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Restructuring and Buhari’s troubling tokenism

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One of the many fascinating elements of a federal system which endears itself to the proponents of that governance ideal is the idea that its government is limited by a fundamental law which prescribes the inter-relationship of the country’s constituent parts. It is a system of effective restraints on political power as between or among the geopolitical entities or units of the country.

An essential feature of a federal state is the limiting of arbitrariness by defining and controlling the scope of shared power. Such limitation, in turn, provides the basis for mutual respect, ensures the protection of diverse interests and guarantees the emergence of governance that promotes diversity and progressive change (no pun on the now dis-used mantra). Even though Nigeria is referred to as the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the tenets of federalism are not evinced in the governance of the entity.

The COVID-19 pandemic has particularly exposed the untruth in the reference to Nigeria as a federal state. Her pseudo- constitution which vests otherwise shared functions or powers in the central government belies the classical definition or understanding of federal ethos.

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As a result of the people’s appreciation of the fact that the methods of a political entity may not be interpreted in static terms, they have in their pursuit of progress vigorously advocated recourse to the proper practice of the values of federalism. They have yearned for the practice of true federalism distinguishing it from the present in-elegant mode of that governance ideal. In spite of the adherence to the verbiage of federalism in the drafting of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, the experience of its practice has conducted to anarchy in the inter-relationship of the nation’s constituent parts with the central government.

In a proper federal constitution, political power is shared between the government at the center and those of the constituent parts and is divided among officials of the state thereby ensuring that no one is the sole judge of the legitimacy of his actions or is un-limited in the exercise of the powers of his office. This kind of constitutional order is envisaged by the people as able to serve the broad objectives of governance. Such a system employs the diverse capacities of the people. This is the raison d’etre for the clamour for a return to the practice of federalism strictosenso.

The ineffective, poor or manipulated operation of Nigeria’s constitution has had a general debilitating effect on the political and social development of the country. In fact, it has retarded growth and development. The principle of constitutional supremacy which implies that laws and regulations contrary to the substantive provisions of the constitution are, to the extent of their inconsistency, invalid is generally disregarded or obeyed in the breach under Nigeria’s federal system as Executive Orders (made popular by the present administration) are patently in conflict with the principle of shared powers.

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President Buhari’s Executive Order 10, for example, will appear to have over-reached itself as it attempts to legislate for the federating units and the local governments. Executive Order 10 attempts to provide for the implementation of financial autonomy for State legislatures and their judiciary. The President insists the Order is in compliance with s.121 (3) of the Constitution. In the case of the judiciary, that self-same constitution provides that “any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned” As this is a constitutional stipulation, the Executive Order in that regard will appear redundant, un-necessary or otiose.

More ultravires the power of the federal government pertaining this matter is the authority given the Accountant-General of the federation to deduct from source, in the course of federation accounts allocation, money allocated to any State of the Federation which fail to release allocation meant for the State legislature and State judiciary. The powers of the State legislatures to make laws for the order and good government of their respective States will appear to have been ambushed. An infraction of the constitution by a State government cannot be cured, assuaged or punished by unilateral action of the Federal Government. This is against the spirit of federalism. The celebrated case of the Lagos State government against the Federal government with respect to the unilateral withholding of the allocation due to Lagos State from the federation account is a case in point.

That case should have informed a more circumspect attitude to the formulation or envisaged implementation of Executive Order 10. More poignantly, we may pose the question: when did Executive Orders take the place of proper or popular legislation in our jurisprudence? What the government does and how it is done must remain the expression of a broad public opinion rather than the ruler’s whims or caprices. The formal stipulation that a constitution should derive from the shared values, aspiration and common consent of the people was not adhered to or obeyed at the drafting of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.

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A further formal prescription that a proper constitution‘s provisions should serve the general welfare and protect diverse interests is palpably absent. Whereas the heterogeneous, varied or diverse nature of the Nigerian populace suggests the true practice of federalism, our constitution is a poor reflection of the ideals of that socio-political management option. The imperative of the practice of federalism has been snubbed or shunned by this administration which in 2015 rode on the crest of a promised political restructuring of the polity. The Federal government has curiously turned itself into the nation’s paymaster even as the States have become impoverished or made to look up to the centre with beggarly entreaties or schoolboy blandishment.

The power, purview, authority and opportunities available to the government at the centre are so awesome that the States have become insignificant in the scheme of governance respecting responsibilities and ordained functions. For some time now, President Buhari has been brandishing a body language which may be interpreted as an attempt to resolve the contradictions inherent in the failed performance of a key election campaign promise. In the full glare of the public and also in its published manifesto in the build-up to the 2015 presidential elections, the APC promised to initiate moves for establishing a truly federal set-up away from the choking platform of “unitary federalism” which the people had decried. The people had expected that upon coming to power, the Buhari administration would initiate the process of restructuring the polity. Instead, Buhari and his party have feigned ignorance of the true meaning of restructuring and have queried the true intentions of the proponents of true federalism. The moral crisis that ensued from the party’s volte-face has dogged the presumed integrity of its processes necessitating a belated token tinkering with the requirement for a federal structure.

The absence of will-power on the part of the President to transcend the un-imaginative wishes of party hawks has robbed him of the possession of the required consciousness of reality. Even as restructuring is a fundamental objective, the Buhari administration thinks of it cavalierly. Buhari prefers a token, piece-meal approach to the issue. He has, for instance, conjured a “Reorganisation of the Nigeria Police” by creating new zonal commands and de-centralising the FCID. He has expressed confidence that the re-organisation will further bring policing closer to the people and improve police response time. This however is a vain wish oozing from a cosmetic reform agenda. A constitutional restructuring of the entire police system by way of a bill sent to the National Assembly to reflect the popular yearnings for State and community policing would have more adequately addressed the issues of the mortal inefficiency of the force. Buhari’s token twitches are positioned to postpone Nigeria’s greatness ad infinitum.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.

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