Unabridged Federalism is the Way to Go

RingTrue with Yemi Adebowale, yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; 08054699539 (text only)

Ring true
Phone number 08054699539
Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

The pillar of the United States remains full implementation of virtually all the tenets of federalism. This is what Nigeria tried copying with our Presidential system. Unfortunately, we did not fully copy the canons of federalism. The main goal of federalism is to create a balance of power, so that neither the federal government nor the federating units can get too commanding. Many Americans did not like the thought that people far away from them could make rules about their lives. This was what they sorted out with full application of federalism. It was all well worked out. As a result, you won’t find any part of the United States agitating for secession.

Just imagine different states having different rules to elect the President of a country. That’s what happens in the United States. In all but two states, Electoral College votes are “winner-take-all”. The candidate that wins the popular vote normally receives all of that state’s votes. But Maine and Nebraska states have taken a different approach. Using the Congressional District method, these states allocate two electoral votes to the state’s popular vote winner, and then one electoral vote to the popular vote winner in each Congressional District (two in Maine, three in Nebraska). This creates multiple popular vote contests in these states, which could lead to a split electoral vote. It can’t happen in Nigeria because of our flawed federal arrangement. Our centrally-controlled INEC ridiculously governs all federal and state elections.

For me, virtually all the problems of my beloved Nigeria are caused by our skewed Federalism. This country’s Constitution has failed to create a balance of power between the federal government and the states. As a consequence, the federal government has become too powerful and chokes the federating units. What we have in our 1999 Constitution is pseudo-federalism. The states are not even constitutionally allowed to establish police force despite the ineptitude of the centrally-controlled one. For those who still don’t understand the beauty of unabridged federalism, they should create time to read “The Federalist Papers” by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. It is a collection of 85 essays supporting federalism written by these Americans between 1787 and 1788. They created the strongest defense of the American federal Constitution which took effect on March 4, 1789. One of the most famous of the papers is Federalist No. 10, written by Madison and says that the Constitution would keep the United States from being run by small groups called “factions”. This is precisely what has been happening in Nigeria since 1966. For years, a small group of people have been running the federal government for personal gains because there is no full implementation of the tenets of federalism.

A lot of items on the Exclusive Legislative List of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution are absolutely unnecessary and have turned the federal government into a monster snake, piercing the federating units. Mines and minerals, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas have no business on the Exclusive legislative list. We should fully implement Federalism by allowing states to control their natural resources as was the case in the First Republic. Back then, it was beneficial to all the regions. There is no state in this country without enough natural resources to survive. They just need to look inward deeper, with a progressive and pragmatic leader anchoring the drive. This is the truth that must be told.

In the United States, local and state governments own and run airports. It can’t happen in this country because aviation, including airports, safety of aircraft and carriage of passengers and goods by air is on the Exclusive Legislative List. So, in Nigeria, some state governments will use their hard-earned money to build airports, thereafter, they will still be begging the federal government to come and run it. Why? The law does not allow them to run airports. This is what is playing out in Bayelsa State. Aviation has no business on the Exclusive Legislative List. Even Railway is on the Exclusive legislative list. State government in my beloved Nigeria cannot run railways. This is preposterous.

Some of the other needless items on the Exclusive Legislative List are: Census, including the establishment and maintenance of machinery for continuous and universal registration of births and deaths throughout Nigeria; Fishing and fisheries other than fishing and fisheries in rivers, lakes, waterways, ponds and other inland waters within Nigeria; Incorporation, regulation and winding up of bodies corporate, other than co-operative societies, local government councils and bodies corporate established directly by any Law enacted by a House of Assembly of a State; Patents, trademarks, trade or business names, industrial designs and merchandise marks; Posts, telegraphs and telephones and taxation of incomes, profits and capital gains, except as otherwise prescribed by this Constitution. We have to delete provisions that negate federalism; provisions that do not conform to the central doctrines of federalism. This is the only way to building a united and prosperous nation.

States and local governments should govern issues of local concern under a truly federal system. This allows increased participation in government by people; they will be motivated to influence policies and those who govern them. Also, federalism makes the management of squabbles quite easier. It is natural for people to resist a government that is far away controlling local issues, as being seen in Nigeria today. Each state in Nigeria must have its own constitution and powers, such as being able to choose what kind of ballots it uses, even in national elections, as seen in the United States. The federal government has no business registering births in state and local governments. This should be the business of the federating units.

I have heard some people agitating for a return to regional structure. This is clearly not the way to go. We will simply create another monster snakes with regional governments. In the defunct Western Region, money from Cocoa was being used to develop non-cocoa producing areas of the region. We can’t afford to go back to this. Nigeria is good to go with the current 36-state arrangement, with full execution of all the creeds of federalism. In Ethiopia, a powerful Tigray region has even taken up arms against the central government. That is one of the negatives of a monster regional arrangement. If Nigeria had 36 states back then, the country’s civil war would not have happened.

One thing majority of Nigerians have agreed on is that this country should remain one. The way to actualise this is to rejig our Federalism. The few talking about break up are not patriots and lack a sense of history. Secession has never been the solution to issues of corruption, marginalisation, and bad government anywhere in this world. It was good hearing the leaders of the South-east geo-political zone recently pledging their commitment to an indivisible and united Nigeria built on love and justice. This is the way to go. Nigeria needs to amend its Constitution to allow full implementation of Federalism. So, let’s put pressure on our lawmakers to do the needful. This country needs to review its current governance and political arrangement to attain true federalism. This is the restructuring patriots are talking about. Power devolution to the federating units is pertinent. States must be allowed to explore and exploit their economic resources. Nigeria operated unabridged federalism in the First Republic and it worked very well for everybody in this country. This country has to go back to this.

Governor Diri High on Big Brother Naija
Looks like Governor Duoye Diri of Bayelsa State followed the 2019 Big Brother Naija show from day one till the end. He is clearly not very busy with state duties. He has been pretending all the while. Two indigenes of the state – Rebecca Nengi Hampson and Sinclair TrikyTee Timmy – took part in the BBNaija show for 90 days, making Diri super excited. Nengi and TrikyTee did not win but this did not dampen this governor’s spirit. On their return from the BBNaija House, the Bayelsa State governor quickly appointed them “Senior Special Assistants to the Governor.” Nengi had extra appointment as the Face of Bayelsa. I wonder what that means. Pictures of Diri gyrating with the BBNaija guys, when they visited him were really appalling. There are scores of Bayelsa indigenes doing well in diverse intellectually-tasking fields that he should be hosting, not these creepy fellows.

For spending 90 days in the BBNaija house, doing weird and worthless things, Nengi and TrikyTee are now Senior Special Assistants to Diri. What a country! The governor was so overwhelmed; he could not decide what they will be assisting him with. He did not even start them as “Special Assistant”. Diri commanded that they are “Senior Special Assistants”. What knowledge do they now have to become Senior Special Assistants just like that? What experience did they gain in the BBNaija House that will help actualise the development dreams of Diri for Bayelsa State? I doubt if Diri dreams for the state. These guys appointed by the Bayelsa governor are not role models and cannot be role models. This governor has to get this clear. If he is truly interested in developing Bayelsa State, he should appoint people that can assist him actualise development goals; that is if he has any. Government is serious business. Diri, please, show some seriousness.

The Absurd Pensions for Ex-Governors
The good news from Lagos this week is the pledge by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to ensure that the absurd and morally-bankrupt 2007 law, which provides pension and other entitlements to former governors and their deputies, is repealed. A Federal High Court in Lagos, in a suit filed by SERAP, had directed the immediate stoppage of the payment of this pension to ex-governors, yet, virtually all the states with the laws still continued the payment. Kudos to the Zamfara State House of Assembly for canceling this detestable law in response to the court’s ruling. Governor Bello Matawalle showed great wisdom and courage.

Selflessness in public service should be paramount if we want to make progress in this country. In Lagos State, it is not so. Here, civil servants struggle to get annuities, some after serving the state for 35 years, but ex-governors, after serving for between four and eight years, take home N30 million annually as pension, plus a house in Lagos and Abuja, six brand new cars (every three years), medical treatment in any part of the world and other pecks. This is the garbage that has been happening in Lagos in the last 13 years. Billions of Naira has gone down for this, amid so much suffering in the state.

Sanwo-Olu has promised to send a bill abolishing the law to the Lagos State House of Assembly for legislative approval. According to him, the abolition of the pension law will reduce the cost of governance. For me, it is more than just reducing the cost of governance. The Lagos Pension law for ex-governors and their deputies is immoral, loathsome and a slap in the face of the people of Lagos State. Since a court of law declared it illegal, those that have benefited must refund all they collected.

I sincerely hope the Lagos lawmakers, who have never been pro-people, will work with Sanwo-Olu and move very fast to abolish this horrible pension law. We should also put pressure on all the 21 other states with this repugnant law to do same. Those who have served their states for between four and eight years as governors are evidently not entitled to pension. The laws are very clear about this. Besides, public service is self-sacrifice. It is not an opportunity to milk the people.

The Mess in Zamfara State
The killings in Zamfara State by Fulani militias and counter-killings by Hausa militias are unending. Federal and state government should be ashamed of these butcheries. Governor Bello Matawalle has been a big disappointment in this regard. I once thought he had capacity to end the killings. He assumed office, sounding like that. But it was a ruse. Early this week, Fulani militias kidnapped the district head of Matseri town, Alhaji Halilu Matseri, and his four children in Anka Local Government Area. They also killed one Maigaiya Matseri who tried to rescue the district head.
Bloodletting in Zamfara must end. For this to happen, Matawalle and the federal government need to dispassionately tackle those behind the killings. Killers must be consistently arrested and punished.