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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 60

By Editorial Board
16 December 2021   |   3:55 am
Events will never cease! This is a popular saying among the peoples of Africa basically informed by the dialectical nature of human existence.

(Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

Events will never cease!  This is a popular saying among the peoples of Africa basically informed by the dialectical nature of human existence. In the problem with Nigeria, the issue of injustice is fundamental. The constitutional matrix, in other words, the state structure that sustains it is to be repudiated.  Retired Major Abubakar Gangiwar Umar, former Governor of Kaduna State, gave accent to the question of injustice and desirability of democracy in Nigeria in an interview with Sunday Sun of December 12, 2021. Asked to address the fear in some quarters of a military come-back in the light of the many problems confronting the country and the corresponding failing of politicians, the seasoned military administrator affirmed the merit of democracy drawing on the authority of Winston Churchill. In his words: “Military rule has always been regarded as an aberration even when people welcomed it in the past. As Winston Churchill aptly opined, ‘‘Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.’’ Election continues to be the best form of choosing leaders.  Regimes’ abysmal failure is the most efficacious catalyst for mobilising the electorate to vote them out. We must continue to tread the path of democracy instead of undemocratic ways like coups. We must, however, fortify our democracy and make military regimes less attractive by insisting on regular free and fair elections. We must ensure the presence of checks and balances by the different arms of government. Democratic dividends are the fruits of any functional democracy. Africa as a whole must tackle the problem of sit-tight leadership. It is an illiberal form of democracy, worse than military regimes.”

The issue of democracy cannot be divorced from injustice. Indeed, without justice democracy is hardly meaningful. So to the question: What is the way out of secessionist agitations in the country? Umar noted that: “Someone correctly observed that with all the imperfections and weaknesses of our federation, it provides a security umbrella to all the federating units. In the event of Nigeria’s balkanisation, almost all the independent units will face the challenge of heterogeneity or diversity. Nigeria is also endowed with natural resources such as vast land area, minerals and large population. All the federating units stand to benefit from these endowments. But since man does not live by bread alone, there are those intangible needs, which must be satisfied for him to want to freely belong in the union.

Things like equity, justice and fairness are some of the necessary conditions. They are the pillars, the centripetal forces on which a virile, prosperous and united nation exist. Most rational citizens will protest or even demand to exit from an inequitable union no matter the abundant material benefits they stand to gain. It is in this context that we should view secessionist agitations. This must have informed the United Nations’ decision to provide for people’s rights to peacefully demand for self determination.”

The tragedy of the Nigerian palaver is that almost all the problems afflicting the country today had been thought through by our founding fathers. It will be recalled that in the “Report of the Resumed Nigeria Constitutional Conference Held in London September and October, 1958,” the question of justice was solemnly accented that it ought to guard post-colonial Nigerian governments to attain stability in the polity. Perhaps as Professor Clauke Ake once argued in his Democracy and Development, development was never on the agenda of the post-colonial elite but self-aggrandisement to the detriment of the commonwealth.  At that conference where the fundamental rights of Nigerian citizens were considered, under sub-section (m)titled, ‘‘Freedom from Discrimination,’’ it was stated inter alia: “ (1) No enactment of any legislature in Nigeria, and no instrument or executive or administrative action  of any government in Nigeria shall, either expressly or in its practical application, (a) subject persons of any community, tribe, place of origin, religion of political opinion to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of other communities, tribes, places  of origin, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or (b) confer on persons of any community, tribe, place of origin, religion or political opinion any privilege or advantage which is not conferred on persons of other communities, tribes, places of origin, religions or political opinions.”

One could deduce from the above that those deep reflections engendered by a deep understanding of the country’s diversity have been completely eroded. For example, not that a section of the country has hijacked the command structure of the material force of the state, namely security organisations, English and Hausa are the “legal” languages of the Nigerian army, Yoruba and Igbo of the three dominant groups are regarded as vernacular in the colonial practice of yesteryears. Many other instances of domination abound. But in the scheme of things today, the country can only endure as a united entity and achieve the goal of development if we remediate the skewed state structure to reflect federalism that will enable self-actualisation according to the proportion of endowments and other allied matters within the federating units. As we believe in this newspaper, federalism will address all the questions posed in this 60th edition of the serial, after all. It will therefore be a tragedy if the authorities in Nigeria today do not recognise the essence and indeed expediency of the message on federalism within the context of restructuring that Africa’s most populous and richest nation needs so urgently.