Nigeria, not at ease – Part 2
Truncated in 1966 by the military, the system of government as enshrined in the ensuing Constitutions, 1979 – 1999, has been one, over centralised with enormous powers and resources vested in a central government, creating a de facto unitary state. The aftermath has been an inflection in Nigeria’s development trajectory and a concomitant decline in key elements of the politico-economy, systemic weakening of institutions, systemic failure of leadership and of governance and systemic corruption. Overall, the hallmark of governance has been internecine struggle for power at the centre, not for service to the generality of citizens but for the primordial whims of a coterie of the political class. Hence there is the overarching need to steer the ship of state away from this trajectory of gloom.
Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the dominant debate is on leadership and governance system. On the one, the need for a leader who will galvanise a badly fractured polity within the framework of the current governance system. On the other, a governance system that will shape values, ethics and norms in the political process and pave the way for emergence of a patriotic leadership. The latter recognises that there is an entrenched parasite – host symbiosis as relating, metaphorically, to the political class and the current governance system. And ensconced in this prebendal relationship, the political class is, of necessity, protective of the governance system and any expectation to the contrary is a mirage. Here lies the Herculean task for advocates of a new governance paradigm, nay, true federalism.
Characteristic of the current governance system, all manner of persons are being projected in the media as prospective candidates for sundry political positions in 2023 general elections, some of whom have varying cases of malfeasance pending in court. This is a sad reflection of the low estate of our values. Almost always this system throws up mediocrities presenting the electorate with choices between the devil and deep blue sea. This is a cause of concern and indeed despondency for well meaning Nigerians.
The unrelenting advocacy for true federalism by many Elder statesmen – Pa Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Edwin Clerk, the late Chief Anthony Enahoro, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Prof. Wole Soyinka, and by socio-cultural groups – Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, etc is borne out of their patriotic desire to see Nigeria on the path of justice, peace and development. But the mass of the illiterate and the mass of uninformed literate add up to compound the problem of mass mobilisation of the citizenry on the need for a new governance paradigm. For the youth, the EndSARS protest in 2020 sign-posted their reawakening on the need to address the extant governance system and not surprisingly they were expeditiously suppressed by the Federal Government. But the idea has been sown. The need now to arouse the consciousness of students in higher institutions on both the historical and contemporary contexts of issues of the polity as they affect their present and future is an imperative. In my casual interactions with university students, this lacuna is evident. In the 70s, the Nigerian university was the hotbed of public lectures on contemporary issues, both domestic and foreign, illuminating the minds of students. Regrettably, this is not the case at the moment.
President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015 on three-point agenda – economy, security and anti-corruption without regard to a vital provision of APC’s manifesto i.e., ‘to initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving power, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.’ Pressed on this by public opinion, the El-Rufai 23-member Committee was set up in August 2017 by the President which recommended amongst others: ‘—– transfer (of) some items that are now on the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List that will enable both the states and the federal to legislate on them.’ These include state police. The Committee also recommended having referendum in the Constitution ‘to enable a referendum to be undertaken on national issues.’ Yes, the latter is an indictment on the Constitution which circumscribed the rights of citizens to referendum. However, both the APC’s manifesto on federalism and El-Rufai Committee’s recommendation on the subject were premised on amending the extant Constitution through processes that would ultimately amount to an exercise in futility and gerrymandering. An entirely new federal Constitution that is autochthonous with the people’s imprimatur is a sine qua non for in it resides our hope for a progressive Nigeria truly bound in freedom, justice, peace and unity.
Prof. Eromosele is former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta.