The House of Representatives is considering a constitution alteration bill to change the administrative structure of the Federal Capital Territory.
The bill, sponsored by Dachung Bagos (PDP, Plateau), seeks to remove the President as the Chief Executive Officer of the FCT and replace him with an elected Mayor, who will administer the FCT as the Chief Executive.
Mr Bagos’ bill is proposing the deletion of sections 301 (a and c) and 302 and introducing the new part II into the constitution.
The bill was introduced to the House on November 5, 2019.
Process of altering the constitution
A constitution amendment bill has to be passed by both Houses (Reps and Senate) with a minimum of 2/3rd of the entire members of the House.
The exception to the rule is state creation and boundary adjustment, which requires 4/5th of the members of each house to pass. The copies of the bill passed must be harmonised (The wordings, the structure must be the same.)
The harmonised bills passed by the two chambers will then be sent to the state Houses of Assembly. If 2/3rd of the Assemblies (24 states out of the 36 states) pass it, the copies will be returned to the National Assembly, which will then send it to the president for assent.
The president has two options; sign or decline.
Section 9 (1, 2) reads, “The National Assembly may, subject to the provision of this section, alter any of the provisions of this Constitution.
“An Act of the National Assembly for the alteration of this Constitution, not being an Act to which section 8 of this Constitution applies, shall not be passed in either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of that House and approved by resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all the States.”
Section 8 talks about state creation and boundary readjustment. To pass this, the two-chamber must pass the bill by 4/5th of the entire members of each house. Section 9(3,4) reads:
“(3) An Act of the National Assembly for the purpose of altering the provisions of this section, section 8 or Chapter IV of this Constitution shall not be passed by either House of the National Assembly unless the proposal is approved by the votes of not less than four-fifths majority of all the members of each House, and also approved by resolution of the House of Assembly of not less than two-thirds of all States.
“(4) For the purposes of section 8 of this Constitution and of subsections (2) and (3) of this section, the number of members of each House of the National Assembly shall, notwithstanding any vacancy, be deemed to be the number of members specified in sections 48 and 49 of this Constitution.
How is the FCT currently governed?
The legislative powers over the territory are vested in the National Assembly, which means the power to make law for the FCT, is vested in the National Assembly. That is why the budget of the FCT is laid before the two chambers of the National Assembly.
The Executive power over the area is vested in the president, who may exercise the powers through the Minister of the FCT as provided by section 302. Hence, President Muhammadu Buhari is the governor and Yemi Osinbajo is the deputy governor.
Section 299 of the Constitution provides that ‘The provisions of this Constitution shall apply to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja as if it were one of the States of the Federation; and accordingly –
“(a) all the legislative powers, the executive powers and the judicial powers vested in the House of Assembly, the Governor of a State and in the courts of a State shall, respectively, vest in the National Assembly, the President of the Federation and in the courts which by virtue of the foregoing provisions are courts established for the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja;
“(b) all the powers referred to in paragraph (a) of this section shall be exercised in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution; and
“(c) the provisions of this Constitution pertaining to the matters aforesaid shall be read with such modifications and adaptations as may be reasonably necessary to bring them into conformity with the provisions of this section.”
Section 302 reads, “The president may, in exercise of the powers conferred on him by section 147 of this constitution, appoint for the federal capital territory, Abuja, a minister, who shall exercise such powers and perform such functions as may be delegated to him from time to time.”
Previous attempts at creating the office of a Mayor…
The 1989 constitution makes provision for the creation of an office of Mayor for the FCT, in addition to the powers of the president to superintend over the territory.
Article 315 of that constitution provides that “a mayoralty comprising four area councils shall be created for the federal capital territory, Abuja, and the administration and structure thereof shall be as provided by an act of the National Assembly..”
Interestingly, article 313 had provided that “all legislative powers, executive powers and judicial powers shall respectively vest in the National Assembly, the President of the Federation and in the courts established for the capital territory. Abuja.”
An election was conducted into the office but was annulled by Ibrahim Babangida’s regime.
In the last Assembly, there was an attempt also to amend sections 299, 301 and 302 to create the office.
However, it was not successful.
Adegoroye Adegoke, a former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of FCT, said the existing appointment of a proxy governor by the president, as provided in section 302, is an anomaly inherited from the military rule.
He added that having an elected Mayor will be of significant value to all the residents of the FCT.
