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The Senate’s insensitivity

By Ray Ekpu   |   01 August 2017   |   4:23 am

Members of the Nigerian Senate during a plenary

The failure of the Senate to approve the devolution of powers from the centre to the federating states is a colossal misreading of the country’s temperature. It sends the wrong message to the agitators campaigning for ethnic self determination, total resource control and confederation. It says to them that the Senate thinks everything is okay in the country; that there is nothing to worry about and that the country as it is, is working just fine. This is a most regrettable decision and if the current tension arising from the dysfunctional state of Nigeria reaches an irreversible crescendo the Senate should hold itself largely responsible.

Here are the facts: there has been a massive agitation by some Igbo youths for a Biafra Republic. The numbers are increasing and on May 30, they grounded all the five Igbo states as a show of their strength. Some Arewa Youths have asked the Igbos in the north to go away from their territory before October 1, 2017 otherwise… Some militants in the South South also say that northerners in the South South should also go away from their territory before October 1 otherwise… A group in the South West has already drawn a map of an Oduduwa Republic meaning that they are ready to secede except… The Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, has called a series of fence-mending meetings but no mending has yet taken place.

The Nnamdi Kanu group which calls itself the Independent Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) has already declared that there will be no governorship election in Anambra State in November except there is a referendum on the idea of Biafra. Anambra is coincidentally the home of Emeka Odumegwu–Ojukwu, the Oxford trained historian – soldier who led the Biafran revolt (1967 – 1970) that ended in a monumental disaster. One million dead persons later, Kanu is embarking on another Biafra misadventure which is catching the attention of the youths who have never been victimised by the horrors of war but are enthused by the prospects of a putative utopia of that ill-fated name.

Take note that it is the unworkability of Nigeria as a nation that creates room for the workability of Biafra as an idea. Biafra may not become a nation because a lot is stacked against it but the idea will survive, will gain traction and gain converts as long as the dysfunctionality of Nigeria persists. I have lived through one Biafra in my life and that was horrendous. I don’t want to live through another Biafra ever again. Kanu is threatening to halt the Anambra governorship election in November if no referendum is conducted on Biafra before then. It is easier to stop an election than to conduct it. The reason is that it is easier and safer to stay at home than to go out to vote with all the attendant risks. What will the government do if Kanu appropriates Anambra by issuing orders that are obeyed. If people stay away from the polls in Anambra either in obedience to Kanu’s order or out of fear then Kanu has won and the government has lost. The Federal Government is likely to tell people that they will be protected; they have no reason to fear; that they should go out and vote. If people refuse to vote because they fear for their lives, then Kanu has appropriated a part of the Federal Republic because in a democracy election is the instrument of legitimate governance.

With or without Kanu’s shenanigans, Nigeria is a troubled Republic. This is a huge country with a huge manpower and material resources, liquid and solid, that ought to gain maximum benefits from the economies of scale. Such countries as China, India and Indonesia which also have multi-cultural and multi-racial differences have been able to manage their diversities into a winning formula by giving significant powers to the constituent states. On the other hand, we have not benefitted much from our bigness and our diversity because of our policy of centralisation and uniformisation of almost every aspect of our lives. It is within these canons of centralisation and uniformisation that the demon of injustice rears its horrid head. That causes disharmony and disunity. And the government peddles the shibboleth that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. But the government itself has negotiated Nigeria’s unity already by selecting all the heads of security outfits from one section of the country and from one religious group. What that means is that the head of the government does not trust security personnel from other parts of the country no matter how qualified they may be. If you don’t trust people from other parts of the country why should they trust you from the other part of the country. Trust begets trust, they say. So Nigeria’s unity is being inadvertently negotiated already.

We seem to be enthralled by the IMF philosophy of “one size fits all”. A few example will suffice. In education at the University level we have a central admission agent called JAMB. It fixes varying cut-off points for kids from various states. That is discrimination, injustice and inequality. You can’t build or unite a nation that way. There should be only one cut-off point for all kids in all states. Those who fail to meet that cut-off point can go through a remedial programme and get into the university. In any case, I know of no sensible country in the world that treats university education as “mass therapy”. Universities have their individual idiosyncrasies and aim to produce graduates that are uniquely theirs with the identifying attributes of their university. That process starts with the university’s admission culture. Please scrap JAMB. Let each university admit whoever they want. I went through that process. I benefited from the freedom of choice. No two parts of the country can grow at the same rate educationally no matter how hard you try.

Part of the problem of the states owing salaries today is corruption, inadequate generation of internal revenue and a wage bill that is nationally determined. Yes, there can be a national minimum wage but the wages paid by each state should be determined by the state, according to the ability of each state. No two states have the same financial strength so the “one size fits all” policy is part of the problem of our federalism.

Look at this anomaly. We have a federal police force that is largely funded in the states by the state government. The governor is called the chief security officer of the state, but he has no administrative or operational control over the commissioner of police (CP) in the state. That power resides in the Inspector General of Police in Abuja. And we have had several cases where the CP had refused to take directives from the Governor, the Chief Security Officer of the state in which the CP serves. That anomalous situation plus the fact that you cannot have a single police force in a huge country with various cultural idiosyncrasies and local traditions. In almost every instance, it is the local police that knows the lay of the land, and the bad boys and girls in the community. They, too, know the culture and speak the local language. These two attributes make for effectiveness in crime prevention and detection and are perhaps the strongest reasons for a state police in a federation.

If you did not know, know it now. Some states provide facilities for federal universities and federal health centres in their states. Some others repair federal roads. The argument of the state governments that carry these extra burdens on their backs is that these facilities are in their territories and are utilised largely by the state’s indigenes. If that is so, why should the Federal Government have responsibilities it does not have the ability to execute? And why shouldn’t such responsibilities be handled by the state that is the direct beneficiary of that facility?

The logic for restructuring is that the system as it is, has not worked efficiently and it could work almost flawlessly if restructured. Restructuring, as I understand it, is giving more responsibilities, powers and resources to the states so that they can perform some of the functions that the Federal Government has not been able to perform. It also gives each state the opportunity to grow at its own pace, utilising its comparative advantage the best way it can. The actual content of the restructuring has to be determined by the various stakeholders in the polity through negotiation, accommodation and legislation. No perfect solution may be found that will satisfy all sections of the country but any solution that removes the current injustices, inequities and roadblocks to a better life for all Nigerians will be an acceptable solution to the current asphyxiating gridlock.




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