By Durojaiye Pirisola
Let me first thank your organisation for giving me the privilege to ‘air’ this article in your widely read newspaper.
This write up is not to dispute the need for a national dialogue- it is long overdue. I will cast my vote for one at this juncture in spite of ‘histories’ of several conferences whose reports are gathering dust in some of the shelves in the seat of power.
After all, war or bloodshed has not been known to achieve any long-lasting peace- ultimately those that survived have always come to a round table to discuss. When you make peaceful change difficult, you may make violent one inevitable.
We as a nation have had enough bloodshed in various forms including civil war, ethnic clashes, political assassinations- mostly unresolved, ritual killings, kidnapping, armed robbery, road traffic accidents resulting from bad roads, avoidable deaths as a result of poor health care deliveries, etc.
Our political field, labour markets, economic and business climate have been turned to another theatre of ‘survival of the fittest’ or rather survival of the most highly connected in our evolution as a nation.
I want to point clearly early in this piece, that my vote will always go for an indivisible, one geographic entity called ‘Nigeria’ which I believed the Creator permitted the colonial masters to put together so that the black race could have a sort of base from which they could have a pride of place in the ‘comity of races’. Our disintegration will be a big blow to the only ‘virtue’ we have today as the most populous homogenous concentration of black-skinned/hair race on the earth.
I will not dwell much on the modality this conference should take- the committee set up by Mr President is made of intelligent and experienced people most of whom have been long-time advocate of such a conference.
As per the sovereignty of the conference I will vote for the decisions arrived at to be sovereign and binding as long as our corporate existence as a nation is not put on line.
Let us discuss first on how to govern our self with equity and justice in this conference and leave the decision regarding our corporate existence for another day!
However, on the modality I will suggest a ‘bottom- up’ discussion. What do I mean? Let the discussion start from Local government level, then to State, followed by geopolitical regions and finally at the centre.
At the local government level, each of the various constituencies/dialectical group could get representative(s) to discuss, from which local government representatives will be selected to present their resolutions at the state level.
At the state level, the resolutions will be harmonized and representative(s) will be selected to present ‘state resolution’ at the geopolitical regional level from where the resolution representing the final position of each geopolitical region is drafted and presented at the federal level.
At this level (federal), agreement on various issues will be binding on all as long as 2/3 of regions agreed on such issue. At the end, the final resolution could be subjected to a national referendum for ratification by a simple majority from 2/3 of the regions. The final one should then lead to the drafting of a new constitution either by amending the present one to accommodate the resolutions or by making a brand new one.
The Structure of the Nigerian federation.
My suggestions are drawn from the’ spirit’ of the lessons in the Holy Bible and practices in the developed countries.
A nation was formed from one man. Jacob (later called Israel) had 12 male children from four women. It is instructive to know that in spite of the fact that they were from the same father, speaking the same language, God still instructed them to be governed like a federation. Each of the tribe (except Levi) had particular geographic areas allocated to them; each controlled the resources and pay 10% to the Levites (who performed various services on behalf of the nation) and later contributions to the central ‘theocratico-monarchial’ government; each have its own army/security etc.
Drawing from the above I will vote for an arrangement that will give a form of autonomy to various dialectical entities that constitute this nation from local government, state, region, up to the federal level. I will suggest the following:
1. A central government (for which I will suggest) a Presidential system of government with a unicameral legislature. The presidency will consist of 1 President and Commander in Chief and 2 vice presidents- 1 each from the Northern and southern protectorates; 1st VP will be from the opposite protectorate from the President, but in the case of death of the President, the 2nd (from same side with the president) will complete the President’s tenure. The Presidency will be rotated between South and north alternately after the maximum allowable two terms which should be retained.
I will suggest central government to take charge of our armed forces, central Bank and currency, Central Supreme Court, federal Police (which will be drawn equally from the federating units and only have bases in all major cosmopolitan cities to respond to inter-regional conflicts), Custom, and our international affairs. The present strength of our house of Senate could be retained as the unicameral legislative arm with members elected full time, but equally drafted from various federating units with equal numbers from the two protectorates that was amalgamated 100 years ago. Details could be worked out later.
2. Federating units: Present six geopolitical zones could be made the federating units. I will however advocate a Parliamentary system of government for the regions- akin to practices in the UK. Two houses for the regions. The elected house of parliament will consist of full time elected representatives- the party with the majority will form the government of the region headed by regional Prime Minister and the rest as opposition/government in waiting. Second house will resemble the House of Lords in UK where members would be drawn from elder statesmen/women, traditional rulers, clergy, trade union, student bodies, professional bodies, civil societies etc. However they would only be entitled to sitting allowances pro-rata, and the power will be similar to the house of Lord in UK. The ceremonial head (Governor General) of the regions could be elected by each regional houses of Lord. Each region should control its own police; have regional high court and courts of appeal. The regional police should be headed by the regional Inspector General to be appointed by the regional Prime minister on recommendation of the Regional Police commission consisting of people of integrity partly drawn from the house of Lord and First Ministers of each state.
3. Present states structures will continue to exist in different form, headed by an elected leader who will be a member of the regional parliament but also the first minister of each state- not an executive governor. The first Ministers will only have power like a regional minister/commissioner- akin to the present ‘minister of Niger delta’. Details of the responsibilities of the First Ministers can be worked out.
4. Local governments will be directly the responsibility of the Regional government and SHOULD have nothing to do with the government at the centre.
In summary we should have 3 Tiers of government- Federal, Regional and Local. There should be a federal and a regional constitution for each of the regions.
The present constitutional responsibilities of the states should be transferred to the regions while some of the exclusive responsibilities of the federal government transferred to the regions in the spirit of true federalism
I will suggest that the Federal only control revenue coming from our territorial waters- i.e offshore (taking into consideration the present littoral issues), in addition to 50% of revenue from land borders e.g custom duties.
Other resources should be controlled by each region. The regions should have power to determine their Taxes while each region will in turn pay Tax ( value to be agreed and reviewed downward or upward on predetermined regular period) to run the central government.
The communities/local government from where resources are been derived should have a certain % of allocation based on derivation principle. The present system of revenue allocation between federal and state should be scrapped and regionalised. That is, the regions with gather the resources together, pay tax to the central government and give out % to local government based on derivation, and dispense the remaining to run the regional and local government. The office of the first Ministers will be run by regional government and allocation from % accruing to the local governments from derivation.
The spirit of my proposal on revenue is to make each tier of government a watchdog of the other and the people a watch dog of the government especially the local government in order to minimise corruption.
I will suggest adopting the Canadian system in determining the roles of the central and regional governments in the areas of education and healthcare policies while the issue of social welfare should be left for each region to decide.
Also Nigeria should remain a secular/multi-religious nation with everyone retaining the basic human right to practice his/her religion and right to freely change religion without threat to his/her life.
The federal government should hands off the sponsoring of pilgrimages to the ‘holy lands’ leaving this to each region to decide.
In conclusion, I believe my proposal will reduce the cost of governance, encourage productivity by promoting healthy rivalry among the federating units, reduce corruption, reduce the political tension in the centre and regions, promote accountability among the political leaders, ultimately putting the welfare of the people first.
Dr Durojaiye Pirisola, a Family Physician wrote from UK.