“If a country is bilingual or multi-lingual, the constitution must be federal….Any experiment with a unitary constitution in a multi-lingual country must fail in the long run. I predict that every multi-lingual or multi-national country with a unitary constitution must either eventually have a federal constitution based on the principles which I have enunciated, or disintegrate, or be perennially afflicted with disharmony and instability”- Obafemi Awolowo
As I begin the third instalment of my piece, I must raise a caveat. My arguments for fairer and better political structures do not affirm that the end to all of our problems is in sight. On the contrary, it is the beginning of our quest to finding meaning to our existence as a people. In critiquing our political modality, two issues are mostly up to address; they are management of people and leadership. In negotiating the terms of our existence as a collective, the focus is mainly on managing better the resources (man and others) of the nation to guaranteeing fairer and more equitable access to governance. It will not solve our leadership crisis. In fact, I believe it will accentuate it. However, in restructuring, we ask, what are the clear goals we have set for ourselves, putting into consideration our circumstances, history and peoples? Will this anticipated organizational structure ensure clearer understanding of the responsibilities to the people in terms of delivery of better governmental services, improved and sounder policies that improve the lot of Nigerian peoples? Does this envisaged organization impel the exploration of the numerous potentials in our nation or stifle it? In essence, the question Socrates posed as being the totality of all ethical postulations is on point in whatever exertions we engage in, which is, “how must we live?”
Let me state in concrete terms that my conviction in decentralization of powers for effective governance is not just a regurgitation of federalism as preached by western democracies. It is based on the realities and evolution of Nigeria with her historical appurtenances. History is affirming its nature. It stares at us with venomous audacity, reenacting its previously written script. Karl Marx once said history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. So it was in 1966, so it is in 2017. There is a feeling of de javu arising from our current experience. Agitations today are as rife as they were about 51 years ago. These questions were asked in events leading to the Aburi accord, the constitutional conference of 1966, the NADECO movement of early 90s etc. Some men chose at different times to provide solutions to the national question either by recommending its summary execution or by way of restructuring or referendum. The Adaka Isaac Boro movement for Ijaw emancipation of 1966, the Biafra war of secession of 1967-1970, Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta by Asari Dokubo were all modes (albeit questionable) of impugning the character of the Nigerian federation.
With the above background, I shall attempt to answer the question that is; how must we federate? I believe that in properly federating, we are removing the injustice created by the game of geo-politics upon which the current unitarist federalism is anchored. This skewed system has its socio-political and economic implications. Nigeria’s problems are splintered across the geo-political structures of the nation. It reflects also in the almost contrasting beliefs, philosophies, cultures and political expectations of citizens in both the north and south. This gargantuan headache is made worse by the numerous religious and tribal representations. So as one problem is eradicated, another becomes prominent. Immediately Boko Haram brutal decimation of compatriots in the north appeared to have petered out, the Fulani murderous campaigns across the nation took over. From these, it is obvious unitarism cannot handle and accommodate the vast yearnings, expectations and responsibilities of all interests by the use of iron, force or military fiat. Now this socio-political problem worsens the economic conditions of the people as geography of politics in Nigeria is anchored on politics of geography and not productivity, talent and resourcefulness. What occurs is that those who have the power are either lazy or lacking the intellectual and ideological depth to use the power for the growth of their people, and those who do not are unable to engage their talents and resources for their benefits. Both tragedies climax to the disadvantage of the people. The inequity in power sharing has led to inequality of states and peoples. In this animal farm, some animals are more equal than others. The structurally superior are also intrinsically deficient in resources, knowledge, ideas and values. Citizens are therefore cramped in the same box of disillusionment in this dystopia no matter their location. It has led to the collision of alters of centrifugal and centripetal forces. Therefore, a structure that will distribute power equitably amongst interests in the nation is the solution. The dynamism of the people and their land can only be handled by the dynamism of structure that can protect dynamic interests. Structures and institutions that acknowledge and accommodate the diversity of Nigerian peoples, with philosophical and ideological ballast that maintain the durability of a people. No nation of Nigeria’s size can be maintained by fiat. Otto Bismark, the great Prussian and superb visionary, forged old Germany with iron and force (a tact needed at the time), She was to battle at various times with agitations from different interests of Austria-Hungarian origin, Alsace-Lorraine provenance, Poles, even Schleswig Holstein, Russian and French interests coalesced and colluded to ensuring the gradual balkanization of Germany. The defeat of the intemperate Hitler in World War 2 finally led to the bifurcation of the State to West and East Germany in 1945. Not until they promulgated a new charter in 1990 championed by Helmut Kohl were they truly reunified. Meanwhile, much ink was spilt on the difference between nations and nation-states, on whether Germany was “bi-national” or “post-national,” and whether or not a “cultural nation” could encompass two German states. Their history and the reality of their diversity were put into consideration in fashioning a new structure for the nation. Robust debates were held on the fate of the nation. Inputs were made by Christian Democratic Union, Liberal Democratic Party of Germany, representatives of about 7 civil society groups, Evangelical and Catholic Churches etc to structuring the new Germany. All this culminated in the promulgation of the “Wiedervereinigungsvertrag” (Reunification Treaty). People were involved and their diversity was put into consideration in articulating the terms of their existence. Therefore, Nigeria might have been birthed in 1960, but she needs a different elixir for the challenges of the moment. There is an urgent need to ensure a bottom up integration of Nigerians which can only be guaranteed by principled federalism.
