Buhari’s good laws failed to change Nigeria

Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution was the subject of intense review by the country’s outgoing 9th National Assembly. The outcome of the review saw President Muhammadu Buhari signing into law nineteen legislative acts in March 2023. Out of the 19 bills, 16 were various amendments to Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, as amended.

As the President is set to leave office on Monday, BusinessDay looks back at the significant decision he made to sign into law the momentous acts of the Nigeria’s legislature.

The National Assembly had in January transmitted 35 Constitution amendment bills to the President for assent following the Senate resolution directing the former Clerk to the National Assembly, Olatunde Ojo, to forward all the proposed legislation that had met the requirement for assent as provided for in Section 9 (2) of the 1999 Constitution.

Many of these laws are consequential, as their impact on the nation’s social and political economy are expected to be significant. Some of the laws grant more powers to the states.

Four of the constitutional amendment bills signed into law by Buhari deal with “devolution of powers/promoting true federalism and also strengthening of state houses of assembly and judiciary,” Ahmed Wase, deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, said. The Bill to require the President and Governors to submit the names of persons nominated as Ministers or Commissioners within sixty days of taking the oath of office for confirmation by the Senate or State House of Assembly was one of the bills signed into law.

The President had himself taken almost six months to unveil his cabinet during his first tenure in 2015. It took him 54 days after his second term began to send a list of ministerial nominees to the Nigerian Senate for screening.

Sections 147 and 148 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), deals with the issue of appointment of ministers to be assigned “any responsibility for any business of the government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of government” yet, choosing a cabinet in Nigeria is a complicated balancing act that requires a heavy amount of pragmatism.

Simon Allison of the London-based Guardian Newspaper noted in a November 2015 report that “One must juggle the need for skilled leaders with the requirement to repay political allies, while navigating the shifting alliances of internal party politics and eliminating accumulated deadwood. Then there’s the need to carefully maintain an ethnic and religious balance, and to make sure each of the country’s 36 states is somehow represented.”

The early appointment of ministers sends strong signals to critical stakeholders about a government’s intentions, especially fiscal policy goals. It also goes a long way in helping investors in their investment decisions about the country.

The act to allow states in the country to generate, transmit, and distribute electricity in areas covered by the national grid is one of the novel amendments that had for long being championed by economic experts as well as socio-political structuralists who have for long being desirous of the restructuring of the Nigerian state. What is clear is that, the existing power generation and distribution system in the country is unproductive, resulting in regular power outages.

By devolving to each state, the power to generate its electricity, more players would become active in the system, thus expanding power sources which would help to improve the consistency and quality of power supply. Nigeria, noted Attorney, Dele Belgore, “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.

“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.

“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,” he had further noted.

The third consequential amendment bill signed into law by the President was the Bill 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).

What this means, noted Belgore, is that a State House of Assembly can now make laws for the state concerning the creation and maintenance of a state railway carrier and inter-state railway tracks and infrastructures.

This, he said, 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.

Railroads played a large role in the development of the United States from the industrial revolution in the Northeast to the settlement of the West. It revolutionised commercial transportation with a durable, faster, cheaper way to move goods.

Planning and construction of railroads in the United States progressed rapidly in states that granted charters to construct them, with early railroad surveys and construction being financed by private investors.

In the early 20th century, annual revenues of railroads constituted the largest industry in America. Railroads are a major industry, stimulating other heavy industries such as iron and steel production.

They haul the most freight of any form of transport in terms of ton-miles, a measure of cargo volume that considers weight and distance carried. Railroads now haul 40 percent of total U.S. freight. Railways, says the World Bank, are a climate-smart and efficient way to move people and freight. Railways promote economic growth while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

They are a clean and compact way to move millions of passengers and millions of tons of goods across countries and continents. To make rail more efficient, and useful to both urban dwellers commuting to work and factory managers moving freight, it is important says the bank to, undertake reforms in the way railroads are organised and financed, including better governance and more competition, which will provide better service at lower prices.

