Agbakoba Insists on Federalism as Most Effective Political System

Olisa Agbakoba

Akinwale Akintunde

A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, (SAN) has said for a country like Nigeria with so many ethnic nationalities and looking for a framework that would harmonise the often conflicting interests of these nationalities, the most effective political system would be federalism.

Agbakoba said federalism would enable the country to have diverse ways of organising itself despite of its large population and territory,

The Senior Advocate had recently proposed a new development model, called Cooperative Federalism, while presenting a document titled, “Legal and Institutional Restructuring for Next Nigeria” at a press conference in his Ikoyi, Lagos office.

He had said political federalism or by its more popular name “restructuring” may be the way to go, but it has not been understood and generally accepted.

He said the agitation for restructuring by sub-national groups was causing harm to the country “because President Muhammadu Buhari does not believe in it.”

He called for the suspension of the agitation for the political restructuring of the country, and proposed the new model of Cooperative Federalism.

However, some ethnic sub-nationalities like Afenifere, Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum have rejected Agbakoba’s proposal, insisting that restructuring was the only way to move the country out of its current crisis.

As a follow-up to his earlier proposal for Cooperative Federalism, in a statement he issued yesterday, titled: ‘Can Cooperative Federalism Work?’ Agbakoba said the purpose of a federation was for different power centres – federal and states to cooperate.

According to him, Cooperative Federalism simply means states and the federal government could work together for economic development.

“Nigeria is a country of so many ethnic nationalities and so has been striving to evolve a workable framework that harmonises the often conflicting interests of these nationalities. As a result of our large population and territory, the most effective political system is federalism because it enables us to have diverse ways of organising ourselves.

“Many people say the 1963 Republican Constitution was the best ever because it allowed the different regions to express themselves. The South produced cocoa, the North groundnut and the East palm oil. There was space for each region. But today people criticise strong unitary federalism because it forces the component units under a strong centre and so most people feel returning to the 1963 Constitution is better and therefore restructuring has become a big issue. But restructuring has challenges because it has to be nationally accepted but has not.

“The issue is whether to look for other models? Restructuring is like sitting atop a 10-storey building which we will eventually get to. But we have to come from the ground floor to go up. This is why I have proposed Cooperative Federalism for consideration. Of course, there are many other models of federalism.

“George Anderson, in his book, ‘Federalism: An Introduction’ has identified some of the models. There are dualist and integrated models of federalism. The dualist model typically assigns different jurisdictions to each order of government, which then delivers and administers its own programmes. The integrated model provides for many shared competences and the constituent – unit governments often administer centrally legislated programmes or laws. Under the dualist, or classical, model of federalism, constitutional jurisdiction over different subjects is usually assigned exclusively to one order of government.

“In this model, each order of government normally delivers programmes in its area of responsibility, using its civil service and departments; the federal government’s departments are thus present throughout the country. In practice, the dualist model does not achieve a neat separation of powers because so many issues have regional, national, even international dimensions and many different responsibilities of governments are themselves intertwined. In all dualist constitutions, there are some shared or concurrent powers in which both orders of government can make laws,” he stated.

The former NBA president explained that based on the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ in federalism which is incorporating the government closest to the people, infrastructure could be commonly developed.

He cited as instance, the East-West Highway that has been uncompleted because responsibility excludes relevant state governments, adding that under the principle of subsidiarity including state governments improves implementation and also ownership.

“States with solid minerals can have cooperative federalism with the federal government to explore their solid minerals. Ondo State has one of the world’s richest bitumen. Enugu has one of the world’s richest reserves of coal. Ebonyi State has one of the best salt mines valued at about N14 billion. What stops states from cooperating with the federal government to harness minerals?

“Look at police, in the constitution under the National Police Council, all the 36 state governors play a role in picking the Inspector General of Police but the states have never requested that the President summon a meeting of the Police Council since 1998 yet they complain. Actually, under the current constitution under both the exclusive and concurrent list, schemes of cooperation exist but it has not been harnessed. For example, states can build power stations and there are several other schemes. So rather than looking to restructuring which is distant, it is good to look at what is in the 1999 Constitution because that cooperation will allow development.

“This is no way derogates from restructuring. It simply means we all have to work towards attaining the goal of restructuring but we can have Cooperative Federalism to deepen the process of democracy,” Agbakoba explained.