The Unremitting Pressure for True Federalism


The political uproar in recent times over marauding herdsmen and minimum wage reflects the struggle to dismantle the current pseudo-federal structure in Nigeria and replace it with a truly federal system. Vincent Obia writes

The people of Nimbo in Uzo Uwani Local Government Area of Enugu State are still licking their wounds after the grisly attack on them by suspected herdsmen on April 25. The attack resulted in the killing of nearly 50 natives. Driven to despair by the circumstances surrounding the violence, the community are wondering why their governor, who is the state’s chief security officer, was not able to protect them, despite having prior knowledge of the attack.

To tackle the security threat, when he was alerted, the governor was relying on the federal security apparatus, which is not responsible to him. But the people have learnt to depend on more than that. Banking on the federal security agencies is no longer enough. The federal government needs to understand this and support the states to build their own individual capacities for security and development.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi came out last Monday with an explanation of the steps he had taken to try to forestall the carnage and the limitations he faced. He said the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Police, and the Department of State Services had explanations to make as to the killings at Nimbo, because they were duly informed about the attack. They did nothing to prevent it, despite assurances from them a day earlier. The governor stopped short of saying that the security agencies had a hand in the killings.
In frustration, Ugwuanyi called his people together on Monday to plan on how to secure themselves.

“I have invited you here today to formally brief you on the prevailing security situation in this state, especially in the aftermath of the killings at Nimbo, and for us to discuss and agree on the formula for safeguarding our land and ensuring the security of lives and property of our people,” the governor said during a meeting with traditional rulers and town union leaders in Enugu.

“We intend to activate the provisions of the extant and relevant laws of Enugu State, particularly, the Neighbourhood Association and Watch Groups Law 2006, which provides for the establishment and operation of neighbourhood watch associations in every autonomous community in Enugu State.”

The people want to be in control of their own destiny. They want to have their own police and other security paraphernalia. The federal apparatuses have proved themselves inadequate in terms of meeting the peculiar needs of Nigeria’s diverse peoples.

Inspector General of Police Solomon Arase seemed to allude to that fact recently, when he said in Jos that the current strength of the Nigeria Police – put at 305, 000 – was not enough to secure the country’s about 170 million people. “The expectations of members of the public in Nigeria are many and varied and exceed the resources and support given to the police,” Arase stated while speaking on the topic, “Police and public partnership in prevention and control of violent crime and conflicts in Nigeria.”

Across the country, the sentiment is the same. The pressure for change from the quasi-unitary structure of power centralisation to a federal system in which the states have control over their own affairs, but under the general control of a central government that would mainly be responsible for national issues, such as currency, foreign affairs, customs and immigration, etc., is mounting.

When in March some cattle herders also attacked Agatu in Benue State, killing more than 500 persons, Governor Samuel Ortom equally expressed frustration with the central security system that was unable to secure his people.

In Kaduna State, despite the freedom of thought, conscience and religion enshrined in the Nigerian constitution, Governor Nasir El-Rufai is pushing a bill through the House of Assembly for a law to regulate preaching and other religious activities in the state. El-Rufai says, “We do not have any ulterior motive other than to put a framework that will ensure Kaduna State citizens live in peace with every one practising his religion…

“We know we have a problem and I am the governor and I need a solution.”
In spite of criticisms, El-Rufai feels he has a responsibility to ensure peace and security in his state. He is right, but he should look into the specific reservations that have been raised and address them.

Another area where it has been almost impossible to sustain political centralism is minimum wage for workers. Minimum wage has remained a national issue contained in the Exclusive Legislative List, where only the federal government has powers to legislate. The Second Schedule of the 1999 Constitution puts in item 34 under the 68-item Exclusive Legislative List, “Labour, including trade unions, industrial relations; conditions, safety and welfare of labour; industrial disputes; prescribing a national minimum wage for the federation or any part thereof; and industrial arbitrations.”

The National Minimum Wage (Amendment) Act 2011, says, “It shall be the duty of every employer (except as provided for under the principal Act as amended) to pay a wage not less than the national minimum wage of N18,000.00 per month to every worker under his establishment.”
But this law is hardly obeyed, as many states – and organisations – have been unable to pay the N18, 000 minimum wage.

Currently, the Nigerian Labour Congress is making demands for minimum wage increases to between N56, 000 and 90, 000 per month, saying the five- year period stipulated for the review of the minimum wage had elapsed. Edo State has gone ahead to increase the monthly incomes of its civil servants to N25, 000, while many states are arguing that they cannot afford any wage increment.

The reality remains that the individual states have different financial capabilities and cannot be successfully force-footed onto the same wage regime. The centralisation of labour issues is no use to anyone. It has been a source of friction between the federal and state governments, and it is hardly enforced.
National chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said recently regarding the minimum wage, “It shouldn’t be a federal matter, states should be allowed to make their decisions based on their abilities to pay. The cost of living is not the same in every part of the country.”

These are an eloquent testimony to the inevitability of true federalism in Nigeria. Federalism is, undoubtedly, the best antidote to underdevelopment in the country. The states must be equipped with necessary laws to harness and utilise their resources, manage their affairs, and secure their environment for the good of the whole country. The current pseudo-federal system is no longer sustainable. It has, in fact, become a huge danger to development.