Buhari’s 2023 Constitution Amendments: Creeping Acts of Restructuring - Dele Belgore
Creeping Acts of Restructuring
Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on 20th July 1969, and was reputed to have said these famous words, "That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
A Giant Step For Nigeria
It is hyperbolic to describe an event that occurred recently as a giant step for mankind. It clearly was not that, but it was nevertheless a giant step.
It is not the crippling currency crisis and the enormous hardship that it has caused to the generality of Nigerians. It is also not the just concluded general elections and its reverberating effects. This giant step arguably has more far-reaching consequences than either the currency crisis or the elections or even the two combined. And it has gone largely unnoticed. The event is the signing into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, on 3rd March 2023, of 3 pieces of legislation.
The First Legislation: Moving Railways to the Concurrent List
The first is the Constitution of the Federal of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration (no. 16) Act 2023, which is an Act to move the item “railways” and related matters from the Exclusive Legislative List (the list that contains all the matters in which only the Federal government can legislate on) to the concurrent Legislative List (the list that contains all the matters in which Federal government and the State governments can share legislative powers).
By this law, a State House of Assembly may now make laws for the State regarding the construction and maintenance of a State railway carrier and inter-state railway tracks and infrastructures.
This could be a trigger for development reminiscent of how the development of the railroads in America played a crucial role in that country’s economic, social, and cultural growth.
Developmental Benefits of Liberalizing the Railway System
One, railroads provided a more efficient means of transportation for goods, which allowed businesses to expand their markets and access new areas. This led to increased trade, economic growth, and job creation.
Two, railroads made it easier and faster for people to travel and settle in other parts of America, which helped to open up new areas for agriculture and industry. Railroads facilitated the movement of people from rural areas to urban centres, leading to the growth of cities and the development of urban economies.
Three, railroads provided a physical link between different regions of the country, which helped to foster a sense of national unity and identity. There is no reason why liberalising the railway system to the States here in Nigeria and the States working in collaboration with each other cannot bring about similar developmental benefits to many parts of the country.
The Second Legislation: States' Power to Generate, Transmit, and Distribute Electricity
The second is the Constitution of the Federal of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration (no. 17) Act 2023, which allows states to generate, transmit and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid. Nigeria needs each state of the federation to be able to generate its own power for several reasons.
Reasons for States to Generate Their Own Power
Generating power at the State level will allow for the diversification of power sources, which will ensure that the country is less dependent on a single source of power. Currently, Nigeria relies heavily on power generated from natural gas, which is produced mainly in the Niger Delta region. This dependence on a single source of power makes the country vulnerable to disruptions in the production and distribution of natural gas.
It is very obvious, that the current power generation and distribution system in Nigeria is inefficient, resulting in frequent power outages and load shedding. By allowing each state to generate its own power, the system can become more decentralised, which will help to improve the reliability and quality of power supply.
Additionally, States with abundant natural resources, such as wind or solar energy, can use these resources to generate power, which can be used to power local industries and businesses. This can help to create jobs, promote entrepreneurship, and spur economic growth at the state level.
Finally, at the moment, Nigeria is vulnerable to disruptions in the supply of natural gas, which can impact power supply. By diversifying power sources and generating power at the state level, the country can become more resilient to such disruptions and ensure a more stable supply of power.
All of these activities, however, would require significant investment in infrastructure and may require cooperation and coordination with neighbouring states to ensure the efficient and effective management of the energy grid.
The Third Legislation: Financial Autonomy for State Houses of Assembly and State Judiciaries
Third is the Constitution of the Federal of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration (no. 6) Act 2023. This Act seeks to provide for the financial independence of State Houses of Assembly and State Judiciaries was signed into law.
Merits of Financial Autonomy for the Judiciary
The merits of financial autonomy for the judiciary in a democratic federalist system are immeasurable.
It ensures that the judiciary is not unduly influenced or controlled by other branches of government and allows the judiciary to be independent. Not only that, it allows the judiciary to manage its own resources and make decisions about how best to allocate them.
All these should strengthen the rule of law and help maintain the integrity of the legal system, vital ingredients for democracy and good governance.
In short, financial autonomy for the judiciary is, in theory at least, an important component of a democratic federalist system as it promotes independence, accountability, efficiency, improved access to justice, and strengthened rule of law.
The Creeping Acts of Restructuring Nigeria's Governance System
The liberalization of the railway system, the power of the States to generate, transmit and distribute their own electricity and the financial autonomy of the States’ judiciary are all acts of creeping restructuring of our body politick and governance system.
These have been done, not through highly politicised, divisive and rancorous national conferences, but through robust and clear-minded legislation backed up with strong political will.
But much more than that, they show that much can be achieved with lasting beneficial consequences, without inflaming our frayed collective regional, ethnic and religious nerves.
According to a news item credited to the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, 35 constitution review bills were sent to President Buhari, but he assented to only 19 of them. What those unassented bills were and why the President declined his assent to them are matters we shall, in the fullness of time, learn about. For now, advocates of a strong federalist system should applaud the 3 bills mentioned here and hope that there’s more of their like in those unassented 19 and in others to come in the future.
Muhammad Dele Belgore, SAN, C. Arb