Tambuwal, constitutional amendments and state governors

Last week, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal performed what is most likely to be his last official function as the speaker of the House of Representatives, transmitting the 3rd amendments of the 1999 Constitution to the State Houses of Assembly for concurrence or rejection (in part or in full). The smart aleck that he is, he allowed the motion for adjournment of the house plenary sitting to December 3 to be moved and passed before announcing his long-expected official defection to APC. By that move, we can only speculate on what could have happened the next day on the floor. I am prepared to bet with my pension income that it would never have been business as usual! I am sure that he understands the popular Nigerian proverb: ‘cunny man die, cunny man bury am’.

Aminu Tambuwal is a smart and cunning politician. It is difficult to correctly interpret the coy smile on his face most times. But he is a damn good strategist. Since the return to democratic governance in 1999, he is the first speaker, or indeed the first leader of the National Assembly (both Reps and Senate), to assume office against the wish of the party and the president. In the Obasanjo times, you could dare to go against the wish of the party, but could not attempt to go against the wish of the president. But not so with our ‘civilian’ President Jonathan who is certainly more tolerant of the separation of powers. So Tambuwal had remained speaker for almost four years with apparent ease. Not once was his position threatened! Even in the split seconds that APC assumed the majority of the house after the gale of defections, there was no shaking!

It must therefore be admitted that Tambuwal has exhibited an uncanny ability to wield together proposition and opposition. I do not know how he did it, but my guess is that he was two parties in one. On his outer shell was PDP but his inner core was APC. It must be recalled that he was originally a member of ANPP, one of the legacy parties that merged to form the APC, and that he only defected to PDP in 2011, most probably out of political expediency. So it is plausible to conclude that he truly does not share the PDP philosophy but did his best to walk the tight rope, maintaining allegiance to both parties while biding his time to return to his party of comfort. I salute him for his political dexterity and sagacity (apologies to K. O. Mbadiwe). I do not know exactly where next he is going, perhaps to be governor of Sokoto State or to try his hand at the presidency. I will keep a watch on him and see how far this dexterity and ability to run with the hares and hunt with the lions will take him.

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The National Assembly has proposed 23 amendments to the constitution in this 3rd round of review of the 1999 Constitution. According to them, the amendments represent the wishes of most of the Nigerians they spoke to during their tour across the nation. Yes, in many respects true, but not in all. For example, most Nigerians wanted the immunity clause for governors and president removed. But they rejected this popular demand, retained the immunity clause and actually extended the immunity to include themselves. ‘He who blows the pipe must find space to blow his nose!’

Among the 23 amendments passed by the National Assembly and now passed to the State Houses of Assembly for concurrence, none is more critical and enjoys near total agreement than that which seeks to remove local governments as mere appendages or surrogates of state governments and give them administrative and fiscal autonomy. Since 1999, our local governments have not worked. In most of our states, the state governors just emasculated the local governments in the name of joint accounts. They usurped the money but failed to deliver on the LGA mandate. To ensure this goes on unchallenged, many state governors refused to allow elections in the local governments, even when it was certain that their nominees would win willy-nilly. They preferred caretaker committees or transitional committees, because these could be appointed this morning and removed in the evening. It was sickening how the transitional chairman’s chair was rotating in some states.

In many states, it made the governors too powerful and some became emperors and acted as military sole administrators. This has neither served the suffering masses well, nor given our democracy any good name. Resources that should have been used to solve local problems and elevate the quality of lives of the local folks who live in the run-down and neglected rural villages are concentrated in the centre and used to pamper the elites or pursue fanciful projects of the governor and his political associates. This is one major reason poverty has remained pervasive in our country. We are constantly ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

This is why I wish to use this medium to appeal to our governors to allow that particular amendment to pass. Because of their hold on the state legislature, it is only what they want passed that will pass. Having ‘fed’ on this ‘fat cow’ for a long time, it may be difficult to let it go and certainly not without a fight. It is only natural that the governors will see this amendment as a big affront that will erode their powers and influence and may use all their ‘powers’ to kill it. But I beg them to look beyond the four or eight years when they are governors and think of life after that. They should be patriots and statesmen and grant this universal wish of the people of Nigeria. Luckily, many of them are completing their second terms and heading to the Senate, so the ‘loss’ will make minimal impact.

Concerning the issue of autonomy for the state legislatures, this is also good as it will strengthen our democracy and actualise the separation of power in the states as has been largely achieved in the federal. But if you ask me, seeking for this autonomy for legislators as well as asking for autonomy for the local governments at the same time may be too much for our governors to bear at the same time. Perhaps, this can await the next round of amendments or when a new constitution will be written. It is clear from what the National Assembly has done that they paid scant attention to the resolutions and recommendations of the recently-concluded National Conference. One of their major recommendations is that only the states should be the federating units, in which case the states would be free to create, fund or refuse to fund as many local government areas as they wish. If this happens, the state governors may recover the local government resources and it will be easier for them to grant the state legislature autonomy. But for now it may be challenging to achieve both. For me, I vote for local government autonomy but if we also get state legislative autonomy, that will be like a bonus from our governors and will indeed signify that our democracy is maturing.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa

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