Nige­ria, a flawed federation?

Daily Trust - - OPINION - By M.T. Us­man Us­man wrote this piece from Kaduna.

Amer­i­cans strive for a more per­fect union; Nige­ri­ans strive to un­bun­dle a federation some of them view with great dis­favour. Re­struc­tur­ing is the in­nocu­ous term used to de­scribe this en­deav­our, the ef­fec­tu­a­tion of which, in the form it is pre­sented, will un­doubt­edly lead to the balka­niza­tion the coun­try and end­less strife in the suc­ces­sor - statelets. It has been the po­lit­i­cal talking point this last quar­ter-cen­tury, ever since the late lawyer Alao Aka - Basho­run sought the con­vo­ca­tion of a sov­er­eign national con­fer­ence, in im­i­ta­tion of events tak­ing place in neigh­bour­ing Fran­co­phone West African coun­tries then seek­ing the de­throne­ment of dic­ta­tors.

The strength of the ag­i­ta­tion for re­struc­tur­ing varies with the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate and how its pro­tag­o­nists fare therein. Ad­vo­cat­ing re­struc­tur­ing helps re­ju­ve­nate ail­ing po­lit­i­cal ca­reers, pro­vides oxy­gen to mori­bund or­gan­i­sa­tions and keeps po­lit­i­cal di­nosaurs in the pub­lic eye. Nige­ria as a post-colo­nial coun­try has sim­i­lar­i­ties in ori­gin and com­po­si­tion to the rest of Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, be­ing "multi­na­tional, lin­guis­ti­cally and cul­tur­ally di­verse," with its "com­po­nent eth­nic na­tion­al­i­ties ter­ri­to­ri­al­ity sep­a­rated." Yet it was not fated to be a federation by these very facts, oth­er­wise Africa would have been a con­ti­nent of fed­eral states. Bri­tish pen­chant for ad­min­is­ter­ing their colonies as much as pos­si­ble on cheap caused the Amal­ga­ma­tion of 1914.

The in­tro­duc­tion of re­gional gov­ern­ment pro­vided the foun­da­tion upon which the found­ing fa­thers ne­go­ti­ated the federation that her­alded in­de­pen­dence and the First Republic - though they did toy with the idea of a con­fed­er­a­tion at some stage dur­ing the con­sti­tu­tional talks. Nige­rian federation is the prod­uct of se­rial acts of a cen­tral author­ity, the Bri­tish colo­nial gov­ern­ment, not of any "fed­er­at­ing units" agree­ing to come to­gether as it is be­ing re­peat­edly rep­re­sented.

The pro­tag­o­nists of re­struc­tur­ing have seized upon both the In­de­pen­dence and the Repub­li­can Con­sti­tu­tions as sa­cred sacra­ments, the ideal con­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ment for our coun­try, for our federation. The Repub­li­can con­sti­tu­tion had 45 items on the ex­clu­sive fed­eral list and 29 on the con­cur­rent list, upon which both fed­eral and re­gional gov­ern­ments could act. The 1979 Con­sti­tu­tion (to which the cur­rent one hews closely), es­pe­cially was drafted by a stel­lar as­sem­bly of politi­cians and le­gal lu­mi­nar­ies, who could not have sim­ply bowed to the de­mands of the mil­i­tary rulers, nor could the lat­ter have so tam­pered with what was pre­sented as to void their fun­da­men­tal thrust. Nev­er­the­less, save for the power to de­clare war, the short­ened con­cur­rent list still grants states enough pow­ers to de­liver the re­quired ser­vice to their con­stituen­cies.

The rev­enue al­lo­ca­tion ques­tion is the real rea­son for the cam­paign for re­struc­tur­ing, not the pre­pon­der­ance of ex­clu­sive fed­eral list - as a US pres­i­dent fa­mously de­clared "It's the econ­omy, stupid!" And it is in this area that mis­lead­ing state­ments are reg­u­larly dished out. There was no time the re­gional gov­ern­ments con­trolled their "own re­sources" let alone remit agreed por­tion to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The fact was that min­eral re­sources, rev­enues from which are the is­sues of cur­rent con­tention, were un­der the fed­eral gov­ern­ment; it is use­ful to re­mem­ber that be­fore Oloibiri, tin and columbite were the prin­ci­pal ex­port min­er­als.

The rev­enue al­lo­ca­tion for­mula in op­er­a­tion in the First Republic was the one based on the Reis­man Com­mis­sion Re­port (1958). It added to the sole pa­ram­e­ter iden­ti­fied by ear­lier Com­mis­sions on the is­sue deriva­tion - the fac­tors of min­i­mum re­spon­si­bil­ity, pop­u­la­tion and bal­anced de­vel­op­ment of the Federation. A most in­ter­est­ing thing in this sec­tion was the ob­ser­va­tion that as oil rev­enue, de­rived from min­ing rents and roy­al­ties (50% of which was re­mit­ted to the re­gion of ori­gin), be­came more prom­i­nent in the rev­enue pro­file of the Federation there was the like­li­hood of "po­lit­i­cal controversy" aris­ing from its dis­tri­bu­tion.

