Dr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN

Foremost human rights campaigner and former President of the Nigerian Bar Association NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba has added his voice to the vexed issue on the urgent need to restructure Nigeria, proposing a review of a total of 98 items contained on the exclusive and concurrent lists for both Federal and State Governments.

In a letter dated November 4, 2020, addressed to the President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan and entitled: ‘A Simple Way to Restructure Nigeria by Devolving Powers’ and personally signed by him, the Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, observed that there are 98 items of powers on the Exclusive and Legislative list as contained in the 1999 constitution.

He also observed that while the Federal Government exercises exclusive power over 68 items on the exclusive list, the states in concurrence with the Federal Government, exercise power over 30 items on the concurrent list.

He however noted that the constitution provides that the states may only exercise power on the concurrent list, only if the Federal Government has not already “covered the field” on any of the 30 items, which in effect implies that the State Governments really have no power.

He therefore proposed that a committee be put in place to review the 98 items of power and assign what is best to Federal and what is best to the states, based on the principle of subsidiarity.

Agbakoba also proposed that the exclusive list and Concurrent list be renamed as the Federal Legislative List and State Legislative list respectively whereby the Federal Government will exercise reserved powers while the states exercise devolved powers.

It was gathered that as President of the NBA, Agbakoba worked with the Forum of Federations, which reviewed diverse models of federalism which can be of assistance to the National Assembly.

The letter reads in part: “It is my honour and pleasure to present to you, for consideration at the National Assembly, a simple proposal in what is considered a complex issue.

“Nigeria has for long been engaged in the federalism question. It is clear that because of our diverse nature and large size, the political system best suited for Nigeria is a federal system. But the challenge has been what type of federalism. Many proposals, including restructuring, have been put forward without success. I believe there is a simple solution; this is devolution of powers. The Constitution has two legislative lists namely, Exclusive and Concurrent. These lists have 98 items of powers.

“In their book: Federalism: An Introduction by George Anderson, the author points out that many federal models have strong central governments; yet other models have a weak central government. Some models have interlocking features where the principle of cooperative federalism enables the federal and state governments to jointly share heads of legislative powers. 

“I enclose a copy of the book as I believe it will be of value to the National Assembly. In truth, the Concept of True Federalism is a myth and does not exist. Every nation chooses its form of Federalism.

“In my opinion, the simple process of devolved powers can be by virtue of an enactment styled, Constitution Alteration (Devolution of Powers) Bill. This will resolve the self-imposed complex issue of restructure”.