Buhari’s attempt at restructuring –

LEON USIGBE analyzes the 16 constitutional amendment bills signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in the context of national restructuring.

On Friday, the President announced that President Muhammadu had approved 19 bills, 16 of which were constitutional amendments to the 1999 Constitution (as amended) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The action was to advance Article 58, Section 4 of the Constitution, and was in line with his repeated response to restructuring agitators that the initiative was best achieved through the legislature.

One of the bills ensures that railroads are moved from an exclusive legislative list to a concurrent list, allowing states to regulate and invest in infrastructure. However, some important highlights of the approved constitutional amendment bill include granting financial independence to the state legislature and the state judiciary; regulating the first session of the National Assembly and state legislature and the inauguration of elected members and related matters; ensuring that the president and governor take the oath Submission of nominees as Ministers or Commissioners for confirmation by the Senate or State Legislature within 60 days of taking office; and related matters.

Other highlights include: Granting powers to states to produce, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid; and related matters; excluding the timing of intervention events when calculating the time to determine pre-election matters petitions etc.; regulating the election of the National Assembly and the State Assembly first session and inauguration of councilors; conversion of prisons to correctional institutions and redesignation of correctional institutions on the concurrent list.

By signing the bill into law, the president sparked a paradigm shift in some key areas of national life. For example, the judiciary at the federal and state levels are now financially independent, freeing them forever from the monetary shackles of their own governments. Experts say this financial autonomy should guarantee their independence and make them more fearless in the face of justice. Nonetheless, the appointment of justices and judges must still be approved by the Governor-President despite recommendations from the National Judiciary Council (NJC), suggesting that the final hurdle to the judiciary’s full and complete autonomy will remain.

While the president signed the rebuilding bill, it also aimed to break up the federal government’s monopoly on power generation, transmission and distribution. The new law allows states to perform these functions in areas covered by the national grid. Against the federal government’s fight to ensure a steady supply of electricity, states with deep pockets can now invest in electricity infrastructure and regulate it in a way that meets the electricity supply needs of their people. Hopefully, as new players innovate and invest in the industry, it may lead to production efficiencies that will positively impact the cost of electricity for consumers who now have more choices. But on the other hand, there are fears that such investments may just be duplication of effort.

The same is true for the railways, which have been moved from an exclusive legislative list to a parallel list with the signing of the Amendment Bill. This means that states can now also enact laws to regulate the establishment and operation of rail service on their lands, even though the federal government retains sole responsibility for interstate railroads.

Officials in Buhari’s government hailed the signing into law of 16 constitutional amendments as a genuine effort to restructure the country, encouraged by a large segment of the population.

The constitutional amendment bill originally passed by the National Assembly also included fiscal autonomy for local governments, which would lead to the termination of the controversial National Unity Local Government Account. It failed because, unfortunately, the number of states passing the amendment in its legislature did not meet the constitutional threshold.

Apart from this, the bill signed into law also recorded another milestone as it changed the names of some local government areas in the country. It is impossible to create new local government areas or change the names of existing areas contained in the constitution without first invoking the amendment process of the fundamental principles upon which Nigeria is based.

So, with Congress passing the bill and getting the requisite number of state legislature nods, the president’s assent to the bill changed the names of some of the local governments listed in the Constitution. The Egbado North and Egbado South local government areas in Ogun State are now officially called Yewa North and Yewa South respectively, just as the Afikpo North and Afikpo South local government areas in Ebonyi State were renamed Afikpo and Edda local government areas respectively.

Everything President Buhari has done seems to vindicate his position that the much-touted restructuring of the country can be achieved within the framework of standard legislative constitutional amendments.

Although constitutional amendments may not go their way, despite doubts and hesitation in the process, the signing of the 16 bills will be seen as a positive outcome in the process of creating a more equitable and efficient Nigerian society.

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