Welcome Remarks at the Two-Day North West Zonal Public Hearing on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, held at General Hassan Usman Katsina House, Kaduna Wednesday, 26th May 2021.
There is a fierce urgency to the need to make necessary and significant adjustments to the legal framework for governing our country.
We have no other option but to make pragmatic choices, rooted in a binding national consensus, on the best structure to secure this country, promote its progress and development and advance the welfare and prosperity of our people.
2. As a nation, we are facing one of our most trying times.
We have profound social problems.
Our economy is struggling. Across the country, citizens harbor widespread fears and anxiety about their security.
Insecurity has created a febrile atmosphere, worsened by a barrage of extreme rhetoric, ethnic profiling, and fake news that seeks to exploit the distress, pains and misery of our people to further separatist and divisive ends.
3. Political leaders have a duty to help overcome these fears and replace them with the mutual confidence to build anew.
Rather than wallow in strife and division, we can mobilize our people, across the diversity of Nigeria, in a joint endeavor for peace, progress and prosperity.
It is in our hands to build Nigeria as a strong country that is secure enough to protect all who live in it, progressive enough to promote equal opportunity and common citizenship, and flexible enough to empower sub-nationals.
4. We need consensus on constitutional and political arrangements that prioritize security, democracy and progress.
This should include agreement on:
a. Commitment to the rule of law and quick dispensation of justice.
b. Common citizenship, respect for diversity and protection of citizenship rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
c. Meritocracy and equal opportunity for all citizens without discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender or circumstances of birth.
d. Prioritization of human development, particularly free basic education and healthcare for all.
e. Devolution of powers to States and Local Governments to attain true federalism, engender competition between sub-nationals, and focus the Federal Government to effectively deliver on matters of national defence, security, foreign policy and macroeconomic management.
5. As I have stated repeatedly, we need to put the substance of federalism into our country, beyond bearing the name of a federation.
To attain true federalism is to empower the sub-nationals. I had the privilege of chairing the APC Committee on True Federalism.
We proposed significant devolution of powers between the national government and the 36 States in our recommendations, including the transfer of ten items from the Exclusive to the Concurrent List, so that they fall under the control of the states and the Federal Government.
6. I will elaborate on the key recommendations of our Committee, as contained in the report we submitted in January 2018 and which is available online, and already formally presented to the National Assembly.
7. The views I am expressing in these remarks are mine as a citizen and not that of the Kaduna State Government, other Governors or citizens of our State.
Kaduna State is submitting its official memorandum, while other stakeholders will appear before you for their own contributions.
8. I regard devolution of powers as a pragmatic imperative because the current structure overburdens the Federal Government with too many responsibilities which it cannot efficiently handle.
Therefore, the A.P.C Committee on True Federalism proposed that the following items should be shared responsibilities, rather exclusive to the Federal Government:
b. Oil and Gas (other than offshore in the Continental Shelf and Extended Economic Zone)
c. Mines and Minerals (other than offshore in the Continental Shelf and Extended Economic Zone)
f. Fingerprint and criminal identification records
g. Stamp Duties
h. Registration of Business Names
i. Food, Drugs and Poisons (other than Narcotics)
j. National Minimum Wage
9. I will dwell on a few of the issues in our Committee’s report that I believe are critical to the country’s immediate needs.
10. First is the question of our security arrangements.
The reality of our security situation today requires that Nigeria must strengthen its military and security agencies.
This includes decentralizing the police to enable the states to exercise effective control in securing their residents and communities.
The challenges of these times conclusively demonstrate that centralized policing arrangements are grossly inaccurate.
We need to have Federal, State and Community Police, with each granted sufficient powers to make them effective in securing the areas assigned to them and cooperating closely with each other.
Nigeria has many ungoverned spaces and increasingly brazen criminal elements. Our security agencies need a surge in numbers, equipment, and technology, as well as structure.
11. Those expressing concerns about the ability of the states to bear the cost of policing should realize that apart from the payment of salaries by the Federal Government, most of the operational and capital costs of the Nigeria Police are borne by State and Local Governments.
These include vehicles, fuel, construction of police stations, provision of communications equipment and overheads.
The fear of abuse of State Police by sub-national governments is misplaced for at least two reasons – the levels of insecurity across the country and the near helplessness of the Police makes addressing the need to put more police officers on the ground a greater priority than any other thing.
Furthermore, a constitutional or statutory framework can be enacted to ensure federal intervention in egregious cases of abuse of police power by State Governors.
12. In addition to transferring Policing to the Concurrent List, there is the need to alter the Constitution to remove the existence of, and any reference, to the Police Service Commission.
This Commission, which is one of the innovations of the 1999 Constitution, is an unnecessary cog in the wheel of policing in Nigeria.
The power to hire and fire police officers should revert fully and totally to the Inspector General of Police, under the supervision of the National Police Council, as envisaged by the Constitution.
13. Secondly, it is time to vest control of mineral resources, including oil and gas and solid minerals, in the states, which will in turn pay royalties and taxes to the Federation Account.
States already control land within their territories, courtesy of the Land Use Act, which is incorporated into the Constitution by reference.
