“True Federalism” as Panacea

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THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE  kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

Advocates of restructuring of Nigeria talk of “true federalism” as a panacea for Nigeria’s problems. But that is not true for clear reasons. To start with, every federation develops according to its own historical and political peculiarities. A federation is to be continuously nurtured by way of “ bargaining” and “negotiation” among the constituent parts. So it is utterly unrealistic to prescribe “true federalism” as the solution to Nigeria’s problems. In any case, where on earth is an example of such federalism? In that wise, we should be talking about the evolution of the Nigerian federalism instead of clamouring for a mirage called “true federalism”.

While the emergent issues of the Nigerian brand of federalism are undeniable, advocacy for restructuring should not become a diversion from issues of people’s material existence. To be sure, restructuring cannot be a panacea. This is simply because the problem of Nigeria is not only about the geo-political and ethnic structure. The more fundamental and urgent problem is with the socio-economic structure. The restructuring that ethnic and zonal champions are agitating for is only about vertical delineation. At the horizontal level is the structure that has consigned an overwhelming majority of the people into poverty and misery. The socio-economic structure which ethnic and zonal champions are hardly bothered about is ridden with joblessness, hunger, illiteracy, homelessness and disease. Victims of this unjust and inhuman structure who are malnourished, sick, destitute and illiterate are located in every state, every zone and every region of Nigeria.

The poor speak all Nigerian languages. It is important to stress the point once made on this page by this reporter in this federalism debate that without prejudice to the legitimacy of the National Question, Nigeria suffers acutely from crisis of governance. A lot of work remains to be done to keep Nigeria a united country of people of many ethnic groups. Even then, the undercurrents of integrative forces should not be discounted. But, as Edwin Madunagu puts the matter with mathematical clarity, Nigeria is not simply the arithmetic sum of the 450 or so nationalities. Yes, Nigerians belong to ethnic and religious groups. Yet, by the reality of their material existence they also belong to socio-economic classes. They are not just Igbo, Ijaws, or Kanuris. They also belong to other groups as farmers, workers, employers, students, women, businessmen, contractors, importers, professionals, unemployed, billionaires and destitute citizens. A few Nigerians are exploiters and many Nigerians are exploited. The interests of these classes are contradictory. Hence, the immediate crisis the poor socio-economic groups face is that of the political economy and not that of federalism.

The ethnic champions don’t speak for the majority who are victims of the inequitable socio-economic structure. How many members of the Lagos elite, for instance, stop their luxury cars on the road to find out the ethnic identity of the homeless under a bridge? The ethnic champions insist that geo-political restructuring would solve all the problems. That is a monumental diversion. For instance, the neo-liberal ideologues have just further restructured the socio-economic structure in what amounts to a policy coup. They have devalued the currency, raised the cost of energy and retrenchment of workers has become a policy virtue in both the public and private sectors. At least, President Muhammadu Buhari is on record to have said that he was more or less presented with a fait accompli by our free market fundamentalists in power acting under the instruction of the policemen of global capitalism. The enormous existential risks to which the poor people are ultimately exposed to by this reckless experiment in the name of economic management is never the business of champions of geo-political restructuring. The calls for constitutional redistribution of powers among governors and the president do not include the call for the socio-economic empowerment of the people by making Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution justiciable. Geo-political restructuring will not automatically tackle the economic crisis at hand. Proper governance by those with pro-people orientation in power could tackle the problems.

The debate about devolution of powers or making the centre stronger is healthy. But how does creation of more states or merger of some states automatically enable insolvent states pay salaries of workers? No matter the number of states created or merged by restructuring, the governors have to learn the art and science of economic management beyond monthly receipts of allocated revenues from Abuja. Some states cannot provide the people with potable water, primary healthcare and decent primary schools. Is non-payment of salaries a result of an overbearing Abuja preventing the states from “developing at their own pace”? Do the state governments need more constitutional powers from the centre to fulfill the basic obligations of the state to the people?

Besides, there is a lot of conceptual confusion about what exactly restructuring the federation entails. It is understood that the various propositions for restructuring would eventually be distilled into a constitutional framework. For instance, the legitimate call for resource control from the Niger Delta could be tackled through constitutional re-engineering. The police are already heavily equipped in many of the states by the state governments. The police commissioners are members of the state security council working with the governors. What else will the creation of state police achieve beyond the police becoming a political instrument of the governors? Billions of naira have been spent since 1999 to review the constitution. Advocates of Sovereign National Conference believe a new constitution has to be made for it to be legitimate. Last week, some senators proposed at a conference on the review of the constitution placing lawmakers sitting for 181 days a year in four years on pension and conferring immunity on their leaders. To those senators those are the things that make restructuring urgent! How more socially insensitive can those in power get in a country where retired soldiers and policemen who served the nation for 35 years each collapse on pension queues? People are dying of hunger, yet some members of the elite are getting the nation fixated on restructuring.

The people should be wary of those making them to nurse the illusion that restructuring is a panacea for the enormous problems of the nation. Restructuring should not be made a fetish. Poverty eradication is a more urgent task.