MOST of the fashionable arguments on Nigeria’s federalism are vague, self-serving, top-down and retrogressive, especially when top government officials are embroiled in the debate. Predictably, the recent intervention by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, follows that vacuous script.
In a thesis hard to overlook because it seeks to obfuscate an issue germane to the future of all of us, Malami described the call for restructuring of the country as impossible. Without restructuring, Nigeria will
The AGF posits that Nigeria adopted federalism in 1954 as a compromise. However, he believes that to achieve federalism today is impracticable primarily because of the need to amend the constitution to accommodate a referendum for those seeking an equitable and just federation.
“One thing that is certain is the inevitable implication that abolishing states through restructuring process will certainly translate to the eventual multiplier effects of abolishing the state Houses of Assembly and perhaps downsizing the National Assembly,” the AGF argues. “This, indeed, is a tall order that cannot be achieved through advocacy, emotional outburst or provocative rhetoric and demonstration.”
Lai Muhammed, the Information Minister, takes the argument further by saying that restructuring is the least worry of the Muhammadu Buhari administration. This is worrying.
Nigeria is on the brink of implosion because its federalism has been bastardised by unitary forces, who have expropriated almost all state power to the centre.
Apparently, no issue has elicited more rancour and demand for equity than federalism – or restructuring – since the Civil War. The drift to anarchy is compounded by the leadership deficit that hides behind ethnic cocoons to complicate reforms.
The major issues in federalism are clear: the devolution of power and fiscal federalism or resource control, which allow entities to compete and develop at their own pace.
With over 250 ethnic nationalities, proponents of restructuring argue that true federalism is the only form of government capable of accommodating our disparate interests, promoting exponential economic growth and ensuring political stability.
The subsisting skewed practice, which started when the military discarded the 1963 Constitution, erroneously over-concentrates power in the centre. Sadly, the 1999 Constitution is an offshoot of this political blunder. It arrogates 68 items to the Federal Government in the Exclusive Legislative List.
In comparison, the 1960 Constitution had 44 items on the exclusive list, and even ceded control of the federal trunk roads to the regions in the concurrent list. Australia, in sections 51 and 114 of its constitution, has just 25 items on its exclusive legislative list.
In functioning federal states like the United States and Canada, items like police, railways, prisons, marriage, divorce and fingerprints, identification and criminal records are on the concurrent list. As long as power is not devolved, Nigeria will continue to be prone to unnecessary political tension and mutual suspicion among its constituent ethnic groups.
The current practice, in which the Federal Government appropriates 52.68 per cent of all revenues it does not generate, leaving the states with 26.70 per cent and local government areas with 20.60 per cent, is the antithesis of federalism.
It is unusual in a federal polity that the 774 LGAs share revenues from the centre when they are not federating units. In the First Republic, Section 134 of the 1960 Constitution and Section 140 of the 1963 Constitution granted the regions 50 per cent of their resources.
The oil-producing states fought a bitter battle before they gained 13 per cent derivation, while Lagos State generates VAT revenue, which is being shared on an inequitable basis. The grievous injustice cannot be tolerated forever.
For Nigeria to survive the present schisms, true and just federalism is the only way out. It is either Nigeria negotiates a proper federal structure peacefully now – no matter how uncomfortable it may seem to some sections – or it may soon find itself convulsed by another conflagration.
We urge Malami and those who are against restructuring to cast their net wide. After years of limited autonomy under Spain, Catalonia is demanding the right to self-determination. Though part of Canada, the Quebec region retains its unique characteristics, to the extent that French is its official language. But after die-hard elements toyed with the sensibilities of the units, Yugoslavia violently splintered in the early 1990s.
Out of the bitter war came out independent states of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia. Nigeria, after an earlier civil war, cannot afford such senseless bloodletting again.
True federalism does not entail secession. It is an antidote to it. But the alternatives for the country are bleak indeed. For this not to happen, we need perceptive leadership across the board. This is the least that Nigeria deserves.