Constitutional Reform: Nigeria

September 20, 2012

On Tuesday, September 11, 2012, I attended (with my full copy of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution in hand), a “Lunch and Learn” panel where guests had the opportunity to speak with and hear from, a delegation of Nigerian lawmakers and legal experts on the topic of Nigerian Constitutional Review.  In attendance, were:

SENATORS:

Senator Ahmed Ningi Abdul (Bauchi State), Member of the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution, head of the delegation, and Deputy Senate Leader;

Senator Ahmed Mohammad Makarfi (Kaduna State), Member of the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and former Governor of Kaduna State;

Senator Barr. Enang Ita Solomon James (Akwa Ibom State), Member of the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business;

Senator Umaru Dahiru (Sokoto State), Member of the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights, and Legal Matters;

Senator Barr. Lanlehin Olufemi Akinola (Oyo State), Member of the Senate Committee on Review of the 1999 Constitution and Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Planning.

STAFF:

Supporting the Senators as members of the delegation, were:

Dr. Offornze D. Amucheazi, Professor of Law, Legal Advisor to the Committee, and moderator of the panel;

Dr. Maxwell Michael Gidado, Dean of the Faculty of Law at Nassarawa State University, and Legal Advisor to the Committee;

Barr. Kenneth Ikonne, Constitutional Lawyer, and Legal Advisor to the Committee;

Barr. Peter Eze, Legal Advisor to the Committee;

Ndubuisi Nwigwe, Special Assistant to the Committee;

Mr. Innocent (I did not catch his last name), Committee Clerk.

NIGERIAN HIGH COMMISSION, Ottawa, Canada:

Appearing on behalf of the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa, were:

His Excellency, Ambassador Ojo Uma Maduekwe, Nigerian High Commissioner to Canada, Barrister-at-Law of Nigeria, and former Minister of External Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria;

Mr. Amosa Umar Yusuf, Minister, Nigerian High Commission.

SPECIAL GUESTS:

Amongst attendees – including both Nigerians and non-Nigerians in equal numbers – we were graced by the presence of Her Excellency Mrs. Dato’ Hayati Ismail, Malaysian High Commissioner to Canada.

My sincerest apologies to anyone that I have missed, or shown with a truncated name, title, or honour; and it was a pleasure to see and meet everyone.

HOSTS:

The panel was graciously hosted by the Forum of Federations, a Canadian Non-governmental Organization (NGO), self-described as “the global network on federalism and multi-level governance, supports better governance through learning among practitioners and experts. Active on six continents, it runs programs in over 20 countries including established federations, as well as countries transitioning to devolved and decentralized governance options. The Forum publishes a range of information and educational materials. It is supported by the following partner countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan and Switzerland.http://www.forumfed.org.

INTRODUCTIONS:

After a brief introduction of the Nigerian delegation, our hosts, and the representatives of the Nigerian High Commission in Ottawa, the members of the audience were invited to introduce themselves.  Unfortunately, things dragged-on somewhat, as a number of the introductions went deeply into substantive issues or procedural matters, such as the lack of notice given to the Nigerian community of the committee’s trip to Canada.  Senator Abdul was good enough to explain that the central purpose of this trip was to engage with the Forum of Federations, and hence the matter of notice to the community arose as a secondary matter.   However, he gave assurances that there would be proper, ample notice when it was time to engage directly with overseas Nigerians on Constitutional amendment.

ISSUES:

Many issues were raised and put to the panel by the audience, including the Boko Haram movement and its implications for the Nigerian Federation, but excluding historic and ongoing environmental damage in the Niger Delta (the latter was covered days later in a seminar at Carleton University, as presented by Dr. Paul Ugor, of the Centre for West African Studies at the University of Birmingham, U.K.: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/cwas/ugor-paul.aspx).

Some questions resulted in multiple and highly divergent responses from members of the panel; which just goes to show that we Nigerians are diverse in nature, we have independent minds and spirits, and we will speak our minds however, whenever, and wherever we possibly can, and without fear or favour.   It also shows the Herculean task of achieving meaningful constitutional reform in our Federal Republic.

FOCUS:

The delegation presented 5 (“five”) elements central to constitutional reform that were the main focus of their trip to Canada.  These were:

1. State Police (to have or not to have, and with what mandates and powers);

♦Enforcement of laws (especially environmental laws and criminal laws)

♦National Security and border control

♦Primary jurisdiction at ports and airports

♦Controlling smuggling (people, goods, cultural artifacts, and natural resources)

