BY AKIN OSUNTOKUN (DIALOGUE WITH NIGERIA)
“The situation was fast degenerating into anarchy. It was at this point that LASG (Lagos State governor) requested for the military to intervene in order to restore normalcy” – The Nigerian Army
“The army does not report to me, I have reported the matter to the highest command in the military. It’s not something we are going to gloss over. A judicial panel will be set up to investigate it. I have escalated it to the highest level of the military.” – Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu
Thirty years ago, I handed over my car to the mechanic who regularly attended to the machine. Not hearing from him for two days, I went looking for him in his workshop and learnt he had literally vamoosed with two vehicles entrusted in his care, including mine. I went through the motion of lodging a report at the police station and thereafter retired to lick my wounds. Two years later, two guys showed up at my office to give me a pleasant surprise. The robber mechanic had been apprehended in far away Kano with my car in his possession. They went with me to retrieve the car in Kagara where it had been abandoned after developing a disabling mechanical fault on the return journey to Lagos. This was my first and only encounter with the Special Anti Robbery Squad, commonly known as SARS and it had since receded into oblivion in my consciousness.
After a one year research fellowship at the University of Oxford, I returned to Nigeria a fortnight ago and was confronted with the novelty of a potential Nigerian equivalence of the Arab spring with the hashtag ##endsars#. In response to the endemic security crisis (that had plagued Nigeria for many years now) particularly in the aspect of violent armed robbery, the SARS had been repeatedly constituted, disbanded and reconstituted. The novelty, for me, this time around was the heightened notoriety of the squad, significant enough to merit becoming the agent provocateur of widespread reformist uprising. Behind the ##endsars# protest banner lies an overflowing cup of governance and political iniquities threatening to provoke a major political blowout.
The truth is that Nigeria has reached a tipping point bereft of any meaningful capacity to spare for the containment or accommodation of routine demands for national renewal. As we speak, a low intensity civil war is escalating in the North-east region and the latest intelligence from the war front is that Boko Haram now claims and controls all territory beyond two kilometres of Maiduguri.
Regardless of the falsity of so-called American prognosis to the effect that Nigeria may start unravelling from 2015 onwards, the reality of Nigeria today under the stewardship of Muhammadu Buhari has proven to be a veritable instance of reality imitating the fiction of the American dire projection. The serial mismanagement of conflict and crisis situations, often precipitated by the government itself, has turned Nigeria into a grim reaper of cyclical degeneration of crisis into avoidable tragedies. Between the Nigeria Army and Sanwo-Olu, just how did a peaceful and civil protest of Nigerian youths degenerate into the rampant shootings of this demographic at the hands of the Nigeria army? Not to talk of the nationwide spiral into an orgy of burning and looting; and the divide and rule manipulation into a contrived ethnic conflict between Igbo and Yoruba and other similar replications. As evidence of governance dysfunction and failure the #endsars## crisis can be generalised across the inclusive spectrum of public institutions in Nigeria. Or what some characterise a deeper and wide ranging political affliction. Is it possible to isolate any governmental unit that has not suffered a similar institutional decay and collapse? In essence, how is the SARS crisis different from what we learnt of the institutional abuse and degradation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)? Does anyone know what has become of the seismic proportions scandal of the orgiastic corruption carnival at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NNDC)? For that matter, what about the open sore of the National Assembly where legislators pay themselves one to two million per day as emoluments- which of course is chicken feed compared to several allegations of collusion in bogus and padded contract scams in annual budgetary spending of the ministries and departments and agencies (MDAs)? What about the sadistic insensitivity of committing N35 billion ($100 million) for so-called rehabilitation of the National Assembly complex- made worse by the lie that there has been no major renovation of the National Assembly building for 20 years and many parts of the property had become dilapidated.
Contrary to this lie, in 2013, the Federal Executive Council approved a contract of N40.2 billion for the “construction of Phase III, Part III of the National Assembly complex and the upgrading of the assembly’s two chambers. And aside a sum of N250 million paid to DCN Nigeria Ltd for “general renovation of the main building”, the newspaper also found that the National Assembly spent N578 million on the refurbishing of meetings and committee rooms. And your guess is as good as mine on what might be responsible for the chronic and pathetic incapacity of the Nigerian military to square against the Boko Haram.
