by Opeyemi Agbaje
Nigeria’s current political and constitutional status quo is clearly and evidently unsustainable and the cries of “marginalization”, “secession”, “true federalism” and “sharia”; as well as abject socio-economic conditions of poverty, unemployment, rural misery and neglect, decrepit infrastructure and urban slums, militancy, insurrection and widespread insecurity being experienced all over Nigeria are symptoms of the nation’s critical dysfunctionality.
The status quo is not an option and the nation must heed calls for “restructuring” or else serious problems may lie in the horizon. We must restructure Nigeria to re-establish the principles of federalism as our founding fathers freely decided in the negotiations that led to independence. That federal ideal was subverted by the military as they sought to transform Nigeria into a unitary state which now undermines Nigeria’s unity, stability and development. The alternative to a proactive embrace of “restructuring” may be ruinous to the Nigerian state!
With particular reference to the Yorubas of Western Nigeria, we recognize that it is not a mere co-incidence that our modern golden age was the period during which we enjoyed relative autonomy over our own affairs under a democratic, regional government and federal constitution under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and later Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, until that era was truncated by military rule.
It is not simply an accident of history that Cocoa House remains the tallest building in Ibadan; that Liberty Stadium,one of the most modern sporting edifices in the world when it was built, now lies desolate; that the Western Region which built the first television station in Africa, well before many European nations at the time does not now have any world-class broadcast media; that the wonderful University of Ife built by the Western Region government in 1962 is now simply another broken federal institution; and that our public education system lies in ruin with our young men and women unable to get the right skills and jobs!!! Without the freedom and autonomy to run our affairs, all of Nigeria has descended to a lowest common denominator of mediocrity, corruption, ignorance, idleness, disease, insecurity, under-development and dysfunction!
The required restructuring of Nigeria is essentially to restore our federal structure and will involve devolution of powers back to the states or regions and drastic reduction of the matters contained in the exclusive legislative list in our constitution (which are restricted to the federal government) with more matters returning to the concurrent list (where federal and state/regional powers coexist) and residual powers reserved for the states.
It would involve re-establishing fiscal federalism based on the principle of derivation including modifying the revenue allocation formula in favour of regions and states consistent with devolution of powers, and restoring state powers over sales tax (or VAT), inland waterways except the few that traverse two or more states, solid minerals and other matters best suited to state control. Matters like electricity transmission, ports and harbours and railways should become concurrent matters in which both regional/state and federal authorities can co-exist.
The absurdity in which state legislatures can create crimes but state governments which have primary responsibility for law and order within their states do not have any mechanism for enforcing their laws would be rectified with the legalization of state police.
There is no sensible rationale or justification for listing local governments in a federal constitution-there should be only two or three tiers of government as is the global practice in federal constitutions-the federal, regional and state governments. We should reject the subtle attempt to recognize local governments as a third-tier of government under the guise of “LG Autonomy” and view this attempt as a mischievous attempt to drive the nail in the coffin of Nigerian federalism.
It is a strategy of “divide and rule…and conquer” which will finally destroy the concept of regions or states as federating units in Nigeria and foster a situation in which through movements of population, political control of any local government anywhere in the country can be achieved! In effect, “LG Autonomy” would turn out to be a strategy for achieving de facto “colonies” all over Nigeria!!!
The Yoruba people unanimously decided at the historic Yoruba Summit of September 7, 2017 at Adamasingba, Ibadan on federalism encompassing a six-region federal structure with federal, regional and state governments; regional constitutions, with power to create local governments vested in the states; and a revenue allocation formula weighted in favour of the states and regions.
The Summit also unanimously agreed on a significantly narrower exclusive legislative list. There are strong economic arguments in favour of returning to a regional system of government based on the defacto six geo-political zones of South-West, South-South, South-East, North-Central, North-West and North-East with adjustments based on the wishes of the population in any local government or state as may be ascertained through a referendum or plebiscite.
There are also economic arguments in favour of rationalizing the current excessively high cost of governance by returning to a parliamentary system of government at the federal, regional or state levels.
A system in which only one set of elections into parliament are conducted; and then ministers are selected from elected parliamentarians as practiced in the first republic is cost-efficient, and more democratic and legitimate, and would strengthen our democracy. The practice of appointing persons who are unknown to the electorate as ministers or commissioners perpetuates corruption and distances government from the people who are the essence of democracy.
As I wrote earlier, the calls for secession from “Biafra”; the calls for Sharia in the Muslim North-West and North-East; the grumbles in the Middle-Belt of Nigeria which is getting more intense with the killings by Fulani herdsmen; the unrest and militancy in the Niger-Delta; and the unceasing calls for “true federalism” in Western Nigeria are evidence that the status quo is unsustainable and about to collapse.
The vision of a unitary Nigeria in which a minority seek to establish a permanent hegemony over the nation will not succeed and has produced only a corrupt, unproductive, unstable and disunited nation. It has produced “boko haram” in the North-East; sabotage and militancy in the Niger-Delta; widespread poverty, illiteracy and tens of millions of children outside schools in the North-West and North-East; murderous conflicts between Fulani herdsmen and farmers and indigenes across the whole country and particularly in the North-Central; disgruntlement in the South-West; and growing calls for secession and independence in the South-East.
In the whole of Nigeria, all that unitarism has generated is poverty, unemployment, inequality, a massive infrastructure deficit and socio-political crises. There can be no justification for proceeding further on this path to ruin!
*This article is the final instalment of a three-part series on the Yoruba Nation and the Quest to Re-establish Federalism in Nigeria.
by Opeyemi Agbaje