This house shall not fall
In a rather perverse way, the law of unintended consequences may give MASSOB a victory of sorts. Its militant agitation that invited the equally militant response by the Arewa Youths giving the Igbo until October this year to leave the north, may force the Nigerian state to finally and honestly confront its many demons.
Two developments last week point to this possibility. First was the statement by the Forum of APC governors in support of restructuring the country. The second was a powerful and passionate statement by former President Ibrahim Babangida in which he, for the first time, offered us his unequivocal support for restructuring.
I do not intend to place greater importance on these two statements than a plethora of similar statements by other prominent Nigerians who believe, with good reasons, that restructuring or even re-restructuring may end the endless agitations for the remaking of Nigeria and, God being so kind, pull us back from the brink. However, the point about this development is that if we put them together with other statements, they represent the collective informed views of informed Nigerians on how best to confront the demons hacking at the trunk of the Nigerian state. And that is not bad for a nation in permanent and perpetual conflict with itself.
The state governors, until now, never responded to MASSOB and the Arewa Youths as a group. Nor can I remember their collective response at any time to the raging debate on restructuring or true federalism. Their isolated condemnations of MASSOB and the Arewa Youths speak rather poorly of their sense of responsibility as leaders. If Ayo Fayose, governor of Ekiti State, is to be believed, the PDP governors too support restructuring. Good.
If this is an indication of the new sense of national responsibility on the part of the governors, then we should welcome it and hope it marks a watershed in their generally mealy-mouthed contributions to national debates on issues that agitate us as a country and as a people.
Is movement about to replace the sit down look motion? Keep your fingers crossed.
The APC governors said that “No separate Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Tiv or any individual ethnic group can fulfil the aspirations of its members or stand the test of time.” How true.
They went on to argue that “Democratic governance offers Nigeria the rare opportunity to reconfigure the Nigerian state to become truly federal democracy that meets the aspirations of our citizens in which fiscal and political autonomy at sub-national level co-exist without tension with a strong national government capable of being a mirror of its constituent elements.”
There is nothing particularly new or profound in their argument. Other Nigerians have repeatedly made the same argument, some in more trenchant or inebriated form. But truth restated a million times does not hurt or turn it into untruth. I find nothing wrong in their decision, in the face of the current crisis, to restate the facts as we all know them. Perhaps doing so would force ears to listen and the brain to commit itself to exploring the available avenues for a solution. After all, it is the business of the governors to quench to prevent it from becoming a conflagration with dire consequences for them and all of us. Perish the thought.
The problem with the governors’ reaction is that they failed to define the nature of the restructuring they have in mind. This is important because people who have contributed to the debate seem to have different ideas about what should be done to free this nation from the stifling military federalism imposed on it through years of military dictatorship.
I do not intend to deal with Babangida’s exhortatory statement. He spoke like a leader who cannot ignore his role in calming the current tempest in which our ship of state is being sadly tossed about. He warned and he pleaded with those who think beating the drums of war is macho to spare a thought for a nation that went through 30 months of a bloody civil war that left its pain and trauma on many families.
In the context of this column, I will only deal with the part of his statement on restructuring. In the general’s view, restructuring should effect the following critical changes in our constitutional government: Devolution of power to the states; the adoption of state police and making roads the business of states, thus ending the current division of roads into federal and states. In other words, all roads, inter- and intra-state, must be built and maintained by the states. Splendid. Spare a thought for your vehicles on state-constructed and maintained roads.
Quite frankly, I did not know this was a problem with our federalism. And I do not think it is. The United States of America is the world’s best example of a workable federalism. I do not believe dividing responsibilities on roads between federal and state roads has ever been considered a calculated undermining of true federalism.
I am afraid Babangida did not go far enough in dealing with the critical issues of a workable federalism that either have eluded us or we have ignored at our deferred peril. A critical element in best practices in federalism is the fiscal autonomy of the constituent states of the federation. The pathetic sight of the states trooping to Abuja each month to share what the Federal Government collected on their behalf, is not evidence of a workable federalism. It is evidence of dependent federalism. I wonder why the general was silent on this basic element of true federalism.
Lagos is today the only viable of the 36 states. It is reputedly the fifth largest economy on the continent. The rest of the states are poor and struggling. Take away the crude oil earnings, and most of them would become history. Remember what Chief Awolowo said they were? Glorified local governments.
The general also said nothing about the local governments being the business of the Federal Governments. He was our first ruler to make the local governments the business of the Federal Government. He created local government areas each time he created new states. He made their funding the business of the Federal Government, hence they feature in the revenue allocation formula. I thought he should have given a thought to reverting the local governments to the states and removing them as part of the revenue allocation formula. This would accord with a restructured federation.
The late Professor Tekena Tamuno, former vice-chancellor of the University of Ibadan, once said, “Federalism, as I understand it, is that form of government where the component units of a political organisation participate in sharing power and functions in a co-operative manner.”
But in our case, dubbed military federalism by Professor Isawa Elaigwu, the component units do not share “power and functions in a co-operative manner.” They are dictated to from the centre. Devolution of power is the bedrock of true federalism. The military regimes systematically grabbed the functions of the constituent units of the federation and ignored the need to devolve power to the states.
Anyone interested in the power grab at the centre would do well to check the exclusive and the concurrent legislative lists. In the 1963 constitution there were 45 items on the exclusive legislative list and 29 in the concurrent list. In the 1979 constitution birthed by the military, the exclusive legislative ballooned to 68 and the concurrent list had 30 items. In the current 1999 constitution we have 67 and 30 items in the exclusive and concurrent lists respectively. See?
As the misguided youths beat the drums, let us look on the bright side. It is a good thing that at least, we are all beginning to agree that the Nigerian federation, both its physical structure and the nature and practice of its federalism, is stifling, to say the least, to the aspirations of its constituent units. No federation, however, structured or restructured, can escape basic respect for the peculiar nature of, and best practices in federalism. It is foolish to expect the Nigerian federation to continue to limp along, burdened by the strange hybrid of military federalism and constitutional democracy.
Let us admit too that the state governors were elected or selected to be part of the solution to the many problems of the Nigerian federation. Truth be told, they constitute the major problems. The many agitations for the creation of more states and which made Jonathan’s conference to recommend the creation of 18 more, are direct consequences of their style of governance, their disinclination to play by the rules or respect the basic tenets of democracy and good governance.
No matter how this country is eventually restructured to let the flowers of democracy bloom, I predict that our progress would still be arrested by the following obstacles:
· Lack of democratic temperament.
· Total disregard for the rule of law.
· The unwillingness of party leaders to play by the rules and their various constitutions.
· The tendency by individuals in positions of power to make themselves more important than the job they were elected or appointed to perform.