By: Augusta Nneka
Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari signed three Constitutional Amendment Acts seeking to move some items from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent List in the Constitution. According to the 1999 Nigeria Constitution (as amended), the Exclusive Legislative List contains items only the National Assembly can legislate on; while items on the Concurrent List can be legislated on by both the Federal and State Governments.
Simply put, the Exclusive List involves only the Federal Government, while the Concurrent List involves both Federal and State Governments.
With the continuous clamour for “true federalism”, “devolution of powers”, and other terms that allow States have more authority over their affairs, this move by Mr. President has been met with positive feedback. However, analysts are still weighing the implications of the seemingly positive constitutional amendment.
“Was this Mr. President’s way of leaving a legacy as he prepares to leave the highest seat of Power?”
“Can the new laws be the foundation for further devolution of power in Nigeria?”
“Are we finally witnessing the groundwork for true federalism?”
The answers to these questions lie in how States will choose to wield their new power and how this will translate to development at the State level.
Let’s take the Anambra example.
In 2021, as part of the prerequisites to convince voters for a chance at Agu-Awka, the now-Governor of Anambra State, Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo released what he termed “the People’s Manifesto”. This document detailed his plan for the State if elected into office. In that plan, he explains the need for an engagement with the Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) and the need for the construction of a Railway network to decongest traffic and make transportation more efficient.
In response to this passionate covenant, the universe handed Prof. Soludo the necessary tools to achieve his dream of a liveable, prosperous, and smart megacity. He won the election and now, Aso Rock has given States the right to develop intrastate railway stations. States can also now generate, transmit and distribute power in areas covered by the national grid.
Why is this important?
Simple. In 2021, the People’s Manifesto outlined a development plan based on what was obtainable at the time. The document asked for a car to transport Ndi Anambra to the future; Aso Rock delivered a private jet. It is not a Bombardier Global 7500 yet, but still, we can fly.
Prof. Soludo’s manifesto was very ambitious. It presents great ideas that can indeed spark Anambra’s 4th industrial revolution creating a more industrialized economy for the State. The document also clearly states how funding will limit the actualization of this plan. The State Government simply cannot afford to fund the industrial revolution Anambra State desires. The IGR of the State no matter how prudently utilized will not cover the cost of developing the infrastructures necessary for the industrial development outlined in the People’s Manifesto. Hence the need to explore more creative means of funding.
This brings us back to how this constitutional amendment was God’s Gift to Anambra State.
One of the benefits of moving the item “Railway” to the Concurrent List is that it opens the sector to private sector participation. Although the Federal Government still retains the right to make laws on interstate railways, the State Government can determine the intrastate development of railways. Private investors will no longer need to seek approval at the federal level but can now engage at the State level. This will help open the sector to much-needed private-sector participation and investment.
If the law can further be interpreted to allow the private sector handle railway operations while the Government focuses on policymaking and regulations, experts with financial and technical capacity will be encouraged to undertake the huge capital investment the sector requires. This will also reduce the burden of cost on the Government and increase the efficiency of Railways.
Already, the Anambra State Government had last year announced its engagement with the China Railway Beijing Engineering (CRBE) Ltd to conduct a feasibility study on the Onitsha SkyTrain project. This project at the final implementation is expected to connect Onitsha, Nnewi, Awka, and Ekwulobia. With the new law, the State can now focus on policymaking and regulation, and explore more creative means of funding and investments, rather than bearing the cost of the entire project.
On the part of allowing States generate, transmit, and distribute electricity in areas covered by the National Grid, I have to admit; I was a bit confused.
My initial reaction was “Shouldn’t States be more focused on areas NOT covered by the National Grid? That is, the unserved and the underserved areas”. Seeing as the law was not a typo, I had to dig deeper.
For this law, the previous provision before the amendment restricted State assemblies to making laws on the areas NOT COVERED by the national grid system. With the amendment, the wording was changed to expand State Assemblies to make laws on areas that are COVERED by the national grid.
In simpler terms, the new amendment gives free rein to State Assemblies to make laws for the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity to all areas in the State. So my initial thought was already covered in the previous provision. This just expands the power of States on electricity. It is important to mention that the Federal Government still maintains the right to legislate on the generation and transmission of electricity in any part of the country and manage the national grid system. This amendment allows for collaboration and partnership of sorts, not a replacement. For it to make an impact, State Assemblies will have to tailor their electricity laws taking the amendment into consideration.
“But Anambra already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with EEDC. Has the Anambra State electricity laws been amended?”
As explained earlier, prior to the amendment, the States had some authority over electricity. Just not enough.
Let’s go back to the People’s Manifesto.
On Page 31, the document explores creative means to engage with EEDC, NERC, TCN, and the private sector to provide up to 18 hours of electricity to select locations. The recently signed MoU is simply a fulfillment of this promise.
Anambra State has undertaken the responsibility of developing policy, financing and framework, and the security of the proposed infrastructure projects necessary for the EEDC to meet up with the electricity demands of Ndi Anambra. On its part, the EEDC will lend its voice to aid the regulatory approval that will allow for private-sector participation in this sector. They will also undertake programs in collaboration with the TCN to fast-track the development of critical infrastructure in Anambra.
Furthermore, this free rein will allow States pursue alternative sources of Power Generation. For areas that are unserved by the national grid, States can encourage private-sector participation. Unserved and underserved communities can be divided to allow Independent Power Producer(s) (IPP) generate electricity. This will open the market and allow competition between IPPs. As expected, this will boost the economy of the State while reducing the burden on National Grid.
Anambra State has taken the initiative with the signing of an agreement with the EEDC. How this will pan out will be witnessed in the coming months. While we wait and observe, it may be wise to start exploring the investment opportunities in sectors the constitutional amendments touched on.
The Buhari-led administration despite criticisms has presented a well-packaged farewell gift to Nigerians with the recent amendments. Will this box ransom our extinguished hopes and give birth to further devolution of power? Until we collectively open the box, the cat may be dead or alive. Only one way to find out.