By Ochereome Nnanna
FOR me, Restructuring and True Federalism are not just words I heard from others and decided to parrot. It is a serious business; the only antidote that if correctly applied will secure the future of Nigeria as a viable, durable and flourishing entity. Restructuring and True Federalism go together in my book.
The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress APC, Dr. John Oyegun, a man who retired as a Federal Permanent Secretary over 30 years ago and became the first elected Governor of Edo State 26 years ago, shocks me with his shallow appreciation of this concept. This problem appears to be widely shared among APC leaders. After two years of poorly ruling Nigeria and totally forgetting or denying most of their campaign promises, Oyegun and his co-travellers have been jolted awake to item Number 61 out of APC’s 81 pledges:
Initiating action to amend the Nigerian Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties, and responsibilities to states in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.
One of my primary reasons to opt for Restructuring and True Federalism is drastic reduction of the cost of governance. We will have the Federal Government and six (or eight) Regional Governments instead of the current 36 states and Abuja. Local or communal governments will be strictly the business of the regions, and they will be free to create such a number that their resources and the needs of the various groups within their regions can accommodate.
Another objective is the creation of what I call relative equalisation by splitting the country into zones, regions or federating units that are more or less equal to reduce dominance and marginalisation of which so many groups complain. No region can impose its real or imaginary population figure or landmass or natural (or self-imposed) disadvantages to keep other more progressive regions down. They can decide to invest their resources on Arabic/Islamic or Western educational models. They can dump public resources on pilgrimages and mass marriages or deploy them to infrastructure and human capacity development. It will be their choice.
Another objective is to group Nigerians into their naturally contiguous and consanguine regions where they can cohabit in sub-cultures they feel at home with, subject of course, to the supremacy of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
When people find themselves in such enclaves of common brotherhood, they will spend less time and energy quarrelling over ego-fed distractions while investing much more on developmental activities within the overall picture of healthy competition with other regional rivals. With larger groupings, economic and infrastructural development (such as rails, roads, power grids, industrial parks, agro-industrial value chain schemes and what have you) can be planned on grand regional basis which local and international capital can consider more viable than what mushroom, state-based schemes can offer.
So, in terms of structure, I am looking at six Regions consisting of the current six geopolitical zones, or eight Regions with one zone each carved out of the North and South. The former Mid-West or Bendel State will return as a Region because there is very little socio-cultural link between the Eastern flank of the South-South (Rivers, Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa) and its western flank (Edo and Delta). The Eastern flank is more related culturally to the Igbo while the Western flank are Edoid with some cultural bent toward the Yoruba.
In the Middle Belt, something similar applies.On the one hand,the Eastern flank (Benue, Plateau, Nasarawa and Southern parts of Borno, Adamawa, most of Taraba and Southern Kaduna are predominantly Christians and feel harassed by the Muslim Sharia culture. On the other, the Western flank (Kogi, Kwara, Niger and parts of Kebbi) are more predominantly populated by Muslims and can conveniently form the second Middle Belt Region.
By so doing, Nigeria will be a balanced federation of six or eight Regions. It is only under such an arrangement that the current Federal Character principle in our Constitution can be operated without any part of the country being cheated. As it is, the Federal Character principle still heavily favours the North even if strictly applied because they have far more states, local government areas and federal constituencies. These federating units were created by North-dominated military rulers (based on landmass and real or imagined population) to assert their right to rule after leading the nation in a war to push the Igbo bloc out of national contention.
The current thirty six states can never bring equity. The North will always be favoured while the South East will always be cheated. The Biafra agitation will never lose its relevance to its adherents so long as we maintain this 36-state structure. It pushes the Igbo into an eternal, artificial Minority status as a result of their role in the system between 1966 and 1970. “True federalism” without Restructuring will be a permanent seal on the military’s win-the-civil war scheme to subjugate the Igbo nation and keep a section of the country forever on top of the rest. That is not the federal structure of my dream.
The agitation for restructuring, for me, is a call for freedom from internal colonial rule. It is a fight for the rights of the various socio-cultural and political blocs of Nigeria to stand on their own and struggle to develop at their own paces within the fold of the Nigerian commonwealth. Anything short of this, I would rather go with Nnamdi Kanu as eminent lawyer, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba and legendary songstress who had devoted a large measure of her creative works extolling Nigeria’s unity, Onyeka Onwenu, have recently done. Restructuring and True Federalism is my own last card.
Having put this well-equalised six or eight regional structure on ground, we must go on and invoke the 1963 Republican Constitution for the administration of the country, perhaps, complete with its simpler, much more accountable and less expensive Parliamentary system. This constitution devolves powers to the Regions. It grants them the power to control and develop their resources. But it mandates them to pay a measure of royalties to the Federal Government to maintain our country, protect the constitutional rights of its citizens wherever they may reside, promote even development and defend the interests of its people in the comity of nations.
This is the most successful model of federalism we have ever practised. It is not a matter for conjecture. Rather, it is a tried, tested and proven approach which brought out the best in each of the regions in the past. Even the North that is now so diehard in opposition to devolution of powers and resource control flourished under this system. It was the most offended of the four defunct Regions when the first military Head of State, General Aguiyi-Ironsi, first introduced the unitary government we now practice which we fraudulently call “federal”.
We must leave the oil of the Niger Delta people to them. They need it to develop their region. There is none of the six or eight regions that I have proposed which does not have enough natural resources to take off with. But most importantly, we should bear in mind that it’s the human resources (brain power), not things found under the ground, that bring about rapid development. It is primitive people who live by hunting and gathering. Our oil rent-based economy is nothing but hunting and gathering. That is why we are a backward nation.
Unless we restructure and devolve powers to the various localities of Nigeria, we will never have peace. We will never develop, and we shall never prosper. Most importantly, Nigeria’s eventual disintegration will be the greatest tragedy out of Africa!