Thoughts on Nigerian federalism and securitisation
Muhammadu Buhari

By Rotimi Fasan

There are yet a few things to be said about President Muhammadu Buhari’s Arise interview before Nigerians can begin to move away from it.

Aside the obvious fact that it is, perhaps, the President’s most extensive engagement of any Nigerian news medium in his six years presidency, it also gave Nigerians the opportunity to hear directly from him on a number of issues of national importance, if not emergency.

Otherwise, the President’s few media appearances have been with foreigners. But in the Arise interview, he restated a few things that have become the trademark position of his government even where they contradict his stated position and that of his party, the All Progressives Congress, in the run-up to the 2015 election.

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One of these issues at the front and centre of his government, not the least because it continues to raise concerns in the polity, is the question of security.

At the weekend many Nigerian school children and their teachers were again victims of abduction, while others were attacked in the ordinary course of their life. But President Buhari is of the position that these abductions, among a myriad of security issues, are the concern of governors of the states where they occur, not his. The President told the little anecdote of two governors from the South-West he didn’t name who had rushed to seek his intervention in some matters of grave security concern in their states. Buhari said he sent them back to their states to go and do what they were elected to do, rather than waiting for him to come help them perform their duty.

As far as Buhari is concerned, the entire controversy about insecurity in the states was the manufactured game of governors either grandstanding or unwilling to perform their duty. Enough power and resources, he says, have been devolved to the states to enable the governors perform their appointed tasks. The President sets great store by the empty rhetoric of governors being the chief security officers of their state. While it must be admitted that state governors have a lot to offer for the security of their states; while they cannot be totally absolved of responsibility for the wellbeing of the people of the states they preside over, the means to ensure the safety of the people or the power at their disposal to do this could very much be overstated.

Granted that a lot can be achieved with the security votes that many of them have turned into some kind of private funds for personal use, the actual control of the coercive forces for the execution of their responsibility as ‘chief security officer’ is severely limited. The police which are usually under the control of a police commissioner, CP, is the centrepiece of the security arrangement of any state. But every Nigerian knows that a police commissioner functions at the discretion of the Inspector General of Police, IGP, who resides in Abuja and can randomly instruct the commissioner on what to do or not do. The Inspector General is an appointee of the President to whom he holds his allegiance. These are, thus, political issues that cannot be treated with levity.

The seriousness of the position of both the IGP and a CP relative to their status as direct or indirect appointees of the president is obvious where the president and the governors are not of the same party, or, as is the case with a number of APC governors from the South-West, from regions or religions with wide ideological differences. Governors from the Southern part of the country have, on the vexed issue of open grazing of cattle, taken a common position that prohibits the activity. But the President who is not only from the North but also a member of the ethnic group whose members are universally blamed for the terror acts that accompany this outmoded style of pastoralism, is a strong supporter of open grazing. He has, as revealed in the Arise interview, working to ‘dispossess’ land owners who have blocked what he claimed are grazing routes, already gazetted by government, of their possession.

His position is being challenged by legal experts from across the South and other parts of the country who question the existence of such gazette to say nothing of the grazing routes. Yet, there is a simple solution to this problem, a solution that aligns with Nigeria’s status as a federal state, if only the President, like others who mouth the claim that Nigeria is a federal state, would stop playing the ostrich.

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In a federal arrangement, the President, who in his widely-discussed interview rejects the idea of staying in Abuja to determine procedures for the selection of leaders in his party, could honestly admit that he has no power to determine land ownership in a state under a federal arrangement. If he could admit and execute this position as a matter of the integrity with which he swore to execute his oath of office, then he would know he cannot dispossess any Nigerian of their land rights or determine which part of these lands could be converted to grazing routes.

This is a simple constitutional matter that the present rigmarole in the National Assembly about a constitutional review may not necessarily resolve, or is in fact meant to filibuster, by perpetually keeping in abeyance any serious discussions about our skewed federal set-up that oscillates on a unitary axis. What President Buhari needs to do now is to enable or initiate a constitutional process that would take Nigeria, at the very least, back to its pre-military status of the 1960s or activate the implementation of decisions reached at the 2014 national conference. While this may be injurious to his personal interest, it would be helpful to the overall position and good of the Nigerian state.

The election that brought Umaru Yar’Adua into office as president was perhaps no more flawed than the two elections that gave Buhari his two presidential terms. But Yar’Adua was honest enough to admit that the process of his electoral victory was flawed. And he was willing to do something about it. Just as he was equally willing to declare his assets in a manner Buhari is yet to dare. But it is Buhari that gets all the praises for integrity. I think it’s about time he lived up to the billing.

The truth which Buhari may not be wise to is that he, as president, is as much a victim of Nigeria’s twisted federal arrangement as the state governors. And to the extent that he has neither intimate knowledge nor total control of the states over which he is expected to exercise coercive powers as president and ‘chief security officer’ of the country, to that extent is he hobbled.

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