How prophetic! The Niger Delta has been racked by mil­i­tancy and pipeline van­dal­ism these past twenty years, to protest ne­glect and press for in­creased rev­enue/ re­source con­trol. Resur­gence of mil­i­tancy and pipeline van­dal­ism has more to do with the change of regime than to any neg­a­tive change in the ma­te­rial con­di­tion of the re­gion. A dis­turb­ing as­pect of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is that both the es­tab­lished lead­er­ship elite and the elected lead­er­ship have sur­ren­dered the ini­tia­tive to mil­i­tants who have un­leashed eco­nomic ter­ror­ism on the coun­try, re­ceiv­ing un­seemly ap­plause from some me­dia out­lets. . The plethora of ini­tia­tives and in­sti­tu­tions brought to bear on the de­vel­op­men­tal chal­lenges in the Niger Delta has not yielded sig­nif­i­cant fruits be­cause of nonuni­for­mity in the mo­ti­va­tions of the var­i­ous stake­hold­ers. Oth­er­wise, tan­gi­ble im­prove­ment in the stan­dard of liv­ing and the en­vi­ron­ment could have been recorded in the last fifteen years with the un­prece­dented rev­enues avail­able for that pur­pose.

The cen­tralised po­lice sys­tem now in op­er­a­tion is seen as an­ti­thet­i­cal to fed­er­al­ism. It may well be so, but it must be viewed against the coun­try's ex­pe­ri­ence in the First Republic when the local (N.A.) Po­lice were used to op­press op­po­si­tion in the re­gions. Noth­ing pre­cludes local/state po­lice be­ing sim­i­larly used in the cur­rent dis­pen­sa­tion; it’s worth re­call­ing the case where an As­sis­tant In­spec­tor Gen­eral of Po­lice (or­di­nar­ily un­der the com­mand of the IGP) con­nived with local god­fa­thers to kid­nap a sit­ting gover­nor in or­der to force his res­ig­na­tion. Local knowl­edge and flavour could be in­jected into the polic­ing sys­tem by en­sur­ing that at least 50% of per­son­nel de­ployed to any state are in­di­genes. Un­der the cur­rent cli­mate it is dif­fi­cult to en­vi­sion an apo­lit­i­cal state po­lice force which will main­tain law and or­der with­out in­ter­fer­ence from state author­i­ties.

Nei­ther the National Po­lit­i­cal Re­form Con­fer­ence (2005) nor the National Con­fi­dence (2014) passes the test of pu­rity of mo­tives. Obasanjo hoped to achieve the re­moval of pres­i­den­tial term-limit, while Jonathan's was to gal­vanise his sup­port base and tempt the South-West politi­cians who live by the idea of "a Sov­er­eign National Con­fer­ence." Be­sides, most of the rec­om­men­da­tions have been in cir­cu­la­tion like for ages and could be put into ef­fect by ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion or through out­right con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment (s). Like the po­si­tion of deriva­tion fac­tor in the rev­enue al­lo­ca­tion for­mula; it is an is­sue that could be leg­is­lated upon, not re­quir­ing con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. That it has hung forever since is ev­i­dence of leg­isla­tive malaise and in­ef­fec­tive net­work­ing. It is a good sign that the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives will adopt the National Con­fer­ence Re­port as a work­ing doc­u­ment in its con­sti­tu­tion re­view. A determined and se­ri­ous ef­fort on its part would see the National As­sem­bly ef­fect nec­es­sary amend­ments to the Con­sti­tu­tion that will re­duce ar­eas of dis­pute.

The geopo­lit­i­cal zonal struc­ture is an­other step ad­vo­cated in aid of re­struc­tur­ing. A char­i­ta­ble view of this con­struct is that it is a re­ac­tion to the mind­less state-creation ex­er­cises of the 1990s. Oth­er­wise, the po­lit­i­cal class is its only "ben­e­fi­cia­ries." They have used it to build party bu­reau­cra­cies that would be the envy of Com­mu­nist Par­ties of old Zonal Vice- Chair­men, Sec­re­taries, Pub­lic­ity Sec­re­taries, Le­gal Ad­vis­ers, Trea­sur­ers, etc. The prac­ti­cal ef­fect of the geopo­lit­i­cal zonal struc­ture how­ever will be the creation of eth­nic laagers, a sit­u­a­tion a Guardian columnist warned against but knows will hap­pen. Re­gional gov­ern­ment will just add an­other layer of ad­min­is­tra­tion to a coun­try some would con­sider over­ad­min­is­tered.

It is amazing that in all these dis­cus­sions about re­struc­tur­ing no thought is given to the is­sue of good gover­nance which by some mea­sure is more rel­e­vant to our cur­rent re­al­i­ties. If the coun­try had wit­nessed good gover­nance in the last decade and a half, we would have been truly on the way to the El Do­rado we all crave. Re­struc­tur­ing is not a sub­sti­tute for it.

Nige­ria has been badly served by the var­i­ous elite groups, few of whom are bat­ting for the coun­try. They have ar­tic­u­lated no vi­sion for the coun­try; rather they work its many fault-lines to sat­isfy per­sonal am­bi­tions. A coun­try that con­sis­tently re­ceives neg­a­tive rat­ings from its own rul­ing elites can­not hope to sur­vive, let alone pros­per. Nige­ria is in that un­happy po­si­tion to­day.

It is amazing that in all these dis­cus­sions about re­struc­tur­ing no thought is given to the is­sue of good gover­nance which by some mea­sure is more rel­e­vant to our cur­rent re­al­i­ties

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