In understanding the challenges of our federalism, Dr. Tunji Olaopa’s article; Getting the discourse on Nigeria’s Federalism Right: Further Thoughts, published in the Nations Newspaper, on June 25, 2017 is on point wherein he stated that “in the Nigerian case, the core issues which have not been cogently addressed sufficiently to give federalism a bite include (a) the number of the federating units (b) fiscal issues in the relationship between the federating units (c) the schedule of functions that ought to divide the relevant responsibilities in a way that makes a federal state really federal (d) the dynamics of party politics and the electoral system that regulates the political parties and their jostling for power (e) inter-governmental relations etc”. The issues raised by him do not necessarily totalize the ailments of Nigerian federalism, but they do represent the major problems. I state, matter-of-factly, that subsets of our nation that we call states are the worst structured anywhere in the world. They are substantially without autonomy. The constitution gives them powers under the concurrent list which by the word itself means they only hold such power not exclusively to themselves, but only exercisable when it does not conflict with the powers of the federal government. Now, here is the heart of the whole matter. States are fettered and restrained from providing basic needs for their inhabitants. They cannot exercise full powers to explore their resources since they only get thirteen per cent of accrued benefits, they cannot generate power exclusively for their states as all energy generated must be sent to the national grid, majority of revenues are remitted to the federation’s account; a single account that encourages unproductive states to share from a pool of resources from their more productive counterparts, they owe little or no fiscal responsibilities to their people and vice versa, they cannot establish their own police or security apparatus to protect lives and properties they swore to provide etc. Their responsibilities to the federation and their citizens are so unclear as to be appallingly nebulous. They are full of mendicant governors who are so bereft of well chewed ideologies and the needed ideational leitmotif to power the vessel of state with robust economic policies, people centred programmes and audacity to dare and dream a better tomorrow. In plastering over these obvious cracks, all forms of dissension in the form of ethnic induced economic sabotage, class motivated wrangles, are met with unsustainable palliatives. Niger Delta has the Niger Delta Commission to assuage its dissentients, North East has its own commission, South East also wants a commission, while other regions are preparing their briefs of arguments for modalities they believe counteract this structure and assure a fair share of the national pie. The reality is there for us to see. There is an urgent need to rectify this badly arranged federation. Let each state or locality develop at its own pace and in accordance with its talent and decisions. There is a need to emplace a productive economy anchored on resourcefulness not numbers.
Every move towards civilization, civility, prosperity and better ways of life must be intentional and well executed. No nation on earth prospers without a charter agreed to by diverse interests. A house divided against itself cannot stand. It is high time we repudiated the current unitary mode of federating as it serves no purpose to the nation generally, and the people specifically. I dare state that nowhere in history have a people been subjected to institutional tyranny orchestrated by kith and kin as they are in Nigeria. In an enormously vast nation of diverse peoples with differing lifestyles and world views, it is only logical to give to its component units more powers to exercise for their benefits. This allays fears of domination by other competing groups, which are exactly the problems we are currently facing. Every single ethnic group arrived Nigeria with different historical baggage. A principled federalism will give people a sense of belonging which is currently lacking in our nation. We do not need to deceive ourselves. Nigeria is still a myth; it is not real to Nigerians. She is still considered a historical tragedy. People cannot be mollified by the mouthing of “one Nigeria” and “Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable”. Rhetoric cannot deflect existential crisis. Patriotism is not a mere concept; it is a spirit that must be cultivated. The articles of our union must be amended to ensure true and principled federalism that guarantee inclusiveness of all Nigerians. As Chinua Achebe stated; unity is only as good as the purpose for which it exists
A federalism that ensures a virile, united, prosperous, and progressive Nigeria where justice, equality, equity, mutual regard and equal chances are guaranteed to all Nigerian peoples irrespective of ethnic, tribal, religious leanings under the supremacy of the rule of law superintending the affairs of the people without favour or nepotism. This must be what we aspire to. This must be the goal worth fighting for. It is no pipe dream. It is only what we believe that we are empowered to become.
Micah S. Babarinde