Editorial: Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 6
Our last editorial on this subject of federalism summed up the pros and cons of federalism. Categorically, it stressed the need to revert to a federal constitutional arrangement along with the finest principles of federalism, namely, respect for pluralism, subsidiarity and autonomous sphere. Since last week, there has been an avalanche of calls for a return to federalism underlined by blame game pretences and forward-looking. In the emerging voices, some have sought to reprioritise the call for restructuring in the context of federalism.
First, the South-South governors renew their demand for restructuring and argue that the woes of the country are as a result of the failure of the country to practise true federalism. Also, the incumbent governor of Kaduna State El-Rufai stresses the point that, “restructuring is a pragmatic imperative for a more efficient governance structure in our country…It will enable a departure from excessive centralisation, rebalance the federation and locate powers and responsibilities in the tier of government best able to effectively discharge them.” He goes further to note that the antagonists of the call for restructuring are a few selfish elite who stand to lose from the prevailing skewed arrangement in the country including those afraid of a possible disintegration of the country. However, he allays the fears of the opponents of restructuring to the extent that they will find new engagements with issues of delivering the goals of governance to the people under the new constitutional arrangement.
In what appears to be an acceleration of the debate, the Northern Elders have accused the southern elite of being responsible for the destruction of the federal constitutional restructure of the country through the coup of 1966. But the question may be asked: how has that historical fact embedded in Decree No. 34 of 1966 promulgated by the Military government of General Ironsi prevented its restoration by successive governments, which the North has dominated till the date?
Nevertheless, these debates are healthy but must have a consequence for the restructuring of the country. The nature of the judiciary is also implicated in the prevailing justice system in the country. Some have queried the overloading of the Supreme Court, which ought to be pre-occupied with largely constitutional matters than those outside the remit, which ought to rest with sub-national government Supreme Courts if the judiciary is also restructured in ways similar to the justice system in the United States. Chief George Uwechue, a former speaker of the Federal House of Representatives in the Second Republic holds this view and emphasises the point that Nigeria “needs restructuring, and urgently, too.”
The lie of the Nigerian state is simply repulsive and cannot be allowed to fester endlessly for the interest of all. But as grave, as the issues are, others seek to relegate the primacy of restructuring to second place order. The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi belongs to this school. While not repudiating the call for restructuring, he reasons that tackling hunger and poverty is more critical to the administration that he presently serves as a minister. In his words expressed in a recent television interview, “If to you what is important is restructuring, I don’t see anything wrong with restructuring but I am saying it is not the most critical problem we have…The most critical problem we have is that hunger and poverty are breeding insecurity.” But the minister betrays a wrong reading of the contradictions of the Nigerian state, which have consequently led to the reification of a federal behemoth so overweighed that it is unable to meet the responsibility of government, which is to protect the lives and property of the citizens. It is the twin justification for the creation of the state, in other words, the willing into being of the state. It is to be noted that the lack of creative initiatives on the part of sub-national government is as a result of the strictures of the prevailing unitary status quo misnamed as the federal government. A situation in which all the sub-national governments wait for federal hand-outs is unfederal and creates conditions for misappropriation and misapplication of the allocated resources instead of imagining wealth and creating it for the wellbeing of the people.
While the restructuring matter simmers, the contradictions of the Nigerian state are deepening daily in ways that are exigent. Last Saturday, over 100 Nigerian rice farmers in Borno State, according to the United Nations, were slaughtered in cold blood by the Islamist insurgent group, Boko Haram. This latest horror has shocked the global community. The incident has further underlined the inability of the incumbent administration to protect lives and property in ways that have strengthened the call for restructuring. Part of the bare essentials is the clamour for state policing in ways that sub-national government can police their community through security elements from the local environments far from the centralising mentality of incumbent state actors. We need not be told that the country plods along the line of anarchy and implosion, which appears inevitable.
But yet we can resolve the majority of the seemingly intractable problems of the state through devolution of power that comes with a federal constitutional arrangement. As the legislators are equally seized of the recent killings in Borno and are inclined to re-jigging the security architecture of the country, they should not in a hurry muddle up things. Any consideration of the security architecture of the country must embrace federal essentialities. If the truth must be told, the failure of the military to tackle the insurgents in the North East is not a function of lack of funds and men but lies in corruption and insincerity that undergird the prosecution of the war. Besides, the crisis is strongly believed to have morphed into slush funds and even automated teller machine (ATM) for actors in the theatre and who seek to prolong the crisis.
Truly, the anarchic situation in Nigeria today requires profound institutional remedies. They can only come about through restructuring and a reversion to the federalist foundation of the Nigerian state, which once triggered prosperity that Nigeria once enjoyed – until 1966 when federalism suffered fatal reverses.