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In the last one year since he began piloting the affairs of State, President Muhammadu Buhari has embarked on a two-pronged war – one against Boko Haram insurgents in the Northeast, and another against those who fraudulently enriched themselves, particularly officials of the immediate past government and their collaborators in the private sector. In both wars, the Buhari administration has made significant progress. In the Northeast, Boko Haram has been, to borrow the administration’s lingo, technically defeated. Steady progress is also being made in the anti-corruption war in the light of the huge sums of stolen funds recovered. Even at that, some Niger Delta militants have resumed sabotage operations in the creeks, attacking the facilities of oil majors, breaking pipelines, bombing oil installations and generally disrupting oil production operations. A group, which calls itself the Niger Delta Avengers, has been claiming responsibility for the serial attacks.
A number of reasons have been attributed for the renewed sabotage of oil facilities in the Niger Delta. Some have attributed it to the Buhari administration’s review of the amnesty programme with 70% reduction in its budget, culminating in 2018 termination plans. Some have said that the Avengers are dancing to the music of ex-militant leader Government Ekpemupolo, aka Tompolo, declared wanted by the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission), and being prosecuted for fraud. Others believe it may not be unconnected with the ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s loss of the 2015 elections, some militants having threatened to make the country ungovernable in the event of Jonathan losing the election, in apparent retaliation to the threat of some northern elements against the former president. The renewed militancy in the creeks may have been caused by one or a combination of all these. And more.
Whichever it may be, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar hit the right cord when he called for the restructuring of the federation. “Our current structure and the practices it has encouraged has been a major impediment to the economic and political development of our country”, Atiku recently told a gathering in Abuja, at the presentation of a book, We Are All Biafrans. According to him, “Agitations by many right thinking Nigerians call for a restructuring and renewal of our federation to make it less centralized, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities. It has not served Nigeria well… The call for restructuring is even more relevant today in light of the governance and economic challenges facing us, as the rising tide of agitations, some militant and violent, require a reset in our relationships as a united nation.” Whatever may be the political permutations of Atiku’s speech, the former vice president and a major player in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has reopened the debate on Nigeria’s skewed federalism and its impediment to the nation’s growth and progress.
The fact is that, as many people have had reason to assert, Nigeria is not working. The country is dysfunctional with most of those who have found themselves in leadership positions at different times, appropriating the resources of the state for personal enrichment, and in the process pauperizing a great majority of the people. Nigeria suffers from a chronic deficit of everything that confers modernity on civilized nations. Supply of electricity is more in the breach. Transportation infrastructure is almost non-existent. There is little or no investment in education and public schools are more often than not closed than opened. Only those condemned to suicide arising from poverty, seek treatment from public health institutions. Public water supply is a mirage. A nation of 180 million people, blessed with acres and acres of arable land, is unable to feed its population without food importation. In the last 17 years of democratic government, the nation has made very little progress, if not standing on the same spot by taking one step forward, two sideways and three backwards. And the reason for this can be located in the military’s original sin.
It is not for nothing that the nation’s founding fathers decided to settle for Federal Republic of Nigeria as the country’s name. The name was the result of deep thinking, an indication that the country is a federation whose constituent units have autonomy in line with best global practices where ethnically diverse and multicultural nations like Nigeria are federalist indeed, and in truth. At the heart of self-government is that a community or federating unit owns its resources, generates its own revenue and disburses this in accordance with its needs.
However, following the unsuccessful January 1966 coup led by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu, the then Army Chief Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who assumed the reins of power naively enacted the unification decree. This, among others, resulted in the July 1966 counter coup in which Aguiyi-Ironsi was killed. Although northern military officers killed Aguiyi-Ironsi ostensibly because of the unification decree, which was thereafter repealed, the ensuing 12-state federation was run on the platform of unitary government. Military governors in the states reported and were beholden to their superiors at the Centre. The government at the Centre allocated revenue to the states on certain criteria that were at best arbitrary. The command and control system, the feature of many years of military administration, grossly distorted the structure of the Nigerian federation, deepened and widened the differences among the constituent units, and sowed the seeds of today’s agitations, violence, militancy and secessionist bids.
Before the military incursion, Nigeria was run as a proper federation. The constituent units, the regional governments, owned their resources, generated their revenue and paid tax to the central government. Then, the country had no oil but prospered as development in each region was driven on the wheel of its resources – groundnut pyramid in the north, cocoa and coffee in the southwest, and palm produce and coal in the southeast. Each region ran the race of development at its own pace and there was healthy rivalry and competition among the regional leaders. The military intervened with its command and control structure and things have never been the same again.
It could be understandable if the military soaked the nation’s federalism in the sweat of unitary government. But then 17 years of democratic government, why have the politicians been unable to dry off this sweat, this centralization of resources, and this reliance by almost all the states on the central government for survival? Aren’t the politicians worried about the desperation by all and sundry to take over power at the Centre, and when there to stay put? Shouldn’t they be disturbed that this country cannot go on like this; that sooner or later something would have to give? There is no doubt that Nigeria is adrift and if what is required is not done fast, may soon be lost. As the Yoruba love to say, a man who does not know where he is going should remember where he is coming from. After about 50 years of floating nowhere, Nigeria needs to urgently return to the starting block by returning to the federalism practised in the First Republic, not necessarily with three regional structure, or even six as has been advocated by some people lately, but for each constituent unit, as would be negotiated and agreed upon, to own its resources, generate its revenue and simply pay tax to the central government.
Buhari did not show required political correctness to have, in his one-year anniversary interview, dismissed the report of the 2014 Constitutional Conference where some agreements on the rejigging of our federation were negotiated. The leadership of the then opposition APC may not have bought into the conference at the time so as not to give the Jonathan administration any advantage, that is not enough reason for Buhari not to look at the report as certain decisions negotiated mean a great deal to some critical ethnic nationalities in the country. The war to restructure Nigeria into a proper federation is one Buhari should be seen fighting. Without successfully fighting this war, Nigeria, I’m afraid, would be unable to win the war against corruption, militancy, secessionist agitation and violence.