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Regionalism: Pseudo federalism, the bane of Nigeria democracy




Though, the need to return to regional government of the First Republic has been in the front burners across the length and breadth of the country in the recent times, many political analysts, who spoke with The Guardian, have said government should address the contending issues that have brought up the thought.

Professor Samuel Egwu, a professor of Political Economy and Development Studies of the Department of Political Science, University of Jos, said there is, no doubt, that many Nigerians have a sense of nostalgia because of the progress Nigeria made in the First Republic in the context of constitutional Federalism that stimulated a healthy competition between the existing regions that built on their comparative advantage and relative resource endowments to meet the peculiar needs of their people.

“This feeling of return to that arrangement informs demands for “true” federalism even though there is no such as thing as “true” federalism. Federalism is based on the principle of non-centralisation of power, which is desired by plural and multi-ethnic or multi-cultural societies. More often than not, the distribution of power between the central and sub-national level is never fixed and it is determined by the nature of elite interests at every point in time. So, what we had in the first Republic represented the evolution of our federal system as determined by the regions that were created in our march to independence,” he said.

Egwu added, “what happened to our federal system later needs to be explained in terms of the fear of powerful regions that the civil war experience created and the fact that the military was in power. So, partly to curb the powers of regions and the threats to national unity, and partly, as a reflection of the organizational ethos of the military, states were created in place of regions. The consequence today is a powerful centre and states that are not fiscally viable and have become appendages of the centre. The evidence of non-viability of the present federal structure comes into bold relief with the declining oil revenue and the inability for the states to fulfill the expectations of citizens in terms of stimulating economic growth and distribution of welfare. The fact that corruption undermines the capacity of the states to deliver is another matter altogether.”

He said, “we must recognise the dilemma. The states are certainly not viable and yet people are demanding for more states, as was the case during the 2014 National Conference when at the height of confusion 18 new states were recommended. What this means is that there is elite interests fueled by narrow interests that promotes the idea of additional states even in the face of evidence of non-viability. It is an interest you cannot simply wish away in the same sense that there will be resistance in any attempt to dissolve local governments. You can imagine the level of resistance to dissolve any of the 36 states into a regional framework. My understanding is that while there are good reasons to propose return to regionalism, the political reality today is a major obstacle.”

The don continued, “in fact, the salience of this political interest was demonstrated during the 2014 National Conference when proposal for regionalism by Southwest delegates was overwhelmingly defeated. The fall back proposal to recognize the six-geo-political zones in the constitution was also fiercely resisted. More importantly, geopolitical zones that are not ethnically monolithic will resist the temptation of returning to regionalism because of past experience of minority oppression with the regions of the first Republic. That is the problem. So, the only viable option and which is more realistic is to tinker with the present federal arrangement by transferring more powers and resources to the states in a deliberate effort to bring about constitutional re-engineering a federal system that meets the local desires for a strong state government. This however does not mean that all the lamentations will end unless we are willing as citizens and civil society to fight corruption and reduce the cost of governance.”

According to Abdulmalik Ardo, a political affairs analyst, “if not for the saving grace of the military in 1966, Nigeria would have been totally truncated, manacled and ruined and forgotten as a country, because the regions were so strong with a weak centre to the extent that it had no control over the regions.”

Ardo said the idea of those who fought for independence was to have a strong, united Nigeria, in spite of the diverse ethnic nationalities.

“Why we find ourselves in this economic crunch is because of massive corruption which appears to be legalised in all sectors of human endeavour. During the period Nigeria practised regionalism, the leaders then did not engage themselves in primitive accumulation of wealth. They were after service to humanity.

“Yet, because of political differences, the system did not last. For me, I do not think that the solution to Nigerian economic problem is going back to regionalism, but rather, it is all about strengthening and building institutions through autonomy to enable them to work effectively.”

Ardo said, “We have the anti-graft agencies, the judiciary, the security, the legislature and the bureaucracy (executive arm of government).

The centre is strong and accumulates almost all the wealth.”

According to him, “I reject in strong terms the idea of returning to regionalism because it toes the same line with those who are now calling for resource control like the Niger Delta region. Issue of control is about management.”

The Member of House of Representatives representing Ilaje/Ese-Odo
Federal Constituency, Hon. Kolade Victor Akinjo, while reacting to some of the issues causing face-off between the state and the Federal Government, especially, on the exclusive right of the Federal Government on security and demand for state police, which is one of the fringe benefits of regional government, said: “Not only state police will any right progressive be agitating for but a right thinking progressive will be advocating for true federalism.”

Akinjo said the demand shouldn’t be limited to meretricious values attached to regionalism, but “a true federalism that is based on competitive state/sub-regions, a true federalism that is based on resource control and resource management; not just jumping to Abuja to be looking for what to share.”

He said: “The population of this country is growing geometrically and our resources are also growing arithmetically. We have a responsibility as a nation to ensure that we define this country based on the component members. Those of us who came together to say that as a nation we want to be a nation, we are components of the nation; and Federalism is based on so many things.”

The lawmaker also identified the errors in the kind of Federalism practised in the country, saying, “if we copy the Federalism of America. We cannot do otherwise. We cannot give a cake and expect to collect anything back. Federalism is all about allowing the component units of those places to have their own autonomy on their own basis, competing for development and ensuring that they place people first.

“This is the problem: as long as you run this country on a very wrong model, an absurd model, we cannot get result,” he said.

According to him: “A model is good when an executive chairman is elected, he must get all the resources to be able to power his administration and that is the autonomy of the local government. You don’t find that in this country and that accounts for the challenge we have as a nation.”

Akinjo said those in the corridor of power at the Federal and state levels are responsible for the failure of the Nigeria-kind of Federalism, enjoining all stakeholders to harness efforts on how to salvage the adulterated system of federalism in the country in the good interest of the masses.

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