Nigeria: The Council of State Should Meet Now – AllAfrica.com

The meeting of the National Council of State is long overdue. The Council met last on January 22, 2019 and discussed many issues especially the minimum wage. Although the Council has no executive power but its advisory role is important. The National Economic Council and the Council of State are the two bodies created by the Constitution to advise the President on specific matters. The Council should have been involved in the recent pardon of Chief Anthony Eromosele Enahoro (1923-2010) from Uromi in Edo State and Professor Ambrose Folorunsho Alli (1929-1989) from Ekpoma in Edo State, who was born on September 22, 1929 in Ido-Ani in Ondo state, if it had met. I am sure the Council could have asked why the delay in awarding National Honours for the past four years. The National Honours are a set of orders and decorations conferred upon Nigerians and friends of Nigeria every year. They were instituted by the National Honours Act No. 5 of 1964, during the Nigerian First Republic, to honour Nigerians who have rendered service to the benefit of the nation.

The Council was established to unify the country especially during crisis like the pandemic we have now. The Council was not made to be idle. The presence of those retired Presidents and former Heads of State and former Chief Justices was to provide a sense of National Unity. Their familiar presence will be most reassuring now. Gradually they are being stripped of one of their jobs in retirement that is their unique ability to unify the country in a crisis.

The Council could have advised on many burning issues affecting the country. It is a constitutional responsibility for the National Council of State to meet often. I think it is obligatory. The annual meeting of the Council is not tidy enough. Regular meetings of such bodies will help President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, to accommodate new ideas on how to run a complex country like Nigeria. The key to building relationship currency is through authentic connections. Too often leaders get so caught in the day to day, that they forget that their reports are people with feelings. The mountain of problems that face us as a country today is beyond the wisdom of President Buhari alone, however competent he could be and his aides and those who serve him, who cant oppose him for fear of losing their positions or friendship. I guess it’s even beyond the wisdom of the National Assembly and the Governors’ Forum.

The only person who can summon the meeting of the Council of State is President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR. The Secretary of the Council is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha who is also the Secretary of the Federal Executive Council, the Secretary of the National Defence Council and also the head of the Cabinet Secretariat. Although the power of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation has been encroached, trespassed and infringed now, statutorily, he is to process appointments to Headship of Statutory Bodies, Commissions and Agencies by the President, he is also to co-ordinate the activities of Ministries and Government Agencies, especially on the implementation of government policies and decisions as well as to channel papers and directives of the President and to deal with constitutional, political and economic matters as may be referred to the Presidency.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation is supposed to be the engine room of the government. He is the pulse of the heart of government that acts as a unifying force. He is the brain box of the central government with six Permanent Secretaries working directly under his supervisions.

The idea of the National Council of State was first introduced by General Murtala Ramat Mohammed (8 November1938-13 February 1976) on July 30, 1975 in his broadcast to the nation shortly after deposing General Yakubu Gowon, GCFR. He told the nation that day that “the structure of government has been re-organised. There will now be three organs of Government, at the Federal level namely: The Supreme Military Council, The National Council of State, and the Federal Executive Council.” He then appointed the following governors as members of the council of state namely Lt. Col. Muhammed Buhari (North-East), Colonel George Innih (Mid-West), Lt. Col. Sani Bello (Kano), Captain Adekunle Lawal (Navy) (Lagos), Lt. Col. Paul Omu (South-East), Colonel Ibrahim Taiwo (Kwara), Captain Akin Aduwo (Navy) (West), Colonel Anthony Ochefu (East-Central), Lt. Col. Usman Jubrin (North-Central), Col. Abdullahi Mohammed (Benue-Plateau), Lt. Col. Umaru Mohammed (North-West) and Lt. Col. Zamani Lekewot (Rivers).

In the first republic there was no National Council of State as the Premiers were in control of their regions. Occasionally they met with the then Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, GCFR. After taking over power in January 15, 1966, General Johnson Thomas Umanakwe Aguiyi Ironsi (1924-1966), GCFR, set up the Supreme Military Council and appointed Military governors of the four regions as members of the council. That pattern of structure was followed and sustained by General Yakubu Gowon (85) during his reign between 1966 and 1975. General Murtala Mohammed excluded the Military Governors from the Supreme Military Council and only limited them to the National Council of State.

The 1979 constitution produced by Justice Egbert Udo Udoma (1917-1998) enlarged the composition of the Council of State. In the third schedule of the 1979 constitution, it states that ” 1. The Council of State shall comprise the following persons, namely –(a) the President, who shall be the Chairman; (b) the Vice-President, who shall be the Deputy Chairman; (c) all former Presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of the Government of the Federation; (d) all former Chief Justices of Nigeria who are citizens of Nigeria; (e) the President of the Senate; (f) the Speaker of the House of Representatives; (g) all the Governors of the States of the Federation; (h) the Attorney-General of the Federation; and (i) one person from each State, who shall as respects that State be appointed by the Council of Chiefs of the State from among themselves.

