Minister of works and housing Babatunde Fashola on Friday said Nigeria does not have an “all powerful president”, urging the public to engage with the 1999 Constitution to actualise their hope for a better life.
“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,” Fashola said at the Yoruba Tennis Club’s landmark public lecture in Lagos.
“How powerful is this president? 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.”
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, adding that some people conflict 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 refer to the power exercisable subject to other institutions also set up by the Constitution.
“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.
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 are shared by other tiers of governments.
“The heart of the 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 to 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.