Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 34
June 12, a political matter, which highlighted, in the main, the injustices embedded in the Nigerian state was marked last week by progressive forces across the country. Also apologists of the status quo used the occasion to drum up support for the tottering administration of Muhammadu Buhari. It would be recalled that two years ago, the incumbent administration had declared the June 12 as Democracy Day in place of May 29 hitherto marked as Democracy Day. It was on June 12, 1993 that Nigerians voted for Chief M.K. O. Abiola of the Social Democratic Party to be president of Nigeria in an election that was subsequently annulled by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida. The already known outcome of the historic election had threatened to unite this country of remarkable but complex diversity.
However, the occasion was quite auspicious for the social forces in the country to showcase their interests. The reach of this year’s celebration was extensive. Nigerians overseas, such as America and Britain trooped out in their thousands to rail against misrule in Nigeria and the general insecurity in the country and the effusive bloodletting, not seen in war-ravaged countries like Somalia, Syria and Libya. On their part, the social forces that eased out the military from the political space then regretted that the expectations of the period have not been met as civil rule has been hijacked by the military men donning civilian outfit (agbada/babanriga). The rule of law has been observed in the breach: In the scholarly words of political scientists, democracy has not yet attained the status of the only game in town.
Agonising for all is the reality of a country at the tipping point with accentuated separatist impulses across the land. According to the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), one of the leading prodemocracy groups that confronted the military in the 1990s, the prevailing democratic rule in the country is a veneer hiding monumental injustices. The coalition called for the restructuring of the country to grant component nationalities in the country required freedom for development. The extant constitution, contradictory in essence, has been observed in the breach and agents of the status quo have sought all the time to reinforce and reify the skewed state structure in the country. Therefore, NADECO served the Buhari administration notice of a letter, which would be disseminated to all major western governments and agencies such as the United Nations Secretary General, the UN Security Council, the President of the United States and Speaker of Congress and Leader of U.S. Senate; the European Union and Parliament, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the House of Commons, the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the President of Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs of Nigeria and two leading traditional rulers in each of the six zones. Underscoring, the urgency of the moment, NADECO warned against dithering to prevent the occurrence of national crisis and upheaval in Nigeria with about 200 million citizens. This, it noted would be detrimental to peace of the sub-region as well as the global community. In clear terms, it urged the Federal Government to return to true federalism as practised in the first republic to defuse the tension in the country.
Elsewhere in the country, mass movement for separation from the current state arrangement in the country has been raging. The Odua Republic movement has become pronounced besides the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Promoters have been arguing that since dialogue has not worked the best option for self-actualisation is to opt out of the current de-empowering and slavish arrangement. In observance of the Democracy Day, the federal capital territory of Abuja, protesters were out with placards to express themselves over the commonplace insecurity in the country and the seeming helplessness of the prevailing administration. Ironically, security apparatuses were deployed against peaceful protesters on a day declared as Democracy Day. Gleefully, they shot teargas and life ammunition to dispatch the anti-government protesters while the rented crowd drumming up support for the administration was left unmolested. This development is curious and incredibly so. This behaviour left observers of the Nigerian political situation no choice than to conclude that democracy is missing in action in the country and the government of the day is de-consolidating democracy.
On the contrary, the government flaunts what it does in the breach. Surprisingly, in a speech our leader delivered on the Democracy Day, there was a gospel of freedom in it. In his words, “It is a celebration of freedom and a victory for one people, one country and one Nigeria…As with all democracies we will always be going through improvement processes in our desire to reach the goal of a mature democracy, a strong, evolved and integrated nation state to be reckoned with globally.” In what appeared to be fencing off of the agitation for restructuring, the load was passed to the National Assembly. “While this government is not averse to constitutional reform as part of our nation building process, everyone must understand that the primary responsibility for constitutional amendments lies with the National Assembly.”
Government deflection of responsibility and seeming recalcitrance will not help the goal of peace. It should acknowledge the anger in the land. These outpouring of grievances, if anything, goes to underline the need to return the country to genuine federalism to allow for peace, stability and development. Today is the 34th time that this newspaper has told the leader of the most populous nation in Africa and indeed the black race that unless he is committed to restructuring of the country within the context of federalism, there may be no legacy for him in his eight years as an elected leader.