Abubakar Malami, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, recently stirred the hornet’s nest when he told a forum on Constitutionality and Federalism that those who want a wholesale and instantaneous reform of the country’s structure should perish the thought. His statement has expectedly drawn the ire of several commentators, who see it as a deliberate dampener to the long years of agitation for constitutional reform. It is also contrary to the groundswell of support building up for fundamental changes in the country’s political and socio-economic structures.
The AGF’s position is an affront to the sensitivities of many Nigerians who have, over the years, called for these reforms, with justification. The nation’s chief law officer apparently based his position on the assumption, from the 1999 Constitution (as amended), that Nigeria is a federation.
But, the country is not a federation in the true sense of the word. A federation assumes the existence of federating or co-habiting units, which are essentially equal. Instead, what we have in the country since the Unification Decree of 1966 is a centrifugal centre, with the states existing as mere appendages or administrative conveniences. This has been affirmed in every fiscal allocation formula used in the country, which allocates far more resources to the centre than all the states put together, as so-called federating units. There is also the misnomer of recognising a third level of administration (local governments) in the allocation and sharing formula. It is presently 52:26:22 per cent in favour of federal, state and local governments, respectively.
The extant 1999 Constitution has made the Federal Government so powerful that there are presently 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List which the central government can legislate on alone. Whereas, the Concurrent List which gives power of legislation to both the federal and state governments, has only 30 items. This is clearly in conflict with the spirit and letters of a federal constitution. Our skewed federalism, to all intents and purposes, makes the states subservient to the federal government. They are left to grovel, every month, for crumbs from the central government, in a hollow ritual tagged federal allocation meetings.
Surely, this is not an ideal federal arrangement. We believe that it is not the unfortunate situation that the AGF wants the country to retain. It is, however, likely that the AGF intended his remarks as a word of caution. But, whatever his intention, his position came out as presumptuous, tendentious and unbecoming of someone occupying such a high office in the country. It appears that he is living in denial of the nation’s present difficult realities, which are literally strangulating the states and stopping them from achieving their potentials. How long, then, must the country continue on this unhelpful and defeatist path?
Many keen and knowledgeable observers believe that the answer to the present national malaise lies in the reforms that the AGF appears opposed to. The agitation for wholesale constitutional reforms is to align the constitution to the spirit and letters of true federalism, which is the overwhelming desire of many Nigerians. Stifling the calls for constitutional reforms invariably fuels agitations for secession and other forms of dismemberment of the country. Malami, as the number one law officer of the country, cannot feign ignorance of this. Nigeria must be careful not to give room to interests that are inimical to the wellbeing and continued survival of the country as a single, united and prosperous entity.
It should be noted that it is the fear of secessionists that is at the bottom of the agitation for swift and comprehensive constitutional reforms. The country does not really have much time left, as it may be living on borrowed time and taking its luck too far.
All patriots, especially those holding positions of political authority, are well advised to key into the demand for restructuring of the country, and find the courage and will to address it expeditiously.