• Saturday, July 20, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

As president gives assent to bills

President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, ordered the Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Sani Haruna, to immediately hand over to the most senior officer in the organization.

President Buhari on March 15, 2023 signed into law bills that would result to the alteration of some aspects of the 1999 Constitution. By this development the President signed into law 16 out of the 19 bills that were forwarded to the President by the National Assembly on January 24, 2033 for his assent.

It will be recalled as we proceed on this discussion the many agitations for the restructuring of the Nigerian Federation which rent the airs with some prominent individuals arguing that nothing positive would be achieved in terms of rapid development of the economy if we do not restruture the polity, no matter who was in charge. Unbelievably there was suggestions for the establishment of an Interim Government as is currently being re echoed!

But a major concern in this respect is that there was no discernible consensus on what really restructuring means in the reality of the Nigerian situation today. But one issue all will seem to be sold on is the imperatives of the need to unbundle the exclusive list in the Constitution to move many matters to the concurrent status to reduce the unwholesome concentration of powers at the centre and foster the wholesome principles of subsidiarity. And therefore the signing into law of these bills that would inevitably result in changing aspects of the Constitution is seen as a short cut to responding to the agitations for a restructured polity.

The details of some of the prominent bills now assented to by Mr. President include:

1) States can now generate and distribute electricity in areas where the national grid is operational;

2) Own and Operate railways;

3) State Assemblies and Judiciary were granted financial autonomy;

4) Executive must submit the names of ministerial and commissioners nominees to the National/State Assemblies within 60 days of their swearing in;

5) The Nigerian Prison Services was renamed The Nigerian Correctional Services.

There were some prominent amendments proposed such as; the provision for the creation of State police, Gender related affirmative action and financial autonomy for local government authorities which the President so far has not assented to.

It is eye opening to examine what for instance Financial autonomy for Sate Assemblies and judiciary portend. Hitherto the state Assemblies were tied to the apron strings of the State governments as they were dependent on State governments to fund their budgets and we must recall here the saying that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. There is therefore no surprise that the experience has been that the state governments hitherto had the state Assemblies in their pockets with their oversight responsibilities performed in the breach.

Often the full implications of this is that the Budget process is sub-optimized and abused. The rigour that should be associated with the process was lacking and as a result, for instance, borrowings by state governments are not properly scrutinised creating the perfect scenario for the perpetuation of the debt overhang syndrome that is prevalent across the length and breadth of the Federation including for that matter the Federal Government.

Similarly the Judiciary could not be effective in a situation of lack of financial autonomy. With the situation of dependence that hitherto prevailed, the Judiciary could be easily blackmailed. We therefore expect with this development that both the Judiciary and Executive will receive their funding as first line charges directly from the Federation Account.

And therefore be on a position to discharge their responsibilities without let or hindrance. The Judiciary needs to brace up as its rapidly losing its credibility because of recent landmark judgements which did not resonate with common sense. It is also in order to note that Nigerians are eager waiting to see how an obviously flawed elections petitions will fare in the courts.

The law that provides for the Executive to submit the list of ministerial/commissioners nominee for clearance within sixty days of their swearing in might not look as important. But we had an experience whereby President Buhari took almost one year after having been sworn in to nominate ministers he was in a position to have nominated two weeks after he assumed office.

We were then regaled with stories such as that ministers are noise makers and it was civil servants that did the job! But such appointments are included in the Constitution and therefore couldn’t have been included if they were mainly sinecure. With lateness in making such appointments one message is conveyed and understood; that of lack of preparedness to assume urgent and crucial responsibilities. From where I stand, the requirement that portfolios should be indicated was not included. This is important, if the approving authorities are to be able to ensure that round pegs are fitted into round holes.

The provision that now allows sub national governments to generate and distribute electricity would seem to have been earlier taken for granted except to the extent that some restrictions that might have existed with regard to areas covered by the National Grid must have now been removed. Otherwise many states at some point or another have made efforts to provide Independent power supplies before now.

In anycase one expects that this matter will be accorded the focus and seriousness it deserves as there are not many factors of our national life that had made our environment unattractive as well as uncompetitive as lack of steady and reliable power supply.

The issue of state policing is strongly recommended but not now included. There are arguments against this proposal which include possible abuse as opponents are hounded and chased out of sight and out of town. But the reality which stares us on the face today is that what we have now is ineffectual and grossly inadequate. Even then there is centralised abuse of the police force today.

Read also: Fuel subsidy removal: Buhari plots pay rise for civil servants

The antidote for our democracy is to build strong institutions across board that will only be guided by their enabling laws notwithstanding whose ox is gored. I believe that this provision is only being now delayed but will not remain denied for too long.

I remain to be convinced that gender affirmative action is a matter for the Constitution. I think it is a matter that should be put in the front burner through moral suasion. It is possible to run up against insurmountable obstacles if such issue is imbeded in the Constitution. But the imperatives of inclusion of the female gender has been well canvassed.

Not including our women amounts to an under utilisation of our resources. It is also not effective attempting to Clap with one hand. And let’s face it, in terms of ethics, the female folks on average are known to possess better values. Usually they don’t get involved in corruption at least not at the scale of the male folks.

There are challenges which confront the Nigerian economy today for shouting out loud which will take some doing to surmount. The problem of debt overhang has become an albatross across the Federation. There is lack of productivity leading to rising levels of unemployment with its consequent social problems.

Against this backdrop some states are lagging behind with regard to the implementation of the minimum wage which as we factor in the inflationary pressures; we can best understand the elevated levels of the misery index in the land.

We hoped and prayed that the elections would be transparent and inclusive but unfortunately we ended up with the worse elections outcome on our hands which inevitably diverts attention from the urgent tasks of revamping the economy. One hopes that matters would be resolved speedily in a manner that respects the popularly felt wishes of the people. Otherwise Nigeria is faced with uncertain times in the years ahead.