WHAT IS TRUE FEDERALISM?

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AKIN OSUNTOKUN BY DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA  

akin.osuntokun@thisdaylive.com

“Initiate action to amend our Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to states and local governments in order to entrench true Federalism and the Federal spirit”-APC MANIFESTO

As indicated, the quote above originated from the APC manifesto. I extracted it for a number of reasons. First is the specificity, clarity and equivocal statement of its commitment to the restructuring of Nigeria agenda. Second is to highlight the centrality of the party to any political agenda in contemporary Nigeria; and that its support or lack of it is consequential to the realization of the agenda. The predominance of the party is indicated in the fact that it is the platform from which the incumbent President, majority of state governors; and majority of the National Assembly and state legislative arms members were elected.

Still there are categories of Nigerians who express confusion at what the restructuring agenda basically entails. There is the category of those who are genuinely ignorant and suffer short attention span; there is the other category which feigns misunderstanding and deliberately conflates its meaning and import; and then there is another one which presumes to debunk the agenda from the standpoint of superior knowledge and understanding.

The most frequently cited and disputed component is the identification of the objective of restructuring as ‘true federalism’. In essence, the disputation should amount to little more than an academic exercise. If the good faith of all parties concerned is guaranteed, there should be no compelling reason why the protagonists of the actualisation of federalism would not concede to the removal of the qualification of true from true federalism-if that is the condition for the attainment of national consensus on the issue. If you take away true, we are still left with the substance-federalism. Not a bad bargain, don’t you think? Not if we are historically conscious-so we are not condemned to relive its bitter lesson.

You will recall the story of the Aburi Accord where on arrival in Lagos two different versions of the Accord suddenly emerged. Needless to reiterate the fact that failure to reconcile the two versions led directly to the civil war. Old habits die hard and so it came to be that forty nine years later this precedence resurrected in the materialization of several editions of the 2016 National budget.

More importantly, the topmost standard bearers of the APC, President Mohammadu
Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo now appear to have a Presidential version and interpretation of restructuring different from what was conspicuously written into their Party manifesto. In blatant departure from the Party position and the first intimation of his irritation with the subject, the President (and leader of the Party) foreclosed further engagement on the issue by demonising it as an aspiration that is at odds with the unity of Nigeria. He went down memory lane to invoke the symbolism of the civil war narrative (of unity vs disunity) as the equivalence of the contemporary debate on federalism. In an unaccustomed display of mirth, he dramatized the occasion with the recall of the triumphal civil war slogan and acronym of the surname of the civil war leader-Go on with one Nigeria, Gowon.

In solidarity, the Vice-President (and Law Professor) seconded his principal’s motion and claimed that his view on restructuring was still evolving. He then commenced his journey of discovery by setting up restructuring as the trivia of ‘giving more money to the states at the expense of the federal government’. Subsequently, the journey graduated to the recommendation of economic diversification as the more appropriate kernel of restructuring. Yet, Osinbajo is a meritorious professor of constitutional law and the germane question is how would he grade a student who gave the same views (as his) as tantamount to restructuring? As the vice president superfluously grapples with the concept of federalism, he stands liable to the charge of aiming to reinvent the wheel. In this quest, he needs go no further than the manifesto of his Party. It is against this background of the tendency of Nigeria leaders to suffer convenient memory lapse that scepticism becomes a critical political virtue, that the observance of caution is the better part of valour.

Those who have qualms with the true federalism nomenclature argue (correctly), that conceptually, ‘true federalism’ is a misnomer-to the extent that it does not conform to the descriptive vocabulary of the broad spectrum of scholarship on federalism. And that any characterisation of federalism that falls outside the demarcation of centralised and decentralised federalism is, to this effect, null and void. But we can only go so far and no further. True federalism presupposes the existence of false federalism and vice versa and this is precisely the point-that it is false to identify what we are practising in Nigeria as federalism, it is false federalism. The logic and authenticity of true federalism specifically derives its meaning from the Nigeria context where we wrongly and falsely identify the reality of quasi-unitary practise as federalism.

