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Abari: Reduce power at the centre to unlock states’ potentials




Dr. Garba Abari teaches Political Science and International Relations at the University of Maiduguri, Borno State. In this interview with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, he outlines possible hindrances to a return to regionalism.

There have been arguments for and against a return to the regional arrangement as practiced in the First Republic. What could have fueled this unending debate?

Yes, developments within the polity have necessitated call for the return to regional arrangements such as, the type Nigeria witnessed in the First Republic. But the call is more on nostalgic reminiscences than a deep appreciation of the reality of today. The fact that the Federal arrangement is not working under the Presidential system of government we have adopted is so much the fall-out of a unitary constitution in what should be a federal structure and the leadership deficiency, as well as, lack of good governance at the lower levels of what I will call this pseudo-Federal structure.

But let me hasten to say that the concerns that accompany this call for the return to the days of old, justifiable as they are, do not seem to factor the reality on ground, which as a result of decades of military rule and bad governance, has escalated primordial sentiments. This has deprived us, as a people, of the needed patriotism as to be able to see things within the context of a greater country and work with the requisite sense of Pax Nigeriana and this may make it difficult to return to regional arrangement of governance.

What advantage would such a return, in case it does happen confer on the Federation?

It is not really so much about regionalism. It is about the constitution, institutions of the state and, in fact, the capacity of the Nigerian-state to undertake the basic responsibilities that inform its coming into being in the first instance.

If you return to regions, will you find the state institutions any different from what obtains today? How do you generate the requisite harmony, the work ethics of the First Republic and the values that governed the leadership of that time?  Will the South-South states be willing to come back to the old Eastern Region or the Old Midwest return to the old Western Region? Ditto the northern states. Will they agree to collapse and return to the old Northern Region?

A Federal Nigeria, with a constitution that opens the political space and unlocks the doors of opportunities and potentials of the states, will benefit this country. There is virtue in large numbers and in expansive landmass. Most importantly, there is virtue in Nigeria’s diversity. We certainly must take another hard look at our constitution and make it a driver of growth and development. As it is, it hampers growth and stultifies development.

What are the hindrances to such a return?

Like I said, the major hindrance is the ascendancy of primordialism, which beclouds all rational thinking towards realising this objective. Secondly, there is the legal/constitution hindrance. You just don’t wake up one day and say you want to return to regional arrangement, because the current arrangement is not working. The operators of the present constitution that seems to be choking everyone do not see beyond the personal benefits they derive from it, and so, will be reluctant to tread along this path.

I personally feel we can operate a workable Presidential system of government but under a constitutional arrangement that greatly reduces the power of the centre.

There was a talk on this issue at the 2014 National Conference, but the same primordial sentiments did not allow for a deeper, dispassionate debate. Rather, attention on the structure of the federation was more on the creation of more states and the issue of geo-political balancing.

But how did the Confab come up with recommendation of creation additional states; seeing that the present arrangement is weak?

Personally, I feel the recommendation of the National Confab for the creation of more states was more of playing to the gallery and to serve all righteousness than a recommendation that came from a deep sense of conviction given the fact that even existing states find it difficult to function.

The Confab gave with one hand, and took away with the other. It recommended creation of new states, and on the other hand, suggested the collapsing of states, which are not viable. As it is today, not more than three or four of the 36 states can be said to be viable.

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