Emmanuel Ugwu writes that there is no let up in the current agitation for a restructuring of the country
The search for the solution to the myriads of problems pulling Nigeria back from attaining nationhood and development has become a jigsaw puzzle. Fitting the pieces together to make a fine complete shape has defied a common approach. The idea for resolving the puzzle is as diverse as the nation’s political, ethnic and religious plurality.
But the solution that has continued to enjoy wide acceptance across all the known divides is true federalism. Indeed the clamour for true federalism continues to increase and reverberate across the country. Unfortunately, this is one sound President Muhammadu Buhari hates to hear given his aversion to the 2014 national conference, which in its report recommended that Nigeria should revert to true federalism.
At the 17th annual convention of the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) held in Enugu on June 12, several eminent personalities lent their voices to the clamour for true federalism. With the theme, “Nigeria still in pursuit of true fiscal federalism” the convention offered the speakers the opportunity to add their voices to the already increasing decibel from every part of the country.
Elder statesman and prominent Yoruba leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who described himself as “a consistently consistent federalist” said the foundation for a true federalism was laid for Nigeria as far back as 1954 following the constitutional conference in London, which culminated in the Lyttleton Constitution.
Quoting the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who had observed that “Nigeria is not a nation but a geographical expression made up of various ethnic nationalities diverse in language, culture and religion”, Adebanjo said it was fitting for the founding fathers to adopt true federalism as the appropriate form of government and that at independence in 1960, the federal nature of the country was clearly established in the Constitution hence it is a puzzle that the search for true federalism is still elusive.
According to Adebanjo, true federalism was established as the best form of governance among the federating units and it thrived before the military intervention destroyed it. He said there was no reason for the continued delay in reverting to true federalism as the liberty it afforded the federating regions in the first republic to develop at its own pace according to its priority resulted in “healthy rivalry among the regions as they were competitive in initiating various developmental projects in their areas of influence.”
The elder statesman concluded that the solution to the ongoing separatist agitations and militancy was for Nigeria to retrace its steps to true federalism. “It is my strong view that to put a stop to the various acts of uprising in the country today, be it the Niger Delta Avengers, MASSOB, IPOB of the new agitation for the state of Biafra, will require a change of our constitution to allow for the restructuring of the country under a truly federal system. Then and only then can we have peace in the country without which there can be no progress.”
As it stands, the right step in the journey back to true federalism appears to have been taken with the 2014 confab. Professor Jerry Gana in his speech titled: “That we may live together in peace,” insisted that “We must return to the path of true federalism”. He said the concentration of so much power at the centre during the military rule has become unwieldy and suffocating hence the rising agitations for self-determination in various parts of the country.
The former Minister of Information said the report of the 2014 national confab if implemented would go a long way to ease the present tensions in the country. “Any serious government would take that report very seriously,” he said, adding that the President and his ruling party (APC) should first of all study the report and go ahead to implement all the acceptable provisions without delay “so that people can live in peace and harmony.”
Fiscal federalism is synonymous with true federalism and that was why a Niger Delta activist, Akio Briggs dug deeper in her contribution to emphasise this salient aspect. She noted that political leaders have refused to do the right thing even when they know that returning the nation to true federalism would solve a lot of national problems. Rather than summoning the political will to do what is right to save Nigeria, the politicians, according to Briggs, have been playing up the nation’s diversity as if it is the problem.
“There is no doubt that what makes us great is our diversity. Our diversity is not our problem; it is the politicians that are manipulating it,” she said. The resource control campaigner said the failure of the nation’s leaders to face the truth has created an angry generation of youths that only know “a troublesome Nigeria” hence “we must go back to true federalism.”
Briggs explained that those in control of power were contented playing the ostrich whereas they actually knew that the system was no longer sustainable. “We should not run away from the way forward,” she said, sounding it loud and clear that “We must have fiscal federalism.”
When is true federalism expected to take effect? “This is the time to restructure Nigeria to true federalism,” said Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former governor of old Anambra State.
Leader of the Igbo women Assembly (IWA), Mrs. Maria Okwor called for referendum on true federalism to resolve the debate once and for all. But a former vice-president of the country, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who chaired the event, was not happy with the precarious situation of democracy owing to agitations for political restructuring of the country. He said the delay in returning Nigeria to true federalism was undermining the efforts of those that fought for the return of democracy after decades of military rule.
