Redefining the Nigerian federation
Agitations for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation has never been this strident since the country attained political independence on October 1, 1960 when the British Union Jack was lowered for the rise of a new nation described by people across the globe as the “Hope of the Black Race.”
Like the marriage of a hesitant couple brought together by political and economic considerations of foreign matchmakers, the union is facing protests by partners who, individually and collectively, have not seen the justifiable reason for its continuation, as presently defined.
In the last two years, there have been protests against the status quo in manners that expose the truth about Nigeria, as a country erected on a weak foundation of unity.
But much price have been paid for unity, including a 30-month civil war that took an estimated two million lives and entrenched a bitter acrimony that has refused to leave the national consciousness 50 years after it was fought.
Many dreams, particularly of young Nigerians, of rising to the pinnacle of their careers by sheer personal ability and dexterity, have been sacrificed on the altar of federal character, a system of protecting the weak to deny the strong in the promotion of equal development.
But rather than harnessing the abundant human resources potential that the country is endowed with, many talents have been buried by this suspicion of socio-economic and political domination that has further divided the country along ethnic and religious lines.
In this search for unity, which sometimes lead to taking the most absurd economic decisions, and embarking on self-serving ventures to promote sectional interests, the country has been denied opportunities of reaching its optimal level.
Several attempts, like the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme were, however, made to decree unity into existence under military regimes, but the damage done to the polity by antics of politicians within the military or civil establishments, in power acquisition, like the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, have done irreparable damage to the fragile unity.
With major sections of the federation expressing disgust about the union, many are seeking a redefinition of the association in such a way that the imbalance and injustice in the system could be addressed for the emergence of a stronger and virile union.
Yet many others, especially the younger generations, who are faced with the prospects of a grim future in a country that is gradually crossing to the wrong side of history, are calling for outright secession and dismemberment of the nation to secure a future that they cannot attain in a failing state.
The emergence of separatists groups particularly in the South East and South South geo-political zones, and an avalanche of quit notices issued by groups from across the country against other ethnic groupings, have so much heated up the polity that for once after the civil war, the fear of physical disintegration became very real.
For a nation that set out on the path of greatness and with enough natural and human resources to achieve the set goals, facing the threats of disintegration a few decades after independence, is a testimony to the fact that the foundation was not properly laid.
That Nigeria lacks the main foundation of nationhood in the absence of a sense of belonging to one entity without tribal, or sectional loyalty competing with national cohesion, is a fact that the early builders of the country ignored to the peril of the state.
The expectations were so high and the dream so big that the wind of nationalism, which swept across Africa from the mid-1940s obliterated any selfish ethnic interest that may stand on the way of the black man’s renaissance.
But despite the fact that Nigeria lacked this major ingredient that defines every nation, the country could still have trudged on and create a London out of a dungeon if not for the accidents of history that not only cut short the country’s democracy on January 15, 1966, but also destroyed the political and institutional structure on which the country was initially built.
Before the gunshots that destroyed the structure were fired early that day, Nigeria was already emerging as a great country that would use its diversity of cultures, large population and natural endowments as unique features to drive development and provide leadership for the continent of Africa and black people all over the world.
The four regions at independence were developing at their own paces, under a parliamentary system of government that was not as expensive as the current presidential system.
Great efforts were being made by the regions to develop their resources and use same to better the lot of their people, as there was a sense of healthy competition among the federating units.
Although early politicians, through in-fighting and undemocratic behaviours, which could be described as signs of teething problems of a young state took wrong steps in the dawn of Nigeria’s history, many would agree that the incursion of the military into the political arena, and the introduction of a unitary system to administer a federation and several years of dictatorship, have completely destroyed the dream that raised the optimism of those, who witnessed the lowering of the Union Jack.
After a half-century of putting a super-structure on a faulty foundation, the citizenry, bogged down by under-development and a sense of failure, naturally started a fresh agitation for a change in the way things are done.
Naturally also, those who currently benefit from the system would be averse to any change in the polity that would deny them of selfish or regional advantages, even though the demand may be for the good of the generality of the people.
The quest for restructuring is however seen in different perspectives by even the agitators who, like the fabled blind men of Hindustan, felt the Elephant in different ways.
While some see it in the light of fiscal federalism, where the resources of the federating units should be used to develop the areas, others define it as going back to regionalism of the old setup, or even parliamentary system of government.
Many are also divided on the approach to achieve the quest. Some are calling for a revisit of the 2014 National Conference recommendations, while others are clamouring for the convocation of a fresh one.
There are also those, who believe that it is only the National Assembly, as a legislature saddled with the sovereignty and mandate of law-making, that has the authority to effect the needed changes, while yet others believe that it can be done by a simple presidential proclamation.
Because of this lack of proper understanding of the quest and the way to achieve it, and in the light of secessionist cries, particularly from the Igbo heartland of the South East, other zones of the country, especially the North, are averse to the idea.
One thing is however, clear, a restructured federation would provide a new template to run Nigeria in a manner different from the old ways of doing things that are not yielding the desired dividends for the country and its people.
It is with the hope of achieving the best in the discourse that The Guardian has lined up for this year’s independence anniversary, views of prominent Nigerians on the issue of restructuring of the federation.
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