For three good years the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) deliberately refused to implement the Report of the Nasir El-Rufai True Federalism Committee, which addressed several fundamental challenges confronting Nigeria. It has far reaching recommendations that would help birth a truly Federal Republic of Nigeria and drastically reduce regional agitations. Why the APC, which in the build up to the 2015 elections canvassed for power on a reform and change agenda, as part of the solutions to the deep structural crisis confronting the country and stands to profit politically from its implementation, is treating the report with utmost contempt remains a matter of conjecture.
The only explanation by the party for the lack of movement was the need to guide against the politicization of the report, which was submitted close to the 2019 elections. In spite of the lack of action, the APC must be commended for setting up the El-Rufai True Federalism Committee in 2017, a game changer that would undoubtedly douse regional tensions and drive development which the unitary federation bequeathed by the military has more or less stifled. There is no doubt that the overstretched and very removed from local reality federal government has encroached on several state functions, part of the reasons for poor policies and haphazard implementation, which have had devastating consequences on every sector.
The failure of the APC to get the National Assembly do the needful has become inconsequential, as some legislators have gallantly picked up the implementation of the El-Rufai report. Coincidentally, the legislators are from Kaduna state, and not from the South-west, where agitation for true federalism has been loudest. Senator Uba Sani’s understanding of the urgency and the impact of the amendment, in unleashing bottled up capacity and strengthening the system to work for Nigerians, is spot on.
At the heart of the true federalism debate is the fact that some fundamental issues are best handled by the federating states, while the federal government concentrates in defending the territorial integrity of the country, in conducting foreign relations, etc. An argument the APC True Federalism Committee strongly made in its report that “a major issue with the Nigerian federation is the enormous exclusive legislative powers of the federal government with resultant over-centralisation of power and authority. It is generally believed that a further decentralisation of some of these powers by devolving more powers, autonomy and resources to the federating units will foster efficiency and sub-national responsiveness and local accountability.”
Senator Uba Sani (APC, Kaduna Central, Kaduna state), chairman, Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, has introduced four consequential bills that will usher in the long over-due community policing, and change the defective structure of the Nigeria Police Force, established since 1820. El-Rufai, in his moving public tribute of Uba Sani for spearheading the decentralisation of policing in Nigeria, appropriately described the bills as “a significant moment in removing the anomaly of a unitary police force in a federal republic”.
The first bill “Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (Alteration) Bill 2020 entails a constitutional amendment of Cap C23 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004. The net effect of the 15 amendments to the principal Act, the Second and Third Schedules of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 as amended, will be the establishment of State Police in the 36 states of the federation, the change of the Police Service Commission to the Federal Police Service Commission and the establishment of State Police Service Commission.
The bill, which is incredibly foresighted, has provisions for states that might lack the “resources” to establish theirs, or which due to “administrative or other challenges” is at certain points are unable to operate. In the event of such situations, upon the express request of the state governor, the Federal Police will provide security, until such a time it’s able to carry out the functions. Other key provisions are clear boundaries that prohibit the Federal Police Force from “interfering in the internal security of a state”, except for the investigation of crimes not exclusively assigned to another law enforcement agency, and the investigation of threats to national security.
The other bills are the Nigeria Police Service Commission (Repeal and Reenactment) Bill, 2020, which seeks to repeal the Police Service Commission Act 2001, and enact in its place the Nigeria Police Service Commission that will exercise disciplinary control over “any person holding office in the Nigeria Police Force, formulate and implement policies aimed at the efficiency and discipline to the Nigeria Police Force”. There is also the State Police Service Commission (Establishment) Bill, 2020, with similar functions as those of the federal service commission. And lastly, is the Act to Alter the Nigeria Police Act 2020 to, among other parts, establish an operational structure for the state police force in the 36 states of the federation and related matters. The bill addresses issues not covered under the Nigeria Police Act 2020.
The fears of misuse of the community police, which had largely informed opposition to its establishment, are adequately addressed by the rigid regulatory standards and other safeguards to guide against abuse. Thankfully, the #EndSARS protest against police brutality, though badly organised, and the subsequent institution of panels to investigate police brutality, are wake up calls that will further help check abuses.
By sponsoring these bills, Senator Uba Sani has sufficiently demonstrated that the National Assembly is the critical institution, with the capacity for midwifing the restructuring of Nigeria with its legislative actions that will devolve powers to the federating units and not non-state actors, who have been attempting to exercise powers they lack. It’s hoped that the four bills, which have scaled first reading, would be expeditiously passed by the National Assembly and supported by at least 24 state houses of assembly to become laws.
For other members of the National Assembly, who desire to write their names in gold, there are several other critical amendments of the APC committee to sponsor with little or no amendment. They include the decentralization of the judiciary, mines and minerals, registration of business names, prisons, stamp duties, railways, fingerprints and identification and foods and drug, among others.