Buhari and the Federal Question
THAT Nigeria has been bedevilled by numerous problems is not in debate. All these problems are rooted in source: a negation or even destruction of the structural foundation of the country which ought to be a genuine federalism. It is, therefore, expected of the new Muhammadu Buhari administration to correct this once and for all as doing so holds the key to removing the country from the vicious cycle of underdevelopment and conflict.
A very good beginning towards a genuine federal Nigeria would be the adoption of the report of the last National Conference which, though not perfect, is nonetheless good enough. Federalism has been variously defined.
Some see it intriguingly as a centralising ideology in terms of the desire for cooperation, unity and for overcoming separatist impulses.
Others see it as embracing all the principles that are operational in a federation or a cluster of techniques to achieve a balance between mutual independence and interdependence. It is an institutional government in which sovereignty is shared among subordinate units.
These definitions converge in that understanding of federalism as division of power between central and regional governments in a manner that provides mutual independence in their respective spheres.
It speaks synchronisation and non-centralisation. In sum, the federal principle is often successfully employed to organise and manage diversity.
When nature and situation have so contrived to put different people with distinct linguistic and cultural inclinations together in one territory, the best and most efficient polity is a federation, which is the practical realisation of the federal principles.
These principles have found expression in countries like Switzerland which operates a collegiate system; Austria’s segmented autonomy, and in Ethiopia’s much valorised right to secession of the federating units.
In Nigeria’s case, boundaries and fault-lines have been clearly defined. Abiding in this diversity is an opportunity for compromise and bargain and for growth and development. Federalism begins with a bargain and is sustained by bargain.
The nation’s founding fathers worked assiduously for the federal principle beginning from the all Nigerian Constitutional Conference of 1950 held in Ibadan and were subsequently in the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954.
However, the problem with Nigeria is that its federation today is a distortion, bottling up the creative capacity of the units as opposed to what was already evinced in the regional governments operational before the military coup d’état of 1966.
Excessive modification of Nigeria’s federal principles since the first military coup, especially the Unification Decree 34 of May 29, 1966 promulgated by the Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi administration sounded the death knell of Nigeria’s federation.
The subsequent entrenchment of centralism and atomisation of the federal character of Nigeria buried the idea. Indeed, what obtains in the country today is anything but federalism. The coordinate and independent principles had been consigned to the rubbish bin of history.
And rather than promote the healthy competition of the regional governments, it has promoted centralism which has, over the years, been de-empowering for the units of the federation reducing them to unitary appendages of an all-powerful centre.
The net effect has been the promotion of sectional agenda with its attendant irredentism and conflictual outcomes that undermine the polity and retard development.
In response to the dysfunctionality of a truncated federal experiment, various governments from Yakubu Gowon to the immediate past Goodluck Jonathan administration, have had to convene national conferences, spawning remedial provisions to right the wrongs of the country to no avail due largely to the absence of political will to do so. Again, a historical opportunity beckons now to restore the federal essentiality of Nigeria.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) prioritises the restoration of the federal principle to the affairs of the country. I
n its constitution, it states that it will “initiate action to amend the Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibility to states and local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.” Nigerians will hold the ruling party to its words.
There is no gainsaying that Nigeria is a complex one because we are a country of many nations characterised by complex diversities. Each federating unit must have its constitution and should chart its own course of development. The country was stronger when power was de-centralised.
The current central behemoth known as the Federal Government of Nigeria has continued to hold the country down, undermine the creative energy of the people and promote poverty with the non-exploitation of resources for development.
It will do the central government a great deal of good to divest itself of tasks/duties that necessarily ought to be within the ambit of states or the federal units.
The burden, nay contradiction, can be felt today. The centralisation of salary is such that many states are not able to pay. As has been observed, the country runs a ‘feeding bottle’ federalism. What is needed now are federating units that are independent and fiscally responsible.
The last national conference report contains clauses that should be the starting point for the journey to a just, prosperous and united federal Nigeria. The Buhari administration must accept that report and adopt its recommendations.