According to Mr Adegoroye, there is a contradiction in the constitution on the status of the territory and the powers of the president to appoint a minister to administer the territory. He stated that when the administrator is appointed, his loyalty is to the person who appointed him and not the people.
“When you look at section 299, it says that the provision will apply as if FCT is one of the states of the federation. And after saying that, section 301 went further to make provision for the president to serve as the administrator and in 302, empowers him/her to administer by proxy in the name of a minister.
“That 302 contradicts the intention of 299. You cannot say you want a place to run like a state, and at the same time appoint a proxy. If you want it to run like a state, it must enjoy all the freedom, which includes the powers to choose their own CEO. This is what the new bill is proposing, and it is the right thing to do.
“What has been happening ever since is a carryover of the military era, where they were appointing military administrators for states and it did not look awkward to appoint an administrator for the FCT. We all got blinded to it. People should have been crying for this mayor.
The thing is, when a state gets its head or CEO by election, you will find out that expectation and commitment will be to that state. But in this case, when we have been appointing ministers, those ministers focus more on their own state for their political ambition.
“There is no doubt that the commitment of a mayor will be more than that of a proxy governor in the person of a minister. The experience in the last 20 years shows that the only exception was Mallam Nasir Elrufai, whose performance dwarfed all before him and after.
“The current minister is very prudent, but the other ones have been advancing the interest of the godfather that put them there and their own personal ambition, which is to become the governor of their own states.
“So, when you look at it from that angle, you will know that a mayor—the current president of Mexico was a mayor of Mexico City. That is what adored him to everybody and they elected him overwhelmingly.
“Those kinds of people will be more committed to advancing that territory because they know that their ambition is bound to it, their performance will be judged by it, not from the state where you are coming from.”
Clamour to change FCT to a state
Danladi Jeji, an indigene of the FCT, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES, said the people of the state would rather have a Governor than the proposed Mayor. According to him, the Mayor can be for the Abuja Municipal Area Council, but not for the entire territory.
“The issue of the mayor, it was Babangida that started it. That election was subsequently cancelled. Mayor is a glorified local government chairman for the capital city, not a territory that has an eight thousand square kilometres landmass with more than three million original inhabitants. Section.299 stated that FCT shall be treated as if it was a state.
“All that the original inhabitants are saying is that there are 37 states in Nigeria and FCT has all the paraphernalia of a state. If someone in the National Assembly wants Mayor, it can be in the capital city, maybe AMAC, not the entire territory. What is Mayor?” Mr Jeji said.
On the request for statehood, Mr Adegoroye said getting a mayor is more feasible than getting statehood because any attempt to change the status of the territory to state will arouse suspicion from the southern states as that will mean there will be 20 northern states, compared to the 17 in the south.
“Till today, Washington DC, despite the advocacy by some for it to become a state, is still not a state, after almost 280 years. Brasilia is different in the sense that they have kept the population down. Abuja was designed to be like Brasilia, not to have this type of population explosion. It was not supposed to have industries as we are having now. We allowed it to be a centre that accommodates everybody.
“There is going to be a lot of problems turning it into a state. Southern states may see it as a ploy by the north to increase the number of states in their region. FCT was supposed to create a centre of unity where everyone will find home. It will defeat the purpose for which it was created if you want to turn it into a state. In Nigeria, everyone wants a state because of the benefits of federal allocation, appointment.
“The idea of turning it into a state may look like the easy way to go. While some of us may not mind– in this new North/South dichotomy, some will argue it is a way to turn the north to 20 states, because already there is a difficulty in the National Assembly whereby you don’t have equity in distribution of representation, where people may come together and vote in a particular way,” Mr Adegoroye said.
What is obtained in similar capitals?
Washington and Brasilia are the two capitals that are similar to Abuja. The three cities were designed from the ground to serve as capitals.
Brasilia was constructed in 1960 to serve as the capital of Brazil.
Just like Abuja, the rationale was to have a centrally
located capital built specifically to serve as the seat of government. The City has no Mayor. Rather, it is administered by the governor of the Federal District. According to Brazil’s constitution of 1988, the federal district is neither a state nor a municipality.
In the case of Washington DC, the Mayor system started after the 1973 Home Rule Act, which allowed for an elected Mayor. But the Congress still retains absolute power over the district and can override the decision of the Council of the District of Columbia.
Since 1800, there have been calls for the District to be given the status of a state. The agitation is gaining some momentum in recent years, as a statehood bill was passed in the US House of Representatives this year.
However, the bill still has a long way to go for it to change the status quo.