“Generally speaking, it is a welcomed development to move the management of any facilities closer to where it is located. Rather than managing the entire airports from one office, it will be decentralised making the management much more efficient,” Gabriel Idahosa, Deputy President of the Lagos State Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in February.

“For businesses, if businesses want to move goods through trains and the trains are much more efficient you will find that the trucks on the road will disappear. If you have an efficient railway system, the entire logistics sector in the country will be transformed. “The cost of movement of goods and services will fall drastically which in turn will bring down the prices of goods and food that we consume.”

Private management of critical facilities is the best option for the country, he posited, citing the example of the telecommunication sector. “So, for the railways, what we really need is the Nigerian Railway Transport Commission just like the NCC that will grant licences to operators of rail lines.

Operators who have the financial and technical experience will run the rail lines. Once we do that we don’t have to keep borrowing money from China to run our rail lines,” he added.

The Bill to provide for the financial independence of State Houses of Assembly and State Judiciary is the fourth of the most consequential bills signed into law by the president. Mr. Buhari had on May 22, 2020, signed the Executive Order No 10, that guaranteed financial autonomy for the judiciary and the legislature at the state level, following persistent complaints over how state governors had starved the legislature and the judiciary of funds, thereby frustrating the independence of the two other arms of government.

According to Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, the executive order provides that: “The Accountant-General of the Federation shall by this Order and such any other Orders, Regulations or Guidelines as may be issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, authorise the deduction from source in the course of Federation Accounts Allocation from the money allocated to any State of the Federation that fails to release allocation meant for the State Legislature and State Judiciary in line with the financial autonomy guaranteed by Section 121(3) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as Amended)”.

The Supreme Court in a case instituted by 36 state governors upturned the decision, claiming that “the president has overstepped the limit of his constitutional powers by issuing the Executive Order 10.” The legislature was to pass the Constitution of the Federal of Nigeria, 1999 (Fifth Alteration (no. 6) Act 2023 that seeks to provide for the financial independence of State Houses of Assembly and State Judiciaries, thus giving constitutional backing to the reversed Executive Order.

The new law would strengthen the institutions at the states and make them more independent and accountable in line with the tenets of democracy as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. “Fiscal autonomy of state judiciary will have a direct impact in operations of the judiciary at the state level. especially in the decongestion of cases waiting for trial,” Opeyemi Bamidele, chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters Financial autonomy for the judiciary in a democratic federalist system, Dele Belgore noted, ensures that the judiciary is not unduly influenced or controlled by other branches of government and allows the judiciary to be independent. “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.”

Despite the good laws and great Bill’s that have been signed in the last eight years, Nigeria has not fared better.

Read also: Hard to miss Buhari, harder to say bye bye

Many observers say that Buhari’s good laws did not positively impact the country.
Allison Akpan, a data analyst, said that the problem was not about laws but having the political will to deploy such laws without minding whose ox is gored.

“It is sad that up till now in the life of Nigeria, laws are still made for the poor man. There are those who are above the law and government does not say or do anything.
He further said that the major problem with the laws is that even those that make the laws are themselves lawless.

“Look at the Electoral Act that excited most Nigerians and we thought we have gotten it right for the first time, those who made the law, by their actions during the last elections, tore the law in shreds so to speak. If the Electoral Act had been implemented to the letter, we would not be where we are now,” Akpan said.

In an interview with BusinessDay, Leonard Umunna, bishop and founder of Bible Life Church, said that Nigeria’s problem was not lack of laws, but refusal to properly implement the Constitution.

Umunna said that Nigeria’s constitution must be given a character.

“Give our Constitution a character, because it virtually decides what you do in any nation. I have also said and still believe that if you give a good man a bad Constitution, he may try to find a way to do good; but if you give a bad man a good Constitution, he will still mess it up. So, the thing is about the type of leadership a country has,” he said.