Nigerian states Houses of Assembly have condemned the National Assembly for rejecting to pass the bill seeking to adopt devolution of powers in the ongoing constitution alteration in the country.
The state assemblies expressed their displeasure towards the failure of the nation’s highest legislative institution during their transmission of their resolutions on constitution amendments to the leadership of the National Assembly on Thursday.
They also asked the National Assembly to revisit the issue of devolution of powers in the next constitution alteration exercise, stressing that such was the wish of the people at the grassroots.
The Chairman of the Conference of Speakers, and Speaker of the Kebbi State House of Assembly, Mr. Abdulmumin Ismaila Kamba, expressed these positions while transmitting to the leadership of the National Assembly the report on state Houses of Assembly resolutions on constitution amendments carried out by the National Assembly last year.
He noted that the 34 out of 36 state assemblies went through the 29 constitution amendment bills sent to them and concurred with the National Assembly on 15 of them. Lagos and Rivers states were the only two states that did not participate in the exercise, a situation the President of the Senate described as “disappointing”.
Mr. Ismaila Kamba said that during their interactions with stakeholders at the grassroots on the proposed constitution amendments, they expressed their displeasure on the absence of devolution of powers from all the items sent, noting that the state assemblies carried out their duties in accordance with the yearnings of the people.
According to him, “the process of amending the constitution is more inclusive than exhaustive. Section 29 of the constitution defines the role of the state houses of assembly in any alteration exercise. In this forth alteration, just like in the previous ones, state legislators have not only acted expeditiously given the importance of the exercise but also discharged their constitutional duties in line with the yearning and aspirations of the people the represent.
“The alteration exercise has been challenging but worthwhile. We are not however, under any illusion that it will be free of opposition given the experience in the 7th Assembly.
“While we believe that every proposed amendment transmitted to the state houses of assembly by the National Assembly for ratification reflect the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians, the voting out of the bill on the devolution of powers by the National Assembly which was part of the original work taken by this assembly has been strongly condemned by the people at the grassroots.
“Therefore, on behalf of the constituents, we want to plead that the bill on the devolution of power be reconsidered and form part of the next proposed amendments to the constitution.
In his remarks, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, emphasised that there would never be a solid democracy without an independent legislature.
Mr. Dogara commended the state assemblies for approving autonomy for state assemblies but frowned that they denied the local governments the same autonomy, lamenting that such would lead to short changing of the bulk of Nigerians living at the grassroots.
“Virtually all governments all over the world lay claim to be democratic, even states we know them to be practicing dictatorship, they call themselves democratic republic of ABC. So, it appears that the aspiration of any government is to be democratic but yet, there is no government out there that can truly be described as being the most democratic if it doesn’t have a fiercely independent legislature,” he said.
According to Mr. Dogara, “That has been one of the major challengers in our democratic journey in Nigeria, even though they say nascent democracy. I don’t know how long it will take us to grow. As a matter of fact, democracy has always been defined by men and women of courage. If our democracy works in Nigeria, it is because we are making it work; if it fails it is because we don’t want it to succeed but God forbid because it may not be the best form of government except that I am not aware of any better form of government.
“I want to thank you for acceding to the independence of the legislature at the local level. This is a very remarkable departure from the position in the past. The previous state assemblies turned it down when the national approved the bill seeking to grant independence to state assemblies themselves.
“Majority of our people live in the states, so, if our democracy does not work well at the state level, it means that most of our people, the overwhelming majority of Nigerians will be short changed in terms of delivering the promise of democracy to them.
Meanwhile, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, gave the assurance that the devolution of powers being demanded for by Nigerians would surely be attended to by the National Assembly as soon as possible. He however, urged the State Houses of Assembly to also ensure the passage of constitutional amendment on local government autonomy when sent to them again.
In his words, “the foundation of our Constitution rest on its ability to enable strengthen our unity, deepen democracy, engender good governance, and enable the enforcement and protection of our peoples’ rights as they go about seeking a better life for themselves. These are the crux of the proposed alterations to the constitution which the 8th National Assembly in accordance with the 1999 Constitution sent to the State Assemblies for their approval.
“The conclusion of this process today is another great testament to the growing stature of our democratic practice and the maturity that all of you in this room and those outside it have shown. I am proud of the value and the patriotism you have exhibited to get us this far. I commend your hard work and your forthrightness.
“The process of amending the constitution is a solemn process that is not flimsily embarked upon. These current amendments which have passed through the last constitutional hurdle will help strengthen the bonds of our unity, strengthen our institutions to provide good governance.
“We remain resolved to continue to take on the hard-national issues that hold us down with a view to using all legislative and constitutional measures to resolve them for the welfare and security of our people. It is our expectations that, with the success of the current exercise and the lessons learned, we are better equipped to take on more constitutional proposals that would give our people greater sense of belonging, safety and oneness including the issues of devolution of powers.”