While declaring open a two-day zonal hearing in Enugu yesterday, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Amendment, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, reversed his earlier position on state creation.
The deputy Senate president told his kinsmen yesterday in Enugu that it was not true that the National Assembly had ruled out state creation via the ongoing constitution amendment project. Ekweremadu had said earlier, at a press conference in Abuja, that the ongoing constitution review might not produce new states, contrary to the expectation of many.
He had told those asking for state creation to forget such ambition, insisting that the process of state creation was rather cumbersome.
According to him, " you don't expect that, at the end of the Constitution amendment exercise, this committee or indeed the National Assembly will announce states that have been created; that is not going to happen".
Citing section 8 and 9 of the 1999 Constitution which stipulate the process of state creation, the deputy Senate president insisted that it would be naive for anybody or group of persons to think that the National Assembly alone can create states at the end of the review exercise. The National Assembly can only advise on how these states can be distributed to the various geopolitical zones, he said.
Apparently making a U-turn yesterday, Ekweremadu said that hope was not lost.
He commended the people of Nigeria for showing tremendous faith in the constitution review project, adding: "It is not true that the National Assembly has ruled out state creation. It is also not true that it is pursuing any special agenda on the matter as we have no such powers.
Rather, the position of the National Assembly is that while it is committed to ensuring that every request is treated on its merit, taking constitutional requirements, good governance, justice and national development into account, Nigerians need to understand that the processes for state creation is slightly different from that of conventional constitution amendment.
"While state creation under the military was an event as states were decreed into existence by fiat, state creation in a democracy, especially going by the provisions of Section 8 (1), is a long and cumbersome process requiring the inputs of every part of Nigeria and is therefore not an entirely National Assembly affair."
He noted that state creation is "constitutionally a process that should in fact originate and be driven by the people, local government councils, members of the state assemblies, and members of the National Assembly from the areas seeking to be created into new states" and that "the role of the National Assembly is to provide leadership, moderate the process, and ensure compliance with legislative due process".
Meanwhile, demand for new states topped the list yesterday at the zonal public hearing on constitution amendment held in Enugu.
South-east leaders at the hearing took turns to insist that the zone must get an additional state to bring it at par with others.
The review committee confirmed that it had already received 56 requests for state creation.
Over 16 groups stormed the Enugu State House of Assembly, venue of the public hearing for the south-east, asking for new states. The South-East Council of Traditional Rulers, state governors, market women and other prominent politicians from the zone in their separate presentations at the hearing renewed their demand for an addition state for the zone in keeping with the principles of equity, fairness and justice.
The proposed states include Adada from the current Enugu State, Aba from Abia State, Equity state from the current five states of the south-east, Njaba from Imo and Anambra states, Orashi from Imo State, and Etiti from Abia, Enugu and Imo states. Most of the groups came with posters and uniforms indicating the symbols of their proposed states.
They were however not happy with the reported plan by the review committee to dump state creation.
Fashola harps on state police, fiscal federalism
Lagos State governor Mr. Babatunde Fashola and Senate president David Mark yesterday chronicled the need for the creation of state police and a document that will engender rapid and spontaneous development of the country.
Key government officials, who spoke at a forum to flag off the south-west zone's public hearing on the proposed amendment of the 1999 Constitution, said the vexed issues informed their recommendation for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
They affirmed that the need for national security and all-round development must be given top priority in discussions if the country must move forward.
Fashola, who emphasized the importance of the public hearing designed to involve Nigerians in the process of decision making that affects their lives, raised concerns about the argument that has lingered on who should decide the issues to be amended in the constitution as well as the basis for the clamour for amendment.
Fashola said: "Perhaps, let me start from saying that we asked ourselves in this discussion: who is very suited to know where the constitution is faulty? Is it the people or the people that they have elected to operate it? But that will be a matter that will evolve in the course of the debate here because we couldn't even resolve it. But here we are today and all I need to say is that the Lagos State government has held a public hearing based on the parameters that were sent to us.
"They are devolution of powers, creation of more states, geopolitical zones, traditional rulers, local governments, Land Use act, NYSC Act, Code of Conduct Bureau, fiscal federalism, immunity clause, mayoral status for Abuja and of course the Nigeria Police."
Urging speakers to take cognisance of the limitations of time and the need to prioritise issues of national security and development, the governor argued that the earlier the country got the issue of constitution right the better.
He said: "It seems to me that the constitution itself is not an end but a means to an end, and that end is our collective prosperity, a prosperity that is achievable in my view only in a Federal Republic of Nigeria; a federal arrangement for this country, in my view, is not negotiable because that is the only way that the diversity of this country can be harnessed.
"We are so different but yet the same, we are so diverse but yet one being and the best way is therefore is to allow each independent state to develop at its own speed, its own resources, according to its own ability, in a way that the prosperity of each state can become the prosperity of Nigeria.
So issues like fiscal federalism and political federalism, I will put them at the top of the ladder and that takes me to issues about devolution of power; it makes so much sense because that is how our diversity can become fully expressive.
"Issues like police must come under the devolution of power, but can also come, in my view, under the debate of what is most important for us to deal with today, and I think it is our national security, because, without it, when we continue to live in fear, there is very little achievement that we can make.
It is only in an atmosphere of peace and security that we can do businesses, that we can move; therefore I remain very clear in my mind that until each state is able to enforce its own laws, until then we may continue to be beset with those problems of national security.
And my advocacy of state police does not mean that they will exist without the federal component but, very clearly, the federal government has been unable to recruit enough men to distribute across the state, and there are state laws relating to local issues that even the federal police is not bothered about anymore because, as the level of insecurity increases, the attention of the federal police moves to higher issues.
We'll be fair to all - Mark
Meanwhile, Senate president David Mark, in Sokoto yesterday, said that no section of the country would be favoured in the ongoing constitution review. Mark made this known while addressing the north-west zone in the public hearing of the review of the 1999 Constitution. He said that the views and comments of the people would be the basis for the Senate to produce the constitution that would meet the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
He explained that constitution review would also focus on unity and security to ensure rapid political growth of the country. He stressed the need for Nigerians to live in peace with one another irrespective of tribe, religious and political differences. He said this would only be possible if priority attention was accorded to the security sector.
He expressed confidence that the committee would come out with a formidable constitution that would enhance and promote unity among Nigerians. He also commended the people of the north-west for coming out to present their request before the committee.
Also, Governor Rabiu Kwankwasu of Kano State expressed confidence that the members of the National Assembly would come out with a constitution that would foster unity among Nigerians. He also called on the federal government to hold in trust, control and facilitate the exploitation of all minerals resources in the country.