By Luke Onyekakeyah
President Muhammadu Buhari’s reported rejection of the nationwide clamour for restructuring the polity gives the impression that the president has the final say on the issue of restructuring. It gives the wrong impression that the buck stops on the president’s table as far as this critical national issue is concerned. It is like saying that except the president gives a nod, there can be no restructuring in whatever form or manner. But is that true?
That leads to the question: Under Nigeria’s constitution, who has the power to change the law? Who has the power to effect restructuring being demanded by the people? Is it the president? There are three distinct arms of government recognized by the constitution namely the executive, judiciary and legislature. Each of these arms has a constitutional duty to perform.
The executive is headed by the president who is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The executive carries out its duties based on the provisions of the constitution. The executive does not make laws but is required to accent to the laws made by the legislature.
The legislature, represented by the National Assembly, comprises the Upper Chamber or Senate and the Lower Chamber or House of Representatives. The primary function of this arm of government is lawmaking. If there is any amendment to be made in the constitution, including the issue of restructuring, it is the duty of the legislature to do it and not the duty of the president.
The worst the president could do, assuming the restructuring law is passed by the National Assembly, is to refuse to accent to the law. That way, it will be clear that the legislature has done its job but the president rejected it. But that would not be end of the road for the new law. The legislature has power to veto the president and have the amendment passed into law.
At this stage, the legislature has not done its job in amending the constitution to reflect restructuring. The people holding restructuring to ransom are the lawmakers and not the president. Nigerians should hold the lawmakers responsible for the no-action on restructuring.
The third arm of government is the judiciary. The primary function of the judiciary is the interpretation of the law and strengthening the rule of law, ensuring compliance with legislation and developing democracy. The judiciary also performs checks on the powers of the executive and the legislature.
It is obvious from the foregoing, that President Buhari has no power to frustrate the restructuring being demanded by Nigerians as the only way to save Nigeria. The president as well as the judiciary has little or no role to play on the matter. The buck stops on the table of the lawmakers.
Restructuring is a constitutional matter, which can only be effected constitutionally. The people who have the mandate to make laws that can amend or change the constitution in any way are members of the National Assembly. Any law they refuse to make or change remains there. Restructuring is in the silent mode because the lawmakers have refused to activate it. It is time for Nigerians to press upon their representatives at the National Assembly to take action on restructuring or be voted out. The lawmakers have not shown patriotism in a critical matter of national importance.
President Buhari’s ‘rejection’ of restructuring could be interpreted in two ways. One is that he could be working on the members of the National Assembly not to show interest or act on restructuring. Since the president is not disposed towards restructuring, he may be passing his no-interest stance on the lawmakers, which is making them not to show interest and do the needful. The National Assembly is dominated by the ruling APC lawmakers, which is why the president could easily sway over them
The second is what I have already highlighted above, which is the president refusing to accent to the law should the National Assembly go ahead to pass an amended law on restructuring. But again, as I said, the lawmakers could veto the president if he refuses to accent to the law.
Given the stance of the president, clamouring alone cannot change anything; the people must find a way of forcing their lawmakers to do what they are supposed to do. This clarification is necessary because most uninformed Nigerians think that President Muhammadu Buhari is the one who should restructure Nigeria. But it needs to be emphasised that Buhari has no power under the democratic dispensation, to single-handedly restructure Nigeria. The president would have been able to do that in a military regime. But we are not in a military regime and so, the president doesn’t have that power anymore.
Regrettably, no lawmaker has been incensed patriotically enough to initiate a restructuring bill at the National Assembly. All that some of them are doing is to voice their support for restructuring, which in no way is not different from what every other person is saying. Mere support for restructuring carries no weight. The lawmakers must show patriotism and take action if they are really sincere.
Among the lawmakers that have so far voiced their support for restructuring but without taking the necessary action were the former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu; Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West), who was also chairman former Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT); Hon. Gaza Jonathan Gbefwi (Karu/Kefi/Kokona Federal Constituency, Nasarawa State); Hon. Leo Ogor (PDP – Delta); Hon Rima Shawulu, former chairman, House Committee on the Army and Hon Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, chairman, House Committee on Public Relations.
All that is needed by the lawmakers is to amend Section 44 (3) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Section 44 (3) states: “Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions of this section, the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria or in, under or upon the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Nigeria shall vest in the government of the federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”
Beyond any conceivable imagination, this section of the constitution unreservedly and with total finality, confers the ownership and control of all mineral resources of the country, including those found in the adjoining territorial waters, on the Federal Government. That is to say, whatever authority at Abuja, has unwavering powers to exploit the minerals as it deems fit without hindrance or opposition. This is the crux of Nigeria economic problems.
Granted that the constitution made that pernicious provision, which is totally not in tune with Nigeria’s present reality, that should not be the end of the story. The constitution is not cast in iron. There is provision for amendment, which is the job of the lawmakers to deal with. Why then are the lawmakers bemoaning what they have all the powers to change? What is holding them?
Why did these lawmakers who openly declared support for restructuring not join forces to initiate a bill to expunge the obnoxious Section 44 (3)? Why were they shedding crocodile tears? Do they think that by merely crying foul over restructuring, they would gain acclaim from Nigerians? Who is deceiving who?
The call for restructuring dovetails into the clamour for diversification of the economy. The two, face the hurdle in Section 44 (3) of the constitution. Unfortunately, the same lip service paid to restructuring is also paid to diversification. Everyone in government talks about diversification without mentioning the constitutional hurdles facing it; and not until this constitutional brick wall is torn down; there would be no headway for Nigeria, at least economically.
If the lawmakers are sincerely patriotic and really want to save Nigeria from disintegration as many prominent citizens have warned, then they must rise to the challenge and do the needful; the lawmakers should join forces and initiate a bill to abrogate Section 44 (3) of the constitution to make way for a new law that confers ownership and control of mineral resources to the states and local governments. This is in addition to devolution of power that is critical to a new progressive polity. Nobody should wait on President Buhari to do what is not his duty.
Who has power to restructure Nigeria?
By Luke Onyekakeyah