By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The debate on the appropriate makeup of the nation’s federalism is again brought to the fore. Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s intervention was another yell in the increasingly vociferous debate on the country’s structural frame.
Delivering a lecture at the weekend, the deputy President of the Senate brought focus to what he described as the feeding bottle federalism that is presently obtainable in the country.
Senator Ekweremadu spoke while delivering the Sixth Annual Oputa Lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, Canada at the weekend.
His lecture titled “Nigerian Federalism: A Case for a Review” is undoubtedly bound to elicit interest among students of Nigeria’s federalism. It would also be of interest to power brokers who have thrived as the nation’s federal system foundered over time.
Before Ekweremadu’s intervention last week, some other frontline commentators including Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN had intervened with similar suggestions on redefining the nature of the country’s federalism.
In Agbakoba’s submission made last June just as the present National Assembly commenced deliberation, he suggested among others that the 36 states of the federation should be knocked down into their respective geopolitical zones which should be recognized as the basis of the nation’s federation. He claimed to have prepared a bill to actualize that purpose.
With power conceded to the six geopolitical zones the country in his dream could then have six super Governors administering the six geopolitical zones with the states maybe reduced to at best provinces or administrative units.
The submission elicited some reactions with the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP being the most vociferous in its commendation of the proposal.
Welcoming the Agbakoba bill on returning the country to true federalism, the body said in a statement last year,
“The CNPP supports the convergence of national consensus on the imperative to return Nigeria to a True Federal Republic as distinct from the Unitary System of government being practiced today; hence the clamour and urgency to amend the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the body said in a statement issued on its behalf by its spokesman, Osita Okechukwu.
“Public commentators have queried the inelegant manner in which a Constitution with the tag Federal Republic is structured and chartered along Unitary System of government.”
“It is our considered view that the inherent capacity for True Federalism to accommodate multi-ethnic nationalities and their diversities without undermining national unity; was what made our founding fathers to adopt Federalism in the London Constitutional Conference of 1953.
“We accordingly endorse the Bill submitted to the National Assembly by Mr Olisa Agbakoba, (SAN), the position of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum for review of the Revenue Allocation Formula and the agitation of many patriots for true federalism.”
It was as such remarkable that Senator Ekweremadu would amplify the debate, albeit in a subtle manner. Ekweremadu’s suggestion on the collapse of the states is, however, contrary to the aspiration of his immediate political associate, Senator David Mark who to the bemusement of many, is seemingly fixated with creating at least one more state. Mark is from the Idoma ethnic group in Benue State.
The Idoma people have never produced a Governor for the state and believe that their only way of having an Idoma Governor is through the creation of an Apa State compassing the Idoma nation. Mark has at almost all functions involving his people continued to reiterate that promise.
Ekweremadu’s lecture, however, skirted around the issue of the recklessness of creating more states. He, however, thrust sharply with his submission that the country’s federalism is deformed, a development he said had hindered economic and political growth.
The deputy Senate President was to liken the nation’s federalism as a master-servant relationship, a submission many of the nation’s state Governors would no doubt agree with.
He also recalled the period between 1954 and 1966 which he described as the golden era of the country’s federalism on account of the prosperity and viability recorded among the three regions of the country in that period.
In the West, Chief Obafemi Awolowo effortlessly and without debt erected some of the institutions that continue to abide today including the Liberty Stadium, Premier Hotel, Western Nigeria Television among others, using revenue derived from cocoa.
In the East, the Eastern Regional government was also able to build for itself many legacies including the two Presidential Hotels in Enugu and Port-Harcourt, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, among other legacies using revenue from palm kernel among others.
In the North, the Ahmadu Bello administration established the Ahmadu Bello University, the School of Agriculture Kabba, the many investments of the Northern Nigeria Development Company, NNDC, among many other legacies.
It is not surprising that Senator Ekweremadu would describe that period as the golden era of Nigeria’s federalism.
He thus regretted that “the brand of fiscal federalism in place today looks every inch that of master and servant relationship and is therefore killing industry, initiative, and creativity, while promoting indolence, bad governance.”
Characteristic of the indolence Ekweremadu referred to is the monthly meeting of the Federation Account Allocation Committee, FAAC when the 36 states come to share what is described as federal revenue.
Structural frame of the nation
The states ironically do not bring anything to support the structural frame of the nation. Bemoaning this attitude, Ekweremadu in his lecture said the nation should “move away from the current military-imposed ‘feeding bottle’ federalism to enthrone one predicated on self-reliance, hard work, enterprise, resourcefulness, and ingenuity to catalyse development”.
Senator Ekweremadu in his lecture also noted how the states have lost several of their powers over a period of time. He listed such powers which the federating units have been stripped of to include the power of the original regions to control resources within their territories, have diplomatic representations in London, appoint judges without reference to a central body (the National Judicial Council), own constitutions and coat of arms, and right of the local governments to have their own police forces.
“One major step, therefore to returning Nigeria’s federalism on a strong and prosperous footing is to reengineer politically viable federating units by devolving more powers to the States”, Ekweremadu emphasized.
Need for State Police
On the need for State Police, he said: “Prevalent global trend in crime-fighting and the realities of security challenges in Nigeria makes the decentralisation of policing pertinent as it makes it easier to track and burst crimes, gives the police the advantage of knowing the environment- geographically, culturally, socially, politically, and even economically”, he said.
“All constitutional provisions that tend to or are liable to manipulations to aggravate the nation’s fault lines must be revisited, while we need to replace State of Origin (indigene) in Section 147 with State of Residence”, he reiterated.
Urging Nigerians to consider a return to regionalism against the present 36 state structure, he said the unhealthy and unviable state of the component states of the federation had made it imperative for the nation to take a second look at the continual proliferation of states and the dispersal of resources.
He commended states in several geopolitical zones who were already coming together to streamline their development policies and agenda as well as aggregate their resources and areas of comparative advantages to develop their regions.
“A return to the regions in the long term seems a major plausible thing to do if we are to nurse any hopes of reversing the dwindling fortunes of our federalism by engendering viability and self-reliance of the component units, massive development, healthy competition, reduce cost of governance and enthrone acceptable level of equity’ Ekweremadu concluded.