Agbakoba’s Bill on Devolution of Power to the National Assembly

July 12, 2011


In an email to a circle to which I was drawn by one of my indefatigable correspondents before this blog got started, Dr. Lai Opawoye of the USA, Dr. Ajetunmobi of the University of Southampton, U.K., has circulated his thoughts on the recent private bill by Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, to the National Assembly on Devolution of Powers from Nigeria’s very unitary type of “federal” government system to other tiers of government. While everybody was wrapped up in who was to become Minister – or, as a favorite blog, WAZOBIA REPORTS has put it, “Jonathan sends names of Nigerians new billionaires-to- be to the National Assembly” – our compatriots abroad are rightly more concerned with the structure of this country.

The faulty structure is why things have never worked and why problems would continue to plague us no matter who is president and no matter if the commissioned agent, a.k.a. The World Bank, representing donor interest, has successfully rammed Dr. Okonjo-Iweala down our throat on our way to the inevitability of IMF loan.

As I’m not learned in these matters, I’m posing Dr. Ajetunmobi’s question to emotan readers who can contribute answers/thoughts: “Devolution seems to have a close resemblance to what is real. What does anyone think?”

I really would wish readers to tarry a little after reading essays of their choice today and in the days ahead to contribute to this all-important question and not be like a friend whose excuse for not commenting is “there is always so much to read …”! Readers’ comments are very important for their contents, the feedbacks they allow me and in quite some, very entertaining. TOLA ADENLE.

By Abdusalam Ajetunmobi, Lecturer in Law, University of Portsmouth, U.K

The former President of the Nigeria Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba has presented a private bill to the National Assembly for the devolution of powers from the centre. Devolution is a process whereby a superior government transfers one or more of its powers to inferior governments. Devolution can (a) help bridge the divide between a state and civil society; (b) facilitate closer links between democratic representation, decision-making processes and policy effectiveness; and, (c) enrich the territorial diversity of a nation through competition amongst the decentralised inferior governments.

Proximity does count. Examples from devolution processes elsewhere, for example, in the UK and US may give us useful precedents to draw in the assessment of its impacts and implications to Nigeria’s polity. In the UK during the Blair administration, institutional structures of decision-making and executive power were re-cast with the creation, alongside the Westminster Parliament, of a Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies and English Regional Development Agencies. Similarly in the US, from the 1972 passage of the State and Local Fiscal Assistance Act, through the 1999 U.S. Supreme Court decisions of Alden v Maine; College Savings Bank v Florida; and, Florida v College Savings Bank, a number of policies were enacted, endorsed, and approved by the US Congress, the president, and the courts to return a certain level of decision making to state and local governments.

It is axiomatic Nigeria is a highly centralised federation in which the government at the centre wields enormous political and economic powers over the constituent states. Indeed, various Nigerian groups have in the past reflected on this, though calling instead for either a “Sovereign National Conference (SNC),” “National Conference,” a “Conference of Ethnic Nationalities” or etc., to address our indisputably puerile political federation. But, as I’ve argued before, life in a modern society involves the interdependence of those who live and work together. Hence, to me, devolution seems to have a close resemblance to what is real. Or, what does anyone think?



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