Towards a constitution that works for the people, By Tomiwa Aladekomo

Towards a constitution that works for the people, By Tomiwa Aladekomo

Nothing delights me more than the opportunity to rethink our political system to encourage the emergence of a nation that works for all Nigerians. The ongoing Public Hearing on Constitutional Amendment is one of such opportunities. I hope that the Nigerian people and the political elite will engage in this process with the seriousness that it deserves.   

The Youth Party (a political organisation that I’m privileged to lead) has submitted its recommendations and made presentations in five of the six geo-political zones of Nigeria, on the proposed alteration to the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, during the conduct of the momentous Public Hearing, which ended on Thursday May 27.

The issues proposed by our party include judicial and electoral reforms, local government administration, allocation of funds, state police, gender equality, residency and indigeneship, local government elections and public revenue, fiscal federalism, and revenue allocation, among others.

In our recommendations on gender equity and increased participation of women and vulnerable groups in governance, we are suggesting that a certain number or percentage of women and people with disability should be stated in the Constitution to guide the political parties in the fielding of candidates and also the governors/president in the choice of their cabinet members.

Hence, we recommend the amendment of sections Section 48, 49, 91, 71, 72 to reflect the National Gender Policy by ensuring that 35 per cent of the composition of the national and state parliaments shall be reserved for women, to promote gender diversity. Equally important, on the rights of girls and women, we have recommended that the legal age of marriage be put at 18 years.

On local government administration and autonomy, we recommended the deletion of Sections 3(6), 7(6) (a), 162(5), 8(5) and (6) and 153(1) (f) of the Constitution, which gives unfettered opportunity to the Federal Government to interfere with the power of States over the creation and management of the local government system. Expunging these constitutional provisions will place the local government system in their proper position under a truly federal structure. State governments should also be given the constitutionally guaranteed and unfettered power to create as many local governments as they deem fit.

Furthermore, on the allocation of funds to local governments, the Constitution should expressly void and abolish Section 162(6), which provides for establishing joint accounts by States and local governments. The Constitution should, therefore, ensure direct federal funding of local government councils, without the interference of state governments. Section 3 (6) should also be abolished and deleted from the Constitution to allow for the creation of more local government areas in the country.

On public revenue, fiscal federalism, and revenue allocation, we are recommending that Section 162 (2) of the Constitution, as well as the legislative list, should be amended to allow the states to collect taxes over mineral resources within their territories and the remittance of 25 per cent of such taxes to the Federal Government. The Constitution should be amended to clear the ambiguity over the collection of consumption tax (VAT) by the Federal Government for the benefit of the States. The States should also administer/collect VAT within their territories.

For the creation of State Police, the Youth Party believes that a pilot State Police Programme can be implemented in economically viable states for four years. Furthermore, any State that is desirous of establishing a State Police Department must demonstrate the ability to fund the Department. Also, a State Police Service Commission with clear oversight powers and the ability to discipline erring officers must be established contemporaneously with any State Police Department. 

In the event of gross mismanagement or abuse of powers by a State Police Department, the Attorney General of the Federation shall have the powers to approach the Supreme Court for an order directing his or her office to take over the administration of such a State Police Department until the State demonstrates the ability to remedy and prevent the recurrence of the abuse or mismanagement.

Concerning electoral reforms, the Third Schedule, Part 1, Section 14(1)(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 on the mode of appointment of INEC Commissioners and Resident Commissioners needs to have an amendment in order to preserve neutrality and protect the institution from the blatant partisanship currently displayed by officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). In partial support of the Uwais Committee Report on Electoral Reforms, we recommend that the National Judicial Council (NJC) be in charge of advertising the positions and screening applicants for vacancies into the positions of INEC commissioners and the Chairman, within 20 days from the date of the expiration of the terms of office of incumbents.

The NJC should then recommend three applicants to the President within 20 (twenty) days from the date of screening. The President should then forward one of the three nominees to the Senate for confirmation within 30 (thirty) days upon receipt of the list.

On the deregistration of political parties, our Party has consistently argued that INEC should approach the courts for the deregistration of parties and state the grounds for their deregistration with sufficient clarity and precision. This power must only be exercised upon obtaining a court order granting leave to exercise the power. This is similar to the position for the disqualification of candidates, winding up of banks, and other similar institutions. The deregistration of a political party is equivalent to taking away the party’s life, and the decision should be left to the court. The disqualification of a candidate from an election as a result of ineligibility, regardless of the evidence, cannot be done by INEC but by the courts. In that case, it is ridiculous that the political party sponsoring him or her can be deregistered administratively.

This is unacceptable and bound to lead to injustice, not to mention the breach of fundamental human rights, freedom of association, and breach of fair hearing, contrary to Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution. The power to deregister a party should be exercised through the Federal High Court. We have had our own fair share of INEC’s disregard for the rule of law, having attempted to deregister our Party despite an order of the court restraining the Commission from doing so. Thankfully, a recent Appeal Court judgment has again ruled in our favour, describing INEC’s action as reprehensible.

Finally, on the issue of the creation of States and local governments, it is our position that this must be based on the economic viability of the aspiring State to meet the financial needs of its people without recourse to the Federal Government or federal allocation. This should be followed by a referendum in the State. A new State must be economically viable, financially sustainable, it must have secured the consent of its residents/indigenes and the existing States that it would be carved from.

I hope that the National Assembly will follow through with a number of the crucial recommendations made by our Party and other organizations. As a country, we cannot afford to miss the opportunity to deliver a constitution that works for the people and supports their aspirations.