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Buhari’s support for federalism

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Buhari

The quest for federalism within the context of restructuring received support from unexpected quarters recently when President Muhammadu Buhari declared that the unfettered practice of the system is an idea whose time has indeed come.  

The president who curiously declared this while receiving an award of appreciation from some state governors spoke on the need for the nation to practise true federalism at this time of Nigeria’s democratic development. “True federalism,” the president said, “is necessary at this juncture of our political and democratic evolution.”

To all patriots, this is a welcome change of heart on the part of Mr. President who had stridently opposed any attempt to tinker with the structure of the country. It perhaps signals a new approach to handling fundamental issues, which affect our collective destiny. What we need now is for Buhari to walk the talk.

There is no doubt anymore that the nation is in dire straits. Security challenges have virtually overwhelmed our security forces and the Nigerian government.

Daily reports of savage attacks have left the people wondering whether the Federal Government can guarantee the safety of life and property. Are the constituent parts of the federation not better off guaranteeing their security? This has become the refrain of compatriots across the country.

The police seem to have given up on the crisis. Indeed, as a quick response, the idea of re-establishing community policing has become urgent and strategic and some states or communities have de facto ‘police units’ already.

Yet, returning to true federalism is not reinventing the wheel. When the Buhari administration took over the reins of power in 2015, it set up a committee of party stalwarts and technocrats to advise the APC-led government on restructuring the polity.

The El Rufai-led committee made far-reaching recommendations on state police, resource control, devolution of power, fiscal federalism and revenue allocation and local government autonomy, which the government in its wisdom threw into the dustbin. This is the time to return to that document and implement the recommendations of that committee.          

What seems to have stalled moves towards tinkering with the political and financial structures of the nation is a lack of consensus between some politicians in the northern and southern parts of the country. But this need not be.

As this newspaper has been regularly arguing, ‘true federalism’ is a win-win situation for all stakeholders. That the Federal Government recently through one of its agencies tried to compel state governments to respect local governments is one of the indicators on restructuring. But that gesture is mere tokenism. True federalism therefore will help to unleash the hidden or unacknowledged potential of the different states.

The unhealthy practice of travelling to Abuja every month-end to share money is simply outrageous, retrogressive and anti-development. This is because most states have become dependent on allocations from the federation account for survival.  

The number of local governments in the country pegged at 774 in the constitution is also an issue that needs revisiting. Except the constitution is amended this cannot take place. Yet all over the world, local governments are the responsibility of state or regional governments.

Ours therefore is an anachronism inherited from the unitary form of government, which the military entrenched in the country. States or the constituent parts of the country should be allowed to determine the number of local governments that they need and can fund. This is how modern federal states are run.  

The truth is that we cannot make real progress with the present political and economic structures of the country. They have held us down – so insufferably.

The time has come therefore for the Buhari administration to revisit the El Rufai Committee document and some of the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference led by retired Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi under the Jonathan administration.

The government should start with the low hanging fruits that could be dealt with without much ado. This is particularly true now that the APC will fully control both the executive and legislative arms of government at the federal level in the next dispensation. 

The nation’s leader at this time should remember one of the obligations of democracy particularly in a federal system of government – full consultation on national issues and consensus building. That is the way to securing peace and security. No individual has the capacity to think for and thereby hold down the entire country from developing. Politicians should put Nigeria first and rise above pettiness and selfish interests.

The nation is bleeding, losing lives and property to vagrants. Millions of youths are being denied the opportunity for self-development and fulfillment of dreams.

Frustrated too many youths believe that their fortunes could be achieved through the hazardous migration routes through the desert to Europe. Too many people have lost their lives or have been sold into slavery in some countries. True federalism will reduce the level of despondency in the country.

We therefore commend the president for the frank declaration on true federalism, which though late in coming can still be implemented and used to transform the political and economic fortunes of Nigeria.

All hands should be on deck to achieve this lofty objective. All the state governors and members of the National Assembly should rise to the occasion and give maximum support to the president. True federalism is the way.

Those who have been and are still sceptical about true federalism anywhere should realise that the first and the most fundamental point is that there is a common denominator, poverty and mass illiteracy, all over the country.

As we have repeatedly noted, the effects of those decades when the military overthrew the finesse as well as practice of federalism are still being felt nationwide.

In other words, the real trouble with Nigeria is not just poverty nurtured by corruption and illiteracy but lack of understanding of the impact of the overthrow of the principles of federalism, a system that once triggered rapid growth of the most populous black nation on earth.

The first military Head of State, Lt-General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi thrashed federalism through a Unification Decree No.34 in 1966 before he too was killed in a counter-coup that did not restore federalism.

In fact, successive military governments, beginning from General Yakubu Gowon’s through General Murtala Muhammed’s to General Sani Abacha’s kept creating states that have become mere administrative capitals and peripheral beggars instead of federating units of development. The states have since 1966 been depending on crumbs from the centre.

There are certain facts we should not discount even now on the points at issue: Since a proper federalism that triggered exponential growth of the Northern, Western, Eastern and Midwestern Regions was destroyed by military politicians, Nigeria has not recorded any tangible growth in any economic or political sense.

The selfless leaders from the North and South of Nigeria in the first republic were arguably the last of the great men this country has had. Since federalism or regionalism that propelled them to greater heights collapsed, crass opportunism and enlightened self-interest have given birth to small minds as ‘Big Men’ who have led the country to the nadir of reproach.

It is, therefore, time to tell all Nigerians, including those who profit from misleading the people about the many benefits of restructuring that, just as there was oil in the South, cocoa in the West, rubber and timber in the Mid-west, the North of Nigeria used to play host to most of the best textile companies in the country and indeed West Africa.

The same North used to be the home of the famous groundnut pyramids in Kano and a place where cotton, millet, among numerous other economic crops were grown. It is a shame that Nigerian leaders would not be eager to harness these vast mineral, agriculture and water resources in the area from North central to the North West within the context of a truly federal Nigeria.

Indeed with true federalism, there will be a balance of opportunity to exploit what is available in all states. That is why in the main, Nigerians, especially members of the elite, must show an understanding beyond the dubious position of those who associate true federalism with the balkanisation of the country. It is not a challenge, it is indeed an opportunity to develop our capacity to lead the Black race.


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