2. True Federalism (what is it; how do we get there);

♦Empowering the states (policing, raising taxes, education, local minimum wage rates).  For example, personal income taxes (pay as you go) might be set at 15% for the federation, and perhaps 10% for the states, as paid by the employee; and then a contribution from the employer.  With each divisible by 5, allocations would go equally to: (i) Disability, unemployment, and education funding (DUE); (ii) Health, welfare, and education funding (HWE); (iii) General revenues – as the true and unrestricted tax; (iv) Old age, retirement, and social security funding (OARS); and (v) Water, energy, air transport, roads, and rails (WEARR), or infrastructure funding.  The 5x federation portions (as set by the federation once every 5 or seven years) would be held steady at 3%, though able to go as low as 2% and as high as 5%; the 5x state portions (as set by each state once every 5 years) would range in 1/2 percentage points from 0.5 (x5 = total 2.5%) to 2.0 (x5 total = 10%), thereby allowing the states to compete – but all 5 would be the same percentage.  Finally, the matching employer contribution would be applied per region (and set by the states of that region acting together once every 3 years), without any federal input, thereby allowing the regions to compete and manage their own affairs more closely.  One half of the funds yielded would accrue to individual states of the region or a collective pool for same, and one half of the funds yielded would accrue to the federation, and all in the 5 specified categories.   The regionally-set employer matching contribution would range in 1/4 percentage points from 0.5 (x10 = 5%) to 1.5 (x10 = 15%).  The standard top federal + state income tax for an employee would therefore be 15+10 (25%), and the top employer matching portion would therefore not exceed the basic federal rate of 15%.  Reasoned fiscal policy can be used to drive an economy forwards, and the above would not only  provide additional funds for the various levels of government with leeway to compete and set their own priorities, but it would also create significant employment for accounting and allied professionals, and supporting providers of goods and services.  Its worth a thought, or two.  In addition, a minimum wage should, I think, be nationally set and enforced.  Allowing each state or region to pass its own such law would violate the constitutional tenet of being able to live and work in any place in the federation; as the laws would not provide sufficient protection and guarantees to Citizens to encourage and enable the letter and spirit of same.  Of course, provision would be made for emergency and contingency resets out of the normal time bands, but not ranges, as set above.

♦The question of an additional “Regional” level of governance; and the question of States creation – why not create 2 from 1 out of Bauchi (one northern, one central), and 2 from 1 out of Kwara (one western, one central), give Abuja State status, and round things-out to 40 States, i.e. 8 per each of the 5 Regions?

♦The question of reducing regions from 6 to 5, as in the preceding point (hence more easily divisible into 100%: Central, Northern, Eastern, Southern, Western), i.e. for equal revenue sharing.  Eliminating an entire level of regional governance and reducing the representative regional members present on all federal parastatals to 5, would yield significant cost savings!

♦Wooing expatriate Nigerians back to help re-build the Nation

♦State autonomy in agriculture, trade, and immigration v. national overall control

3. Autonomy of Local Government Areas (LGAs);

♦Ensuring that they get their allocations, in full

♦The question of empowering States to individually reduce their LGA numbers from the current roughly 774

♦The question of constitutionally converting all LGAs into “Districts” (exactly 5 per state: Central, Northern, Eastern, Southern, and Western); or ensuring that each District contained no fewer than 2 LGAs (allowing states to choose the true numbers therein), but dividing State LGA allocations into 5 parts, as in 1 part per District….thereby encouraging wise and reasoned, commonsense choices in State creation and maintenance of their LGAs.

♦Ensuring that they have the flexibility to allocate moneys as per local need

♦Mandating that they have staff with the requisite skills and abilities to do a good job of governance

♦Making local governance more transparent and accountable

4. Citizenship Rights (including indigenous v. Non-indigenous);

♦The question of Dual Citizenship

♦Mobility rights within Nigeria (settling, land rights – produce farmers v. grazing animals)

♦Women’s inheritance rights

♦Instilling a greater/more meaningful role in Nigerian governance for Traditional Rulers

♦Parental duties regarding children (education, inheritance, child and spousal support)

5. Distribution of Powers (between the Federation and the States – exclusive and concurrent lists).

♦Control of State internal boundaries and administration (LGAs/Districts)

♦Diversification of the economy from natural resources (oil and gas, solid minerals, timber)

♦The question of state autonomy over resources; and the onshore/offshore distinction

♦Internal taxation (income taxes, value-added taxes, business registration fees and taxation)

♦Government services in general (healthcare and health insurance, unemployment insurance, business registration and taxation, state driving license/I.D. v. national identification document)

I think it might be helpful if people tried to focus their thoughts and suggestions going forwards, around these numbered topics.  The above subtopics are my own suggestions.

CONCLUSION:

Many thanks to all who attended, both from Canada and Nigeria.  It was quite a worthwhile event.

I hope this brief summary proves useful for both those who were there and those who were unable to make it.  Let’s coalesce to build a better, stronger, safer Nigeria and move forwards together, as one!

***************************************************************************

Author:

Ekundayo George is a sociologist and a lawyer, with experience in business law and counseling, diverse litigation, and regulatory practice.  He is licensed to practice law in Ontario, Canada, as well as in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., in the United States of America (U.S.A.).  See, for example: http://www.ogalaws.com.  An avid writer, blogger, and reader, Mr. George is a published author in Environmental Law and Policy (National Security aspects).

Mr. George is also an experienced strategic consultant; sourcing, managing, and delivering on large, high stakes, strategic projects with multiple stakeholders, large budgets, and multidisciplinary teams.  See, for example: http://www.simprime-ca.com.

Hyperlinks to external sites are provided to readers of this blog as a courtesy and convenience, only, and no warranty is made or responsibility assumed by either or both of George Law Offices and Strategic IMPRIME Consulting & Advisory, Inc. (“S’imprime-ça”), in whole or in part for their content, or their accuracy, or their availability.

This article does not constitute legal advice or create any lawyer-client relationship.

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