According to him, democracy would be strengthened in Nigeria if the much needed national cohesion and peace among the divergent components of the country was achieved. Ekwueme, who led the G34 to oppose the late dictator, Gen Sani Abacha, who incidentally is President Buhari’s hero, noted that the country had reached a point when pretence should no longer becloud the sense of patriotism.
While the speakers all agreed on the urgent need for true federalism, they appeared to have divergent views on the number and nature of the federating units. Professor Gana, while acknowledging that “we have differences here and there on the number of federating units, the most important thing is that we all agreed on the need for true federalism”. Ekwueme and Ezeife believed that the existing six geopolitical zones are just enough and proper to form the federating units.
The latter explained further that the existing states within each zone would become provinces. But Gana was of the view that some of the existing zones are so large that when transformed into federating units the headquarters would be too far away from people for effective representation. Though he did not specifically say if he preferred states to zones as federating units, Gana alluded to the need to create additional states as recommended by the 2015 national conference and even the one of 2005.
Even with the strident calls for true federalism, not everybody is disposed to the idea. Some prefer to maintain the status quo. President Buhari, judging by his utterances and famous body language, belongs to the group that want the pseudo-federalism to be sustained, whereby Nigeria answers a federation in name but practices unitary system of government as bequeathed on her by the military.
Just recently, the president, during a media chat to mark the first anniversary of his administration, publicly expressed his derision for the 2014 confab report, which proponents of true federalism insist holds the key to Nigeria’s return to true federalism. He said he did not like the priority his predecessor attached to the national conference, noting that universities were on strike and keeping children out of school was considered less important to the national confab.
“That is why I haven’t even bothered to read it or asked for a briefing on it and I want it to be confined into the so called archives,” he said derisively. Therefore, Buhari did not leave anybody in doubt that the confab report meant nothing to him and that he has no agenda to restructure the country as being demanded by eminent Nigerians, even from within his own ranks.
But former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who is a prominent member of the ruling party and respected politician from the north, recently joined the clamour for true federalism, when he argued that the present political structure was no longer sustainable. He said the time was ripe for restructuring as the country was already heading towards precipice.
Founder of IYM, Evangelist Elliot Uko said the reason the president and his likes are resisting true federalism was not far-fetched. “They want to take back Nigeria to the heady days in the early 1970s, when their word was law, when everybody trembled at their presence, when they shared our patrimony according to their whims, while the whole country worshiped them as the victorious army of conquest,” he said.
According to him, the proponents of status quo “find it hard to see that the unitary structure they instituted cannot carry us through. They refuse to accept the fact that the present 36 states structure is unsustainable. (Hence) as their old and archaic thoughts about Nigeria clashes with the reality on the ground, they erroneously resort to brutal suppression of the truth, in the false hope that the people would be cowed into submission.”
Uko said the rigid stance of the powers that be against the compelling need to restructure the country has resulted in the “endless massacre of compatriots in cold blood, like we saw in a school compound in Aba on February 9, 2016 and in a Church at Nkpor on the night of 29th May and early morning of 30th May 2016. They still believe that this genocidal killing will help them hold down Nigeria by force and sustain this unworkable unitary structure.”
He said the clamour for self-determination was recognised all over the world, citing Spain, Canada and the United Kingdom, where separatist movements are very active. The IYM leader warned that brutal suppression of people for clamouring for self-determination has only made the Buhari government to be “slowly alienated” from the people while the victims of its brutality have been transformed into heroes overnight”.
The apostles of true federalism therefore insisted that their voices would not be muffled by any brutal force.
As Chief Adebanjo put it, “The truth is that this unitary structure is unworkable and Nigeria will never know peace, unless we restructure Nigeria along the lines of true federalism. The use of force to cow these agitators can never succeed. And so it is aluta continua for true federalism.”
Briggs also gave her own warning, when she said, “We should not run away from the reality on the way forward. If we cannot accept the way we can stay together, then we should agree on the way we cannot stay together.”
The solution that has continued to enjoy wide acceptance across all the known divides is true federalism. Indeed the clamour for true federalism continues to increase and reverberate across the country. Unfortunately, this is one sound President Muhammadu Buhari hates to hear given his aversion to the 2014 national conference, which in its report recommended that Nigeria should revert to true federalism