Despite The Senate Vote


STOP PRESS: This column was being put to bed when the news broke that Nigeria’s dysfunctional Senate just voted against the constitutional amendment recommendation of devolution of powers. Not quite surprising but in the fullness of time, the Senators would learn that history moves with iron necessity-hence the title above
Some observers have taken issues with my advocacy of restructuring and raised relevant points. Because of the potential of those observations to generate profitable debate, I have decided to take them up as fit and proper subject matter for this column. Hereunder I present samples of those rejoinders as questions to which I provided answers

‘I define restructuring differently – because I have a different diagnosis of the Nigerian problem. I fundamentally believe that the problem is us, not the law or the 36-state structure. Under the same laws and structures, let the Arabs or Germans come and take over Nigeria and you will see a different outcome. Take Nigerians to go and populate Germany and Germany will never be the same again. I operate from that angle’.

The standard response to this typically poor Nigerian national rating is that there is no generic Nigerian in the same manner that you have an Arab or a German. Beyond this stock response is the critical observation that Nigerians have not always been like the present crop of Nigerians and were once well poised to matching the best of universal citizenship standard. The Nigerians of today are way qualitatively different from the Nigerians of yesterday.

As a child on occasional forays in rural Ekiti I bore witness to a typical rural economy market exchange that is as alien to contemporary Nigerian as the UFOs are alien to our earthly existence. As a matter of fact I may just be recounting what many readers might have heard from members of the older generation. The seller leaves a farm produce, tuber of yam, for instance, by the wayside. The passer by buyer (all alone by himself) picks up the yam tuber and leaves what he deems a fair price in place for the seller to recoup at his convenience. I am speaking of the early 70s.

Fast forward to two, three and four decades later and ask if it is conceivable to imagine a routine display of comparable moral equivalence in contemporary Nigeria. The difference between the Nigeria of the decades leading up to the early 70s and Nigeria of the decades of the 1990s and beyond is the difference from one socio political dispensation to another; it is the difference between the operative federalism then and the prevailing operative pseudo federalism now. The decline in the moral quality of Nigerians within this generational span is equivalent to the commensurate impoverishment of the political environment. And a large part of this impoverishment is the degradation of federalism.

Following the logic of this deduction, the question the advocates of restructuring are asking is-in what ways can we recreate the Nigeria of 40, 50, 60 years ago? What were the environmental stimuli to which the Nigerians of those ages responded in such a positive manner to which we may reflectively aspire? With respect to the defining moral conduct highlighted above, the first and most crucial stimulus was the aggregate Yoruba culture and tradition in which the virtuous behaviour we illustrated was inherent. If we were desirous of transporting this pan Yoruba trait to the new Nigerian nation, how is this objective best achieved. Is it by reproducing it within a homogeneous political unit or in several decimated units? Which is the more authentic mode of transportation? To put it in the parlance of sociologists what is the autochthonous route of achieving this transportation-the continuity between society and the nation state, rooting the latter on the former.

‘Autochthony means the assertion of not just the concept of autonomy, but also the concept that the constitution derives from (their own) native traditions. The autochthony, or home grown nature of constitutions, give them authenticity and effectiveness’. We argue that the more autochthonous the incorporation of citizens into a nation state, the better adjusted and authentic the citizenship. The greater recognition and accommodation given to the autochthonous identity, (ie Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa-Fulani) and the less diffused the recognition-as in the broken superficial states, the more viable the coordinate units-all adding up to a more viable Nigerian citizenship.

In the logic federalism, if the Yoruba cannot become a nation state on its own (by the default of colonialism) the next best political arrangement would be for the Yoruba nationality to be incorporated into the Nigerian nation state as one autonomous regional unit-not in broken pieces. It is the viability of this regional unit that will add up (with other similarly incorporated regional units) to the viability of Nigeria. This, of course, is in the belief that this Yoruba prototype found similar expression across Nigeria in the Northern and Eastern regions. This then was the formulation of Nigerian federalism.

