Saturday, August 12, 2017 11:56 am
By Segun Gbadegesin
The souring of our national political discourse over the matter of restructuring the quasi-unitary system that the military imposed on the country since 1966 is not in the interest of anyone, whether advocates or foes of restructuring. Name-calling certainly does not help. Threat is counter-productive. There is no viable substitute for an adult discourse that privileges rationality over emotion no matter the depth of passion that the latter invokes.
On the other hand, however, the state of the debate is a true reflection of who we are: true offspring of our founding fathers. They did not initially zero in on federalism. They had robust debates, sometimes inflamed with ruinous rhetoric, including, yes, name-calling! Threats of withdrawal from the union were made by all sides. But in the end, it was reason that prevailed and won initial opponents of federalism to the side of its advocates. The leaders saw the wisdom in the federal option, they embraced it and made the best of it. Indeed, shortly after the motion for independence was passed in 1957, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, who would later be named Prime Minister of the new nation, celebrated the choice of the federal system for the new nation in the following words:
“But to me the most important result of the constitutional changes in 1954 was the introduction of a federal form of government for Nigeria—a system which I had advocated as far back as 1948 in the old Legislative Council. I am pleased to see that we are now all agreed that the federal system is, under present conditions, the only sure basis on which Nigeria can remain united. We must recognise our diversity and the peculiar conditions under which the different tribal (sic) communities live in this country. To us in Nigeria therefore unity in diversity is a source of great strength, and we must do all in our power to see that this federal system of government is strengthened and maintained.”
A few years later after independence, the all-powerful forces of human nature invaded the system. Instead of strengthening the federal system, they subjected it to series of assaults. Those who sought to strengthen the system were treated as pariahs and for their intransigence, they were made to pay a heavy price, including long-term incarceration.
Its lopsided nature was the first major concern for the strength of the federation. From 1954 to 1960, there was nothing resembling a common national identity beside the occupation of a common territory. Political parties were formed based on regional and ethnic identities. An obvious population imbalance between the three regions meant that in a parliamentary system, the region whose census figure was more than double that of the other two can expect to rule the country in perpetuity. Obviously too, if the unity of the new country was the consensual vision of its leadership, this kind of imbalance needed to be addressed for the sake of a more perfect union.
Working for a more perfect federal union which accommodated diversity without jeopardising the goal of unity was the rationale of the agitation for the creation of more regions and especially for drawing the boundaries of regions to coincide with linguistic identities, which Chief Obafemi Awolowo championed. It was what attracted ethnic minorities to his political philosophy. Unfortunately, it was what irritated his fellow political leaders, especially the great Ahmadu Bello and Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa both of whom had been staunchly in favour of true federalism and regional autonomy. The idea that the North can be broken up into more regions was unacceptable to them. And it did not happen even when the Midwest was carved out of the Western Region.
The rebalancing of the federation, which political leaders failed to do, the Gowon military administration accomplished with the creation of 12 states. However, this was after the federal constitution had been suspended and the system had been unitarised to conform with the military ideal of unity without diversity.
The 1963 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria opened with the following preamble:
“Having firmly resolved to establish the Federal Republic of Nigeria, with a view to ensuring the unity of our people and faith in our fatherland, for the purpose of promoting inter-African co-operation and solidarity, in order to ensure world peace and international understanding, and so as to further the ends of liberty, equality and justice both in our country and in the world at large, we the people of Nigeria, by our representatives here in Parliament assembled, do hereby declare, enact and give to ourselves the following Constitution….:”
That made the 1963 Constitution the first and last sincere declaration on behalf of the people by their representatives. It was a federal constitution that respected the diversity of the country, acknowledged the right of regions to have their own constitutions, and accommodated their rights and responsibilities in the running of the country with the establishment of exclusive and concurrent legislative lists. Since then, every military constitution that has parroted the language of the 1963 preamble has been a bogus lie. But it is not just the lie that makes those constitutions intolerable as the foundation of our union, it is also because they have proved incongruent with the aspirations of the teeming population of the nation.
First, the fact that states have become mere appendages to the central government makes it impossible for them to effectively promote the interests of their residents. This is especially with regards to their responsibility for the social and economic welfare of their citizens. Whereas the 1963 revenue formula prioritises the interests of regions vis-à-vis the allocation of revenue, the 1999 formula reverses this in favour of the central government. In real terms, since states are closer to the people than the central government, they are better placed to know and promote the people’s social and economic well-being than the central government. Therefore, it stands to reason that more revenue be available to states/regions.
Second, the security interests of regions/states have been compromised with the pivot of the 1999 Constitution to the central government in the matter of the institution of the police. It has become clear that the Nigeria Police is incapable of securing the totality of the country. The upsurge in criminal activities, including kidnapping, cultism and armed robbery is an incontrovertible evidence. But the Constitution has apparently barred states from establishing their own police. It is unclear which interest is more important—the abstract interest of the state in unity or the concrete interest of citizens in security.
Third, the radical change from an emphasis on regional autonomy which respects diversity and healthy competition to state dependency which objectifies uniformity has been a mockery of the practice of federalism. It is more so when the change was not wrought through a democratic consensus but with the fiat of an unelected military junta which pretended that it knew better than an overwhelming majority of citizens what was good for the country. That majority has relentlessly voiced its concern for the direction that the military has taken the country and has demanded a return to a true federal structure.
Fourth, while the creation of states has made government closer to the people than the former regions, it is also clear that the balkanisation that state creation represents has made the states weaker vis-à-vis the centre. Whereas the regions were almost self-sufficient in their economic needs, the states have proven incapable of satisfying the yearnings of their people.
These are the reasons for the call for a return to regional structure. Human nature being what it is, this has not gone down well with those who have benefitted from the current system even if it is not working for all. It is clear, however, that we must come up with a creative approach to our governance structure. To this end, almost every zone of the federation has championed voluntary regional integration. While those efforts are commendable, they are not a substitute for a formal process that recognises the challenge of a wobbly system and summons courage to fix it.
Credit: The Nation