The news came — and went — suddenly, like the Biblical thief in the night. At the end, however, it was about echoes and rumours of “true federalism”, as the popular Nigerian cliche goes. But pray, is there anything like “false federalism”?
Well, the news hit the wires — President Muhammadu Buhari had “approved” the establishment of state and local government police. If true, that would be a good one for federalism.
Still, local government police, if suggested and pushed from the centre, mocks the federal doctrine. But if it flows from the delegated laws of the state, with the federal government having absolutely no hand in it, aside from the National Assembly partnering with state legislatures to okay such a move, it would have been practical manifestation of the classical federal doctrine.
Either way, the news echoes a correction of Nigeria’s skewed federalism, ridding it of its unitary drawbacks.
Shortly after, however, the Presidency issued a caveat: the president had not “approved” state police. He only set up a committee to look into its recommendation by a body. The committee would report back after three months; and then the government would return to the matter.
There you have it: an echo just got reduced to a rumour! Except the committee plays spoil-sport, in which case the PMB government would have opened itself to a charge of working to an answer to truncate the re-federalization move, it is still some progression, towards the right direction. Better a rumour than nothing at all!
More earnestly, however: the move on re-federalization is a right one. Aside from being the right thing to do — the Nigeria federal set-up is well and truly awry — it would have sucked oxygen from some lobbies, whose means of public life — and mischief — is “restructuring”.
Why? Because the rug would have been pulled from right underneath their feet — not unlike Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guards waiting to join battle. Meanwhile, Operation Desert Storm had blown Iraq away!
Still, the way to go about re-federalization is by solid legislation, not by presidential approval or disapproval. If one president endorses, another can disavow. But Nigerian re-federalization is too important to be left to presidential whims or hubris.
So, let the committee do its work and make the right recommendations. Let the government come up with a white paper, which will form the basis of a constitutional amendment, to reflect the new tamper.
While doing that, however, the federal government can’t be dabbling into local government matters. The other day, a news source quoted the Vice President of saying INEC might soon be saddled with conducting local government elections — wrong move!
While that could have clear short-term value (given the clear abuse of the electoral process at that level by state authorities), local government elections are strictly states’ business, as it is currently done.
Let the status quo remain, for it is perfectly federal to do so. Those abuses would gradually disappear as democracy further deepens.
In any case, it would be far worse to risk a central government, using INEC to impose elected local government officials . That would be recipe for disaster.