Senator Ajibola Basiru is the senator representing Osun Central Senatorial District at the National Assembly as well as spokesman of the Red Chamber. He speaks in this interview monitored on Channels Television on the controversy over state creation, constitution amendment, crisis in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
What do you make of the controversy over the proposition to create additional 20 states in Nigeria?
When I saw a streaming headline on one of the national dailies that the Senate proposes the creation of 20 states and made reference to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), I was shocked because that never occurred at the recent retreat of the Senate that was held over a three-day period and which I participated in. The issue of state creation is not just about the constitutional amendment; you will know that the provision for amendment of the constitution generally is provided in section 9 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. But specific provisions are provided for the creation of states and local governments in section 8.
So, the situation we have at hand is that we must make a distinction between section 9 amendment and section 8 amendment. Even section 9 amendment is in two-fold, when the amendment relates to chapter four, which is about the fundamental rights of the constitution, you will require four/fifth votes of the National Assembly in the two chambers but any other amendment will require two/third.
In relation to the creation of a new state, section 8 envisages four very important positions to occur concurrently for us to be even talking about a bill before the National Assembly being competent to be considered for state creation. And that was the essence of the clarification that I have to make.
First and foremost, the Senate is not making a proposition for the creation of any state whether one, whether two, whether 20 or whether any number. What happened was that there were requests for the creation of states but the Senate is not in the position to even make that proposition until requisite provisions of section 8 of the Constitution are complied with.
What are these provisions?
First, the request for the creation of state must be supported by two/third of elected representatives in the two chambers of the National Assembly and the House of Assembly in the area from which the state is to be created. Secondly, the request must be supported by two/ third referendum of people in the area from which the state is to be carved out. At the same time, even after the referendum, the people in that area must also agree and we are also talking of two/ third resolutions of the two chambers of the National Assembly. So, before you even talk about the National Assembly considering whether to give assent to the creation of a state, the first requirement of the request being supported by two/ third of elected people within the confine from which the state is to be created need to be passed.
I’m not sure that threshold has even been passed. Assuming that threshold has even been passed, INEC has a role to play and that is in conducting referendum, and that referendum must be supported by two/third of the people within the area that is being created.
The way section 8 is drafted, two/third appear to be general not just those who participated in that process. So, as far as we are concerned, the constitution amendment committee of the Senate has not made proposition for the creation of any state.
We have only made reference to INEC to go and consider whether there has been a proper case for us to even begin to talk of consideration of creating a state. That clarification is very necessary because the issue of state creation would have to be within the barometer of even the challenge and efficiency of a governance structure of Nigeria.
There are even schools of thought in Nigeria that even the 36 states as they are structured are even too large. As a National Assembly, we cannot deny people from making the request but that request must pass the necessary threshold procedure and lay down roles in section 8 of the constitution.
If you listen to those who brought the request for state creation, they have genuine interest and reason for wanting these states to be created. At the retreat that you held, when this matter came up how did it go?
There is a difference between people having genuine concern; that is those who are the promoters of those states. There is a difference between what their motive is and whether they have complied with the provisions of the constitution. The Senate committee availed itself with the services of legal scholars, political scientists and economists in discharging their responsibility, and at the retreat, all these consultants engaged by the Senate actually also participated actively. When it comes to the issue of state creation, the simple question is: What is the procedure? Section 8 of the constitution was looked at and as far as we are concerned the position of the committee is that we cannot even proceed because we have not seen evidence of a request supported by two/third of the legislators within the confines of the state requested to be created. The evidence of that was not before us at that time. We have also not seen the support of two/third referen-dum affirmative to the creation of those states. So, with these two mandatory prerequisites in section 8 of the constitution, the Senate committee merely defied the matter. We cannot begin to consider the matter until we are sacrificed as to the evidence of those requirements. This is not to say that one is either in agreement or in disagreement with those who are the promoters. But we have sworn to uphold the constitution. Section 1, sub-section 3 of the 1999 Constitution are comprised of provisions of inconsistency. Any act or law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution shall to the extent of being inconsistent be null and void. So, we cannot begin to talk as a National Assembly that wants to create a state, when the requisite mandatory provisions of section 8 up to the level that it will even properly come before us have not been complied with.
What was the agenda when you started this Ninth Assembly; was state creation part of the agenda?
Of course, when you talk of the amendment of the constitution, it is not just the National Assembly that will set the agenda for it. That is why as a body, we received memoranda from different parts of the country, different sectors, different age groups and we also have senators who are interested in making certain aspects of our constitution to be reformed and they introduce bills.
Personally I also have cause to introduce some bills on constitutional amendment. Of course, the public hearing and opportunity to throw in memoranda before us came up with some request of state creation. But the question is that it is not just enough to demand for creation of state or insertion of certain reforms in the constitution, the requisite provision of the constitution must be complied with.
