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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 29

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Buhari. Photo: TWITTER/NIGERIAGOV

The tottering Nigerian state came under scrutiny again the other day where federalism was again the main point at issue. Besides, the question of the unity of the country amid calls for secession was under the lens at “The Platform,” an annual colloquium organised by Pastor Poju Oyemade of The Covenant Christian Centre, Lagos.

Varied speakers vent their viewpoints on the state of the nation. The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr. Matthew Kukah held the opinion at the event that a united Nigeria would serve better the interest of Nigerians. He observed that the aggravated separatist impulses in the country are a function of bad governance, especially of the incumbent administration that alienated a large section of the population through inequality in power distribution at the federal level.

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The respected Bishop who addressed the topic: ‘‘Is Devolution of Powers the Solution to Nigeria’s Problems?’’ said reflectively, “It may be right for everybody to want to go. Yes, it may be right for people to want to feel so dissatisfied that they want an end to what we have today. But the cost of staying together is far cheaper than the cost of everybody going his way…The most important thing here is that the government must give us a reason – the body language – we need to be inspired as a country to inspire ourselves that this country is worth the psychological, the spiritual and the cultural engagements.”  Given the scale of discontentment, he noted that the challenge was how to pull back and reconnect and that it was incumbent on the government of the day to develop a sense of empathy for the victims of the rising insecurity in Nigeria.

On his part, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, said the odds against turning around the country for better was overwhelming and that the National Assembly would need to scale back its powers, a task they were adverse to. Like Chinua Achebe, he said the problem of the country was leadership and the non-abidance to the grundnorm (the organic law of the land). He took a swipe at the governors who pay scant regard to the Constitution. In his words: “The state governors have paralysed the judiciary and they are looking for more power. They haven’t shown that they are constitutionally responsible because they are not obeying the constitution…The governors seem to have retreated and do no more than go to Abuja and collect. We want to see more action on the part of our governors. Poju Oyemade, a cleric and the host of “The Platform,” noted that the lack of political will to drive change was the greatest challenge facing the country.

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However, we would like to reiterate here that Nigeria is stronger through its diversities.  Sticking together is good in so far as there are terms and conditions to regulate that unity. Today, the country is afflicted by curious lack of good governance. Nigeria needs to be secured and those who desire unity must be in it, not the outright exhibition of impunity, sectionalism and nauseating bigotry and religious fundamentalism. It should be noted that the call for secession is due to the dissatisfaction with the system, in other words, the lie of the state. Nigeria is not well run. There are other countries with diversities in ethnicity and religion such as Brazil and India among others that are well-governed as federations. We share the notion that the bigger we are the stronger and better for the black race. Great countries are built on the basis of collective strength, resources, a high sense of equity among other factors, certainly not on parochialism and the quest for domination by a tiny ethnic group in a multinational state. Our country needs a great leader, and Nigeria is potentially a great country waiting to manifest itself. Therefore, the call for secession can be a point for renegotiation of the state contract.

The country’s immediate post-independent constitution worked before the incursion of the military and the imposition of a military status quo. Nevertheless, the country trudged on and the sinews of unity were again shattered by the “militricians” who by their deeds ended up bifurcating the country for worse. This newspaper believes strongly that true federalism is the answer, in the main. We have had several conferences recommending federalism as a state structure to govern well the multiethnic country that Nigeria is. State police, resource control and fiscal federalism are some of the elements of the federal bargain. There are countries, recognising the right to self-determination as a fundamental right of a people, providing the terms and condition for separation as nations are not permanent entities but people are united by policies that mainstream social justice, not domination. Wherever the latter is the case inexorably there would be separation.

It should be said without mincing words, that burden to unite the country rests on the lap of the sitting government who must by deeds and action encourage togetherness. Nature, after all, abhors a vacuum. The present constitution must be reworked to allow greater autonomy to the peoples of the country than a behemoth central government. These can only gain expression in a true federation, which the 17 governors of southern Nigeria again called for on Tuesday in Asaba, capital of Delta State. Their remarkable voices can’t be ignored at this time without consequences.

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