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How to resolve ethnic agitations in Nigeria – Olaopa

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Dr. Olaopa is executive vice-chairman, Ibadan School of Government & Public Policy (ISGPP).

A political scientist and public administrator, Dr. Tunji Olaopa has said devolution of more powers to states and local governments; regionalising the six geo-political zones; reviewing the federal character principle and decentralizing anti-corruption strategy and policing will proffer solutions to the Nigerian problems.

The renowned public crusader said these are the five basic ways through which Nigeria could be restructured, if it hopes to effectively and immediately douse the tension of ethnic militia groups that have been persistently calling for the balkanization of the country.

The Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), came up with the suggestions in a paper he presented at a conference by the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NPISS), Kuru yesterday.

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Addressing the topic titled: “Re-federalizing Nigeria and the Challenge of Innovative Governance,” Olaopa posited that devolving more powers, particularly to the local governments will enhance the ability of the third tier of government to address peculiar governance needs, while the development will also relieve the Federal Government of its heavy burden.

Underscoring the importance of regionalising the six geo-political zones for economic prosperity, Olaopa said, “Regionalism devolves critical autonomies to the federating units in any federation. While the regional arrangement of the First Republic may have been long compromised, I am strongly convinced that the six pragmatically expedient geopolitical zones in Nigeria could serve as the launch pad for instigating an economically vibrant development rivalry that constituted the core of the regionalism of the immediate post-independence period.”

He noted that the present structure of an overburdened centre struggling to carry 36 viable and unviable states, does not have the capacity to maximize the significant gains of a genuine fiscal federalism.

According to him, “The re-federalizing logic in this case is therefore founded on a simple principle: Political restructuring as a precondition for economic prosperity. In other words, Nigeria needs to leverage on political and economic dimensions for making the regional idea work.

“The political dimension requires transforming the six geopolitical zones into regions made up of states and local governments. The economic dimension requires leveraging the comparative advantages of each region as the source of development.

“While agriculture will definitely constitute a developmental common denominator across the region, as a counterpoint to the mono-economic domination of crude oil, each region can then be allowed to explore and exploit its peculiar economic advantage, especially in mineral resources. In this context, the subsidiary principle serves a singularly developmental purpose. The Federal Government is therefore compelled, by this principle, to hands off those matters that the local government can best oversee.”

While arguing that the federal character principle is beautiful for a plural society like Nigeria, Olaopa submitted that its application has been abused to the effect that merit is constantly sacrificed to the disadvantage of the country.

On the need to decentralize the anti-corruption strategy and policing, the public administrator said centralization of anti-corruption fight “paradoxically makes the Federal Government both too powerful but then too weak to adequately fight corruption and unleash development energies.”

According to him, “The Federal Government becomes powerful because the strategy for fighting corruption is centralised in the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

“But this centralized strategy immediately reveals the weakest point of the anti-corruption campaign: the multitude of cases concentrated at one point ensures that the campaign will never move forward. We are, therefore, confronted with the imperative of decentralizing the anti-corruption laws, regulations and policies in a manner that reposes legal capabilities in states and local government as junctures of justifiable actions.”

Emphasizing the need for multi-level policing, Olaopa said: “One growing sign of Nigeria’s underdevelopment is its multiple security challenges demonstrated by kidnapping, terrorism and insurgency, armed robbery, and sundry criminal activities, which a central policing strategy has no hope of ever arresting.

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“This is all the more so because some of these security challenges have regional locus, like that of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, and kidnapping in the South-Eastern part, with criminal militancy manifesting in the South-South. Thus, while we have debated the bad points of multilevel policing, I suspect it is high time we began critical interrogating its many crucial advantages.”

Pointing out the fact that the country could not continue to pay lip service to the current structure, Olaopa said, “At the level we are now, it is no longer sufficient to pay lip service to Nigeria’s federal status. We have played that national rhetorical game for far too long.

“And yet, we have equally put in too much energies and struggles into arriving at Nigeria’s democratic status not to make her development work. Re-federalising the Nigerian state simply implies redeeming the historical mistake that has impeded Nigeria’s national development for too long. I believe strongly that these five elements could serve as the point of departure in terms of policy activism for moving the Nigerian state forward.”


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Tunji Olaopa
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