Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, on Friday in Lagos urged Nigerians to interact with the 1999 Constitution to actualise their hope for a better life.
Fashola said at a Yoruba Tennis Club’s Landmark public lecture that it was better to work with the Constitution than to hold to the belief that Nigeria has “an all-powerful president.”
“Very often, I hear a general statement that the president of Nigeria is very powerful. Some people say he is more powerful than the President of the United States of America.
“How powerful is this president? Fashola queried while delivering a lecture at the Yoruba Tennis Club.
“I want a better life and I am sure we all do. I want to say that there is always a flip side to the powers of the president,’’ he said.
Fashola decried the fact that some public discourses were filled with general statements that were not factual, saying these statements portrayed a lack of knowledge about the Constitution.
He said that the office of the president is referred to 48 times in the Constitution, saying some people conflicted powers of the president with the functions of the president.
According to him, the Constitution refers to the powers of the president in 23 instances, but nine of those powers are exercisable by the president subject to approval by the National Assembly.
He added that four of the instances referred to the power exercisable subject to other institutions also set up by the Constitution.
Fashola said that there were so many other restrictions on the powers of the president, adding that “street talks“ about the powers of office of the vice-president were also lies borne out ignorance or mischief.
“I urge all of us to get a copy of the 1999 Constitution; we can find them online and just read to acquaint yourself, and read one page or two pages a day; perhaps it will help us understand why things are where they are and what can be done.
“This will help us to contextualise some of the over-generalised statements that we have made because they are not reality. So, these powers are not powers running all over the place,’’ he added.
According to him, it is clear that people are not interacting with the 1999 Constitution, saying that lack of knowledge of constitutional duties and responsibilities are particles of failed governance in the country.
He said that the structure of government explained the processes of checks and balances, power sharing and how different arms of government must work together to resolve issues.
“It seems to me that for a long time we have lived in anticipation that once the president comes, all our lives will be better,’’ he noted.
The minister, who outlined the functions and duties of both the president and the vice-president, said that he was not absolving the Federal Government of duties and responsibilities, but that the powers of the president were shared by other tiers of governments.
“The heart of matter is why do Nigerians place their hopes and expectations for a better life on their president rather than on their governors and their local government chairmen?
“The answer lies in the level of our interactions with our Constitution. We are not fully and sufficiently familiar with our Constitution and roles that each of these offices is expected play.
“It seems to me that we have expected the right things from the wrong places. That is why I frame the question: what can the president do for me?’’ Fashola said.
According to him, issues of primary education, primary healthcare and a whole lot of over 200,000 kilometres of road network in Nigeria are not functions of the president, but of the state and local governments also.
On security, Fashola said that it was the responsibility of the three tiers of government and that of the populace, stressing that the Constitution did not say only the Federal Government should be concerned about it.
“What we really have in our country instead of an all-powerful president is a political arrangement of shared powers and responsibilities, and in some cases it is just difficult to cross the line.
“It is actually something we are involved in. It seems to me it is the people of Nigeria rather than one man, the president, who truly have powers and responsibilities over our affairs,’’ he said.
The minister said also that there were lots of questions that could not go to the president but to governors, the states Houses of Assembly and local council chairmen.
In his remarks, Dr Abayomi Finnih, the Secretary, Board of Trustees of the Yoruba Tennis Club said that the president on his own could not do a lot of things, but he could influence a lot of things. (NAN)