Opinion: A few fixes Nigeria desperately needs

by Tokunbo Soetan

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Fixing this constitution will go a long way towards fixing the ills of the country, and should negate the need for a national sovereign conference simply because the end result will be the same

Reading our constitution, I come away sometimes impressed but oftentimes disheartened and even saddened. While it allows various individual freedoms and protections, the general theme, as I see it, is one of centralized control as well as more of the same old stuff – too many governmental bodies, institutions etc. I suppose this need for Abuja uber alles stems from the genes bequeathed to us via the various military regimes we’ve endured.

After all’s said and done, however, this constitution essentially bequeaths to us a structurally defective country. Furthermore, since Nigeria has moved away from the British-inspired parliamentary system to the U.S. type presidential system, it seems to me curious that our constitution is now at least 120 pages long and counting while the US constitution and all it amendments, the articles of confederation as well as the declaration of independence itself all amount to an eye popping … 70 pages!!

Pamphlet-sized pages at that, and not tiny print! At regular sized pages i.e.  A4 size paper, this would all probably amount to about 40-45 pages.

Why then is our constitution so comparatively voluminous and why should you give a damn about page count? Put simply, the Nigeria Constitution is replete with all manner of nonsense that simply does not and should not be inserted into the structural and foundational principles a country stands on. Why should our constitution tell us that it is concerned about tribal intermarriage and that it supports it? And why do presidential or civil service pensions and what percentage of last pay these pensions represent have any place in our constitution? These are the pillars the country stands on? Does the country not have a set of General Laws/National Code for the country and for the civil service? So many items not do not belong in this document and should quickly be excised.

Fixing this constitution will go a long way towards fixing the ills of the country, and should negate the need for a national sovereign conference simply because the end result will be the same. But fixing the constitution certainly won’t fix bad politicians. A nearly incorruptible voting process and the banning of the delegate system will fix that. I say nearly incorruptible because no country is 100% fraud-free, except maybe Finland.
Here are two issues that need addressing:

Section 3 (6) There shall be 768 Local Government Areas in Nigeria as shown in the second column of Part I of the First Schedule to this Constitution and six area councils as shown in Part II of that Schedule.
I’ve read elsewhere that the count is now apparently 774 LGAs.  Without regard to the LGA count, it is hard to fathom the rationale for this law in a country where there is almost always an argument for greater independence for the states.  Why should Abuja decide for any state, a priori, how many administrative parts the state needs in order to properly govern itself? Some argue that it’s a question of resource allocation but these funds go directly to the state anyway with some LGAs complaining about not getting their funds from the state. Arguments rage about whether or not to pay the LGAs directly. As one who is for far more state autonomy, I argue for removing this section from the constitution. Let the states decide how many administrative pieces they need to properly do their jobs. The funds allocated should be unchanged as the number of people in the state is not a function of the LGA count, right? . In fact, one can make the argument that there are simply too many LGAs. Fewer LGAs will mean fewer councilors lining up for salaries, which will mean more money to be spent on more people. As we all know, the several strata of governance – committees, commissions, security agencies, etc means, as the CNB governor has said, that too much of our funds go to pay assorted government officials – much to the detriment of the country.

I’d however keep the LGAs constitutionally-mandated duties per the fourth schedule but move this mandate off the constitution, thereby removing the constitutional mandate, and insert it into the laws of the respective states to amend as they please. Again, more power to the states and possibly, more peace in our time. I’d keep this list of currently constitutionally-mandated duties only because it already gives us a fairly good division of labor to start with. I would however remove their mandate to build roads and change it to an advisory role only. Why? It seems to me that a state’s network of roads should be part of a comprehensive plan, which as I’m sure you’ve experienced should be accompanied by the much needed drainage system (will we ever get rid of the gutters that breed flies, rats, cockroaches, mosquitos and malaria?). An LGA is unlikely to be better able to coordinate road and drainage contracts and even if it can, can only do so on a piecemeal basis (i.e. their LGA area only).

Section 48. The Senate shall consist of three Senators from each State and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Section 49. Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the House of Representatives shall consist of three hundred and sixty members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible, provided that no constituency shall fall within more than one State.

These sections are part of the root cause of the CBN governor’s statement that 75% of government funds go to pay the salaries and so-called emoluments of the astoundingly large number of people elected, appointed, commissioned or committeed to govern this country.
Consider that the U.S, a country of at least two times our population (330 million people, at last count), manages to govern itself much more efficiently with 100 senators (two per state) and 435 reps (this number is more a consequence of a pro-rata method based on state county (roughly equivalent to our LGAs);more than we dare try in our dear country. This means 535 persons, at the legislative level, govern that country.

If we say we’re a population of 170 million (quite doubtful I think, in spite of the massive populations of Lagos, Kano, etc), then we should have something in the neighbourhood  of 260 – 270 legislators. Currently, we have 109 senators (3 per state , plus the FCT), plus 360 reps – a total of 469 persons! Or put another way, 199 to 209 more than we need! Imagine how many roads or hospitals or schools this extra baggage can build (assuming the “extra” cash is not stolen by the rest, of course. BIG assumption). And precisely what have these august honorables gotten us? Well, just examine your own life for the answers to that question.

And at the state level? Well, there’s a formula. Federal reps from your state x 3 (or x 4) = number of members of the state House of Assembly but not less than 24 or more than 40. See Section 91.
My view is that at the federal level, each state should have two senators and four, perhaps five, reps. Yes, this would mean redrawing the legislative/electoral maps but so what? We’ll end up with much fewer cooks in the kitchen – 73 senators (including the fellow/lady representing the FCT) and at most 180 reps, for a total of 253 legislators. Granted this is no guarantee of better governance, but at least, we’ll pay much less for it – up to a 50% discount!

As for the LGAs, I’ve said earlier that there are probably too many of them and that their number and size should properly be left to the states to decide. Again, this should not affect the monies the state gets as the number of LGAs, not persons, will be what changes.

 

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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