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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 10

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We would like to greet all our readers  ‘‘compliments of the season.’’ Today’s comment completes our serial on federalism this year. The struggle for a truly federal state continues next year. As we open a new chapter in our journey through this life in Africa’s most populous nation tomorrow (01-01-2021), it is gratifying to note that at least there has emerged some consensus that all is not well with the Nigerian state. Those who revel in the fleeting gains of a skewed state structure are now being consumed by the contradictory dynamics of their ill-conceived and self-serving policies. Nevertheless, we still hope that the incumbent state minders may be able to save the country headed on the road to Mogadishu. Those who think that the overwhelming contradictions of the Nigeria state will go by without monumental consequences for the country probably live in a fool’s paradise. Survival is the first law of nature, ius naturale, and the root of emancipatory politics.

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Those who have constantly emphasised the urgency of the times are to be applauded and their cue necessarily followed to save a beleaguered country. Many have written and spoken about the ‘‘coming anarchy.’’ Roberts Kaplan first sounded the alarm bell in his piece titled the Coming Anarchy of West African sub-regional chaos some decades ago. About the same time, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research made the following observation about our country: “Prospects for a transition to civilian rule and democratisation are slim. . . The repressive apparatus of the state security service . . . will be difficult for any future civilian government to control. . . . The country is becoming increasingly ungovernable. . . . Ethnic and regional splits are deepening, a situation made worse by an increase in the number of states from 19 to 30 and a doubling in the number of local governing authorities; religious cleavages are more serious; Muslim fundamentalism and evangelical Christian militancy are on the rise; and northern Muslim anxiety over southern [Christian] control of the economy is intense . . . the will to keep Nigeria together is now very weak.”

Since that report in the 1990s, the country’s core has further fragmented in ways that we wonder why the country has not gone into history. Maybe, it is a case of a tottering death that the Financial Times has again foreshadowed. The respected British newspaper defines a failed state as “one where the government is no longer in control.” In its reckoning, Nigeria falls within this bracket. It further underscored the nodal points of the country’s failure thus: “Extortion is a potent symbol for a state whose modus operandi is the extraction of oil revenue from central coffers to pay for a bloated, ruinously inefficient, political elite. Security is not the only area where the state is failing. Nigeria has more poor people, defined as those living on less than $1.90 a day, than any other country, including India. In non-COVID-19 years, one of every five children in the world out of school lives in Nigeria, many of them girls…The population, already above 200 million, is growing at a breakneck 3.2 per cent a year. The economy has stalled since 2015 and real living standards are declining. This year, the economy will shrink 4 per cent after COVID-19 dealt a further blow to oil prices. In any case, as the world turns greener, the elite’s scramble for oil revenue will become a game of diminishing returns.” FT made bold to suggest for the country, “A new, slimmed-down state — ideally one with fewer, bankrupt regional assemblies — must concentrate on the basics: security, health, education, power and roads.

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With those public goods in place, Nigeria’s young people are more than capable of turning the country around. At the present trajectory, the population will double to 400 million by 2050. If nothing is done, long before then, Nigeria will become a problem far too big for the world to ignore.”

The recent bill for the expurgation of the local government as a constitutionally recognised and funded tier of government in Nigeria, which surfaced at the Federal House of Representatives on November 24 seems to be proactive amidst the dim of ungovernability of the country. The bill sponsored by Mr. Solomon Bob (PDP, Rivers) is explicit in its prayer as it “seeks to remove Local Government as a tier of government in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and vest their creation, powers and funding exclusively in the State Houses of Assembly in accordance with the principle and practice of true federalism in a culturally diverse and territorially extensive country like Nigeria.”

Honourable Bob’s effort is to be applauded. It is a useful step to remediating the discontents of the Nigerian federation. Righting the wrongs of the political community is not rocket science, but requires the political will of state actors. This class will be saving itself by saving Nigeria through a return to federalism. The latter as being expressive of intergovernmental relations is fundamentally a contract of peoples desiring political cooperation for mutual benefits, such that both the units and the centre are coordinate and autonomous in their defined sphere of legislative competence. Even though it can be argued that the choice of federalism in Nigeria was borne out of British pragmatism: our history showed a generous dose of aggregation. Nigerians met several times in the Lancaster House dialogue and at home to design the constitutional arrangement for the country. Despite its nauseating mismanagement and distortion, the rightfulness of the structure of the state is feasible. The time to do so is now. That is the only new-year gift Nigerians require from our representatives in Abuja and the 36 state capitals. The Guardian is fully persuaded that restoration of organic federalism, which had highly exalted this country as a glimmer of hope for Africa and the black race before we lost it to unitary system in 1966, is the answer, after all.

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