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Getting the discourse on Nigeria’s federalism right: Further thoughts (2)

The centre possesses some undue and overbearing dominance grounded in the Exclusive List which makes the federal government the centralizing standard in all critical areas of national endeavour. However, this entrenched centralisation requires an urgent decentralizing reform. This implies a serious redirection away from an undue centralization grounded through the creation of common national denominators and standards in education, health, agriculture and mineral exploitation. This national unitary practice does not give room for a genuine rivalry around the competitive advantage each region possesses. Decentralization is central to a genuine federalism. It involves the proper devolution of power, functions and responsibilities to the three tiers of government in a way that will facilitate concurrent development according to regional capacities.

I have hitherto argued for the regionalization of the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria. But we need to add a significant caveat which states that a constitutional reform is nothing without a complementary governance and political reform. In other words, restructuring goes beyond lip service to a deep-seated political reform that will institutionalize extensive dynamics of good governance at the three tiers of government. This requires a serious cleanup of our debilitating governance practices that, for instance, leaves the local government councils not as significant site of democratic governance but as “sharing centres” for greedy politicians.

The same kind of reform must equally undermine the capacity of state governors to be “sole administrators” with no critical governance vision and implementation capacity for good policies. One critical dimension of the decentralizing imperative requires rethinking the local governments as the most critical site for a bottom up reform of the imperatives of democratic governance, especially in terms of democratic service delivery to the citizenry. In this sense, the subsidiarity principle serves a huge governance function.

The principle, when applied to democratic governance, simply insists that in a federal setting, there must be a constitutional provision that is hinged around subsidiarity function. This implies that the central government must perform only those functions that cannot be devolved effectively to the local government. This is crucial not only because subsidiarity backstopped decentralization and devolution of powers, but essentially because the principle is founded on the necessity of generating a welfare dynamics that reaches to the heart of the grassroots where the people are. Governance cannot be said to be good if it fails to capture the welfare aspirations of the people. Thus, a governance framework that enshrines the subsidiarity principle has equally captured the federalism tenets as well as the democratic imperative.

However, a good governance framework that acts on the principle of subsidiarity also owes a lot to the reform of party politics in Nigeria.

A political party is known by its capacity to ideologically deploy power to the welfare of the populace. A party that does not operate according to the dictate of an empowering ideology therefore becomes not only democratically ineffective but also futile as a good governance instigator. We therefore become immediately aware of the democratic consequence of Nigerian politicians moving seamlessly and opportunistically from one political party to another without any ideological compulsion which perfectly explains why Nigeria’s electioneering campaigns have been individual- rather than issue-focused; why our political culture has been marred by zero-sum, do-or-die politicking; and why money stands at the centre of politics.

An ideology-based politicking has a lot to contribute to the evolution of a mature and developmental political culture in Nigeria. Essentially, it is from ideology that some sense of governance specificities derive. Thus, both the Republicans and the Democrats love the United States, but they love her differently based on the specifics of their party ideologies. Nigerian political parties have no ideological frame, on the contrary, and hence could not manage the challenges of governance in a way that makes democracy efficient for development.

In my last intervention on this issue, I championed a principle of political restructuring as a precondition for economic prosperity. This has been at the centre of my re-federalizing reform for Nigeria for a while. Nigeria needs to leverage on a 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 government.

The economic dimension requires leveraging the comparative advantages of each region as the source of development. This reform principle grounds the transformation of the governance framework in Nigeria solely on the revival of local governance, especially around agriculture as the most common, but critically neglected, common denominator in Nigeria. Agriculture has remained under the shadow of crude oil for too long, and has thus contributed its own debilitation to the imbalance in governance.

This puts some enormous pressure on the constitution, and especially the political elites to initiate the crucial negotiations that could move Nigeria’s governance imperative forward. The elites owe Nigeria this much.          

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Editor, Online: Ikenna Emewu
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