Let us not forget that the signature tune of the Buhari Presidency is the sustained and ferocious assault on Nigerian unity by the governance disposition of Buhari. According to The Guardian editorial, “On the watch of the president, the National Security Adviser, the Defence Minister, the Director General, State Security Service, Director General National Intelligence Agency, the Chief of Army Staff, the Inspector General of Police, the Minister of Police Affairs, the Chief of Air Staff, the Comptrollers-General of Customs, Immigration and Prisons, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, the Chairman of the Federal Civil Service Commission, the Chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission, etc all hail from the North where the president hails from. The fact that public-spirited persons, including former presidents have called Buhari’s attention to the risk of his action and he has consistently ignored them, says a lot about his own scanty respect for national unity and stability.”
Did this President and National Assembly bother to enlighten us on the merits of the utilisation of Nigeria’s borrowed money for the construction of railways to Niger Republic? Remember that the transportation infrastructure into the Niger Delta region from where Nigeria derive its life saving revenue is in worse than deplorable condition. How is this violent exploitation and expropriation worse than the criminal brigandage of SARS? How is the condonation of the chronic Middle Belt killing fields at the hands of Fulani militia less a crime than police brutality?
In sum the SARS criminal enterprise is a microcosm of the Nigeria macrocosm. The truth is that Nigeria is in a free fall and it would amount to a cruel mockery of what ails the country to believe that police reform begins to scratch the surface of what is required to arrest the trend of a self-destructive implosion.
The utility of the black Tuesday is the attention and consciousness it has drawn from a lethargic Nigerian public and an otherwise distracted international community. The internal contradiction of Nigeria’s pseudo federalism was again laid bare in the conflict of accountability between the Lagos State government and the Nigerian president. All of which is to say that SARS is not Nigeria’s problem. The problem of Nigeria is a systemic crisis and collapse which postulates that until and unless Nigeria addresses the problem as such, all attempts at isolating the sporadic and episodic manifestations for remedial initiatives will end up in self-defeating smokes and mirrors. There is the saying that all politics is local and by dint of the same logic, one can validly argue that all development challenges are local. For development to take root, it has to be localised and owned by the beneficiary local population especially in a polity that is defined by large scale diversities and origins. This self-prescriptive local decentralisation and devolution of powers and development is the philosophy behind the Nigerian federalism. It was true in 1960 as it is true today. It can get perplexing when the obstructionist question is repeatedly raised, as to what constitutes restructuring. Well, we will not tire of clarifications. Restructuring is no more and no less than the restructuring of power relations between the federalism prescribed two tiers of government, the central (federal government) and the coordinate units (the state governments).
Such restructuring amounts to a redistribution of powers between these two tiers of government. Restructuring was what consecutive Nigerian military rule did when they incrementally broke the four regions inherited in 1966 into the prevailing dysfunctional 36 states and simultaneously expropriated their powers to reinforce centralisation of powers at the centre. The powers are described and listed as exclusive, concurrent and residual powers.
For instance, in generic instances of federalism, the exclusive powers are exclusive to the federal government and they consist of such items as foreign policy, defence, currency. The concurrent powers are those that are concurrently exercised by both tiers such as education, health, agriculture while residual often refers to those powers that do not fall under the exclusive and concurrent. In a typical federation, such residual powers are credited to the states.
Federalism is distorted with negative consequences where, as in the case of Nigeria, the federal government appropriate powers and functions that federalism prescribes as the preserve of the second tier. It is the imperative and process of realigning and restoring the balance to the states that we now call restructuring. Here, it is relevant to recall the admonition of Alexander Pope to the effect that ‘let fools contend, whatever is best administered is best’.
In other words and regardless of fidelity to federalism, if the pseudo- federalism that presently governs Nigeria is working well, there would have been no pressure to suggest that if we do not know where we are going, let us return to the certainty and propriety of where we are coming from.
In the experience of Nigeria and given that the country has trended towards failure commensurate with its deviation from (true) federalism, we have both theoretical and empirical evidence to know what works and what doesn’t. The question then what is stopping us from choosing the right option?
The problem of Nigeria is a systemic crisis and collapse which postulates that until and unless Nigeria addresses the problem as such, all attempts at isolating the sporadic and episodic manifestations for remedial initiatives will end up in self-defeating smokes and mirrors.