One of the reasons why mining has not quite taken off in our country is because of the dichotomy and total disconnect between the federal institution that issues licenses for mining and the state agencies that ultimately control not only the land and title thereto, but any approval to undertake any development on the land.
14. Thirdly, we need to restore to the states powers to establish, staff and run their own judiciary up to appellate level.
It is an anomaly to have a National Judicial Council appointing high court judges for states.
This should be the responsibility of State Judicial Councils. The remit of the National Judicial Council should be limited to the federal high and appellate courts.
The constitutional amendment should clarify that the states can establish courts to exercise jurisdiction at first instance, or on appeal on matters for which the states can make laws.
In essence, I am suggesting that judges of State High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal should be nominated by the State Judicial Council, subject to confirmation by the House of Assembly.
15. States should also be enabled to establish State Courts of Appeal, similar to what we used to have at the regional level under the 1963 Republican Constitution.
State Court of Appeal will entertain appeals from State High Courts, Customary and Sharia Courts of Appeal, on matters on which the State House of Assembly is empowered by the Constitution to make laws.
This arrangement will make our judicial processes faster, encourage competition, deepen our jurisprudence and restore citizens’ trust.
It will also significantly reduce the burden on the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
16. Fourthly, the Constitution should empower each state to decide the model of democratic local government that best suits it.
Nigeria is a federation of the 36 states and the Federal Government.
Listing the 774 Local Governments in the Constitution and trying to establish for them direct relations with the Federal Government violates the spirit of federalism.
Each state should decide how many local governments it can efficiently run and fund for better governance and delivery of public goods.
Each state should decide what typology of local governance fits its historical, cultural and administrative circumstances, but the resulting framework must be democratic, with periodic elections at no longer than four year intervals.
17. Adopting this proposal means that the revenue allocation formula will specify what proportion of federation transfers is for the local governments, and the State House of Assembly will legislate the vertical and horizontal formulae for sharing between them under the supervision and control of the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission.
No state government shall be allowed under any guise to take control of local government funds, and the Constitution should entrench safeguards and sanctions, including withholding state funds due from the Federation Account in the event of any reported diversions, impoundment or misappropriation.
18. Fifthly, some of our Committee’s recommendations are clear, not controversial and simply conform with common sense.
For instance, why should the Federal Government be enabled by the Constitution to fix a national minimum wage that it can afford but most of the states, has been unable to implement?
For the records, Kaduna State is the first government to pay the national minimum wage approved in 2019, with consequential adjustments of up to 66% for most state civil servants.
Our compliance with this national law makes it easier for us to say what I am about to say.
It is a truism that the cost of living varies widely across the nation so a federal minimum wage cannot fit all.
A minimum wage is certainly desirable to protect citizens from exploitation, but it should be on the Concurrent List due to variations in cost of living and ability to pay.
This alteration will enable the Federal Government to legislate a minimum wage for federal employees and those that reside and work in the FCT, while for instance, Zamfara State legislates a minimum wage different from tax-endowed Lagos State or oil-rich Rivers State, as examples.
19. Finally, transferring items like railways and prisons to the Concurrent List offers opportunities for both State and Federal Governments to collaborate concurrently to ensure we have light rail systems in our towns and cities, and many more prisons in the states to reduce the current congestions in our federal correctional facilities.
Many Nigerians are not old enough to know that most of the correctional facilities of the Federal Government today were built by the regional governments and native authorities of pre- and post-independent Nigeria.
They were taken over by military fiat after the tragic events of 1966.
20. In addition to some of the alterations to the Constitution listed above, our Committee also identified legislative interventions that the National Assembly can more easily undertake to achieve the goal of a truly balanced, equitable and fair federal structure.
We also drafted bills to alter the Constitution and amend or repeal existing legislations to achieve the overall objective of true federalism.
I am pleased to observe that some of the draft bills incorporated in our report – notably on state police and the minimum wage have been reviewed, updated and improved by several members of the National Assembly and are at the Second Reading stage of legislative action. This is commendable.
21. Let me conclude, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Senators, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen with one or two caveats.
I am of the strong conviction that we need to devolve powers in our country to rebalance our federation for better governance.
But I do not share the view that restructuring or devolution is a silver bullet that will solve all our problems overnight, given the gravity of our multi-pronged challenges.
Adjustments to our Constitution will not solve all our problems as a nation.
However, it will help us solve some immediate problems, and provide a platform for future leaders to resolve the medium- and longer-term issues.
The limitations imposed by the current structure are obvious and we should all be eager to overcome them.
22. Let me also assure our distinguished and honorable members of the National Assembly that on virtually all issues listed above, there is a groundswell of consensus among many elected officials.
Our Committee had membership including about ten governors, some of whom are now in the Senate.
As Governors, we are also acutely aware that unless we support devolution from federal to state to local governments, with adequate safeguards that guarantee the functioning of our democracy, our country will continue to be a nation of potential instead of attaining the greatness, prosperity and progress that our human, material and endowments promise our citizens.
23. On this note, it is my singular honor and privilege to declare open the North-West Zonal Public Hearing on the review of the Constitution open. Once again, I welcome you all to Kaduna and wish you fruitful deliberations as we reposition our country for greatness.
@views exclusive rights: Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State, May 26, 2021.