On March 2, 2022, the National Assembly voted on 68 bills to amend the 1999 Nigerian Constitution for the fifth time. The bills covered restructuring, electoral reform, welfare, and the advancement of women’s rights. For the process to be complete, the bills passed by the Senate and House of Representatives also have to be passed by at least 24 of Nigeria’s 36 State Houses of Assembly.
But state lawmakers have aired the National Assembly
Nine months later, more than half of the Houses of Assembly are yet to give their response. This delay puts the 9th National Assembly in a tight situation as they have only six months left to put these bills on the president’s table before their tenure expires in June 2023.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, expressed his frustration with the delay. This was during a lecture organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) on December 12, 2022. The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, and Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, were also present at the event.
Lawan pleaded with El-Rufai to lobby his fellow governors to take action on the bills. However, El-Rufai tackled him with some demands for the National Assembly that were pressing on his mind.
Give Federal Government control of VAT collection
Value Added Tax (VAT) is a tax paid when goods are purchased and services rendered. Currently, the Federal Government, through the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), collects VAT nationwide and then remits certain percentages to state and local governments. The Federal Government enjoys this arrangement but state governments have started rebelling.
The Rivers State government dragged the Federal Government to court in 2021 and won the battle to collect VAT. However, the FIRS isn’t letting go easily and threatened to fine anyone who stands in the way of its bag.
El-Rufai wants the National Assembly to end the tug-of-war by removing VAT from the constitution’s concurrent list. This list gives state governments some control over VAT collection. Instead, the National Assembly should move VAT to the exclusive list. This is so that only the Federal Government can collect VAT. This would render the court judgement invalid.
El-Rufa believes that the Federal Government being in control of VAT collection is the only way Nigeria can make enough money to spread around and sustain every state.
Pass state and community police bills before leaving office
The National Assembly and state governors have been in a tug of war concerning the issue of state policing for the longest time. The governors have maintained that unless state policing is passed by the Senate, they’re not going to blink an eye toward any of the bills.
But why are governors so adamant about state policing being passed and why are lawmakers so against it?
The governors see the state police system as an answer to the insecurity issues in the country. However, lawmakers are scared that the governors may not be able to pay the police officers’ salaries on time. They may also use police officers for ulterior, sinister motives. Governors like Nyesom Wike, Dave Umahi and many others have been guilty of showing lawmakers pepper with the police.
Decentralisation of offshore mining and exploration
If the National Assembly decides to listen to El-Rufai, the federal government will stop having control over 100% of solid minerals in the country. El-Rufai could really just be thinking of how to cash out if a mineral resource like oil is ever found in his state.
The local government should be peculiar to each culture
This speaks to the recent clamour for local government autonomy, as the state governments control the local governments. These local governments have now turned to playthings in the hands of their creators. As the closest tier to the people, they can hardly seem to do anything without their oga’s intervention.
El-Rufai is begging that each local government should be unique to its own culture. This is so that they can serve the people better without doing things like this:
After his speech, El-Rufai then replied Lawan’s request. He said he can never retire to the National Assembly because he simply doesn’t have the patience to lobby for issues.
We can only wish Lawan and his colleagues good luck as they race against time to complete the constitutional amendment process.