For instance, if there is a proposition to amend a section relating to fundamental rights in our constitution, it must comply with the requirement of section 9, which require four/fifth of the vote of the members of the National Assembly aside the two/ third of the Houses of Assembly to scale through. This special provision to safeguard the provision on fundamental rights ensures that the provision is not amended whimsically. It is the same thing with creation of states.
I will say that most states that have been created in the history of Nigeria were done during military regimes, and from the provision and my reading and understanding of section 8 of the constitution, it will be a herculean task for a democratic government to be able to create a state. I won’t say it is impossible but I will say that the threshold is so high and very cumbersome that it may well be very difficult for the National Assembly and even INEC to be able to certify that the requirement of section 8 has been complied with.
Nigerians are hopeful that if the constitution is fixed, we may have a better nation. Are we sure that before the end of this Ninth National Assembly, we will have a fixed or amended constitution?
It is not even going to be at the end of the Ninth National Assembly. I’m very optimistic that by the end of this year, the processes for the amendment of the 1999 constitution would have been concluded. And I say it with all understanding of being actively involved in the process. I’m a member of the Constitutional Review Committee. I represent my state, Osun, in that committee and of course, I’m part of the team set up by the South-West Governors Forum to interface with the National Assembly to ensure that meaningful resolutions come from the exercise. The retreat that we just concluded is the second of such retreat we have had in the past one month or so. And notwithstanding that we are currently on recess, we are still going to have another retreat before we resume. We hope that as early as September or early October, we would be able to lay our report before the National Assembly.
We have considered harmonized bills of the House of Representatives and the Senate and these bills are quite about 155 or so in number. They have gone through different areas that I believe if we are able to get the requisite vote at the floor of the National Assembly and the two/third in the Houses of Assembly we will be able to make some meaningful injection of relevant provisions that will help in developing governance. And also help us in achieving the goal of advancing the welfare and security of our people. I can make allusion to some of the areas that we have looked at and that we appeared to have some consensus.
In the area of local government, we have come to a position that there is a need to have a constitutional guarantee of a term of four years for our local government under a democratic system. And that no local government that is not democratic would be able to draw allocation from the Federal Government.
This is to ensure that the regime of caretaker arrangement in local government would be done with. Also the question of funding of local governments was looked at and relevant provision to ensure their funding both by the federal and state government and insulate the situation of their funding has also been inserted in the proposed amendment of the constitution. Of course, the issue of judicial autonomy and apportionment of resources to them from federal allocation has also been looked at and the distribution of resources under section 162 has also been amended in this regard.
In terms of devolution of power, some items on the Exclusive Legislative List are now going to be on concurrent list. And even in the context of being on the concurrent list, they will be advocated into areas of exclusive competence of Federal Government and state government. For instance, if the amendment scales through in terms of incorporation of companies, companies that are operating within the confine of a state would only need to be incorporated under the state law, whereas if it is a national company, it will be under the national law. Registration of business name would be the business of the state.
Of course, stamp duties in relation to those state companies and businesses would also come in respect of appropriate authorities. We believe that these would free some resources for the states and allow fiscal federalism. So, we are looking critically at the exclusive legislative list with a view of bringing some of the items down so that the state would be able to work.
And of course, one of the turning issues we are looking at is the issue of creation of state police or decentralization of the Nigeria police to address the question of unbundling the security architecture of the country. Even though we don’t have a landing yet on this issue of state police, I believe that there are certain advancement in discussion and getting consensus around creating an efficient police force for the country.
Your party in the wake of the Ondo State Supreme Court judgement is facing a lot of debate over its leadership, the future and the ward congresses you went into. What is your opinion on what is happening in the APC?
We must make a distinction between informed opinion and opinion that is prejudice by lack of understanding. I have had the opportunity of reading the majority judgement of the Supreme Court and I believe they decisively dealt with some of the issues that some commentators are still commenting on.
It appeared that some commentators and even members of our party are self-seeking in their opinion and they were not actually informed of the totality of the reasoning and the rationale of the Supreme Court decision. And to just briefly summarize what the Supreme Court has said, it said the position of the caretaker committee is an interim position and it does not come within executive position or position driving peculiar benefit within the contemplation of section 183 of the constitution.
As far as they are concerned, Governor Mai Mala Buni and of course my governor, Governor Gboyega Oyetola, who are members of the caretaker committee have not violated section 183. The Supreme Court went further to say that the issue of nomination is not done at the national secretariat. It is done by people at the congress of the party and there was no contention, no argument and no appeal to the fact that Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu emerged as the candidate of our party at the primary election. So, the question of whether somebody signed the letter in one capacity or the other was considered to be immaterial to the question of validation of nomination.