I am pleased to be here in Nigeria in the run-up to next year’s elections. It is an incredibly important time for the country, and I have seen the passion of the people first hand during my visit. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest, and one of its most vibrant democracies. It has made huge progress in…
Last week, we discussed war and the evils associated with it. This week, we shall continue our discourse on the subject, with a view of averting or preventing same, through restructuring of our lopsided federalism. On this note, we shall consider these sub-topics: Why we must not take Nigeria’s unity for granted. Why this cry for urgent restructuring? Federalism as a concept and why the 2014 National Conference report must be implemented.
We must not take Nigeria’s unity for granted
We must not take Nigeria’s unity and indivisibility for granted. The present agitations for self-determination or quit notices given by various ethnic groups (IPOB, MASSOB, OPC, Arewa youths, Niger Deltans, etc); the present crisis of confidence, ethno-religious crisis, Agatu, herdsmen, kidnapping, robbery, terrorism, Boko Haram, murderers, Southern Kaduna, hired assassins, etc, are but symptoms of a larger malaise: Lopsided and inequitable system of allocation and distribution of scarce national resources, leading to eerie feelings of utmost marginalisation, suppression, oppression, repression and subjugation. The simple answer is that we need to go back to the pre-January 1966 true fiscal federalism template that we operated. The over 600 recommendations of the distinguished Nigerian patriots, men, women and the youth, from all works and strata of life of 2014 National Conference, must be immediately retrieved by this government from the archives where they are gathering dust and spider cobwebs, put on the front burner, and utilised meticulously for the purpose of re-engineering, retooling and reformatting this Nigerian contraption that is still not working. The Nigerian fault lines are all too obvious.
One Nigerian official – I usually prefer to discuss issues and institutions, not names or individuals, for I believe in building strong institutions, not strong men and women – this one Nigerian official, woke up one day and imperiously justified the consignment of these laudable recommendations to the vehicle of historical oblivion. What was his justification? He said the entire conference was designed to “give jobs to the boys”. Holy Moses!!! He was, like the present government, looking at the messenger, rather than the message. Job for the boys, in the best ever organised conference that attracted the most illustrious sons and daughters of Nigeria? A conference that attracted the vibrant youth, first class monarchs, Organised Private Sector, Civil Society, the academia, Diplomatic Corps, Diasporans, professional bodies, ethnic nationalities, political parties, physically challenged persons, socio-cultural organisations, retired leading jurists, elder statesmen and women, military, police and market men and women? Kai! Haba!!
Why do I say we should not take Nigeria’s unity for granted, and that we must nurture our unity jealously with the manure of mutual respect, socio-economic justice, fairness, equity and egalitarianism? Simple. Great nations of the world have been known to break up, at times, violently. In 2000, Chief Anthony Enahoro, advocating for a national conference, or even a confederal system of government (which the late Dr. Tunji Braithwaite also anchored, but failed to push through at the 2014 conference), once said:
“A Country at the turbulent cross-roads of its existence such as ours has no viable option but to find radical, innovative solution to its problems. We must not fear radicalism or radical ideas.”
More recently, former vice president, Atiku Abubarkar, in very measured words, intoned:
“Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country. In short, it has not served Nigeria well, and at the risk of reproach, it has not served my part of the country, the North well. The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in the light of governance and economic challenges facing us. And the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation.”
So, who is afraid of restructuring and why? Are we to insist, that, in spite of the self-evident in equity, volatility and schisms in the Nigerian project, we must be glued to the British imperial conquest and bifurcations of the glorious times of Consul John Beecroft (1849), King Perekule (King Pepple) (1860s), Jaja of Opobo, Madam Tinubu, Nana Olomu of Itsekiri (1894), and Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (nemesis of the British that led to its punitive expedition of 1897)? Are we cursed as a nation, that we cannot allow a wind of change to breathe fresh air into our apparently blocked nostrils, and stimulate, with the invigorating elixir and tonic of life, our tired muscles?
Why this cry for urgent restructuring? Nations that broke up
My recommendation for urgent restructuring, devolution of powers from the centre to the federating units, enthronement of true fiscal federalism, all of which the National Conference argued, fought for, disagreed, agreed on and finally consensualised upon, between its inauguration by former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, on March 17, 2014, to August 14, 2014, is to avoid a war and violent break-up of Nigeria. It has happened before elsewhere. We must be guided by history. President Buhari got it wrong when he stated that our unity is not negotiable. It is. Even God Almighty allows us the latitude to negotiate whether to go to heaven or to hell.
