Not so sir
Since 1966 when the military boys shot their way into office, Nigeria has not been a proper federation. Instead of the strong federating units that the 1963 Constitution bestowed on the country the Khaki boys, in line with their command structure, turned the country into a unitary but not a united nation. Their structure destroyed root and branch the essence and essentials of federalism which experts consider the best form of government for multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural entities like Nigeria.
That search for the kind of federalism that can serve the country well has been on since 1979. We have had three constitutions since then – 1979, 1989, 1999 – and none has been found to be satisfactory because each of them was imposed on the country by the military with its military mind-set. Since then, we have also had three national conferences namely 1995, 2005 and 2014 all of which have attempted to give us a federation that works but we have not yet found the right compass for this journey to a workable federal structure.
It is axiomatic to say that the APC thought it had found the right formula after the PDP’s 18 years of kata-kata governance. It seduced us into voting for it with the gift of Tantalus. In its manifesto, the APC promised to “initiate action to amend our constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states, local governments in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.” In the area of national security in that manifesto the party said it will “begin widespread consultations to amend the constitution to enable state and local governments employ state and community police to address the peculiar needs of each community.”
It is obvious that many parties in Nigeria often put together manifestoes that they believe can woo the voters without examining the implementability of those manifesto items. More than two years after getting into office, the APC is still trying to find the trash can in which it dumped its manifesto. Due to public pressure it has now set up a committee headed by Nasir El Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, to figure out what it actually said or meant to say in its party’s manifesto. We patiently await the outcome of their effort. However, no matter how anyone may choose to interpret the APC manifesto, the bottomline is that it was referring to restructuring Nigeria for workability.
It is therefore a major surprise that in spite of this provision in the party’s manifesto and the separatist agitations in various parts of the country, that the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, would be caught saying that it is those looking for appointment that want restricting. “When they say they want restructuring what they mean is that they want an appointment”, he said. The question to ask the Acting President is: was that provision in the APC manifesto meant simply to hoodwink the people? Was the “change” mantra not an idea for restructuring our poorly structured federation? Does it also mean that those who currently have appointments are possibly benefiting from this dysfunctional state of affairs and are those who want the status quo to remain despite the instalmental excavation of the Nigeria edifice?
The truth, really, is that many of those pushing for restructuring today have been apostles of a fair federation for many years. Such warriors include Ayo Adebanjo, Alani Akinrinade, Olu Falae, A. K. Horsfall, Edwin Clark, Bolaji Akinyemi, Wole Soyinka, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Victor Attah, Jerry Gana, Bola Tinubu, Bisi Akande, Zamami Lekwot and a host of others in the various professions and the academia. Such issues as fiscal federalism, resource control or resource democracy, state police, creation or merger of states, revenue allocation, role of local government, have been discussed from time to time. Many of these people are not even practising politicians or hungry people who are looking for crumbs from the master’s table.
Some of them are beyond being employed or appointed by anybody today because they have had their day in the sun. All they want now is a better future for their children and grandchildren, guaranteed by a workable present. To assume that anyone who wants the country restructured is looking for an appointment is to hit these patriots below the belt. Anybody who does not see that this country is tottering on the edge of the precipice certainly needs a new pair of glasses. In my opinion, we have never come this close to disaster since the civil war ended in 1970. The atmosphere is filled with hate speeches, threats, warnings and violent language. That is why the security agencies are, appropriately, warning people against these incendiary remarks. That is why the Acting President has been holding meetings with different groups of people. That is why ethnic leaders are asking their young Turks to step on the brakes and not fire on all cylinders. These are ominous signs that must not escape our notice.
During the Biafran War there was a famous broadcast impresario on the Biafran side. He had a fabulous voice and delivered his lines, especially what was called newstalk with a great diction, elocution and eloquence. His name was Okokon Ndem. Even when Biafra had only a few towns left to be taken by Nigeria, Okokon Ndem gave the world the erroneous impression that the Biafrans were winning. On the Nigerian side, there was a man called Okon Atakpo who delivered the news in Efik with great aplomb using memorable proverbs. In countering the lies fabricated by Okokon Ndem, Okon Atakpo used the metaphor of a bird that was being burnt to ashes in the fire but someone said it was doing just fine, fine enough for a delicious dinner. Now the Nigerian bird is burning. It is not roasting well, it is not being readied for suya. If it is allowed to stay in the fire much longer it will vanish. I am sure most Nigerians are hoping that we do not get there. Just hoping is not enough. Insulting those who are asking for a conversation and appropriate action on restructuring is a defeatist approach to problems solving.
I have heard people say that the reason the senators shot down devolution of powers is that some of them want to be Presidents and Vice Presidents so the concentrated powers at the centre is their aphrodisiac. Secondly, if powers of the Federal Government are reduced the areas of legislation by the senators will also be considerably reduced. This will mean that there will be fewer federal institutions over which they will have oversight authority. Reduced oversight institutions will mean reduced “stomach infrastructure.” Would these be the reasons for their failure to do the needful in the light of the present fissures? I don’t know. However, the basic fact is that they did not even consult their constituencies on these important issues.
Neither did they hold public hearings on them. The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, says that some of the decisions may still be revisited. This means that they did not give themselves time to think through these unfortunate decisions. How could they, for instance, seek to impose more burden on INEC by giving it the extra assignment of conducting local government elections, thus making the centre more bloated? How could they, for instance, seek to make local governments a federating unit when they should only be part of a state’s governance architecture? In fact, the 1999 constitution is quite clear on that. In chapter 1 section 2 subsection 2 it states: “Nigeria shall be a federation consisting of states and a Federal Capital Territory.” The Senators seem to be confused about the role that local governments should play in the scheme of things.
Local governments should be the responsibility of states, not federal. Some states want to create local governments but cannot because the 774 local governments are listed in the Constitution. Please delete them from the Constitution so that states that want to create local governments can do so. The present problem is that local governments receive revenue from the Federal Government. But each state has a ministry of local government. Local governments are local and should belong to state governments. ALGON has been campaigning for years for autonomy.
Where in the world does that model come from in a federation? Local governments do not have the manpower and material resources to run another big bureaucracy. Even if they have that is a waste of resources. When states find it difficult to stand on their feet how does anyone expect any local government to survive on its own steam? Even the largess that they receive from the Federal Government what do they do with it? Who audits their books, the federal or state governments?
I believe the Nigerian people owe themselves a duty to poke their noses into this constitution repackaging. We have been blaming the military for the flaws in the last three constitutions. The military is not involved in this one. Our elected representatives in the Executive and Legislative arms are the architects of this one. If we simply stand and state and do not make our voices heard we may wake up late and find that we have been given a dud cheque again.