating units were item (2) Provision on arms, ammunition and explosives to be transferred to concurrent list to enable States to facilitate the provision of requisite arms, ammunition and explosives for State police force.

Item (7) Borrowing of money within and outside Nigeria: an amendment to enable States as autonomous units to have powers to source funds within and outside the country for development purposes without recourse to the Federal Government.

Item (8) Constitutional provision on census which is presently on the Exclusive List should be moved to the concurrent list to enable the States take census of their own demography and undertake registration of births and deaths for effective development planning.

Also proposed for transfer from the Exclusive list to concurrent list to enable them exercise powers over commercial and contracts is item (10) Commercial and industrial monopolies, combines and trusts.

On item (11) which bothers on construction, alteration and maintenance of Federal Trunk roads; it was proposed that this provision be moved to the Concurrent List to enable States to construct, repair and maintain such roads and receive commensurate refunds from the Federal Government. This they said would help to prevent its citizens from being exposed to hazards posed by such roads.

Control of capital issues (12) was proposed for transfer to the concurrent list in line with principles of devolution of powers to the States but that States should not have powers with respect to foreign matters.

Exclusive list item (17) Defense and (38) Military (army, navy and Airforce, including any other branch of the armed forces) of the Federation be merged. They opined that defense and military cannot be separated.

Provision in item (29) On fishing and fisheries other than fishing and fisheries in rivers, lakes, waterways, ponds and other inland waters within Nigeria; was proposed for transfer to concurrent list with the proviso that the Federal Government cannot legislate on fish and fisheries on inland water bodies. They believed that it will enhance the capacity of the States to benefit from the littoral waters bordering their land masses.

Also proposed for transfer from exclusive list to concurrent are items (33) Insurance and (46) Posts, telegraphs and telephones. This was based on the argument that these are commercial contract which States are competent to handle.

On exclusive list item (34) Labour matters, the three States and Labour organizations differed in their proposals. The States demanded that labour matters with respect to Federal should continue to pertain exclusively to Federal Government while those of the State should pertain to the State Government in accordance with the principles of federalism. Labour insisted that Labour matters be retained on exclusive list for uniformity in line with international labour laws as its removal from exclusive list would only expose Nigeria to international ridicule and opprobrium.

Items (36) which has to do with Maritime shipping and navigation was also proposed for transfer from exclusive list to concurrent list to enable States control their water bodies and sea-front so as to harness their full advantages for the development of their areas and people.

Exclusive list litem (39): Mines and minerals including oil fields, oil mining geological surveys and natural gas; and item (43): Patents, trademarks, trade or business names, industrial designs and merchandise were proposed for transfer to concurrent list in accordance to the principles of federalism.

Item (45) which is on Police and other government security services established by law was proposed to be removed from the Exclusive list and transferred to concurrent list to enable State Government assume responsibility for the security of their citizens. However, the Traditional Council of Nigeria added a proposal for Local Government Police for effective community policing.

Prisons matter which was on exclusive item (48) was also proposed for transfer to concurrent list in view of the envisaged decentralization of justice system, including establishment of the State police.

Item (54) on Quarantine was proposed for transfer to concurrent list to make States more effective in the management of the public health of their citizens.

Item (55) on Railway was also proposed for transfer to concurrent list to enable State construct and man railways in their States different from Federal railways as an additional instrument of development.

Proposed also for transfer to concurrent list is item (60) which bothers on the establishment and regulation of authorities for the Federation or any part thereof. This they believe would enable both Federal and State governments to create and enforce systems for promoting the observance of the fundamental objectives and directing principles contained in chapter two of the constitution.

Item (61): Formation, annulment and dissolution of marriages other than marriages under Islamic law and customary laws including matrimonial causes relating thereto was requested for transfer to concurrent list. They believed that these are matters within the competent of States to handle.

Another item proposed for transfer to concurrent list is item (63) which has to do with Traffic on Federal trunk roads, so that States should be enabled to contribute to order and public safety on Federal roads traversing their territories.

All the groups who spoke in the area of mineral resources insisted on constitution amendment to provide for 100 per cent ownership and control of mineral and other resources by federating units and subsequent payment of taxes to the Federal Government.

Also recommended were electoral reforms to strengthen the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and creation of four more States for the South-South geopolitical zone namely, Toru-Ebe, Ogoja, Oil River and Anioma States and six more Local Government Areas for Bayelsa State as it currently has only eight LGAs among others.

Residency and indigene provisions were also recommended by groups for alteration to give indigene rights to persons who have lived in a particular State of a number of years or married a spouse from that State. Such persons having paid their taxes and having been good residents should be conferred with “indigene ship” and should enjoy every right as though he or she is a natural born indigene of the State of locality.

There was also recommendation for comprehensive judicial reforms, decentralization of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court for decongestion and timely disposition of cases. In line with true federalism, they recommended establishment of independent Courts of Appeal and Supreme Courts in various States of the federation.

Gender equity and increased participation of women and vulnerable groups in governance were recommended. Suggested for inclusion in the constitution is for women to serve as Vice President where a man is the President and for this to be replicated in the States and Local Governments. This they believe would promote gender equality

Gender mainstreaming, abolition of male superiority over the female, inclusion of rights to inheritance for female children and elimination of all forms of discrimination against any person irrespective of sex, age, disability, colour etc, were proposed.

Some of the speakers spoke for the sustenance of immunity of President, Vice President, Governors and Deputy Governors to avoid distraction in governance and abolition of bicameral legislation for unitary legislation. They also recommended for every State to have five (5) representatives at the House of Representatives while each Local Government Area should have 4 representatives at the State House of Assembly.

The Traditional Council of Nigeria demanded that National Youth Service Corp be extended to all youths on attainment of age 18 irrespective of educational qualification to foster unity, peace and love among all ethnic groups in the country. They also recommended reinstatement and elevation of the status of the traditional rulers, creation of State police and Local government police.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) sought recognitions of the religious and traditional leaders, full decentralization of security agencies, Court of Appeal for States and removal of Sharia Court. If Sharia Court cannot be abolished, ecclesiastic Courts should be introduced for the Christians. No opening of Sharia Court in States so that all States should be under the common laws of the land. They also canvassed Equity for all citizens.

Also demanded was that all elected public office holders should not enjoy immunity from prosecution on criminal cases. In order to avoid distraction while in office, elected office holders should enjoy immunity from persecution only on civil cases.

Much as these aspirations may mean a whole lot to the advocates, they may never be realized and their efforts may be wasted if the required two-third affirmation from State Houses of Assembly was not met.

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