By Bolanle Bolawole
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According to reports I read on Cable News, an online publication superintended by seasoned journalist and influential columnist, Simon Kolawole, the governors of the South-West states of Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, and Ondo have made representations regarding on-going efforts by the National Assembly to review the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended). Note that the groundswell of opinion is that the sickness of the 1999 Constitution is such that cannot be cured by any amendment, however sweeping. Another generally-aired opinion is that the vested interests served by the present skewed and patently-flawed Constitution will not allow any meaningful amendment that will usher in the equity, justice, and fairness that has been the battle cry of vast sections of the country. If debates and voting patterns on the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill is anything to go by, the North will always pull and bind together to maintain their advantages over the South. With most of them in the North, there are no radicals or progressives, no conservatives or ultra-conservatives once what they perceive as core Northern interests are concerned. The day the South begins to think and act like the North is the day we shall begin to move closer to unraveling the Nigerian jig-saw puzzle.
Like I have said before, it would appear as if the South is beginning to stir. Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. The impunity of the North has become unbecoming, so to say, so also has its excesses become an existential issue for the South. If the South does not square up to the North, and do so quickly, its fate may not be any different from that of Turkey or Lebanon in the not-too-distant future. Little wonder, then, that radicalization of the South has begun in earnest. Every disappointment has its blessings. The radicalization – and huddling together – of the South must be some of the most critical blessings of the disaster called Muhammadu Buhari. The North may, for now, enjoy its roller-coaster over the South for now, but in the final analysis Northerners will be the losers when the sleeping giant that is the South eventually wakes up and stands on its feet.
That the Southern states could meet at Asaba, Delta State to speak with one voice against open grazing, among other issues, was ground-breaking. Despite the attempts by the North to rubbish that very bold step, the import of the Southern move could not have been lost on Northern power brokers and cabals of all hues and cry. That the same Southern governors could follow up with their Lagos meeting where they demanded that the presidency rotate to the South in 2023, among other very poignant decisions, must also have sent the signal that Asaba was not a fluke. Let the North say what it may or pretend as much as it likes, the stirring of the South is certainly a cause for worry to the North, even as it is a cause for cheers to the South.
The South-west Governors Forum, which met and proposed amendments to the 1999 Constitution, is also a right step in the right direction. We may not agree with all their propositions but that they met at all – and spoke with one voice – is commendable. If they continue this way, they will grow in confidence and their binding together will become a source of strength that will soon reveal the weakness as well as expose the underbelly of their opponents. According to Cable News, the South-west governors proposed the conversion of the six geopolitical zones into federating units.
The governors were said to have made the proposal in a document presented to members of the national assembly from the South-west, as part of the review of the 1999 constitution. The document, dated July 5, 2021, and titled “Proposals for the Review of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended): Presentation by South-West Governors’ Forum’, proposed an amendment to section 3(1) and (3) of the constitution.
“Section 3(1) of the 1999 constitutions states that there shall be 36 states in Nigeria but the Governors proposed that the section be amended as a federation consisting of six geopolitical zones constituted from the states. At independence in 1960, Nigeria had three regions — northern, western, and eastern. However, states were created out of the regions and the six geopolitical zones were delineated during the regime of Sani Abacha, late head of state, in 1993.
“We propose that Section 3(1) be amended as a federation consisting of six geopolitical zones constituted from the states. The federating units or regions are divided into the following geopolitical zones: North-West Zone, North-Eastern Zone, Middle – Belt Zone, South-East Zone, South-South Zone, South-West Zone and the Federal Capital Territory.
“Section 3(6) (shall) be amended to provide for a number of local governments or such autonomous administrative units to be created by the respective federating units or states, the criteria of which shall include population, taxable capacity, ethno-religious or other cultural and social affinities.”
“Section 7 of the constitution be amended to include an additional sub-section prohibiting the dissolution of elected local government councils.
“This will be in compliance with the Supreme Court decisions in ALGON v. Oyo State Government; AG Plateau State & Others v. Goyol & Others; Governor, Ekiti State v. Olubunmo & Others.”
The South-west Governors also proposed that section 8 (5) and (6) be removed so that local government creation will be the exclusive duty of state governors. “Section 8(5) and (6) should be expunged. Section 8 (1) and (2) provides for the procedures for creation of state while Section 8(3), (4), (5) and (6) provides for the procedure for creation of local governments. However, Section 8(5) and (6) should be expunged to make local government creation the exclusive duty of the state government.”
The Governors also sought the removal of section 29(4)(b), which confers adulthood status on a married under-18 woman. “Section 29(4)(a) and (b) contradict each other. While (a) says ‘full age means the age of 18 years and above’, (b) says ‘any woman who is married shall be deemed to be full of age’. This reinforces child marriage which negates the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and the Child’s Rights Act 2003, which outlaws child marriage.”
The governors also want the states to be in charge of mineral resources within their territories.
Commendable as the step taken by the South-west governors is, some of their proposals have been overtaken by events. On-going agitations are no longer for Abacha’s six geo-political zones but for nationalities within the United States of Nigeria or whatever it may be called. A more acceptable solution will be one formulated like the United Kingdom’s, where Scotland, Ireland, Wales, England operate as nations within a nation. Let the Oodua, Biafra, Ijaw, Arewa and other nationalities operate as such, having their own flag, constitution, security forces, foreign outposts, and control over their resources and affairs.
Local Governments created by fiat by the Federal Government are anachronistic and antithetical to the principles of Federalism. The Nigerian local government structure has been a device of deceit by which the North siphons the South’s resources. The Local Government structure must be scrapped totally. Each Nationality will decide its own structure and create whatever number of Councils it deems necessary. The government at the Centre should not be the one determining the LG structure all over the federation.
As for the controversy over adulthood status, I will advise the South-west governors not to dabble in that. It is not an issue for the South but for the North and I do not see how the North will accede to it. Pray, how many Northern leaders are not guilty of marriage to the girl-child? At what age, for instance, did Buhari marry Aisha? From top to bottom, it is a practice or custom that is prevalent there. And the leaders of the North are guilty. Despite the prevalence of VVF as a result of this practice, they have not seen the need to discontinue with it. It is not a problem in the South. So, let the North drink its own cup of tea!
The South-West governors propose that States be in charge of their mineral resources. Buhari, too, said so recently. That is the very essence of fiscal federalism. But it is easier said than done! How many of the governors have set up committees in their respective states in this regard? They have to take action rather than allow individuals to pillage the mineral resources of the various states without any commensurate benefit to the States.