By Rotimi Fasan
IT’S important to enter a caveat from the beginning in the light of the title of this week’s piece. Nigeria’s greatness lies in its remaining one country that is made up of diverse ethnicities. That is one lesson to be learned from the present arrangement of the world. In spite of the tension of division and tribalism that has been created in Donald Trump’s America, the fact remains that America’s greatness lies in its diversity. It’s the reason for the existence of many of the regional economic and political groupings around the world. It’s the logic behind the decision of those European countries that have elected to remain part of the European Union despite differences. It’s the reason they are unhappy with Britain and would quickly want to close the chapter on its breaking rank and choosing to exit the EU. Nigeria’s situation cannot be different from the rest of the world. We can’t be thinking of breaking up while others are finding ways to resolve their differences in a bid to remain or come together. It’s not too likely that any of the component parts that make up Nigeria will do better alone than they would collectively as one country.
This is the reason we must be clear-eyed about the way we relate with one another and be determined to correct the injustices of the past rather than insisting on keeping them. Yet, it would appear that some self-deceived Nigerians cannot separate their self-interest from the interest of the whole. They fail to see the wisdom in relating to others on the basis of fairness and equity. This is where we have found ourselves as a country with the debate over the skewed nature of our federalism and how to correct it. The Yoruba have a saying that there are boundaries even in farmlands jointly owned by a father and his children. No matter how close we are, we still need some personal space for self-actualization, some room within which to operate and be able to function as individuals. It does not mean we are no longer one or have become enemies by such recognition.
While it’s great to keep Nigeria one, we must do so on the basis of fairness not at the expense of others. The struggle to make Nigeria a truly federal state has taken different forms under different names which some claim now makes the whole issue confusing to them. But really there is nothing confusing or mystifying about the matter except we want to be deceptive. The whole issue boils down to the same old debate about whether Nigeria is truly being managed according to the tenets of the federalised state it claims to be. Otherwise, why is everything run in the fashion of a unitary state? Why should the centre interfere in the life of the states that are the basis of its existence? Why should politicians from the north, actually the Hausa-Fulani elite that controls the region, insist Nigeria must remain the way it is as a twisted federation that is managed along unitary lines?
In identifying opponents of federalism one has to be sure not to lump every section of the country above the River Niger and River Benue together as one and the same even when some people from the said parts for personal gains pretend there are no differences. Not even all the peoples to the east of the far north can be lumped together as one with the Fulani any more. Thus, when senators from the north under the aegis of the Northern Senators Forum rose from a recent retreat with the advice to President Muhammadu Buhari not to accept reports of the 2014 conference commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan, they were in effect saying they reject any talks about addressing the grievances of the other units in the country. Those grievances addressed by the confab border mostly on the nature of our federalism. The various demands by the delegates from the south are about ensuring fairness in the sharing of resources which is best done under a properly run federal structure. This is at the core of the ongoing debate about ‘restructuring’ the country. That some people will arrogantly dismiss the outcome of such an initiative is unacceptable. And what are their grounds for this? Simply because President Buhari did not initiate the conference!
Indeed the reason proffered by the senators shows not just the emptiness in the thought processes of our so-called leaders but also why this country has failed to move beyond a certain level of development-why we continue to move without making progress- ‘perambulating’ as Fela would say. What the northern senators are saying in effect is that every leader that comes into office must set about re-inventing the wheel, doing all over again what others before them have done and concluded. By this thinking whatever policy or decision Buhari initiates today can be flung into the waste bin of history as soon as the next occupant gets into Aso Rock without thoughts for the merits or lack of merit of such policy/initiative. The matter is that simple for our distinguished honourables in the NSF. We can see how such simple-minded take on grave issues are operationalised in the different policy somersaults perpetrated by various regimes in Nigeria, past and present.
We see it in the management of our education policies where the country has shuffled forwards and backwards with the so-called ‘6-3-3-4’ and ‘6-5-4’ systems and where one administration reaches an agreement with academic and non-academic unions of tertiary institutions and another administration takes over and says it knows nothing about it. One state governor leaves office owing workers many months of salaries and another is elected who washes their hands off any talk of backlog of unpaid salaries or pension- as if government is not a continuum. We see it in the management of toll gates across the country: one moment the gates are removed and the next they are being returned with the fervor with which they were removed only to be returned again. How can a country move forward in this situation?
Those who, like these northern senators, reject talks about running this country along truly federal lines are beneficiaries of an unfair and unjust system. Let the north remember that what it enjoys today by way of majority of states and decision makers were made possible by years of northern domination of the military. Nigeria like the rest of the world has moved beyond that era of domination by might and those who insist on keeping an unjust system in place are being foolish. They cannot see where their interest lies: they are making the break-up of this great country a matter of time.