AKIN OSUNTOKUN: DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA , Email: akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

In the advocacy and compulsion for the revival of federalism in Nigeria, two tendencies have become emergent. One is positivist and the other is negativist but both are driving the country in the same direction and destination. The most significant contemporary force of the former was the last National political conference hosted and promoted by the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. It is the most significant in terms of legitimacy and the optimal demand of majoritarian democracy-consensus. Regardless of the politics of its convocation, the conference was fairly and genuinely representative of all sub national groups and interests comprising Nigeria.

In the fastidious requirement of the concurrence of over 70% of the delegates for the adoption of resolutions, the burden of proof and a most conservatively demanding threshold of acclamation was met. What was then achieved (and achievable) in regard of reviewing the constitutional framework of Nigeria towards a meaningful federalism was the irreducible minimum. Nonetheless it was a good beginning in testing the waters and allaying the fears of those instinctively opposed to any talk of restructuring and decentralisation of governance in Nigeria.

Next in the order of the positivists are the esteemed personalities and opinion leaders like the former top international civil servant, former commonwealth secretary general no less, Chief Emeka Anyaoku. In the address he presented at Ibadan the other day, he has articulated and captured all the salient points and filled in the gaps in the advocacy of opening the eyes that are still closed to what is in the best interest of us all. It is a tour de force made more compelling by the subtlety and forbearance of logic and language of the presentation. I shall now cede the floor to him as he no less deserves.

“It is an incontrovertible fact that Nigeria was making more progress in national development in the early years of its independence when it practised a truer federalism with four regions as federating units that had substantial powers devolved to them from the centre.

“Those were the days of significant exports of groundnuts, tin ore, and very high quality leather (marketed abroad as Moroccan leather) from the Northern region; of cocoa from the Western region; of rubber and timber from the Mid-West region; and of palm produce and coal from the Eastern region of Nigeria. They were also the days of healthy competition between the regions with the regional Premiers—Sir Ahmadu Bello in the North, Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the West, Dr Michael Okpara in the East, and Chief Dennis Osadebey in the Mid-west embarking on, and delivering manifest socio-economic projects.”

In this age of rising global move away from the use of fossil fuel, and particularly in this period of continuing fall in the price of crude oil, the constitution must enable the country to plan and pursue a non-crude-oil-based economic development. It must also address the issue of concentration of power at the centre, which fuels the destabilising competition for the control of the centre between the country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups.

And now an indication, by no means exhaustive, of how, in my view, responsibilities and the nationally generated revenue can be shared between the centre and the federating regions in the restructured Nigeria.
The federal government should retain exclusive powers over federal matters and related institutions including finance and monetary policy, defence, foreign affairs, immigration, customs, aviation, maritime, minerals (liquid & solid), internal security (but liaising with regional security agencies), judiciary (but only the Supreme Court), education (but only federal universities and supervision of standards for all tertiary institutions), health (only federal universities’ teaching hospitals including at least one state-of-the-art specialist hospital per region), and federal highways and railways.
The six federating regions should have responsibility over their fiscal matters, law and order (including the police), education, health, power (to be shared with the centre), transportation (roads & inland waterways), and economic development (investments, agriculture, etc.).

The federally-generated revenue should be allocated on the following basis: 40% to be retained by the federal government for its substantially reduced responsibilities with up to 15% of revenue derived from minerals (solid & liquid) going to the mineral-producing areas for addressing the resultant environmental damage; and 60% to be shared equally among the six federating regions.

In this age of rising global move away from the use of fossil fuel, and particularly in this period of continuing fall in the price of crude oil, the constitution must enable the country to plan and pursue a non-crude-oil-based economic development. It must also address the issue of concentration of power at the centre, which fuels the destabilising competition for the control of the centre between the country’s diverse ethnic and religious groups.

Instead of the present structure of 36 economically unviable states with concentrated political power at the centre, the National Assembly should convert the existing six geopolitical zones, which have been recognised and are being used for a number of political decisions and actions, into the more viable federating units of a truly Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The 36 states can be retained as development zones within the regions but without full administrative paraphernalia. And it would be up to the six federating regions to consider and meet any demands for the creation of new development zones within them.
It is indeed inexcusable that in a country that is endowed with so many untapped solid minerals, and such vast arable land for significant agricultural production, these resources have remained inadequately exploited for the benefit of its citizens of whom no less than 70% still live in massive poverty.

