By Femi Falana
Francis Adekunle Fajuyi was born on June 26, 1926 in Ado, Ekiti. He was a clerk when he decided to join the West African Frontier Forces in 1943.
Colonel Fajuyi was a professional to the core. He did the country proud wherever he served at home and abroad. Unlike governors who acquire billions of naira within days of their election or assumption of office, Fajuyi never stole a dime. He is being celebrated today because he served the nation with his integrity intact. As a patriotic professional he never took part in the violent January 15, 1966 coup carried out by a handful of majors which claimed the lives of some political leaders and military officers of northern and western extraction. As the killings did not reflect federal character it was alleged that it was ethnic cleansing.
As the January 15, 1966 uprising failed, the then most senior military officer in the Nigerian army, General Aguiyi Ironsi became the head of state. Colonel Fajuyi was appointed the military governor of western region. On July 28, 1966, General Ironsi was at Ibadan to address traditional rulers of Western Nigeria. Barely 24 hours later, a gang of soldiers on a revenge mission came to arrest the head of state. Colonel Fajuyi who was his host was not a target of the mutineers. Even though he had the opportunity to escape when the armed troops arrived the Government Lodge; he was determined to save the life of his guest. He pleaded with the mutineers but his plea fell on deaf ears. At that juncture, both military leaders were seized and subjected to degrading treatment before they were taken to an outskirt of Ibadan where they were gruesomely assassinated.
Although the political atmosphere at the time was full of intrigues, betrayals and cowardice, Colonel Fajuyi displayed exceptional courage, loyalty and sacrifice. Unfortunately, the military and civilian wings of the ruling class refused to learn any lesson from Fajuyi’s life of sacrifice. The coup and counter coup of 1966 plunged the country into a 30-month civil war. Even though the war ended almost 50 years ago there are still cries of marginalisation by various sections of the country. Owing to the inability of the federal government to address the challenges of governance the country is currently fighting ethno-religious wars, which have led to the mindless destruction of lives and properties. The war being waged against the country by insurgents and militants constitutes a threat to the corporate existence of the country.
The justification for removing General Ironsi from office was the promulgation of the Unification Decree No 43 of 1966, which put an end to the federal status of Nigeria. But successive military regimes later turned Nigeria into a full-fledged unitary state. The efforts to restore federalism in Nigeria through restructuring have since been rebuffed by the federal government.
Renewed Clamour for Restructuring
Contrary to the misleading impression of certain highly placed Nigerians, the 2014 National Conference did not recommend the restructuring of the country. In fact, the most reactionary recommendation of the confab was that Nigeria be split into 54 states! But the conference recommended a review of the revenue allocation formula to reduce the allocation of the federal government alone from 52 percent to 42 percent while the states and local government should be allocated 58 percent.
Other recommendations include the creation and funding of local governments by state governments, transfer of certain items from the exclusive list to the concurrent list in the constitution, revival of agriculture and development of solid minerals, stoppage of official sponsorship of holy pilgrimages, establishment of special courts to fight corruption, exclusion of immunity from corruption and other criminal offences. By far the most important recommendation was the unanimous resolution that the fundamental objectives enshrined in chapter 2 of the Constitution be made justiciable. Even though the report of the confab was submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan on August 20, 2014 he did not implement any of the recommendations until he left officenine months later.
President Muhammadu Buhari is reported to have said that the report of the conference has been consigned to the dustbin of history. With due respect, I wish to submit, without any fear of contradiction, that the Federal Government has been unwittingly compelled to adopt and implement some of the recommendations of the Conference. For instance, the federal government has decided to establish grazing zones to stop the menace of violent attacks on farmers by herdsmen. In line with the recommendation that the fundamental objectives be actualized, the Buhari administration has earmarked N500 billion for the execution of welfare programs for the poor and vulnerable citizens in the 2016 national budget.
Section 2 of the 1999 Constitution states that Nigeria shall be an indissoluble and indivisible political entity.
The Buhari administration has been accused by the media of favouring the South-west in the constitution of the federal cabinet and the North-west and North-east zones in other political appointments. The elite in certain sections of the country has cried out against marginalisation in political appointments. A former federal legislator, Dr. Junaid Mohammed has pointedly accused President Buhari of nepotism in the composition of the government. In response to the allegations, the Presidency has assured Nigerians that the remaining appointments would ensure fair representation at the end of the day. Although it is interesting that no one is complaining of the inadequate representation of women, the youths and physically challenged people in the government, the attention of President Buhari ought to be drawn to the federal character principle enshrined in the Constitution. Indeed, the federal character Act insists on equitable distribution of political appointments and social amenities.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar recently reopened the debate on restructuring. While the Presidency dismissed the call, many interest groups have commended Alhaji Abubakar for his intervention. It is interesting to note that the attention of the Nigerian people has not been drawn to the restructuring of the national economy, which has been carried out in the country by successive regimes to enrich a few people. Incidentally, it was Atiku who presided over the restructuring of the nation’s economy through the liquidation of public assets and the privatization of the commanding height of the economy. The policy led to the official cornering of the commonwealth by imperialism and its local lackeys. All public enterprises and major assets including oil blocks were sold to the so called “core investors”.
