States’ Houses of Assembly on Thursday deplored National Assembly’s rejection of the Bill seeking to adopt devolution of powers in the ongoing constitution alteration in the country.
The Conference of Speakers, therefore, urged the National Assembly to revisit the issue in the next constitution alteration, saying that it was the wish of the people at the grassroots.
Chairman of the conference, Mr Abdulmumin Kamba, stated the position of the speakers while transmitting the resolutions of Houses of Assembly on Constitution amendment to National Assembly leadership on Thursday in Abuja.
He said that 34 houses of assembly out of the 36 in the country went through the 29 Amendment Bills sent to them and concurred with the National Assembly on 15.
According to him, during our interactions with stakeholders at the grassroots on the proposed constitution amendments, they expressed their displeasure on the absence of devolution of powers.
Kamba added that the assemblies carried out their duties in accordance with the yearnings of the people.
“The process of amending the Constitution is more inclusive than exhaustive.
“Section 29 of the Constitution defines the role of the state houses of assembly in any alteration.
“In this forth alteration, just like in the previous ones, state legislators have not only acted expeditiously, given the importance of the exercise, but also discharged their constitutional duties in line with yearnings and aspirations of their constituents.
“The alteration has been challenging but worthwhile. We are not, however, under any illusion that it will be free of opposition given the experience in the 7th Assembly.
“We believe that every proposed amendment transmitted to the houses of assembly by the National Assembly for ratification reflects the yearnings and aspirations of Nigerians.
“The voting out of bill on devolution of powers was strongly condemned by people at the grassroots.
“Therefore, on behalf of the constituents, we want to plead that the bill on the devolution of power be reconsidered and form part of the next proposed amendments to the Constitution,’’ Kamba said.
In his remarks, the Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, said that there would not be solid democracy without an independent legislature.
He commended the state assemblies for approving autonomy for themselves, but flayed them for denying the local governments same autonomy.
The speaker said all that hope was not lost as they could still decide to give their approval when the National Assembly would present it again in the future.
“I must commend you for deciding that the legislature in states should be independent. However, this is not an expression of the opinion of the National Assembly.
“I want to appropriate this as my personal opinion.
“I can say that I am disappointed because I thought that the courage demonstrated by these highly skilled legislators, some of whom are seated before us, would have delivered the long-awaited local government autonomy.
“But unfortunately, maybe our courage didn’t go that far.
“But you see, courage isn’t really the absence of fear, but it is acting in spite of your fears and if it was not because of men and women of courage.
“I tell you that the democracy itself that we experience now wouldn’t have been possible.
“When William Wilberforce said slaves must be free, he belonged to the party, majority of whom, were slave owners and on account of that, a revolution started,” he added.
Dogara added that “while most of the measures the National Assembly is seeking to introduce may not be popular, if they stand by them, the kind of future that will come from it will only ensure the deepening of democracy and the progress of Nigeria.
“Just as the financial independence for state legislatures failed the other time, maybe in the next exercise, because our state legislatures are now independent, they will be able to extend this same independence to local governments.
“We all know the benefits of the independence of the third tier,’’ Dogara said.
In his remarks, the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, said that devolution of powers clause demanded by Nigerians would surely be attended to by the National Assembly as soon as possible.
Saraki urged the State Houses of Assembly to also ensure the passage of constitutional amendment on local government autonomy when sent to them again.
He said, “the foundation of our Constitution rests on its ability to strengthen our unity, deepen democracy, engender good governance, and also the enforcement and protection of our peoples’ rights as they go about seeking a better life for themselves.
“These are the crux of the proposed alterations to the Constitution which the 8th National Assembly in accordance with the 1999 Constitution, sent to the State Assemblies for their approval.
“The conclusion of this process today is another great testament to the growing stature of our democratic practice and the maturity that all of you in this room and those outside have shown.
“I am proud of the value and the patriotism you have exhibited to get us this far. I commend your hard work and your forthrightness.
“The process of amending the Constitution is a solemn process that is not flimsily embarked upon. `
“These current amendments which have passed through the last constitutional hurdle will help strengthen the bonds of our unity and our institutions to provide good governance.
“We remain resolved to continue to take on the hard national issues that hold us down with a view to using all legislative and constitutional measures to resolve them for the welfare and security of our people.
“It is our expectations that with the success of the current exercise and the lessons learned, we are better equipped to take on more constitutional proposals.
“This will give our people greater sense of belonging, safety and oneness including the issues of devolution of powers,’’ Saraki said.