As more viable units for planning and attracting investments in larger development projects, the six regions will facilitate the necessary shift from the present philosophy and reliance by the 36 states on “sharing the national cake”, to focusing on production and internally generated revenue within the regions. In addition, internal security and crime control can be more effectively managed by the people in the regions who know and are more familiar with the local environment.

In the representation of the National constitutional conference and opinion leaders like Anyaoku, I have identified, (not exhaustively), the positivists but I have not defined the category. The positivists are those advocating federalism via the route of reform, reason, logic, persuasion, mutuality and the filial obligation of a shared Nigerian brotherhood. On the other hand, there is the category of auto-centric disintegrative forces of the negativists comprising the subversives, separatists, nihilists and anarchists who tend to operate outside the bounds of the extant political and constitutional order.

In the main and in combination they aim to repudiate in its entirety rather than reform the constitutional status quo. When the revolutionary forces of upheaval they unleash have attained to the status of a perfect storm, a last ditch rescue and salvation option is available in the convocation of mandatory and constituent powers of a sovereign national conference-an ominous red flag caution of the apocalypse that lies in wait around the corner.

Save the yet not fully understood disruptive and subversive corporate personality of the crude oil economy the others in this category are easily identifiable. They are the double Bs of Boko-Haram and Biafra; the resurgent Niger Delta guerrilla insurgency and a latent violence prone irredentism of the Odua Peoples’ Congress (OPC). The reasoning that Nigeria is a major advertisement for the ascription of the ‘oil curse’ syndrome is not open to contestation. The meaning of this ascription is the tragic irony that rather than the blessing implied in the unearned income it confers, it turns a curse in the tendency to inculcate the culture of waste and profligacy, regression from productivity to outright repudiation of hard work; and a subversively corrupt national elite.

For Nigerian federalism, the ascendance of the mono cultural crude oil economy-beginning from 1970 and coinciding with the triumphant military\unitary rule era of the immediate aftermath of the civil war-came at a prohibitive cost. It came at a period of comprehensive entrenchment of unitary rule and exercised a massive reinforcement effect on the dismantling of federalism that commenced in January 1966. The quantum leap in oil revenue occasioned by the oil boom spawned the destructive effect of blasting to smithereens the principle of fiscal federalism-with its emphasis on derivation as the major predicate of sharing revenue. And just as it helped to destroy Nigerian federalism by its plenitude, the contemporary collapse of the oil industry would, by default of little or no oil largesse available to share at the centre, compel a retreat into reinventing federalism.

From the North of Nigeria, the negativist pressure been exerted by Boko Haram is better captured in this characterisation “Boko Haram’s goal of hollowing out the Nigerian state and eroding national cohesion by all means possible has remained unchanged. By continuing to challenge the unity and stability of Africa’s most populous country and biggest economy, provoking an unprecedented displacement of 2.2 million people with long-term economic, environmental and social implications for the region, the group has been able to put pressure on the hard-won progress and stability of Western and Central Africa”.

And from the south of Nigeria “The resurgence of the Biafran secessionist movement is symptomatic of a much deeper problem with the Nigerian state. The federal government’s chokehold on states and ethnic groups is fuelling multiple demands for autonomy and the right to manage resources at a local level — demands that could ultimately lead to a fracturing of the country. The latent insurgency in the oil-producing Niger Delta is one example of this trend, as is the emergence of the OPC, which has acted both as a violent vigilante group and as an advocate for the autonomy of the Yoruba people of South-western Nigeria”.

Between the positivists and the negativists, Nigeria is confronted with two options. The country can seize the moment and proactively embark on the initiative of reforming and aligning with the promptings of a viable federalist structure or cede the initiative to the multiple demons of destructive destabilisation that may at best painfully bear the fruit of a return to federalism and at worst sound the death knell of Nigeria that was doubtfully foretold for 2015.