Had Nigeria been continuously nurtured and groomed in this manner, contemporary Nigerian citizens would not compare so poorly to their German, French or Indian counterparts. It is logical to expect that the Nigerians who populated the western region in 1960 would exhibit a superior standard of behaviour than they now do when the region had been attenuated into six states. The degraded Yoruba corporate identity derives (amongst others) from the loss of local autonomy and self-sustainability in the management of their affairs; the lack of regional consolidation and optimal usage of resources as for instance in owning and operating just one large world class university rather than the resultant sub-standard and wasteful replication in six successor states. The downward spiral continues and incrementally degrades the people inhabiting the decaying environment.

I hasten to caution that I do not speak or aver in absolute or unchallengeable terms. I can only speak of trends and tendencies and there would always be exceptions to the rule. Furthermore, there are intervening variables which serve to reinforce the trend we attribute whether in observance or breach of federalism. One such conspicuous and powerful intervening variable was the oil boom which posted a significant disruptive effect on fiscal federalism-made worse by the disinclination of the Military dictatorship to work conscientiously for the preservation of Nigerian federalism. In addition there was the ethically corrosive effect of the excessive materialism that attended the unearned overflowing income from oil. It helped fostered the culture of elevating conspicuous consumption over productivity and fomented the lack of positive correlation between productivity and reward.

‘There is no iron-cast definition of federalism, contrary to a common belief in Nigeria. It is basically the sharing of power between national and subnational governments. The extent is determined in each country. Indonesia shares revenue the same way we do it in Nigeria. It is still federalism’.

Much of the argument here is platitude especially the reference that the extent (of federalism) is determined in each country-this precisely was how Nigeria determined its own federalism and arrived at the independence constitution in the first place; and the same logic argues against its subsequent distortions. If the same pseudo federalism is working for Indonesia, then maybe there are enabling factors unique to Indonesia such as 90% religious homogeneity. At any rate, kudos to Indonesia but the point here is it is not working for Nigeria and we have had an original version which worked before in our life experience.

‘Without restructuring Lagos has raised its IGR from 500m in 1999 to nearly 20b today. That says something about making good use of the brain. Nobody asked Ondo to stop cocoa or Kano to stop groundnuts because of state creation. No, it was lazy thinking brought by oil boom. Bayelsa can feed Nigeria with rice but that part is grossly underdeveloped and ignored because of petrodollars’.

Well, may be with restructuring, Lagos would probably have raised its IGR even more-as it would have, on the basis of equity and fairness, been able to retain better share of the Value Added Tax, it internally generates. People make better use of their brain when they are challenged to be self-reliant and self-sustaining, and when necessity becomes the mother of invention-not when states are assured and dependent on monthly maintenance and sustenance perks and allowances. Fiscal ‘unitarism’ and unearned oil income are self-reinforcing as disincentives to productivity and hard work.

‘Finally, many commentators seem to ignore the fact that states were created for a purpose, as part of political management of diversity. It was not as if there was no thinking behind it. Dissolve the states today and you will create a new set of problems that you probably did not envisage’.

Unfortunately, beyond the civil war strategy of breaking up the defunct Eastern region (which metamorphosed into Biafra) the overwhelming majority of the 36 states were created for no more serious, worthy or productive reason than the demand of local elites for more access to the so called national cake. It is a disservice to serious statecraft to attribute their creation to high minded management of political diversity. How politically diverse is Kano from Jigawa state or Ekiti from Ondo state? And the latter phases of the states’ creation actually became synonymous with military nepotism.

‘Although there are many multinational polities in the world, few of them are democracies. Those multinational democracies that do exist, however (Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, Spain, and India), are all federal. Although all these democracies, except for Switzerland, have had problems managing their multinational polities (and even Switzerland had the Sonderbund War, the secession of the Catholic cantons in 1848), they remain reasonably stable. By contrast, Sri Lanka, a territorially based multilingual and multinational unitary state that feared the “slippery slope” of federalism, could not cope with its ethnic divisions and plunged headlong into a bloody civil war that has lasted more than 15 years. In fact, in my judgment, if countries such as Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, China, and Burma are ever to become stable democracies, they will have to craft workable federal systems that allow cultural diversity, a robust capacity for socioeconomic development, and a general standard of equality among their citizens’.