In search of a true Nigeria
THE current structure of Nigeria today, which is anything but federal, holds down the country, stunts its growth, truncates its progress and actually threatens its unity. This falsehood must be corrected as soon as possible to liberate the nation’s full potentials. The starting point towards the actualisation of a Nigeria of our dreams is, the implementation of the report of the 2014 National Conference, not in any way a perfect document, but certainly one good enough to take off from.
In 16 years of democracy, two attempts to address the structure of the Nigerian state and corresponding attempts at forging nationhood have been made but both were devoid of any serious political commitment by the administrations that drove the processes. The first was the Olusegun Obasanjo era’s Political Reform Conference, eventually stalemated by the issue of resource control/derivation as well as the subterfuge of personal regime elongation. The second was the Constitutional Conference convened by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. The latter has proven more comprehensive, more practicable and more useful. And it should be the path to follow in Nigeria’s current circumstance.
More importantly, a fragile economy, huge waste by the governing class and the seeming cluelessness of the same elite have all added a note of urgency to the task of undoing the mistake of 1966 when the military interventionists unitarised the country and abolished its elegant productive federal nature. Oil is gone, and restoring the resourcefulness of the state or region as the case maybe, lies in fiscal federalism, a critical element of a federal state or structure.
The renewed call for re-engineering this current distorted federal structure which was again made the other day in Ibadan by an eminent Nigerian, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former secretary-general of the Commonwealth, is testament to the fact that Nigeria as it is cannot work and must be restructured.
Anyaoku had underlined the well-known reason for a true federation, namely, historical differentiation and pluralism. As he put it, “from my over 30 years’ experience of governance in over 50 Commonwealth countries, I believe that given its history and pluralistic character, a truer federalism is a sine qua non for Nigeria’s achievement of its development potentials and enduring political stability.” He believes, as many Nigerians do, that the nation made more progress when it practised regionalism with efficient regional economic freedom and significant development in human and material aspects in the separate but united enclaves.
In comparison, today’s 36 states are parasitic appendages of an all-powerful centre, begging for hand-outs and barely able to pay the salaries of their workers. Therefore, Anyaoku has appropriately urged the extant National Assembly to begin the legislative process to restructure the country into six regions in which the current states would metamorphose into mere development zones without the burden of a bureaucratic overload. To him, it is the path of reason and, given “the rising global move away from the use of fossil fuel, and particularly in this period of continuing fall in the price of crude oil, the constitution must enable the country to plan and pursue a non-crude-oil-based economic development.”
According to him, Nigeria “must also address the issue of concentration of power at the centre, which fuels the destabilizing competition for the control of the centre between the country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups.”
While calling for the end to an unproductive, over-bearing central government and a restoration of greater autonomy to the regions, Anyaoku also suggests a revenue sharing formula for federally collected revenue in the order of 40 per cent to the centre, 15 per cent of which should be for derivation in respect of solid and liquid minerals, and 60 per cent to be shared equally among the federating regions. He acknowledges that the realisation of a new federal structure is fraught with obstacles because the present structure has produced “groups of people with deeply entrenched vested interests, especially in the Executive branches and Legislatures at the federal and state levels.”
Therefore, the change will not come easily. With a streak of optimism, he believes that the goal of genuine federalism is realisable in the long run with an all-round coalition for change embracing the media, opinion makers, civil society groups and the general citizenry.
Of course, Anyaoku has only echoed a position this newspaper and many other patriotic Nigerians have always canvassed. The need for structuring Nigeria is, indeed, pressing. The present structure is counter-productive, holds down the levers of development and compromises even the nation’s unity with its insensitive centripetal exertions. It provides vents for sundry injustices in the polity.
Thus, the country is in dire need of a truly federal structure that allows the individuality of the component units to express and actualise themselves without jeopardising the whole. The unjust centralisation of Nigeria not only robs everyone and helps no one; it has continued to fuel corruption and perpetuate injustice against all. A balanced federation, at least, allows liberty for all component units to run as far as they can go.
It must be emphasised that given the many contradictions of Nigeria today, efforts being made at addressing the issue of restructuring would come to naught unless the country embraces the actual practice of federalism and not the perpetuation of the currently skewed system.
This is true especially in the current battle against corruption in the country as the quest for the largesse in an over-centralised Nigeria is at the root of the corruption problem. The war against it cannot be won unless the structure of the state is re-engineered. In search of a pathway, therefore, the 2014 National Conference, not only inclusive and comprehensive, made significant progress towards a true federation. It is a great starting point. It would be useful to tap into the pool of its resolutions for the journey to a truly federal, just and prosperous Nigeria.