The Nigerian State: A House of Cards


Femi Gbajabiamila

“if you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowances for their doubting too
If you can wait and not be tired of waiting
Or being lied about , don’t deal in lies
Or being hated don’t give way to hating
And yet don’t look to good nor talk too wise”
–––(Poem by Rudyard Kipling)

A house of cards is a complicated structure or organization with component parts delicately but precariously placed on each other that can easily fall apart. It is a metaphor that best describes Nigeria. If one card (in this case a state or region) leans too heavily on the other, the equilibrium is destroyed and the whole pack comes crashing, destroying an otherwise beautiful and strong edifice. For the structure to remain standing, the relationship must be symbiotic there must be interdependence on one another knowing if there is a crack or slip everything comes crashing. As is often said united we stand divided we fall.

Nigeria is very much like the human body that has been beautifully, painstakingly and miraculously put together by God. Every part is dependent on some other part to function and the whole is greater than the sum of its part.
Whilst I believe in the right to self determination, after all we had Brexit and now Calexit which has always been muted but has gathered momentum since the emergence of Donald Trump as the President of the United States with Californians collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment and eventual referendum to exit the United States (noteworthy is the fact that California’s GDP is equal to or higher than that of many developed countries). However these attempts at exiting a country or union is never done willy nilly or in a capricious manner. There are always laid down legal and constitutional procedures and hurdles to cross. Even the annulment of a marriage by a court of law is based on a standard of “irretrievable breakdown” or “irreconciliable differences.” I truly believe it will be a regrettable error in judgment if we go this route. This country has not fully tapped into or harnessed its potential. America, Britain, Germany, France and others we call the great nations of this world are still exploring theirs. America prides itself on the fact that it built its fortune and greatness on the back of immigrants of diverse ethnicity and cultures. On its Statute of liberty those inspiring words of Emma Lazarus are boldly inscribed “ Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …” Yet we, a nation of 170million with about 300 ethnic groups, blessed with material resources including oil and the finest of human intellect and minds still do not appreciate that our strength remains in our diversity and that God whether through the British colonialists or whomsoever, put us together as a nation for a reason. I believe He does not make mistakes and what He has put together no man should put asunder.

It is from this philosophical and almost spiritual premise that I believe as Nigerians we must approach the present agitations bedeviling our country and threatening to tear it apart. The marriages that survive are those with couples that understand the importance of dialogue and communication. Communication of real truth. If we can agree on some truths, we are well on our way to building a modern day Nigeria. Let us forget all the legalese, the arguments and the fine points of law. Forget who has the power to declare a person a terrorist or who is a terrorist. Forget whether or not the Army has the right to go into a state and not the police. These are circumloquitous and miss the point. A clever lawyer and spin doctor can make a case and argument for all sides and so can I, then what happens? I have read and heard arguments from the most ingenious and audacious to the most atrocious and sulphuric. Sometimes in positing, we have taken leave of our senses and decency has taken flight. It is time to stop. These arguments go to nothing and at best only kick the can further down the road. Lets address the real issues and not skirt them as we look for practical solutions to what has become an existential threat.

So if truth be told, there is an imbalance in the way the cards in this House of cards are stacked. If truth be told the states are too weak and the Federal Government too strong. If truth be told power needs to devolve to the states as the states are no longer able to pay salaries or sustain themselves because the capacity to generate much needed revenue has been taken away from them by the constitution. If truth be told there is a lack of equity in the control of resources and distribution of wealth. How does one explain a situation where revenue collected from stamp duty transactions that originate and terminate in a state is collected by the Federal Government? How does one explain where for instance prisons are built only by the Federal Government and inmates convicted of state offences are locked up in Federal prisons. The absurdity is even more apparent when one considers Lagos with a population of over 20million has 5 prisons and Adamawa with a population of less than 5 million has 17. Or how do you justify the Federal Government controlling inland waterways of a state and the commercial activities thereon? Pray tell, what sense does it make that local governments are found in the constitution and a state is not at liberty to create more local governments if the people so desire but must get the imprimatur/approval of a big brother at the center. These are some of the many anomalies not found in any federal structure.

Restructuring, reengineering or whatever fancy name we give it is what Nigeria needs and such must be on the basis of equity and fairness. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Lets keep it simple. A comprehensive amendment to the constitution with the transfer of Federal powers to the states is what is needed. It is not rocket science. A Federal Government does not need the burdensome 54 items presently exclusive to the Federal Government in our constitution. It reads like a laundry list.

We must circle the wagons and protect our union. In striving for a more perfect union, the National Assembly must pick up the IPOB gauntlet and face the challenge of our time. The responsibility falls squarely on us and we are faced with the fierce urgency of now. It is said that the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who in the face of evil do or say nothing.

Let me give one consequence of devolution of powers as an example. Devolution of powers will automatically transfer a lot of government parastatals and agencies to the states with the Governors appointing indigenes of their state to head or fill the top cadre of the agencies. This scenario reduces the cry of marginalization from states or regions and also reduces unemployment in the states.

We must not allow those whose agenda or motive remain unclear to divide us or dash our hopes and aspirations as a nation. Where there are legitimate concerns on the structure of this great country we must address them intellectually and through constructive engagement, dialogue and negotiations on a round table. Over 50 years ago the founding fathers seized the moment and fought for our independence and now we must seize this moment and fight for our codependence.

We must remember that for over 10 years, ethnic tension brewed in the six republics that made up Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovania, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Slovenia. Eventually there was a separatist uprising similar to what is going on here and four of the Republics broke from the union. The pains and pangs of the war linger in that region till today. Syria, Libya, Yemen and Ukraine are theaters of conflicts known to us all. We must not put our country through this. We have experienced this before and once bitten twice shy. We must imbibe the language of our old national anthem “though tribe or tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”

I am made to understand that our brothers have sought international support from the West. Let me say that this is an exercise in futility and at best vain glory. The West has generally adopted a non intervention foreign policy with very few exceptions. I doubt very much the readiness of the West that respected Nigeria’s sovereignty at a time it was clear that a free and fair election was won and annulled will jump in support of a treasonable approach to the break up of Africa’s super power. We must remember that Nigeria is a sovereign state, savvy enough to deal with its internal problems. We must not wash our dirty linen in public

As a legislator I have been blessed and privileged to have worked alongside the finest men and women from the East, the West the North and the South who mean well for this country irrespective of the opinion of many out there and I must commend the National Assembly South East caucus for their recent patriotic communiqué which was laced with a dose of nationalistic fervor. It was leadership 101. The Senate President and the Deputy Senate President have also weighed in on this and I am in agreement with them that the National Assembly needs to be proactive in this matter. There will be those who want to double down on hate speeches and a call to arms. We must continue to appeal to their inner angels and work together to make this country great (again). To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done. No apologies to Gen Gowon.

Our country has many problems with lots of moving parts but we only need to work together so we can put this behind us once and for all. In times of crisis, great countries drop their differences, come together and speak with one voice for good of country. The Americans did it during 9/11 and during national disasters like the recent hurricanes. There were no blacks or whites or democrats or republicans. There were only Americans.
Like the United Kingdom, the United States of America, the United Arab Emirates, maybe we should rename our country the United States of Nigeria. There just may be something there.

May the labours of our heroes past never be in vain. My two cents.

–––Femi Gbajabiamila is the Leader of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.