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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 13

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Buhari. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

The quest for federalism within the context of restructuring has been strangely receiving mixed support from the Presidency, leading to suspicion most times that Nigeria’s leadership at this time would never support the popular clamour for a return to federalism we lost since 1966.

For instance, sometime last year, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that unfettered practice of the system is an idea whose time had indeed come. The President had curiously declared the support and spoke then while receiving an award of appreciation from some state governors who had then told the President clearly 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.”  

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As this newspaper then noted, 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. We had then noted too that the support perhaps signalled a new approach to handling fundamental issues, which affect our collective destiny. We counselled then: ‘‘What we need now is for Buhari to walk the talk.’ ’

That is why it is surprising that the same President was speaking in tongues the other day about the same issue when he released his new year message. In it, the President was talking about the role of the Council of State and the National Assembly as far as restructuring was concerned, although he acknowledged the popularity of the demand for restructuring and indeed federalism. This is surprising in the extreme. What is needed is the President’s mind renewal and political will to do the right thing, not the Council of State.

Is the government of Nigeria not impressed by how the organic federalism has safeguarded democracy in the United States, which inaugurated its 46th President yesterday? Didn’t we note the combined effects of the power of the 50 states of the United States in the ballots that determined the winner of the presidential election? Did Abuja not know that if it was within the power of former President Trump to determine the validity of some votes in swing states through a federal electoral commission, he would have manipulated the system? That is the power of federalism, which enables the states to determine their fate even in general elections.

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

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. We have consistently stated this.  

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.

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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 of 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. And that is why we are collectively poor.  

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. 

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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 is fully in control of both the executive and legislative arms of government at the centre. 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 secure 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. 

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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.

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 true federalism, which belief is the only way forward at this time.  

Those who have been and are still skeptical 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.

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