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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 14

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Nigeria Army: PHOTO: SIGNAL

The constitutional standoff between the Federal and Ondo State government over security of lives and properties is another of such legitimacy questions affirming our position that true federalism is the answer and should prevail. In the current faceoff, where each state expresses autonomy over its territory and is accountable to its security, as typical of a true federal structure, external distractions and meddlesomeness is readily foreclosed. And that is the crux of the matter in Ondo and Oyo states, South West, Nigeria, at the moment. Since the Federal Government in the last six years has offered no reliable strategy to tackle the worsening security crisis, then it is not out of place to encourage organic structures in contiguous states and regions to ward-off invaders and keep citizens safe. A truly federal system will encourage innovative responses than frustrate them with theatrics. But what is discernible from the origin of the current tension is a curiosity we see as Land Grab, which the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) notes is a serious systemic issue that affects the environment, economy, social welfare and human rights.  We are talking about the seizing of land by a nation, state, or organisation, especially illegally, underhandedly, or unfairly. It is usually swift acquisition of property (such as land or patent rights) often by fraud or force. This is what can be discerned by what the Fulani herdsmen and their godfathers are doing in the South West, Nigeria. They are strategically grabbing lands, the most precious resource God gave to mankind in various jurisdictions even in global context. But there is therefore a sense in which we can see the correlation between resistance to practice of federalism we lost in 1966 and the incursion of the Fulani herdsmen into the South West where they are now at loggerheads with the people of South West Nigeria. What is more galling, while this newspaper has been reflecting the wishes and enthusiasm of the people for federalism every week here, there has been no sense of urgency from the Federal Government that promised the people federalism through a comprehensive restructuring agenda. There is a danger signal to the people of South West, where the first trouble came for democracy and federalism in 1966: There is a perception that the ease with which the Fulani bandits operate in South West forests you find only with people who have government of the day behind them. There is no question about this scary scenario. This means trouble is brewing again over Land Grab, which makes the people feeling quite insecure nationwide.

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The 1999 Constitution, as amended, clearly states the primary functions of the government. Specifically, Session 14(b) of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” That insecurity has worsened nationwide is an indication that government at all levels has failed and is still faltering in its primary objective. Yet, undeniable is the fact that achieving this objective demands pragmatic and workable programmes that do not infringe on the Constitution.

Nigerians of thoughts, including state governors have, therefore, being shuffling ideas at upstaging the Nigerian security nightmare. For instance, Southwest governors have begun work on Amotekun security apparatus. A member of the region, Ondo, has done a forensic analysis that arrives at the wisdom of accounting for all genuine herders and evacuation of Forest Reserves to expose foreign infiltrators, all in the bid to make policing work in the state. All, among others, are pointing at the imperative of restructuring to return to true federalism, where each state and region see to internal security, fund and control its police, among other expressions of autonomy.

Apparently not unaware of these agitations to save Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, recently pinched the subject matter when he pushed the question of national discourse and restructuring to the National Assembly and the National Council of State as we pointed out the other day. But in a system that has worsened much more than he inherited it in 2015 and on the brink, such an argument is self-serving and wrong. You don’t activate an emergency response by pretending all is well, but by facing it squarely. The president’s pushback smirks of insincerity and a deflection of an idea whose time has come, from all indications.

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Lest the president forgets, unbundling the current security arrangement was at the heart of the 2014 National Conference and its report that has since been left to gather dust on the shelf. The All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 campaigned and crept into the hearts of the electorates on the promise of restructuring the moribund system too. Following denials and counter denials by men of the broom, the ruling party set up a committee to take a look at the propositions of restructuring. The committee led by Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, concluded that the country, just like its security structure, was overdue for state police, if the country must work again. It amounts to sheer insincerity for the president to keep mounting alibi against true federalism and related initiatives in the face of overwhelming needs and collective existential demands of Nigerians.

Ideally, moves by the Ondo State government to sanitise its domain, deploy time-tested security mechanisms and take charge of its security align with true federalism, and should not be discouraged under any guise. Nigeria once had a system that worked prior to the foisting of pseudo federalism in 1966. As this newspaper has emphasised repeatedly, we once solved our problems in ages past. We had the native authority police back in the days, hired and paid for by the towns in this same country. They were strong enough to repel marauding forces and avert killer gangs either hidden or collaborating with genuine traders. That was an architecture that worked because the natives are better placed to protect themselves and solve their problems before they escalate. The vigilante model in modern houses, streets, estates, towns, councils and even some states – whatever name they have been christened – resonates the same indigenous model to date.

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Apparently, it is the domestication of our security challenges that has led to the Amotekun regional option in the Southwest states – a simplified, all-inclusive self-help security model whose time has come. Notwithstanding the Federal Government’s earlier disassociation, it has validly shown how the people themselves want to solve their security problem from one constituency to another. Having realised that there is no magic wand or propaganda to tackle widespread insecurity and apprehension, Buhari and handlers should listen to alternative local defence mechanisms in the absence of a superior grand plan to keep us safe and alive. Because when it comes to security, the government is as low as possible and as high as necessary. Indeed, Buhari and his advisers must admit that there are many facets to the Nigerian reality. So too is the dynamics of alternatives to our problems. As the head of the Nigerian entity, it is their core duty to be undaunted in exploring alternatives, though rational to know what is not working, and bold enough to change it. And what is not working should freely give way to alternatives with better potential.

Finally, the Buhari government should not be seen to be failing in its constitutional duty of welfare and securing all Nigerians or frustrating good intentions of contiguous states. Both are betrayals of the oath Buhari did swear to on two occasions as the president and commander-in-chief. Whatever the outcome of the Ondo episode, it shall be a major test of Buhari’s sincerity – as one that tackled endemic insecurity with innovative organic responses or as a sitting president who mounts roadblocks for local insecurity to fester – just because he wants his kinsmen to grab land everywhere in Nigeria.   

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