ABUJA/Nigeria: Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has assured Nigerians that the defeated bill on devolution of powers still has chances of being passed again, as part of the amendment to the 1999 constitution after the resumption of both chambers of the National Assembly from the annual recess, which commenced last Friday.
Saraki gave the assurance in Ilorin, Kwara State, while speaking with newsmen, shortly after receiving a delegation of the #NotTooYoungToRun# group in the state.The senate president linked the defeat of the devolution of powers bill to the current wave of hate speeches across the country, adding that the current mistrust among Nigerians also contributed to the defeat.
He said some stakeholders misunderstood the intent of the proposed amendments in the bill as a clever way of introducing restructuring and were not ready to back such a move without proper consultations with their constituents.
He said that the level of distrust and suspicion among Nigerians at this point in time was unimaginable, and had created divisions along regional lines, as well as, in the way people voted on the constitutional issues.
“This is expected with the level of agitations in the country and the way opinion leaders are helping to accentuate hate speeches and emphasisng issues that could pitch one area against the other. The votes in the National Assembly reflect the state of the country today. People voted to reflect the position of their constituents. However, the National Assembly is still the best forum for uniting the country and mending our fault lines. That is why I believe there is still the opportunity to re-examine important issues like devolution of powers to states, with a view to changing the present position on it,” he said.
Saraki, expressed confidence that with more consultations, Nigerians would have a bill that would devolve more powers to the states, and therefore appealed for calm and understanding over the current development. He said the fact that the bill was defeated once was no reason to conclude the battle had been lost in the legislative process, and in accordance with legislative tradition.
He added: “As you know, we have three senators representing each state and one from the FCT and they all represent their constituencies and whatever they do there, they must engage with and get feedback from their constituencies. I believe that if this constitutional amendment had come maybe eight months ago, the devolution of powers bill would have passed easily.
“But I think we must be honest with ourselves that presently there is a lot of mistrust in the country; the air is very polluted and let us be very frank, that blame must go all round; whether it be to politicians, opinion leaders, socio-cultural group leaders and some others, who are running commentaries and even some of you in the media, who sometimes write stories that amplify hate speeches and view points that are inaccurate,” the lawmaker said.
Saraki continued: “And I think what happened was that a lot of our colleagues misread or misunderstood or were suspicious of what the devolution of powers to states was all about; whether it was restructuring in another way, or an attempt to foist confederation on the country, or to prepare the ground for other campaigns now going on in he country. Our colleagues also made a lot of appeals that they had not consulted with their constituencies and you can see what is happening. There was a meeting in Kaduna yesterday (Friday), where it was clear that certain parts of the country wanted more time to understand what restructuring is all about before joining the discussion.
“So it is clear that not all senators were on board. My own advise is that we have spoken a lot with the senators because we cannot bully them or stampede them, because at the end of the day, this country belongs to all of us. You cannot hassle me out of the country. Neither can I hassle you out. What we must do is dialogue; reassure each other and let people understand that this concept is for the purpose of making a modern Nigeria; that it is not going to, in any way undermine any part of the country.
“I want to appeal for calm. I am sure with the engagements going on, there will be dialogue. I am also sure that by the time we come back from the present recess, people generally would have a better understanding that devolution of powers to states, as regards some of the issues that were put in that bill, is not a threat to any part of the country, and I am hopeful that there would be change of mind and position,” the senate president stated.
He advised: “I think in the meantime, we all have a role to play. We must continue to have an understanding. That is why the constitutional amendment can only be achieved with two-third majority, so that majority of the country will always be on the same page. Even if half wants it, it will not scale through so what the half should do is to lobby and convince the others to get the percentage required; not to harass them and hope that by so doing it would happen, and you can see it was not just in the Senate. It also did not scale through in the House of Representatives. But I am confident that it will happen.
He also explained that the gender bill was defeated in a bid to include it in the constitution, adding that what was not reported in the media was that the sponsors were victorious because they got an undertaking from members that what was defeated would be included in the Gender Opportunity Bill. “That was something that would not have happened before…” he said.
The #NotTooYoungToRun group, led by its state coordinator, Olasupo Abideen had visited Saraki to express gratitude over the passage of the Not Too Young To Run Bill and solicit his support for the remaining parts of the proposal, by the Joint Committee on Constitutional amendment to make the amendment a total success.Olasupo thanked Saraki and members of the 8th Senate for their interest in the future of the youth, which made them to pass the bill. He recalled that agitation for the passage of the bill started in 2012, adding that the Nigerian youths would forever remain grateful to Saraki over his kindness towards them.