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Federalism is the answer, after all – Part 9

By Editorial Board
24 December 2020   |   3:00 am
In the last edition of this editorial, we addressed the discontent of the prevailing state structure in the country in vivid details. We argued that the federal essentiality of the state structure has been atomised in ways that it is best qualified....

In the last edition of this editorial, we addressed the discontent of the prevailing state structure in the country in vivid details. We argued that the federal essentiality of the state structure has been atomised in ways that it is best qualified as unitary, where all authorities flow from the central government – the worst consequence of unitary system foisted since 1966. Without a doubt, as we have been saying, this situation has been counterproductive to the autonomy of the component nationalities of our country. Therefore, we have argued that renegotiating the present non-descript structure and restoring its federal muscles is feasible. In this connection, we have a natural follow up in today’s comment: We present some of the merits of the 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria that was truly federal and seemed to have worked for the country until the military truncated the process – 56 years ago.

 
Previously, some commentators have adverted to the glory of the 1963 Constitutional arrangement. Mr. Uwemedimo Nwoko, a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice of Akwa Ibom State, in a recent interview with this medium, argued the need to adopt the 1963 Constitution. His case for a return to the 1963 Constitution came against the backdrop of the challenge of re-inventing the country’s concept of its nationhood. Indeed, he argued that Nigeria should re-invent the concept of its nationhood the very foundation of the country in ways similar to the transition from the state of nature to civil society in a Lockean sense, that is a state that is governed by the rule of law. In his words, “Why I say Nigeria needs to invent the concept of its nationhood is that the various military interventions in the polity and politics of Nigeria starting from 1966 to 1999 completely destroyed the basic content of the agreement on the basis of which the various nation-states represented by their leadership of that time, the founding fathers came together to form a federation. This would be seen in the fiscal federalism otherwise called resource control. It would be seen in the creation and management of the institutional mechanisms that make up the governance of the country. It would also be seen in the structuring of the legal framework, principally the constitution, which is the grundnorm of Nigeria. There has been an attempt to change the goal post in the middle of the game as far as the legal framework of the Nigerian nation is concerned.” In a similar vein, Pastor Tunde Bakare of Latter Rain Assembly also dramatised the merit of the 1963 Constitution the other day by pointing to the regional landmarks of progress, namely, the cocoa in the West; the groundnut pyramid in the North and palm oil and coal in the East. Chief Ayo Opadokun, an elder statesman has also lent his voice and urged a return to the 1963 Constitution.  
 
There must be wisdom in returning to what worked for us. It is in this general context, we review the merits of the 1963 Republican Constitution. Some of the sterling qualities of the 1963 Constitution in Section 5 (provisions relating to regional constitutions) Section 140 (Mining royalties and rents) based on 50 per cent derivation: 
 
Section 5 (1) states inter alia: “Subject to the provisions of this constitution, the constitution of each region shall have the force of law throughout that region, if any other law is inconsistent with that constitution, the provisions of that constitution shall prevail and the other law to the extent of its inconsistency shall be void.” Section 140 subsections (1) (a) (b) and 2(a) (b) were explicit on the issue of derivation and states inter alia in “(1) There shall be paid by the Federation to each Region a sum equal to fifty per cent of – (a) the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that Region; and (b) any mining rents derived by the Federation from within the Region. (2) The Federation shall credit to the Distributable Pool Account a sum equal to thirty per cent of – (a) the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of minerals extracted in any region; and (b) any mining rents received by the Federation from within any region.” The Schedule to the Constitution, Parts 1 and 11 are also revealing. Part 1(exclusive legislative list) has 45 items while part 11(the concurrent list) has 29 items in contradistinction to the extant 1999 Constitution where the exclusive list has 65 items including the omnibus doctrine of covering the field.
 
It is perhaps these excellent provisions that nudge Nwoko towards the embrace of the 1963 Constitution in terms of federalism, in terms of fiscal control, in terms of the distribution, management, and control of resources in the country as the way forward for governability of a country maligned by its warped ruling elite. Nevertheless, the complexity of the peoples of Nigeria—ethnically diverse and territorially segregated—makes the federal bargain imperative. Overcentralism of the affairs of the country has proven to be counterproductive to development, peace and harmony in the country. We have had a past that worked somewhat. And so, we should not run away from it. We should adopt it and simultaneously innovate within the context of current realities in the world today. The crux of the matter state actors should put on priority list today is this: Without Nigeria resolving what scholars of political thoughts have aptly called the foundational problems, the country is bound to be stuck in a state of inertia. The consequence of a state of anomie triggered by a retrogressive unitary system is what some foreign news media have been contextualising of late as Nigeria, Africa’s most significant country, as gliding towards failing as a state. May we never walk into a trap as a failed state because of failure of our leaders to manage change that the world is going through at this time.

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