This peculiar behaviour is uniquely Nigerian and it is consistent with the Nigerian culture of saying and professing one thing and doing another. So if what we practise in Nigeria is not federalism and we insist on calling it federalism then it is correct to call it by its proper name and that is false federalism. It is this false identification that gives validity to the notion of true federalism. As in the tradition of dialectical materialism, every tendency presupposes its contradiction and to every thesis there is the antithesis. Federalism, like any other concept cannot be open-ended and indeterminate. Given the experience of its political history, Nigerians should be able to identify federalism when they see one.

The 1966 termination of the extant federalism of the first republic gave rise to a series of events that eventually culminated in the present trivialisation and caricature of federalism-consisting of thirty six nominal and dependent states which are inevitably subservient to a patronising and hegemonic central government. As the regions and states (the supposed coordinate and constituent units) were being broken into bits and pieces and increasingly weakened, the central government was correspondingly getting magnified and empowered.

In equal measure, it has to be acknowledged that the concept of restructuring is not synonymous with the devolution and decentralisation of power (normalisation of federalism). The contrary trend of the centralisation and unification of power is no less a model of restructuring. And as a matter of fact, it is this negative trend that embodies the movement of the constitutional structure of Nigeria since 1966.

It is a platitude to aver that the protracted rule of military dictatorship successfully accomplished the recreation of Nigeria in its own image- of unified unitary command culture. It is the deconstruction of this legacy and retracing our steps back to federalism that constitute the summation of the restructuring agenda in Nigeria. It will be deployed through the agency of rewriting the constitution to give effect to the devolution and decentralisation of power to the lower tiers of governance. And the primary implication of this (devolution and decentralisation of power from the central government to the lower tier) is matching the allocation of resources and values to the new constitutional configuration. The virtues of structural equilibrium, political balance and efficient utilisation of resources are the intended end.

REALITY CHECK FROM GENERAL ALANI AKINRINADE

“First, the APC must be told, in no uncertain terms that it is fraudulent. They led us down the garden path, lying to us about what is in the end of the tunnel. What was in the end of the tunnel was restructuring and each one of them, the party chairman, the president, his vice, and in that order, are all talking from the other side of their mouths now. In other words, they lied to us in 2015 before the election. My message to them is, they should embark on a very major exercise now to restructure the country, otherwise, how do they propose to settle the crisis in the South-South because it is becoming embarrassing. A man whose land you went to tap resources and then he couldn’t farm or fish, because you bastardised his farmland and you then send back to him stipends from what you took away from his land, such a man can never be happy”.

“Is the APC thinking that the matter of religion, ethnicity and other crises across the country are just going to go away? Even the late Sardauna of Sokoto said so, that we are a disparate people and we must recognise that fact and use it to our advantage. Nobody is going to build Nigeria the way APC is going about it. I’m not too sure how many people sing our National Anthem again because they don’t even believe in it. There is nothing like unity in this country. Unity can only exist when we all understand one another and there are some mutual relationships. If I know you are always cheating me by giving 44 local councils to Kano and giving Lagos 20, which is not in the same parameter with Kano in terms of population, production and name it, how can I be happy”?

“However rickety Nigeria has become, if there is a wholesome reconstruction and re-engineering of the system, it can work. That was the major reason the Southwest went along with the APC and Buhari, as the presidential candidate in 2015….to tell us that he didn’t read the recommendations and that it is best for the archives and that, in fact, restructuring is unnecessary and according to his vice, what we needed is diversification and whatsoever, I remain baffled. They were just saying we would diversify into agriculture and solid minerals, as if the items will come from heaven.. If the APC fails to do something in that direction, I’m not talking about the 2014 conference report alone, but all others preceding it that have similar recommendations to restructure this country, then President Buhari may forget it and I’m saying he is likely to be the last president of this country. It is as bad as that”.