The restructuring of the Nigerian federation is long overdue

For about four years now, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice-President, has been advocating the need to restructure the Nigerian federation. He has seen no reason yet to change his mind. In renewing that call at a recent book presentation in Abuja, Atiku argued that the present structure was a pointer to the tension at the heart of the nation. “Agitations by many right-thinking Nigerians call for a restructuring and a renewal of our federation to make it less centralised, less suffocating and less dictatorial in the affairs of our country’s constituent units and localities,” he said.

Even though Atiku’s call has been consistent, especially in recent years, it is not as if the idea he propounds is a novel one. It nudges at the heart of millions of Nigerians who are outraged by the present structure of the federation which has increasingly become a recipe for uncertainty, insecurity and instability. It is therefore hardly surprising that Atiku’s thesis on federalism was greeted with enthusiasm in several quarters by critical stakeholders who share with him the view that our country is not working.

Indeed, some eminent Nigerians as well as groups such as the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, “Afenifere” and the pan–Igbo umbrella body, the “Ohanaeze Ndigbo” have endorsed the call. “We have always preached what would make every component to be free, proud, develop and be ready to innovate” said ‘Afenifere’s Secretary General, Mr. Sehinde Arogbofa, while Chief Enwo Igariwey of Ohanaeze agreed: “We have been calling for restructuring; we believe it is in the best interest of the country.”

There is no denying the fact that Nigeria practices a weird form of federalism that is not only antithetical to growth and development, but also breeds needless tension. It is federalism with highly unitary tendencies, where almost all powers are concentrated at the centre whereas the federating units–the states and local governments–are reduced to mere appendages.

For the nation of its size and population, a local government in Yenagoa in Bayelsa State or Birnin Kebbi in Kebbi State looks up to Abuja for police protection. So also is the disabling structure of the economy that the federal government collects a disproportionate amount of the revenue accruing to the nation while the law prescribes an allocation formula designed more to encourage laziness instead of productivity, equity, fairness and justice. The system also allows for little or no accountability with waste and needless duplications at practically all levels. Now, the federal government is recruiting teachers for primary schools that are under the control of local governments!

The overbearing powers at the centre make the contest for the Nigeria’s president–perhaps the most powerful in the world–a “do or die” affair. The power wielder uses his position to dispense favours or ill–will to whomever he pleases, the type that has helped to create many war zones across the nation today.
However, like Atiku also rightly observed, the Nigerian variant of federalism was at the initial stage tolerable. The federal system inherited at independence was one which allowed the federating units to retain their autonomy to raise and retain revenues, promote development, and conduct their affairs as they saw fit, while engaging in healthy competition with one another. Now after 17 years of democracy, the country is yet to wean itself of the large doses of unitarism injected into the system by its military rulers.

The latest effort to revisit the structure and make it more accommodating came by way of the National Political Conference organised by the President Jonathan administration in 2014. Even when we had misgivings about the motive of those who convened the conference and its composition, some remarkable agreements were nonetheless reached. But Jonathan’s successor, President Muhammadu Buhari and his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) do not seem to be excited by it. The president has indeed dismissed the report as fit only for the archives.

Yet we believe that all factors considered, restructuring the polity so that our country can work for every citizen while fulfilling its potential is an issue we cannot afford to be complacent about any longer.

QUOTE: All factors considered, restructuring the polity so that our country can work for every citizen while fulfilling its potential is an issue we cannot afford to be complacent about any longer