A retired general who is one of the beneficiaries of economic restructuring once confessed that he did not know what to do with the sum of $2 billion realised by him from the sale of the oil block allocated to him by the government. My submission is that the nation cannot be seriously restructured without equitable redistribution of wealth. Therefore, those who have cornered our commonwealth should not be allowed to talk of restructuring in a vacuum. In other words, the campaign for restructuring should encompass the decentralization and democratisation of political and economic powers, which have been privatised by all factions of the ruling class. In particular, the struggle for federalism has to confront the control of the national economy by imperialism and the comprador bourgeoisie.
The Struggle for Restructuring by Governors
Even on the political front, the governors have successfully used the law to fight for the devolution of some powers from Abuja. For instance, whereas the Constitution recognises a 3-tier system the governors have practically reduced them to 2. It is common knowledge that all the 36 governors, regardless of political affiliations, have reduced local government councils to extension of state governments. Hence, contrary to Section 7 of the Constitution which prescribes that the system of local governments shall be by democratically elected councils, all chairmen and councilors of local governments are either appointed by governors or “elected” through dubious elections conducted by state electoral bodies. Before then, the state governments had, through a judicial decision, blocked the statutory move to monitor local government funds by the federal government. The state governments have also defeated the federal government and won the legal battles to control physical planning, land use, collection of hotel and hospitality taxes etc. without interference from Abuja.
Aside the legal victories, the state governments have gone ahead to encroach on the exclusive legislative list without any serious challenge from the federal government. For instance, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Imo states are operating airports built by them. Many other states are building their own. Lagos state is constructing a rail line and has begun work on the 4th mainland bridge. Yet, airports, railways and waterways are federal matters. With dwindling revenue from the federation account, the federal government is going to be forced to relinquish more powers to state governments.
Already, due to lack of funding by the federal government, the Nigeria Police Force has become a state police as police commands are largely funded by state governments. For example, the federal government supplied the Lagos state police command with only 20 vehicles in the last 8 years whereas the state government donated 700 vehicles to the police command during the same period. Since he who pays the piper dictates the tune, it has been established that the state commissioners of police are more loyal to state governors than the President. On account of such abuse of the federal police force by the governors, many people are opposed to the establishment of state police. I am of the strong view that the fears of intimidation by state police can be allayed if the control of the police is democratised by ensuring that the police council in every state is peopled by accredited representatives of credible civil society organizations.
As far as state governors are concerned, the only serious battle left to be waged with respect to restructuring is to challenge the allocation of 52 percent of the revenue of the federation to the federal government. Governors who go to Abuja at the end of every month to collect cheques from the sale of crude oil are not prepared to fight for fiscal federalism. By the way, do we need the fiat of Abuja to have regional or zonal economic integration in the face of the current economic crisis? What have the state governors done with the powers, which have devolved to them from Abuja since 1999? Have such powers not been deployed to enrich many governors, intimidate political opponents and oppress the people? Today, no candidate can contest election in any state without the endorsement of the governor. Unlike the President whose budgets are scrutinized by federal legislators, the budgets presented by state governors to the state houses of assembly are passed by state legislators without debates. Similarly, the assembly members are afraid to screen the list of nominees sent to them for confirmation by state governors.
The federal legislators who have commenced fresh moves to amend the Constitution are vehemently opposed to restructuring that will transfer powers from the centre to the federating units. In the ongoing move to alter the Constitution via the 4th Amendment, the National Assembly members are proposing immunity for legislators, pension for life for the principal officers, financial autonomy for legislative houses to fix the emoluments of members and pad the budgets etc. That is the legislators’ negative contribution to the debate on fiscal federalism.
In the light of the foregoing, the campaign for true federalism is meaningless if it is not anchored on democratization, popular participation, accountability and transparency. Otherwise, powers are going to be transferred from Abuja to the emperors manning the state governments if the status quo remains. The debate should therefore be redirected to address the viability of the 36 states and 774 local governments structure, the expansion of the democratic space and popular control of political and economic powers by mass organisations in the country. Those who are genuinely interested in true federalism should support the struggle for the redistribution of the commonwealth and the devolution of political and economic powers from the centre to state governments with clearly defined responsibilities.
The best way to honour Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi is to mobilise the Nigerian people to be inspired by his life of principle and sacrifice. As no nation can develop on the basis of artificial unity, members of the ruling class should stop deceiving themselves by saying that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. More importantly, the history of the civil war should be taught in all our schools so that young citizens can acknowledge the genuine heroes of the struggle to keep Nigeria one on the basis of social justice. As the unity of Nigeria is being negotiated with violent groups, the government should be compelled to implement the provisions of Chapter II of the Constitution. It is the faithful commitment to the implementation of the minimum welfare programme that can guarantee the corporate existence of the country.
• The column is adapted from a lecture given by Mr. Falana recently in Lagos to mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Lt. Colonel Adekunle Fajuyi, First Military Governor of Western Region.