2. The Council of shall have power– (a) to advise the President in the exercise of his powers with respect to the National Population Census and compilation, publication and keeping of records and other information concerning the same, Prerogative of Mercy, Award of National Honours, the Federal Electoral Commission (including the appointment of members of that Commission), the Federal Judicial Service (including the appointment of members, and other than ex officio of that Commission) and the National Population Commission (including the appointment of members of that commission); and (b) to advise the President whenever requested to do so on the maintenance of public order within the Federation or any part thereof and on such other matters as the President may direct.

In the 1999 Constitution produced by Justice Nikki Tobi (1940-2016), the members of the National Council of State were reduced. This was contained in Decree No. 24 of May 5, 1999, which was promulgated into law by the then Head of State, General Abdusalam Alhaji Abubakar, GCFR. It is the decree we now refer to as the 1999 constitution. It states that “the Council of State shall comprise the following persons- (a) the President, who shall be the Chairman; (b) the Vice-President, who hall be the Deputy Chairman;(c) all former Presidents of the Federation and all former Heads of the Government of the Federation;(d) all former Chief Justices of Nigeria;(e) the President of the Senate; (f) the Speaker of the House of Representatives; (g)all the Governors of the States of the Federation; and (h) the Attorney-General of the Federation. 6. The Council shall have power to–(a) advise the President in the exercise of his powers with respect to the–(i) national population census and compilation, publication and keeping of records and other information concerning the same, (ii) prerogative of mercy, (iii) award of national honours (iv) the Independence National Electoral Commission (including the appointment of members of that Commission).

One of the things some of us have against the Presidential System of Government is that too wide powers have been allocated to the President. The Presidential System of Government is not participatory enough and except you are elected or appointed as aides by the Executives and Legislators, you have no role. In comparison to the 1963 constitution, some selected individuals played key roles. In section 4 (1) of the 1964 Constitution, it states “There shall be a Parliament of the Federation, which shall consist of the President, a Senate and a House of Representative; (1) Without prejudice to the provisions of section 46 of this Constitution, the Senate shall consist of –(a) twelve Senators representing each Region, who shall be selected at a joint sitting of the legislative houses of that Region from among persons nominated by the Governor; (b) four Senators representing the Federal territory; (c) four Senators selected by the President, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister.”

There is even provision for the House of Chiefs who were not elected to be part of the Parliament in the regions. Section 1 of the Constitution of the Northern Nigeria states “4. There shall be a Legislature for the Region, which shall consist of the Governor, a House of Chiefs, a House of Assembly and which shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Region. 5. (1) The House of Chiefs shall consist of -(a) all first-class Chiefs, who shall be ex-officio members of the House; (b) ninety-five Chiefs having such qualification and selected in such manner as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the Religion; and (c) an adviser on Moslem law. (2) The seat in the House of Chiefs of a Chief other than a first-class Chief shall become vacant in such circumstances as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the Region. (3) In this section–Chief means any person who is for the time being recognized by the Governor as a Chief; “first class Chief” means any Chief whose office is for the time being graded as that of a first-class Chief under any law in force in the Region. 6.(1) The adviser on Moslem law shall be appointed by the Governor, acting in accordance with the adviser of the Premier.

Section 4 of the Eastern Region Constitution states “There shall be a Legislature for the Region, which shall consist of the Governor, a House of Chiefs and a House of Assembly and which shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the region. 5(1) Without prejudice to the provisions of sections 9 and 34 of this Constitution, the House of Chiefs shall consist–(a) all traditional Rulers, who shall be ex-officio members of the House; (b) first-Class Chiefs appointed to represent provinces in the Region; (c) fifty-five Chiefs having such qualifications and selected in such manner as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the Region; and (d) such special members (not exceeding five) having such qualifications as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the Region as may be selected by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier.

Section 4 of the Western Region Constitution of 1963 states “There shall be Legislature for the Region, which shall consist of the Governor, a House of Chiefs and a House of Assembly and which shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Region. 5. (1) The House of Chief shall consist of–(a) the persons for the time being holding such chieftaincies as may be prescribed by the Governor, who shall be ex officio members of the House; eighty-seven Chiefs having such qualifications and selected in such manner as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the Region; such Special members, being Chiefs (not exceeding four) as may be selected by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier; and if he is not a member of the House of Chiefs apart from this paragraph, the President of the House. 2(a) The seat in the House of Chiefs of a member other than an ex officio member or a Special Member shall become vacant in such circumstances as may be prescribed by the Legislature of the Region; (b) The seat in the House of Chiefs of a Special Member, including a Special Member appointed by the Governor at any time before the coming into force of this Constitution, shall become vacant if he is removed from office as a Special Member by the Governor, acting in accordance with the advice of the Premier. (3) In this section–“Chief” means any person who is for being recognised as a Chief under any law in force in the Region.”

The beauty in participatory democracy is primarily concerned with ensuring that citizens are afforded an opportunity to participate or otherwise be involved in decision making or matters that affect their lives. What the Presidential System of Government connotes is nothing but representative democracy. As far as I am concerned, representative democracy is indirect democracy where the people have no role except to go and vote very four years.

The 1999 Constitution is the most un-participatory Constitution that we have had to date. It will lead us to nowhere.

Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.

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