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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 15

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The other day, the theme of restructuring of the country made the front burner of public discuss. The occasion was the 18th ‘Daily Trust Dialogue’ in Abuja, which attracted the crème of the Nigerian elite including the immediate past president of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, and erstwhile President General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief John Nwodo. The gathering had the theme, “Restructuring, Why? When? How?” It was auspicious amidst rising ethnic tension and tottering security architecture of the country underlined by the sovereignty of bandits and insurgents across the length and breadth of the country.

Against this backdrop, Jonathan who chaired the event called on the National Assembly to factor into the amendment process the yearnings and aspirations of the people. He pointed out some of the pathologies of the Nigerian crisis, namely, nepotism, ethnic and religious differences and lack of patriotism as some of the teething challenges plaguing the country.

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He stressed the point that in addressing the contradictions besetting the country the expectations of the people must never be undermined. Beyond redrawing the state architecture to meet the quest for federalism, the former president said that restructuring was two-fold and the second aspect is the restructuring of the mind. According to him, if there is no attitudinal change, whatever the shape and content of the state, the many problems confronting the country would still rear their ugly heads. On this, the former president waxed poetic by a quote of the famous lines of William Shakespeare in his Julius Caesar. In his words,  “As a country, we have our peculiar challenges and we should devise means of solving them, but we should not continue to vent our spleen on the amalgamation…As Shakespeare in Julius Caesar said, ‘‘the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves…’’ ‘‘My conviction is that discussion on restructuring will not help except we restructure our minds because some of the challenging issues at the national level still exist at the state and local levels.” He likened leadership and nation building as multilayered process but the goal is to build  a nation that is conducive for all. He sounded off on the establishment trope of the unity and indivisibility of the country.

The former president was not alone on the restructuring question. The immediate past President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, John Nnia Nwodo argued that the 1999 constitution upended the foundational structure of the country laid by the founding fathers, namely, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello and Obafemi Awolowo. The blame was placed on the door step of the military, which atomised the federal essentiality of the Nigerian state through constitutionality, i. e. arbitrary rule-making process of the military. While underlining the objective manifestation of the contradictions of the polity, namely, the truncation of the sovereignty of the regions over their resources and domestic security with a consequent decay in all facets of the society, he urged that restructuring should hold before 2023 general elections.  Chief Ayo Adebanjo, the Afenifere chieftain and elder statesman followed the same path with Nwodo by a call to return to the 1963 Constitution, which to a great deal was federal and preserved the autonomous spheres of the federating region.

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On his part, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega held the view that the call for restructuring was being driven by incompetent and self-serving leadership, at all tiers of government. Also, the professor of political science noted that the failure of governance to satisfy the needs and aspirations of citizens and the corresponding poverty have been drivers of the clamour for restructuring. He went further to suggest incremental amendment of the constitution rather than going through the process in one fell swoop. 

The interlocutors at the ‘Daily Trust Dialogue’ have spoken well. There are, however, matters arising. Mr. Jonathan’s take on the unity and indivisibility of the country is a play to the gallery, in both theory and practice. Nations are not permanent entities, and they undergo changes in their dialectical entanglement. But certain variables can make nations to endure, such as its ability to ensure justice for all, a platonic requirement for the polis. To blame Nigeria’s problems on the mind of its people may be partly right but its smacks of idealism as objective realities influence the minds. The devastating impact of nepotism today and the inability of the government to secure lives and property cannot engender a congenial attitude to the presently constituted Nigerian state. 

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Also we do not agree with Prof. Jega’s position that it is mere inept leadership that is driving the call for restructuring, nor do we agree with his call for piecemeal amendment. The policy output of the dominant ruling elite in Nigerian is hegemonic by design, if not, commonsense would have prevailed to note that a multiethnic entity like Nigeria cannot be dominated by what experts on the state have called state-nation mainstreaming its preferences over the rest nationality. This today is the primary contradiction and cannot be resolved by sheer incremental amendment of the constitution that cannot alter the rotten integument of the present Nigerian state. In the main, this newspaper believes that the most viable alternative to the disintegration of the country is total overhaul of the current state structure to meet the governability attractions of federalism for multi-ethnic nations.

On the whole, the ‘Daily Trust Dialogue’ on clamour for federalism in the nation’s capital was indeed a veritable colloquium on the inevitability of restoration of organic federalism we lost to the soldiers of fortune in 1966. There should be more of such significant, civic engagements on what has become an idea whose time has indeed come. 

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