Nigeria and the Hoax of True Federalism

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John Okoro

As a people, in our quest to build a nation that will be envied and respected among comity of nations, the time has come for us to take our destiny in our hands. as a people, in order to build. Indeed, our founding fathers meant well when they bequeathed regional autonomy as the basis for our co-existence, which truly is way to go. In the sixties when the groundnut pyramid was flourishing; the bountiful days of cocoa farming raking in resources that built the western region; not to forget the coal and palm oil production that was predominately engaging people of the eastern region, before oil was discovered in commercial quantity in the Niger Delta region. The scramble for oil well has greatly contributed to the delusion of true federalism in our country today.

One can confidently say that era in the history of Nigeria was when the principle of true federalism was actionable and the impact felt throughout the nooks and crannies of the country both in governance and in the area of infrastructural development. I made bold to say that as a country we have long derailed from this principle and reduced ourselves to mere dependent federating units, according to Senator Ike Ekweremadu in one of his public presentations said: “this feeding bottle federalism, this act of robbing Peter to pay Paul remains the cause of our economic quandary”. I cannot but agree with his position that the federating units now depend solely on the whims and caprices of one man in Aso Rock Villa to give direction on how to develop their respective states. It is a shame that our federating units are not self-sustaining; such a system cannot usher in the much needed development that we all crave for at this time of our national life. If truly we want to practice true federalism restructuring is inevitable, we are currently camouflaging Unitarianism as federalism; what an irony of a nation in dire need of development!

The likes of Canada, the U.S., Russia, Australia, China etc have long ago realised that imbibing the true culture of federalism is not only creative but equally sustainable with full autonomy to the federating units to exercise their powers within the confines of the constitution, thus creating healthy competition among the federating states. Little wonder these countries are among the leading economies of the world, with China gradually overtaking the U.S. as the world’s number one economy.

Who says our dear country Nigeria cannot be among the leading economies of the world, if only we can have leaders who would be bold and courageous enough with the right political will to restructure the country? The states should be allowed to fully control their resources; devolution of power is key in this proposition; diversification of the economy would then become easy for states with governors who can think out of the box. The present state of things in the country calls for urgent strategic action plan. Let no one be deceived that the system we operate as at today in Nigeria is federalism it is nothing but a hoax federalism which has proven to be a cog in the wheel of progress.

We need a true federalism thatguarantees equitable distribution of national asset which commensurate to what is being contributed to the national purse, thereby creating enabling environment for component units to harness their God given natural resources. In a true federalism, the three tiers of government should be allowed to operate in full capacity as enshrined in the constitution. The rule of law should be applied to the core rather than the rule of man which results in selective justice.

The call for the restructuring of the country has taken the centre stage at different forum, the latest coming from former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who posits that: “the Federal Republic of Nigeria as currently constituted was not working, saying greater autonomy to states remained the panacea to the country’s multi-faceted internal crisis”. True federalism, I absolutely agree would ensure the proper devolution of power between the central authority and the federating units.

This is the time for our leaders to rise above ethic parochial sentiment that will do us no good and begin to put in place structures policies that will make seamless transition to true federalism possible. Irrespective of political, religious affiliation Nigeria belongs to all of us so let no one see it as his personal estate. The north and south, Muslims and Christians all have a role to play in the rebuilding of this great nation back to the good old days when milk and honey flowed freely in the land, with everyone having a sense of belonging.

Let me use this opportunity to admonish the present government of President Muhammadu Buhari not to hesitate to review the recommendations of the 2014 national conference where distinguished Nigerians came together to brainstorm on the way forward. This is not the time for politicking but a time for critical stocktaking and thinking. It will be counter-productive to throw away the baby with the bathwater. I believe we can be great again if we will be honest enough to tread the path of truth and genuine reconciliation. Old wounds must be allowed to heal. Bridges of unity must be built across the length and breadth of the country, ethnicism and nepotism must give way for meritocracy.

The greatest injustice of all time is a nation living in perpetual self-denial about the challenges threatening to tear the fabrics of its foundation apart. If we have practicedhoax federalism, why not try true federalism and let’s see if things would not change for the better. Delay may be dangerous for we do not know what the future holds. Therefore, let us begin the process of restructuring now or watch the nation sink.

Okoro, a Public Relations Executive, writes from Lagos