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Between Buhari’s ‘true federalism’ rhetoric and pragmatic action

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NASS leader, Saraki. Photo/Twitter/NGRSenate

After many denials and branding of proponents of restructuring many unpalatable names, largely as people who could not articulate what form and manner it should take, President Muhammadu Buhari finally admitted that Nigeria needs true federalism to weather the many storms buffeting it.

Evidently, these storms range from political instability, insecurity, lack of economic growth and unemployment, and overall poor development.

At the recent dinner award held in his honour, Buhari had said, “We remain committed to improving the welfare of the Nigerian people. Your Excellencies, it will be belabouring the point to say that true federalism is necessary at this juncture of our political and democratic evolution.”

Admittedly, many would argue that it takes courage for a man to recant an earlier position after strongly standing against the popular tide. But there are those who would also say that Mr. President is coming to realisation almost too late in the day, after four years in the saddle as president.

To these set of people, the only way to take the president seriously is if he takes practical action henceforth that would see to the implementation of restructuring proposals already on his table, which his own party, All Progressives Congress, delivered to him over two years ago. These could be complemented with ideas from main, non-partisan proponents of true federalism.

In the restructuring proposal, a committee chaired by Kaduna State governor and APC chieftain, Nasir el-Rufai, had submitted a report that recommended four critical measures that capture the entire agitation for restructuring for a truly federal structure.

The aim is to assuage those feeling marginalised in Nigeria’s lopsided ‘federal’ structure, but particularly why development has been slow in coming and, as a development expert, Dr. Jimanze Ego-Alowes postulates, “Nigeria will remain undevelopable the way it is currently architected.”

So, what exactly informs the president’s new thinking on true federalism? Why has he suddenly become a convert to an idea he had dismissed on many occasions? Is there something in the horizon the president has seen that accounts for his 360-degree turnaround?

The first insight into the matter would be that Mr. President has come to realise the starkness of his failure to perform the superman or super hero role he initially ascribed to himself and which his ardent adherents promoted to get him elected and reelected.

From all fronts, Buhari would have realised that his campaign promises have fallen apart like a pack of cards. From his three cardinal campaign promises of security, reviving the economy and fight against corruption, nothing seemed to have worked.

Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara PHOTO: TWITTER/DOGARA


And so from Zamfara State to the president’s home state of Katsina, the country appears to be waging a losing battle against bandits and terrorists who have laid siege on citizens, and the president and his kitchen cabinet remain clueless.

In fact, the spate of insecurity in those two states including Kaduna State is so critical that the traditional rulers have raised concerns about looming hunger as farmers can no longer engage in their legitimate farming activities.

Already, the economy is in tatters. Newly re-nominated Central Bank Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, recently warned that Nigeria’s economy has receded again and that Nigerians should brace for tougher economic times ahead.

For a country barely emerging from one of its worse economic recessions, plunging into yet another one so soon means that the economic managers have either gone to sleep or are bereft of ideas on what else to do. Only recently, Buhari lamented the acute level of poverty plaguing the country with out of school children rising in their numbers.

Perhaps it is only on the fight against corruption that Mr. Buhari may have recorded some gains, which many also contest. But the fight against corruption alone, as Buhari appears to have done all four years, cannot make security and economic problems disappear. So whatever success he has recorded in that area does not stand the administration in good stead in the eyes of Nigerians who are starving and are being killed, maimed, and kidnapped by bandits and terrorists on a daily basis.

So indeed Buhari’s turnaround to embrace true federalism maybe an open admission of his administration’s failure to fulfill his campaign promises. If that is the case, then both Buhari’s administration and the country may be on the path to possible redemption.

Ego-Alowes, author of seminal works on why poor scholarship and not leadership should be blamed for Nigeria’s many developmental problems, noted that Nigeria is fast descending into barbarism in a modern state. He stated Buhari has been forced to recant his earlier stance on federalism because “it is becoming self-evident that the system is not workable and also self-evident that he himself has failed in the superhero, messianic role through which he rode to power”.

He further argued that true federalism is merely a palliative to Nigeria’s problems and that it may only work for a while so long the system is still weighed against the minorities in favour of the big three – Yoruba, Hausa/Fulani and Igbo.

Instead, the author of The Nigeria University-Media Complex canvased, “We copied the American constitution wrongly and in ignorance. What America did, which we should also do, is to go to the minorities in the North and South and make them as big as the majority tribes in the Senate where real power lies.

“The country should be divided into South and North and should produce 12 Senators each to make up a 24-member Senate.

To arrive at this in the South, the Yoruba and Igbo should only produce four Senators each to make eight while all the minorities should also produce four Senators to complete 12 for the South. The same should apply in the North.

This is what America did to balance their ship of state. America gave equal number weights to people not how many states there are. When this is done, we will begin to have real politicians in Nigeria and not dictators. Nigeria merely distributes positions but load power in unequal measures.”

Also, Lt. Colonel Tony Nyiam (rtd) said it’s about time for true federalism in Nigeria, adding that Buhari’s recanting has direct relationship with recurring insecurity and the 1999 constitution, which has inbuilt traps that undermine the basis of federalism. He commended Buhari for recognizing June 12, renewing of Central Bank’s governor tenure and admitting to the need for true federalism.

