Due to growing demands to restructure the country in an effort to achieve true federalism, the Nigerian National Assembly forwarded 35 constitutional amendment bills to the president for assent. Buhari assented to 16 of the bills – called the fifth alteration bills – alongside three other non-constitutional amendment bills.
The fifth alteration bills are considered a landmark achievement in the practice of democracy in Nigeria thanks to the notable alterations. Commenting on these bills, Azeez Isiaka, a research fellow at NULAI Justice Education Fellowship, said, “The new alterations can be seen as a significant triumph for restructuring, and represent a notable step towards achieving true federalism. As a result of these changes, the states of the federation are now closer than ever before to being able to develop a more effective and economical federation that can rapidly and efficiently meet the needs of the public. This development is a positive sign, as it demonstrates that our country is making meaningful progress in its pursuit of a better future for all."
The passed bills made significant changes, including giving states in Nigeria the power to generate, transmit and distribute electricity, which is ordinarily covered by the national grid. The protection of the right to food and food security has also now been enshrined in the constitution.
Another change introduced time limits for the president and the state governors to submit the names of ministers and commissioners. In addition, railways and prisons (now correctional services) are no longer in the exclusive legislative list but rather the concurrent legislative list, so that issues regarding these sectors will now be attended to by both federal and state governments.
Another notable development is the financial independence of the state judiciary and houses of assembly.Ahmad Dasuki, a legal practitioner in NIgeria, noted that a very important feature of true federalism is the existence of autonomous organs of government – administratively and financially.
“Although Nigeria has been a federal state since independence, its legislative and judicial arms, especially at the state level, have not been truly independent,” he said. “This is because federal allocations to these organs are made not directly to them, but to the state governments which then disburse the same as they deem fit. It is even rumoured that in some states, monies meant for the judiciary are diverted by the executive and used to finance other needs of the state.”
Dasuki says that, “With the passing into law of the Fifth Alteration (No.6) which seeks to guarantee the financial independence of states' Houses of Assembly and states' judiciary, the situation is expected to change and improve. Funds allocated to the states' judiciary and Houses of Assembly are now expected to be disbursed directly to each from the consolidated funds. This will go a long way to further ensure the independence of the judiciary and fair dispensation of justice without fear or favour."
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