Nigeria, a flawed federation?
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