Ring true BY Yemi Adebowale
In the last few days, I have listened to few incoherent and impish fellows, who claim to be Yoruba rights activists, saying the only way forward for the South-west is to secede from Nigeria. One of them even proclaimed a Yoruba nation. I won’t mention their names here so as not to accord them any iota of recognition. They don’t deserve it and they do not represent the good people of this region. They cannot represent the South-west because they lack the capacity for this. One of them also clearly lacks the intellectual capacity to even talk about separatism.
These jumbled men talk about secession as if it would solve all the problems of the region; that the South-west will become an Eldorado once it is out of Nigeria. So, once the South-west secedes from Nigeria, their politicians will no longer steal the people’s commonwealth; that corruption and nepotism will become history. There will no longer be intra-ethnic clashes. Insecurity, poverty, disease and hunger will be history; that education, health and roads in the region will be world class. These people need to be forcefully told that secession has never been the solution to issues of insecurity, corruption, marginalisation and bad government anywhere in the world. Immoderation destroys.
These chaotic secessionists link all the problems of the South-west to its membership of the Nigerian state. They hardly question what their political leaders do with the trillions of Naira that accrue to states in the South-west. For me, genuine patriots of this region should be talking about a greater federated South-west within a truly federal state. Of course, all is not well with the Nigerian federation and rightly needs restructuring. Even the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) agrees and has restructuring as part of its agenda. South-west politicians in the APC should nudge the party to do the needful.
I am with the true South-west patriots fighting for restructuring, true federalism, fiscal federalism, resource control and devolution of power to the component states. This is the way forward for South-west, not secession. On this, the United States federalism should be the model for Nigeria. In the US, nobody is talking about secession because of unabridged federalism. The pillar of the U.S. remains full implementation of virtually all the tenets of federalism. In that country, the canon of federalism enjoys a pride of place. Just imagine different states having different rules to elect the President of a country. That’s what happens in the United States. Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution 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.
Pragmatic South-west patriots should fight on until the main goal of federalism is attained in Nigeria. The key aim is to create a balance of power, so that neither the federal government nor the federating units can get too commanding. Many Nigerians do not like the idea of a federal government far away in Abuja turning and twisting their lives. The federal government has no business registering births in state and local governments. This should be the business of the federating units. The states can’t even take charge of their security, despite the ineptitude of the centrally-controlled one.
The federal government has appropriated so many local issues. Going forward, each state in Nigeria must have its own constitution. This can be sorted out with unabridged federalism. A massive amendment of the 1999 Constitution along this line is pertinent. If it is well worked out, you won’t find any part of this country agitating for secession.
A lot of items on the Exclusive Legislative List of the Nigerian 1999 Constitution are unequivocally needless and have turned the federal government into a monster snake, piercing the federating units. Mines and minerals (including oil fields), 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. Unmistakably, 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.
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 snake 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. If Nigeria had 36 states back then, the country’s civil war would not have happened.
I stand with those that want this country to remain one. I am in support of a united Nigeria where peace, love, fairness, justice, equity and equality of opportunity are paramount, regardless of creed, ethnicity, gender or political affiliation. But we must rejig our Federalism and restructure Nigeria to the benefit of all. The few talking about breakup are jumbled people. It was good hearing governors of the South-east pledging their commitment to an indivisible and united Nigeria built on love and justice. This is the way to go. The positions of Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State make sense.
Fayemi said: “I have gone on record to say that I have unfailing optimism that in spite of all our challenges, this country will triumph and we’ll survive current challenges. We as leaders must focus on the goal of protecting lives and property, and focus on safety and security as the primary responsibility that we have.
“The people who are talking about secession frankly, some of them are doing it out of frustration. I don’t think that’s the solution to the Nigerian predicament right now. In matters of economic development, we may need to begin to look at other ways of managing diversity and difference in our country and that devolution of power is an idea whose time has come.”
Akeredolu remarks: “Our people are knowledgeable enough to determine their interest at any point. If and when they consider self-determination as an option, they will not depend on external promptings to act. That is why we are different. That is why we are who we are.”
Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, candidate of the Peoples Trust in the 2019 presidential election, adds an interesting aspect to the debate: “The truth must be told that despite the increasingly frustrating realities in Nigeria, a united Nigeria still remains our best alternative. Separatists’ advocacies are always ever seductive during moment of crisis but they never deliver good results afterwards. Ask the people of Southern Sudan. After about 30 years war and secession from Sudan, they are still embroiled in factional wars. Despite their oil wealth, their people are still wallowing in poverty and the GDP of their economy is lower than that of Ogun State.”
Olawepo-Hashim argued that ethnic or regional homogeneity of a state would not necessarily guarantee peace. He cited an instance of countries like Somalia, a predominantly Muslim country with one language but embroiled in unending war for over 30 years. While arguing that separatism would not robotically bring justice, Olawepo-Hashim affirms that only good governance, around policies and fear of God could ensure justice in the polity.
Nigeria needs to amend its Constitution to allow unabridged Federalism. So, let’s put pressure on our lawmakers to do the needful. This country needs to review its current governance and political arrangement. 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. Restructuring is a struggle for justice and equity in Nigeria and not the balkanisation of this great country or setting brothers against brothers.
My last word for these few untidy separatists in the South-west: Southwestern intelligentsias, professionals, businessmen, manufacturers, traders and artisans need the bigger Nigerian market for their initiative, just as the entire country needs them. Having invested across the country, and with huge number of South-westerners living outside the region, the best option is to team up with those pushing for the nation to be restructured. This is the truth that must be told.
Customs out to Kill Nigerian Airlines
President Muhammadu Buhari signed the executive order on zero-duty for all imported aircraft and spare parts in 2020. Section 39 of the Second Schedule of the Finance Act as amended, also clearly states that airlines registered in Nigeria and providing commercial air transport services are entitled to duty-free importation of their aircraft, engines, spare parts and components whether purchased or leased. But the Nigerian Customs Service has been giving all these different interpretations. It says Nigerian airlines must pay some strange taxes for their imports under ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS) and Comprehensive Imports Supervision Scheme (CISS). As a result, Air Peace was forced to pay a huge N189 million as taxes for the E195-E2 aircraft it imported recently.
In today’s Nigeria, the NCS charges duties between 10 and 35 per cent of the cost of aircraft and spare parts which the airlines must pay before they receive their equipment and this is frustrating. The Chairman of Air Peace and Vice-Chairman of Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON), Chief Allen Onyema remarked: “I plead with the federal government to talk to the Customs to feel the pulse of the president and his government. We must always do things that will reduce the name-calling or bad-mouthing of a particular regime. The Customs know very well that waivers have been signed into law yet I have an aircraft on ground for over one month because the engine which was imported is with the Customs because of duties. I paid over $1 million insurance on the aircraft. This is a company with a staff of over 3,000, our spare parts and engines will come into this country and Customs will keep them, giving us all manner of reasons.”
The exemptions clearly state that such imports must be duty free. This refers to the act of being able to purchase an item in particular circumstances without paying import, sales, value-added, or other taxes. So, the NCS can’t insist that the aforesaid did not grant concession on CISS and ETLS. These two are also forms of taxes. The NCS is obviously defying the federal government’s order on the importation of commercial airplanes and spare parts. Nigerian airlines are already struggling to survive. It seems the NCS is out to cremate them. Customs boss, Hameed Ali, and his boys must be called to order before this happens.
The Steel of Hakeem Baba-Ahmed
When it comes to taking firm positions on national issues, the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, has never disappointed me. He was his robust self when he spoke on the faltering Buhari government on Arise television last Wednesday.
My take away from the interview is this: “If I have an opportunity to speak with the president, I will say ‘sir, please wake up and smell the coffee, this country is falling apart. It is in very serious danger; it is going down under your watch. You swore in 2015 and again in 2019 that you will protect citizens, the territorial integrity of Nigeria. Sorry, sir, you are not doing that, doing it well or you are not doing it at all. You keep changing things but we see the same result. Why is it not possible for Nigerians to deal with banditry, kidnappings? Do you have a way of finding out because we don’t have the time for you to fix this country at your own leisure and the rate you are going, you are too slow and people smell a vacuum around your government and this is why you see people saying we don’t want to be part of Nigeria. What happened to the country, to the oath you took to protect Nigeria?’
“Those are the kinds of questions I will ask Mr. President. Hopefully, he will have some answers and if he doesn’t, the solution will be asking those who know.” God bless Hakeem Baba-Ahmed.