Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in his recent open letter, of July 15, 2019, to President Muhammadu, proposed a national dialogue where Nigerians will come together and fashion out ways of confronting the challenges facing the country and its people. This move reinitiated the call for restructuring for which the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had, in August 2017, set up a 23 man committee on True Federalism; headed by the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El-Rufai.
The El-Rufai committee was saddled with a lofty responsibility to distill the actual intent and definition of true federalism as promised by the APC during their 2015 electioneering campaign and to study the reports of the various National Conferences, especially that of 2014 and thus come up with recommendations on restructuring the country.
While performing this national task, the committee engaged 8,014 people across the country and came up with 24 issues which Nigerians indicated interest on. And, out of the 24 issues, they made 12 important recommendations based on the opinions of Nigerians.
Receiving the report, on January 25, 2018, the then National Chairman of APC, Chief John Oyegun, said that by the middle of February 2018, all structures of the party would have met and consider the report.
“I am going to promise that before the middle of February, it would have been considered and decided upon by the major structures of this party, the National Executive Council, the caucus of the party. And whatever is,thereafter, agreed will be presented to the authorities as considered views and decisions of the APC for appropriate implementation,” said Oyegun.
It is already 17 months since Oyegun – on behalf of the APC – made the promise for the implementation of the El-Rufai report on restructuring. The party has continued to shy away from implementing the recommendations, thus, raising concerns that it could not be trusted to fulfil its promise of restructuring the country.
The party had, indeed, in 2015 promised “to initiate action to amend the Nigerian constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to state in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.” Moreover, Section 7 (2) of the APC constitution had provided for restructuring, fiscal federalism and the rest.
These actually formed the pillar on which the hopes and trust of Nigerians were built on, and probably earned APC the massive votes the party received at the 2015 polls. It is believed that the El-Rufai report, if implemented, would go a long way in addressing the ethnic tensions and divisions which have placed Nigeria on the pedestal of crises.
John Chukwu of Ripples Nigeria examines the 12 unforgettable points in the El-Rufai report on restructuring rotting away in APC’s cupboard.
1. Merger of States
Noting that creation of States was already a constitutional issue, the El-Rufai committee toyed with merger of States. It proposed a draft bill that will allow states to merge if they so desire.
“Though there was no consensus from stakeholders on the merger of states, we felt that we should propose a bill that allows state to merge and it is up to the party, the National Assembly and the people of Nigeria to decide on that. But we drafted a bill that is there for the party and the government to move on with,” said the committee.
The committee, however, made it clear that only 36 per cent Nigerians want more states to be created. Therefore, majority of Nigerians do not want more states created.
2. Derivation principle
The committee proposed that the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission Act be amended to give the commission the power and responsibility to periodically review the derivation formula. Afterwards, proposal will be made to the President who shall table it before the National Assembly for legislation.
The committee, however, declared: “we have therefore drafted a bill that will expand Section Six, sub Section One of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission act to give them that power. The bill is in Volume 2 of our report.
3. Devolution of Power
The El-Rufai committee noted that there was an overwhelming demand for the devolution of power to the States by the Federal Government.
The committee stated: “accordingly, we have proposed that the Second Schedule of Part One and Part Two of the Constitution should be amended to transfer some items that are now on the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List that will enable both then states and the federal government to legislate on them.”
The items include: food and drugs, fingerprint identification of criminals, registration of business names, labour matters, mines and minerals, the Police, prisons, public holiday and stamp duties.
4. Fiscal Federalism
The committee noted that majority of Nigerians advocated for States to receive more revenue than the Federal government. This would see States taking more responsibilities and drastically reducing their reliance on the Federal Government to meet their needs.
“We also have recommendation on fiscal federalism and revenue allocation in which we propose amending Section 162 and sub-section two of the Constitution; as well as amend the revenue allocation of revenue Federation Account Act to give more revenue to the states and reduce the federal government’s share of revenue,” the committee noted.
5. Independent candidacy
The committee found that majority of the respondents were opposed to independent candidacy. However, it recommended that the APC should support independent candidates as this would widen the political space.
“We have included in the bill that no one that wants to run as an independent candidate should be a member of any political party six months to the election. We have put enough safeguards in our recommendation to ensure that independent candidacy is not a platform for opportunism,” they noted.
On the judiciary, the committee noted that the National Judicial Council as the single judicial body in Nigeria operates a unitary judicial system in a federal system. Based on this premise, the committee stated: “So we have proposed amendment to the Constitution to create a state judicial council that will appoint and discipline judges in a state while the National Judicial Council will exercise control over the appointments, discipline of judges of the federal government only.”
“By that, we have proposed the creation of a State Court of Appeal,” the committee announced.
7. Local government autonomy
The committee pointed out that there were different views on local government autonomy. It recommended that the current system of local government administration as provided by the Constitution to be amended. Therefore, it canvassed that State should be allowed to enact laws on local government administration as deemed peculiar to each of them.
The committee said: “we propose amendments to Sections 7, 8, 162 of the First Schedule and Fourth Schedule of the Constitution to give effect to our recommendation.
“We are by this recognizing the federal government which can only be two tiers of government,” they concluded.
8. Revenue allocation
The issue of revenue allocation – otherwise known as resource control – has always been a bone of serious contention. Based on the growing agitation by States to exercise control over natural resources within their respective regions and then, pay taxes and royalties to the Federal Government, the committee declared: “we have also proposed amending Section One of the Allocation of Revenue Federal Act to reflect this reality. We have also proposed amendment to Section 40 to the Value Added Tax Act. They are in Volume Two.”
The committee recommended that local government or State of origin should be replaced with state of residence as the current system is “discriminatory.”
“It is around this that we have proposed an amendment to the Federal Character Commission Act to allow people domiciled in a place to be considered as indigenes,” they recommended.
The committee affirmed that in our Constitution, there is no provision for referendum except for the creation of State. It is believed that having referendum in the Constitution will be a panacea to some of the agitations in the country, especially the agitation for Republic of Biafra as championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
“We have a constitutional amendment to enable a referendum to be undertaken on national issues,” they recommended.
11. Public holidays
The committee recommended that public holidays be moved from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List so that there will be federal public holidays and state public holidays. The committee affirmed that “this is already happening unconstitutionally. This will just make the action of State governments lawful and legal and avoid confrontation with the federal government.
12. State police
This is one issue that has caused great national distress and arguments between the federal government and state governments. The committee recommended that state police should be moved from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List.
“We are recommending that Police should be both federal and state,” they recommended.