At the start of the 20th Century, only about a few dozen independent states existed on the planet earth. Today, there are approximately 196 nations in existence.
Former Czechoslovakia broke up in 1992 into two, Czech Republic to the West, and Slovakia to the East. Yugoslavia is nothing but a product of the break-up of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in the aftermath of the First World War. After this, Marshall Josip Tito’s iron grip, internal tensions and rival nationalism in 1992, led to a civil war, which split the country vertically and horizontally into six smaller nations -Bosnia, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The once powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire had disintegrated into Austria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Some parts went to Romania; others to Italy; yet some other parts went to Poland. The Ottoman Empire that once stretched from Morocco to the Sudan, from Hungary to the Persian Gulf for over 600 years broke up in November 1922. The once powerful USSR (the bulwark of Marxist startinism), had an anti-climatic collapse in 1991, into 15 politically distinct entities-Uzbekistan, Latvia, Moldovia, Estonia, Armenia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Azerbajan, Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyztan, Turkmenistan and Kuzakhstan.
India, Pakistan and Bangladesh were once one country, just like Ethiopia and Eritrea; and more recently, like Sudan and Southern Sudan. So, let me warn, once more: Let us not take our unity and indivisibility for granted. By the way, what is this true federalism we are talking about and clamouring for?
Federalism as a concept
Federalism as a concept is best suited for Nigeria, which is a nation of diverse histories, cultures, languages, peoples, ethnic nationalities and religions. Federalism allows states to be co-ordinate, yet independent of one another and of the central government. The government misses the point when she predicates Nigeria’s existence on an unbalanced tripod of the three major ethnic groups-Igbo, Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba. What place is there for the other 374 ethnic groups as found by Professor Onigu Otite, a professor emeritus of Sociology? Or 470 ethnic nationalities, according to Banguma; or 394 ethnic groups (Hoffman); or between 550 and 619 groups (Wente Lukas). These ethnic groups speak about 520 languages out of which nine are now extinct. In India, there are 22 official languages and 1,652 languages in all. Although the 28 countries across the world that generally practise federalism have no single super model, yet certain irreducible minimum requirements must be met to term a model federalist:
• Federalism unites diverse, disparate people, but supports distinct, pluralistic identities. Thus while uniting the people into an entity, it permits their heterogeneity, without eroding the distinct identities of the federating units. For example, Federalism allows me to remain a Weppa Wanno, Etsako and Afenmai man and be recognised and respected as such by all ethnic groups in Nigeria, including the bigger ones. My identity cannot be subsumed into another ethnic group, just as other Nigerians cannot subsume theirs into mine.
• It allows a division of powers, functions and legislative powers between a central government and the federating units, with none weak enough to be trampled upon; or strong enough to ride slipshod on the others.
• Each of the central and federating units perform within the sphere of influence constitutionally devolved on it, without any interfering with, or usurping the powers of another.
• Federalism encourages healthy competition amongst the federating units, thus serving as a veritable tool for nation building.
• In a true federal set up, each unit is allowed to develop its resources, utilise same, develop its institutions, move according to its pace and prioritise its needs and the ways and means of achieving them. No unit dictates to another as to how it should carry out its affairs.
Why the 2014 National Conference report must be implemented.
There are several reasons the 2014 National Conference Report must be implemented by this government. Indeed, Nigeria is forever politicking, rather than governing. Elections are already coming. Are you shocked? Wait till December, 2017. The recommendations must form the gravamen, the lynchpin and the pivot around which the entire campaigns and manifestoes of the various political parties and office seekers must articulate. If Nigeria is not restructured before then.
• The first reason is that there has never before been a conference of the plenitude, amplitude, depth, breadth, weight, magnitude, capacity, loftiness, plurality, accomplishment, patriotism, openness, transparency and intellectual fecundity as witnessed in the conferees of the 2014 National Conference. I can attest to this, at least, since my participation at the 2005 National Political Conference (Civil Society delegate, and chairman of the Sub-committee on Civil Society, Media, Labour and Trade Unions); the Vision 2020 of 2009 (as Federal Government delegate in the law, justice and judiciary thematic area); and the 2014 National Conference into which Almighty God personally gatecrashed me, as a Federal Government delegate (Addendum), by repelling people who had oxymoronically tried to cover the sun with their palm.
• The resolutions taken at the Conference were voluntarily and consensually reached and passed by all delegates at the Conference, without compulsion. When these resolutions are implemented, they are capable of taking Nigeria to a higher altitude, to be one of the greatest countries on the face of planet earth.
To be continued
Thought for the week
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – John F. Kennedy