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Obstacles to true federalism

By Adisa Adeleye

OVER the years, some Nigerians have been clamouring for true federalism, as opposed to quasi -federalism which is being operated at the moment.

Federalism, which was introduced into the country through the previous Constitutions is supposed to be a Federation of States and was meant to bring stability and encourage cooperative endeavours among the various units.

Federation, according to its dictionary meaning is “a political system in which States control most of their internal affairs but leave Foreign Affairs, Defence, etc, to the Central (Federal) Government”.  The best known country operating a Federal system of Government is the United States of America (USA).

Before Independence in 1960, the country had operated a federal system of government based on three regions with each region fully responsible for its internal affairs except foreign affairs, defence and banking – matters handled by the Federal Government.  Even after Independence in 1960, the three regions and the newly created Mid-west , operated the federal system in accordance with the provisions of the 1960 Constitution.

The military coup of 1966 and the subsequent civil war of 1967-1970 altered the political system by introducing a unitary command system.  Thus; a unitary form of government was indirectly introduced by the military rulers of the day.  The Military Governors of the states were made answerable to the Military Head of State at the centre.

Though the 1979 Constitution had accepted the concept of Federalism but indirectly conferred on the President the powers of the former Military Head of State.  It appeared so in practice and not in law.  However, the series of coups and the rule of Army Generals did more to entrench the culture of a unitary government with Military Governors in states.

The Military Governors were under the direct command of the Military Head of State at the centre who appointed them.  The control of the economy and administration of the country were firmly in the hands of the military Head of State at the centre.

After the return of democracy in 1999, though the Constitution is based on federalism but in practice, the country had been governed in a unitary fashion.  The states are virtually dependent on proceeds (oil money) being distributed monthly in Abuja for their survival.

In many states, the monthly federal allocation has become the economic mainstay of the administration.  Thus, all states have become satellites of the Federal Government with the President exercising the power duly exercised by the former Military Heads of State.

It is unfortunate that the President, who came in 1999 was an Army General and a former Military Head of State. Though civilian in his dress and outlook, his mindset and military background did not help much,in the practice of true federalism in a democratic environment.  His two successors have neither shown the understanding of true federalism nor willing to follow its concept.  It is a question of following the situation as it is without considering the consequences.

The problems of working the Federal system like a unitary one is an invitation to political instability and economic uncertainties as they appear at present.  If the Federal Government continues to behave as the `Lord of the Manor` then, there is danger to the corporate existence of the country.  The apparent behaviour of the Federal Government in seeing and making the states relying heavily on it does not make the practice of federalism easily practicable.

A typical example of a political obstacle is the attitude of a past civilian Presidents in the selection of their Cabinets.  Though the Constitution gives the President the right to select one Minister from each of the states, it does not say that states` representatives should be from the same ruling party with the President.

To me, political sagacity, if not expediency would suggest that you consult the opinions of Governors of States not controlled by your party and have their nominations in your cabinet.  The `winners- take-all` mentality of our present political leaders does not allow for a fully representative government, considering the political diversities in the country.

A more formidable obstacle to the attainment of true federalism is the deficient political structures of the country.

Many of the 36 States created show neither economic viability nor ethnic homogeneity.  Except in some few states like the South West (Yoruba); South East (Igbo); Bayelsa (Ijaw); others appears to portray domineering majorities and restless minorities; some too; contain rival ethnic groups with possible revolting instincts.  Under these circumstances, it might be impossible to expect stability in a federation.

Some analysts do believe that some of the present Governors through their non-chalant attitude in generating internal funds towards economic development of their states would always rely on monthly federal allocation for survival.  This is why they would resist the concept of true federalism, which would expose their shortcomings inspite of their public show of solidarity with true federalism.

In a situation where many of the states are too poor to perform their responsibilities and the Federal Government is willing to perform the role of Father Christmas in many ways, the idea of true federalism becomes not only romantic, but an illusion.

The question can then be asked, how could true federalism be achieved?  I believe, and sincerely so, that the Federal Government takes more responsibility than are necessary and should transfer some of them to a reorganized state structure like six zones.

This would entail more monetary allocations to states.  The restructured states should be allowed (without Federal Government restrictions) to explore minerals within their geographical areas in other to increase economic fortunes.  The states should be able to mine gold, diamond, tin, coal, within their areas of jurisdiction and generate more funds.

As for the Federal Government, its area of responsibility lies in providing peace and prosperity for Nigerians.  The personal assurance of the President and his actions should be enough to calm the nerves of the despondent and the destitute.  As I have noted before, “In the United States of America President Roosevelt`s New Deal became the effective economic tool to combat the general depression of the 1930s”.

“The Administration started to spend large sums of money (over and above what it received in tax revenue) on roads, dams, harbours, irrigation and land reclamation works, public buildings, housing estates and projects of many other kinds.

President Roosevelt used the technique of budget deficit (in the age of classical economics) to cure unemployment and depression and thereby, saved capitalism from total collapse”.Perhaps we should hear more of the President intentions through the now classical weekly essays of Dr Reuben Abatti.

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