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True federalism momentum for Nigeria

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(Photo by SODIQ ADELAKUN / AFP)

In the light of conflicting and often confusing claims and counterclaims on how our nearly 60-year old Republic can achieve stability, make real progress and stand the test of time, we once again urge a revisit to the very nature of federalism, which was reinforced on us in 1967 in the aftermath of the Biafran declaration of secession. The ruling military junta then led by General Yakubu Gowon also decreed a command and control structure on the country to successfully prosecute the war. Trouble began for federalism in 1963 when the Federal Government imposed a state of emergency on Western Region. And the Aguiyi Ironsi’s military government consolidated this in 1966 with a Unification Decree 34, which annulled all vestiges of federalism that had hitherto delivered development to the then regions through fiscal federalism.

By a stroke of the pen nearly seven years of regionalism as the basis of national coexistence was totally jettisoned. And it was tragic that by the time the war ended, successive military regimes did not deem it fit to return to true federalism because a quasi-federal system favoured the dictatorial temper of the military.

This has been a constant source of worry for compatriots who object to the skewed federal system currently in place that this newspaper has consistently commented on.

As we note the other day, it is gratifying to note that President Muhammadu Buhari who had been speaking in tongues on federalism has shown uncommon understanding and has even spoken to the context of true federalism while talking specifically to the governors elected on the platform of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). We are reinforcing this momentum as more stakeholders are jumping on to the bandwagon since the president showed the remarkable support to the strategic political project.

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For, across the world and in extant literature on the subject, federalist principles are clear and encoded, though each country adapts these principles to suit the exigencies of its cultural and historical experiences. The Federal Republic of Nigeria is about the people of the country. It is not about the governments at different levels that seem to be so immorally disconnected and somewhat insulated and detached from the biting socio-economic realities of our environment.

If the primacy of the people in a democracy is the philosophical underpinning of federalism then we can assert that the leaders and rulers in the nation’s capital have woefully failed the people. This is tragic and negates the very principle of accountability and consultation to listen to the harrowing experiences, which the people live with on a daily basis. Security, which ought to be in the hands of locals is placed on the exclusive list. Economic and monetary policies of the Federal Government do not reflect the wishes of the constituent parts of the federation.

Indeed, the federal authorities treat the states like vassals or subordinates who must be controlled from the deceptive comfort of Aso Presidential Villa. Alienation has become the order of the day. Nowhere is this manifested now as in the threatening security situation, which we have in our hands. The Federal Government appears to be overwhelmed by the onslaught of savages against the very basis of Nigerian unity. Whereas a nation with a thinking cap would begin to think of ways of ameliorating the crisis through innovative thinking. The Federal Government of Africa’s most populous nation offers no glimmer of hope as it is stuck in its antiquated methods. This scenario has promoted a dangerous narrative – that the widespread attacks on individuals and communities are a prelude to a takeover of the country by extremist forces masked by religion. This is a dangerous perception. Added to this is a deep return to primordial cleavages, which we thought we had overcome in the last six odd decades.

It is against this background that we urge an urgent return to the federal structure, ethos and practice of the pre-civil war era. We may not abolish the states; but we do need constituent parts that are financially and economically viable. Thus each part of the federation should be allowed to harness the natural resources in its territory and pay royalties to the centre. This can be achieved constitutionally by removing mineral resources exploration from the exclusive list. Also, policing should be removed from the exclusive list and transferred to the concurrent list. This way the Federal Government can concentrate fully on securing the territorial integrity of the nation and manage the economy properly.

Compatriots are indeed worried that the Federal Government continues to keep its fingers on the secondary schools education pie. A nation that is seriously concerned with development would not allow its federal authorities alone to run secondary schools and universities.

True federalism encourages concentration on development of specific target areas. Each part of the federation will be expected to develop areas in which it has comparative advantage. The much-proclaimed ‘unity in diversity’ would be fully achieved. In the First Republic, cocoa, grains and palm oil were recorded as the mainstay of the three regions of the country. Competition was healthy and productive. The regional governments worked on programmes and infrastructure that were needed in their territories. They even maintained offices outside the country and could conduct business without the rather inhibiting approval of the Federal Government. The truth is that the current pace of development is slow and unsteady. We need to adopt another method.

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It must be reiterated that true federalism will be a win-win situation for everyone in the country. It will be recalled that the north fared better in the old federal structure than it does now. This is because there was individual development arising from business opportunities that were offered by the existing economic arrangements. No one waited for the monthly ritual of sharing money before payment of salaries and meeting other obligations.

There are about three documents, which the Federal Government could avail itself of if the spirit is willing. These are the 2014 National Confab Report, which made far-reaching recommendations on the polity; the APC set-up El Rufai Committee report, which also detailed how the federation should be governed, and the latest report on police reforms by the NHRC through the Tony Ojukwu-led Committee that was submitted to the government about a fortnight ago. Fortunately, the president hinted at a buy-in on tinkering with the structure of the country. This is the time to walk the talk. The nation needs to practise fiscal federalism for the overall benefits of the Nigerian and the survival of the country.

Finally, we call on the President and the National Assembly to seize the day and restore Nigeria to the path to true federalism. By creating state police, introducing fiscal federalism, placing exploration of mineral resources on the concurrent list, and devolving power to the constituent parts the Federal Government would free itself of the excess burdens it currently bears and stimulate the states into unleashing their full potential. This should be the starting point of the change that has been advertised but has become a mirage. Any change model that is not anchored on how to restore true federalism we lost will still not be able to deliver any good to the people.

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