According to him, “I’ve been saying it since 1990 that until we return Nigeria back to true federalism we can’t develop. The only legacy Buhari can bequeath to himself and country is true federalism, to allow the people have freedom.

“What is happening in Zamfara, Katsina and the entire North is class war. The talakawas/almajiris are not ready to be used any more by the greedy elite in the north to rig elections for them and fight the people in the South. They are fighting back at the system that created them.

“Those they used to fight as political tugs have turned around to haunt them. National security crisis is more intense in the North. The poor are never given a chance to education and the good life; people who have been used to fight Arewa’s cause in the South are now fighting their masters. Buhari can’t but wake up to these facts.

“These attacks will continue unless we restore Nigeria back to true federalism. Federalism has an inbuilt system that guides towards security. The police we have now is a force of occupation, and so not acceptable to the people; it’s a negation of civic policing.”

Nyiam further noted that Buhari is not a frivolous man and must mean the true federalism he canvased and work towards actualizing it. He therefore advised him to form a council of 36 wise men and women drawn from the 36 states of the country who would sit in the six geo-zones and finally in Abuja to make deliberations. He advised the wise men and women to use the 2014 national conference report, with two other conference documents since the 1970s, including the 1960 and 1963 constitutions as guide to arrive at a working constitutional document for the country.

Nyiam also said members of this council should work pro-bono and only be provided with accommodation and should be drawn from the major socio-cultural groupings across the country, including civil society groups and other eminent Nigerians to fashion out a working document for the country.

On the other hand, latest developments in the Northwest, particularly from the neglected economic activities fueling the banditry, may have partly informed Mr. President’s new thinking regarding true federalism as the solution to Nigeria’s dire socio-economic problems.

With gold already being mined in commercial quantities in Zamfara and Kano States, although mostly illegally, Buhari and his handlers may have realised that the North has enough mineral resources to sustain the region.

What this means also is that the North could do without the oil minerals from the South that has sustained the country till date and a source of pollution and agitation in the affected region.

In other words, economic gloom and doom for the North may have been wrongly diagonised in the light of the new reality from illegal mineral mining in Kano and Zamfara States.

This reasoning may have buoyed Mr. President to begin the needed introspection as to the possibility of engaging in true federalism talk.

Perhaps, Mr. President and his handlers may have begun to appreciate the true value in restructuring proposals that have consistently affirmed that every region or state in Nigeria has one natural resource or the other to sustain it economically apart from the negected agricultural endowments.

But Nyiam dismissed such reasoning, saying there is always reason to expect good from people. He stuck to the ravaging insecurity as essential reason for Buhari’s change of mind. He noted that conservatives were usually the best people to bring about change, citing the instance of Margaret Thatcher of Britain who forced independence in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

Like Nyiam, many Nigerians have pointed at the 1999 constitution as basis for Nigeria’s current crisis, noting that the document is anti-people and unless it is reworked it would continue to stunt the country’s growth and development.

Indeed, Senator Olusola Adeyeye’s outburst some time on the floor of the Senate may have prompted Buhari in recanting his earlier position.

Adeyeye pointed at the disingenuous manner the constitution is framed such that it engenders paralysis on state actors, particularly state governments that would have taken developmental actions in their states but cannot because of the limits it exacts on them.

Senator Adeyeye said the 1999 constitution negates the fundamental principles on which it is constructed, namely the guaranteeing of national peace, unity, progress, and protection of lives and property and the good life for the citizenry.

According to Adeyeye, “This constitution can never give us progress; this constitution can never give us peace; this constitution can never give us unity. This constitution has 68 items on the exclusive list, but it has only 12 on the concurrent list, but they are written so nebulously, so fraudulently that they are written to undermine anyone attempting to act on them.”

In agreeing with Senator Adeyeye’s critical submission, a group in the Niger Delta, the Lower Niger Congress, led by legal luminary and playwright, Mr. Fred Agbeyegbe as president, said, “This means that only the Federal Government in Abuja has the constitutional right to make laws regarding as many as 68 items that relate to the average Nigerian’s existential needs. The 36 state legislatures have no legal powers to deal with all the 68 items in the federal exclusive legislative list.

Most important, constituents of the 36 states, who are the actual owners of Nigeria’s sovereignty, have no constitutional authority to use the state legislature closer to home to make laws that can affect the common man’s livelihood.

“Even the registration of businesses, corporations, associations, etc. must be done only by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) located in Abuja, for example.

“Commonsense informs, even the most skeptical, that until the imposed 1999 Constitution is jettisoned with its 67-item Exclusive Legislative List, Nigeria and its citizenry are condemned to perpetual insecurity, unemployment, mass poverty and associated nonstop bloodshed. It is discouraging that not many, even among the members of the National Assembly, were present to hear their fellow legislator’s presentation on this very fundamental matter on nation-building.

“Without a constitution made by and agreed to by the country’s constituent stakeholders, Nigeria has no basis to promising national unity, peace and progress to its citizenry.

As if to prove this point, Nigeria has known no unity of purpose, peace and visible socioeconomic progress aimed at uplifting the standard of living of the average citizen, despite politicians’ pledge to provide the masses with the ‘dividends of democracy’.


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