The APC, Nigeria and federalism
The report of a committee of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which has recommended the devolution of powers, resource control, state police, amongst others, is likely to be one of the clearest demonstrations of political progress in this country, when implemented. For a country fixated on a dubious heritage of military-imposed unitarism and its attendant complications, the recommendations of the APC have rightfully called to question Nigeria’s long and treacherous practice of its own contrived form of federalism. As if in response to The Guardian’s many editorials which have consistently insisted on the necessity of federalism and taxed the ruling APC to live up to its promise of change, the panel has come up with proposals for the truthful implementation which should see Nigeria on the path of unity, prosperity and progress.
While the APC has earned the applause of Nigerians with these recommendations, the party and its leaders should be told in clear terms that implementation processes must be set in motion without delay. The future of Nigeria and her democracy depends on it.
Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, who led the APC committee at the presentation of the report to the John Oyegun-led National Working Committee of the party, affirmed that the committee recommended some constitutional amendments to be implemented. According to him, the argument for proposing the establishment of state police and devolution of powers in the country’s federal system was hinged on the premise that: “We all come from different histories, different cultures, different administrative systems, and we believe that the constitution should ensure that there is a democratic local government in every state.” On the committee’s recommendation for resource control, El-Rufai stated: “We have proposed that mining, mineral, oil should go to the states.”
This, of course, is a very cheering revelation, for it is about the first time, since 1956, that such recommendations of utmost national import would be made. Despite the fact that no party has ever done this, these recommendations are coming after years of denials and needless vacillation by the ruling party.
Even though the report’s component on restructuring conflicts with President Muhammadu Buhari’s rejection of restructuring, the proposals contained in the panel report are not new to the APC and should not be seen to be so. They are consistent with the provisions of the manifesto of the ruling party. In that all-embracing manifesto, APC promised Nigerians that, if voted into office, it would amongst other things, “initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving power, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit.”
The APC manifesto also stated that, upon assumption in office, the party would “begin widespread consultations to amend the Constitution to enable States and Local Governments to employ State and Community Police to address the peculiar needs of the community; …ensure full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act so that government-held data sets can be requested and used by the media and the public at large, and then published on regular basis.”
Now that certain aspects of the manifesto have been recommended for implementation by the APC’s own committee, the party must wriggle itself out of the nearly three years of arrogant dilly-dallying, mediocre grandstanding and unimpressive performance; and implement the recommendations to the latter.
And there are cogent reasons APC must do this.
Firstly, by putting forward the proposals, the party has demonstrated that it has a clear understanding of what restructuring means. The party has come to understand, as this newspaper has stated on several occasions, that federalism subsists on restructuring; that political issues are diverse, relative to peculiar problems of this diversity, and would require different types of institutions to address them; and that it is outdated and inconsistent with the realities of the diversity of, and socio-economic mobility within Nigeria to continuously maintain a strong central government.
Furthermore, since it has come to understand the dynamics of restructuring, the APC is compelled to implement the recommendations because it controls both the executive and the legislative arms of government. In other words, as it stands, the party cannot be impeded by executive and legislative constraints from carrying out the implementation of the recommendations, if it so desires. Providentially, all this is coming at a time the National Assembly is contemplating amendment of the Constitution.
Moreover, the much desired ‘fixing’ of the country, which the APC has called its main national project, would not be realised without restructuring. If the government, as saddled as it is with enormous responsibilities, would have to fix the hydra-headed problem of insecurity, fight searing corruption, revamp a dwindling economy, and address political instability arising from perceivable injustice, it is unthinkable how it could do them without devolution of powers, resource control and the establishment of state and community police. If in nearly 19 years of democratic rule, a centrist government that appropriates all the powers and responsibilities of catering to small and big tasks is at a loss about how to resolve problems of non-productive educational system, healthcare delivery, and the power sector, what alternative does it have that has not been explored?
Above all, the implementation of the recommendations would bring about a dramatic change in the country for the better, for it would make further provisions for states to manage their own resources themselves. For instance, should a federating unit be endowed with some natural resources, proceeds from those resources, after appropriate government tax has been deducted, accrues to that federating unit, as was the practice in the First Republic. The viability of this system of resource management and control lies in the principle of justice operative in the practice. The greatest force that can bring about peaceful co-existence and relationship in an aggregation of multi-ethno-linguistic, multi-religious and multi-cultural peoples, is the act of fairness in sharing of resources of that geographical entity in which they belong.
By this principle of resource control and resource sharing, the Federal Government would have enough resources to carry out its superintending role of inter-governmental co-ordination, while the federating units would control sufficient resources to secure group determination to develop, to prevent fear of domination, to impede imperialism and promote patriotism. In the long run, it would be a win-win situation for both the central government and the states or federating units.
One of the fundamental lessons to be learnt from the APC exercise is that, contrary to popular thinking that actionable proposals that put Nigeria’s unity and federalism to test cannot be addressed peacefully, it is now clear that such issues can be settled without violence and acrimony. These proposals attest to the fact that a federation of this size, with its polyvalent system and structure, can change its form without going through a civil war. In other words, Nigerians have a capacity to embark upon a peaceful restructuring and still keep Nigeria as a structure.
While the APC deserves commendation for taking this progressive step that Nigerians have clamoured for all these years, it should endeavour to continually assure Nigerians that this is not a ruse or a political gambit geared towards the 2019 elections. What has been made obvious is that the APC is taking the right step to rescue Nigeria from the doldrums. Thus, having found itself in accord with the thinking of well-meaning Nigerians, it would be insulting to the collective sensibilities of Nigerians for anyone to hold the country back by introducing any extraneous device to forestall the implementation of the recommendation.
Consequently, Nigerians must, on their part, hold the APC to task by ensuring that the widely publicized talk about their recommendations is matched by prompt implementation. The continuous reminder of this development must not leave the lips of Nigerians; it should rather be a singsong until implementation is achieved.
All the governors, who have extravagantly advertised their support for restructuring, should mobilize their people to cause APC to act now. Nigerians should tell APC that by committing to act in accordance with its manifesto, the ruling party should know that it would be jeopardizing the chances of peaceful elections in 2019 if the report presented eventually turns out to be a scam. It would be foolhardy, indeed, for anybody to expect election to hold without the implementation of the APC recommendations for restructuring.
To make the implementation comprehensive and realistic, the ruling party should draw technical and intellectual support from well-meaning, progressive non-partisan Nigerians, whose expertise and commitment to national development are highlighted by conviction for success and altruism. It will be devastating to both the party and the country should political contractors turn a lofty idea into a means of immediate personal satisfaction.
This auspicious moment is both a privilege and a second chance for the ruling party to redeem its tainted image. APC must follow the moral path of justice and fairness for peace and progress to reign. Members of Nigeria’s political elite should walk their talk if they do not want the country to disintegrate.
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