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Editorial: Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 16

By Editorial Board
11 February 2021   |   3:16 am
Once again, the skewed nature of the Nigerian Federation came to the front burner of public discourse recently through three distinct sources. One channel emerged following the reluctant removal of the service chiefs....

Tukur Buratai

Once again, the skewed nature of the Nigerian Federation came to the front burner of public discourse recently through three distinct sources. One channel emerged following the reluctant removal of the service chiefs, and their replacement by a new set of military officers. The other source was a recent federal law on protocols for management of COVID-19 pandemic, which is made applicable to all the 36 states, FCT and 774 local government councils in the country. The last one has been a direct piece of advice on federalism to the president by a former President of Nigerian Bar Association, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba. The three issues have reinforced our weekly sermon here on the expediency and urgency of federalism as the only answer to the country’s numerous challenges, after all.  

Hitherto, the service chiefs were Gen Abayomi Olonisakin, Chief of Defence Staff,  General Tukur Buratai, Chief of Army Staff, Air Marshal Siddique Abubakar, Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas. They have now been replaced by Major-General Leo Irabor, Chief of Defence Staff; Major-General I Attahiru, Chief of Army Staff; Rear Admiral AZ Gambo, Chief of Naval Staff; and Air-Vice Marshal IO Amao, Chief of Air Staff.

The President’s action led to heaving a sigh of relief. Replacement of the service chiefs sparked off a litany of clarion calls on the president for a long time by well meaning Nigerians. The agitation was that the president should change them due to growing insecurity in the land and the absence of a corresponding performance in terms of securing the country by the erstwhile service chiefs. Public sensibility was even offended when for example the army chief said that it would take more than two decades to tackle the security challenges in the land.

However, the replacement provided auspicious opportunity to instrumentalise governability by mainstreaming elements of federalism in the affairs of the country, in other words, manifesting representative bureaucracy in the composition of the armed forces of Nigeria.  But the President, who has always evinced his predilection to clannishness by ignoring the country’s diversity, did the predictable: He shunned federal character, which nurtures the quintessence of federalism.  This time, the Igbo ethnic nationality was not favoured in any of those prime positions – and his media managers said reflecting federal character was not necessary, in the circumstances. This lacuna elicited the reaction of the former leader of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief John Nnia Nwodo, who bemoaned the omission. He alleged that the non-inclusion of an Igbo among the service chiefs as disdainful, and implicates the thinking in government circle that the Igbos are not considered fit enough for such service positions. 

Federalism has proven to be a veritable tool for managing diversity, and the writers of our constitution are aware of this reality of our country. They engrossed the federal character principle in the constitution to assure every nationality about justice and equity in the running of the country.

This principle states in section 217(3) that, “The composition of the officer corps and other ranks of the armed forces of the federation shall reflect the federal character of Nigeria.” This must be brought into consideration by the president in the appointment of service chiefs as spelt out in section 218(1)(2) of the 1999 constitution as amended. Section 1 states: “The powers of the President as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation shall include power to determine the… use of the armed forces of the federation. Section (2) states, “The powers conferred on the President by subsection (1) of this section shall include power to appoint the Chief of Defence Staff, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff and heads of any other branches of the armed forces of the federation as may be established by an Act of the National Assembly.”

Constitutionally, it can be argued that the president erred by the non-abidance to clearly set out provisions of the constitution. Even if the constitution does not have express provisions, the craft of governance would dictate otherwise: in a plural society, inclusivity is to be cherished to clientelism and outright isolation. They are the ingredients for the unmaking of many a country. Beyond catering for inclusivity, equitable representation in the armed forces will also ensure responsiveness and accountability.  

Security is a sensitive national issue. Countries with diversities, especially ethnic ones, have regional commands to guarantee the mutual security of all. Given the growing mistrust of the military and allegation of a partisan organisation lending support to herdsmen in their brutal killings across the country, it is high time the leadership of the country began to ensure what Chief Anthony Enahoro called “equitocracy” in the armed formation of the country. In a proper federation, this type of practice is an abnormality, and does not strengthen national integration. If the country must endure as single entity, a functional representative bureaucracy is the key to nurture national cohesion, which is being undermined by the current state of affairs.
In the same vein, the recent signing of COVID-19 Health Protection Regulations 2021 as part of efforts to boost the COVID-19 response in the country looked good but the application isn’t good for a vast country with the complex diversity we have been contextualising. It is the same way we have been mismanaging the omnibus anti-graft federal laws through three agencies that are based in the nation’s capital. Specifically, the EFCC and ICPC laws are applicable in all the states of the federation. Law officers attached to the three agencies including the Code of Conduct Tribunal have been picking up suspects from any of the 774 local councils in the country. This partly explains why anti-corruption prosecution has been largely unsuccessful. What should be ideal is encouraging each of the 36 states to enact their laws, which will be easier to manage in this complex federation of more than 200 million people.

In the same vein, the application of the COVID-19 Health Protection and Regulation 2021 should have taken a similar path: Governors should have been directed to sign their own regulations governing their states. In the main, governors should begin to exploit challenges of the moment as veritable opportunities to restructure the country the way Dr. Agbakoba too just prescribed – that there should be intentional and legal devolution of powers to overcome crisis hampering the development of this country.

According to the former NBA President in a recent publication, regional autonomy, a critical element in federalism, would resolve the country’s diversity challenges. He said devolution of powers would allow subsidiarity to deliver public service at the base of the nation as it did in the Western Region under self-rule in 1951. Agbakoba’s is one more voice of reason and courage in support of what this newspaper has been harping on for the past 16 weeks. It is our hope and prayer that authorities in Abuja and the governing party would not continue to remain recalcitrant and even deaf to the voices of reason on federalism as the only way forward for the world’s most populous black nation.