Drastic changes to the 1999 Constitution by the National Assembly are on the way, with the federal government looking likely to be stripped of some of the powers it currently wields.
More power will devolve to the states under the proposed amendments, some of which were adopted at the annual joint retreat of the Senate and House of Representatives Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution which ended yesterday in Lagos.
The lawmakers believe strongly that the constitution now requires fundamental reforms in the interest of the nation’s development.
Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu told reporters at the retreat yesterday that some of the contentious issues in the document would be reviewed to meet the yearning of the generality of Nigerians.
One of the major reforms in the offing is the removal of railways from the exclusive list, he said.
It will be transferred to the concurrent list to allow states with the means to provide rail services.
He said: “We have broken all the issues into specific bills. Between yesterday (Friday) and today (Saturday) we have looked at about 23 separate bills with separate issues.
“The idea is to ensure that by the time we vote, each of them succeeds or fails on its own. When we conclude the work, we’ll send it to the house to approve.
“We will collate and ensure that the provisions of the constitution have been fulfilled regarding the alteration, and we will send it to the president for his assent. And the president will decide which one to assent to or not to assent to.
“The implication therefore is that if he assents to some, then those one become part of the constitution. And the one he refuses to assent to, then we might decide whether to override the veto.
“So, we want each of them to have a separate life of its own. And this is based on our own experience in the last exercise where everything was in one single bill and when the president withheld his assent, all of them collapsed.
“This is just an improvement on what we did last time. It is something we innovated based on our experience in the last exercise.”
The Constitution review committee, according to him, also considered the time frame within which the president or state governor has to assent to a bill and the issue of restructuring.
His words: “You know we have been talking about the restructuring of Nigeria. One of the components of restructuring is that they are saying that there is too much power in the hands of the federal government and we need to strip some of them from the federal government.
“What we have done is to look at the issue. Some items will be removed from the exclusive list to the concurrent list where the federal and the states can make laws regarding some of those items.
“And where there is a conflict, the laws of the National Assembly will prevail.
“So, things like railways will have to be moved to the concurrent list. The idea is that states can build railways within their territory and then a couple of states can even decide to build railways across their states.
“The federal government can also build railways across the country and make policy around it.”
There will continue to be a minimum wage applicable to the public and private sectors.
“There should be minimum wage for both the public sector and private sector, that is to say, that if it is N5000 don’t pay any person less than N5000 but can be increased
“If Lagos has more money, it can pay beyond the minimum wage. All those who don’t have money cannot pay below the minimum way no matter how poor they are.
“So, in that way we have a minimum standard for workers in Nigeria.”
The committee plans to hold more consultations on the possibility of scrapping the joint local government account.
“The challenge there has been how do you take care of the issue of teachers’ salaries because it is from the joint local governments/state account that primary school teachers’ salaries are paid,” he said.
“So, we want to be sure that if we remove the joint local government- state account we will not jeopardize the payment of teacher salaries.
“That is a very contentious issue, so we said we have to do further consultations with the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and other stakeholders before we can take a decision on that to be sure that we don’t create more problems when we are trying to solve and existing problem. “So, that is not part of what we are going to present to the National Assembly when we get back.
“We believe we have done sufficient work. This is an incremental approach that we have adopted in the amendment of the constitution. So, what we are saying that after we have finished with this, if we still have more time before election, otherwise maybe the next assembly will decide what to do.”