Thoughts on Nigerian federalism
By Kayode Ogundamisi
The orchestrated misunderstanding of “federalism” in Nigeria is in the propagation of corrupt practices in the ranks of the ruling elite. Thus mechanisms such as “rotational presidency” “quota system” and others are put in place to guide their tendency to plunder, enrich and entrench their caprices.
The symbolic gesture of a “Yoruba presidency” for instance did produce General Olusegun Obasanjo who in practical terms represented the interest of the core of first the “Hausa-Fulani political elite” and then the “Yoruba political and economic elite” and Obasonjo delivered his promise not to the suffering oppressed class of the “Hausa-Fulani nor the suffering oppressed class of the Yoruba or any other ethnic group in Nigeria. He created billionaire friends leaving the vast majority of all the ethnic nationalities be it Yoruba, Fulani, Husa, Nupe, Igbo, Ijaw, Ibibio and other Nigerians in worst situation as they were under a Hausa-Fulani presidency. In the same vein former Hausa-Fulani Presidents General Sanni Abacha, General Ibrahim Babangida and others - did not make life any better for the average people in all parts of Nigeria and Northern Nigeria is worst off in socio, economic and infrastructural development. Thus Federalism should be viewed from a class perspective.
Whilst the average Nigerian discusses federalism vis-à-vis the competitiveness of the geo political zones, the promotion of development in all regions of the Nigerian federation and what can enhance good governance, the Nigerian political elites are thinking of federalism in terms of how to enhance their greed, ambition and lust for power.
The first step in our quest for true federalism is for politicians, policy makers and opinion molders to first understand the importance of federalism as it relates to good governance rather than how it facilitates equitable access to the infamous opportunity to plunder the national resources amongst the elites of the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria . Thus there must be an alignment of understanding between the rulers and the ruled
Nigerians can not shy away from the obvious need to renegotiate the bases for our nationhood. Running away from the issue keeps our country roaming around the orbit of a treacherous infamous vicious cycle of political infamy and economic profligacy. The “we the people “inscribed in the Nigerian constitution should be expunged forthwith.
A renegotiation of Nigeria is the first step towards a truly Nigerian Revolution. We should be courageous about the reality that all the various constitutions operated from the moment the British packaged us together till date are nothing more than reinventions of the conquest document imposed on the people before Nigeria was created. Before then, it did not matter if you were from the North, South, West or East; pre colonial Nation-States had sovereign relationships, fought wars, resolved crisis and related as equal partners.
The Kingdoms in the North, South, West, East are what in modern days could be referred to as States with sovereign rights, distinct borders and constitutional governments either in a parliamentary form as in the Old Oyo Kingdom, or the Oligarchy in the North or the collegiate system in the east. The fact that the British Colonial masters characterized our system as “crude” and “native” does not make an amalgamation without consultation with the people right. We must renegotiate our nationhood but with the resolve that Nigeria must not disintegrate.
If the Soviet Union can renegotiate with her federating units, South Africa dealt with her post apartheid era, we can tackle our problem head long. I do not see any reason why we cannot honestly seat down as a people and re-negotiate Nigeria on the bases of equal partnership; a partnership that must be in the overall interest of the poor people of our Country. Our constitution is a unitary document disguised with misrepresentations of federalism and it should not come as a surprise because even as students of history we know that the people who make Nigeria were never and have never been genuinely consulted when those documents are drafted and imposed by the rogue minority in power on the hapless majority.
And yes it’s been a chequered history of constitutional experiments first from the colonial masters, to the post colonial civilian government and then series of military regimes through to post military civilian governments. All that’s been done at each point in time has characteristically been to service the machinations of the various ruling elites. Indeed the four constitutions written by the colonial masters reflected the intentions of those in power, thus, we refer to the Clifford, Richards, McPherson and Lyttleton constitutions’ as travesties that were all crafted to subjugate the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria; none reflected the needs, aspiration and unique diversity of our people.
A hurriedly drafted independence constitution failed under three years, You are all familiar with how the different military regimes, danced from unitary to federal and so on and so forth but none with the honest mission of resolving the National Question. Over the years, as we continue to shy away from reality, Nigeria predictably heats up to the boiling point. We’ve had the Biafra/Nigeria Civil war, series of religious and cultural riots and mass killings in the north, the OPC crisis in the west and its attendant deaths, the emergence of groups such as MASSOB, the introduction of Sharia Law in the North and the militancy in the Niger Delta amongst every other conflict flash points nationwide.
Sadly, our inability to re negotiate the way forward is as a result of the bankruptcy amongst our political leaders, thus we label anyone who raises the issue of True Federalism as wanting to break up Nigeria . It is clearly not a crime to call for the restructuring of Nigeria along the geo political divide. In as much as I personally feel that we may not be able to compromise our indivisibility, we have come a long way as a Country. Our long enforced marriage does not preclude the need to look at long term progressive revolutionary options that will weaken the centre, turn off opportunists and bring governance close to the people.
Acknowledging that we have a flawed Nation-State is the flag off point for the Nigerian revolution. Issues such as corruption, lack of transparent credible elections, poverty, mistrust, bad governance and others vices are bye-products of a people who care less about the character of the Nigerian state but more about their selfish interests.
The campaign for the convocation of a truly Sovereign National Conference that will resolve issues of, Resource Control, creation of Local Governments, State Police, ceding of overbearing federal government control of state Resources to the States and federating Units, a confederation that will work and strengthen the diverse nature of our Country is must continue.
We need a federal system that works for all Nigerians irrespective of tribe, religion, race or creed. Thus the energies of groups/alliances in opposition should be channeled not just to capture political power and perpetuate more of the same failed tendency of ignoring the core of our problem but adopting the PRONACO document with a view to expanding it and involving the Nigerian electorate.
Rejection of all the negative aspects of the constitution that first of all reflect the thinking of our colonial masters, the military and also the greed of the ruling elite that does not have the interest of the people of Nigeria is an emergency.
The federating state governments should continue to challenge the overbearing power of the federal government; the introduction of Sharia legal system by the states of Northern Nigeria was one of such steps. The creation of local governments by the Lagos State government and its continued challenge in court is a welcome development at enriching our federal system even as we look for that constitution that will truly reflect our unity in diversity.
Meanwhile, resolving the issues surrounding true federalism will not suddenly resolve the issues of corruption, bad leadership, electoral fraud, crime, marginalization just to mention a few. No it won’t, but at least we can localize the issues and resolve them side-by-side our nation building efforts. We cannot let our moment pass us by. It will only take a brave leader with vision to tackle the founding root of this macabre dance we call living.