Why Federal Government Must Address the Demands of Southern Governors

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Kayode Ajulo, an Abuja-based constitutional lawyer agrees with the spirit and letter of the recent communique issued by governors of Southern Nigeria states after its meeting in Asaba

It is incontrovertible that the communique released at the meeting of the Southern governors at Asaba has trickled a lot of reactions from different quarters of the federation, particularly from political pundits, legal minds and concerned members of the society.

I have carefully and pensively spectated the content of the said communique and everyone with a right thinking mind should commend the Southern governors who, without prejudice to their various political divides, ideologies and idiosyncrasies have presented a common front to ensuring a prompt and lasting amelioration to the spate of insecurity which has beleaguered the country like cascading tumults.

Snippet of the communique was hinged basically on the following:

a. the imperative of banning open grazing of cattle across Southern Nigeria and the need for the Federal Government to support “willing” states to develop alternative and modern livestock management system;

b. the imperative of a national dialogue by the Federal Government to resolve agitations on federal character;

c. review of revenue allocation formula in favour of the sub-national governments and creation of other institutions which legitimately advance our commitment to and practice of true federalism;

d. the need for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation leading to the evolution of state police;

e. the need for greater coordination and cooperation between federal and state governments in evolving strategies for dealing with the pandemic;

f. the imperative of addressing the nation on the state of insecurity by Mr. President in order to restore the confidence of the people.

As a preliminary point, it is pertinent to state that while it seems that the country has been pushed to the brink of a precipice by the trajectory of banditry, kidnapping and attempted treason, collegial efforts must be put in place to save the country from the dire quagmire which we have found ourselves.

What the Southern governors have assiduously displayed is a great milieu of nationalism. A fore-runner idea that what has been happening in the country in the past few years is not an ethnic affair nor is it right to call it an inter-party face-off”. It baffles the mind how persistently we fall prey to the divide-and-rule tactics! To be sure, we must admit that the actions and utterances of some sections of the country have lent credence to this unfortunate tribalisation of issues in Nigeria. The “our-son, our-own” syndrome, so prominent and agog in the Nigerian political landscape has aided an increasing sectionalisation of national issues.

Let us be clear on a point: I believe the issue at hand is one of constitutionalism and rule of law not sectional or regional issues. We must eliminate the blindness which still obscures the truth of that position.

Firstly, on the issue of ban of open grazing, it is an open secret that the herdsmen-farmers crisis in the Southern part is one of the underlining issues of insecurity in Nigeria. Placing a ban on open grazing will keep at bay the incessancy of the crisis.

Secondly, on the issue of integration, it suffices to note that Nigeria is a country with more than 250 ethnic groups and with an estimated population of about 170,123,740, according to the 2006 census which makes it by far to be the most populated country in the whole of Africa.

Consequently, under this arrangement, the level of interaction between individual ethnic groups, cultures, traditions, religions from different backgrounds has translated into ethnic and political misunderstanding, mistrust, dominations, conflicts and crises as one may not be considerate with one another. As a result, there are fears, suspicions, intolerance, grieves and greed domination among most communities in the country and especially in the North which has so many ethnic minorities.

The principle of ‘Federal Character’ has been largely recognised by the 1999 Constitution. Chapter Two of the Constitution is dedicated to fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.

With specific reference to section 14(1)(c) of the Constitution, the section provides that the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Section 14(3) provides that:

“The composition of the government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.

Varying sections such as Section 15 to Section 24 give deference and credence to the need for all-inclusiveness in the running of the government at the federal, state and local government levels respectively.

Thirdly, on the issue of the need to reflect true federalism, there is at present widespread discontent with the country’s federal structure and arrangements. All the constitutional, political and judicial aspects of the federal system need to be openly discussed. Issues such as revenue allocations from the Federation Account to the three levels of government; the position of local government in the federal system.

Fourthly, on the issue of creation of state police, there is a need for the creation of state police which makes it imperative that the 1999 Nigerian Constitution be amended to give states of the federation the leverage to create their own police for better efficiency, faster results as this will lead to a tremendous improvement in state security and in general national security. It must be noted that Item 45 of the Exclusive Legislative List currently places Police and Security in the control of the Federal Government.

On the imperative of the President to address the nation, every sovereignty, all over the world attaches great importance to maintaining the confidence of the public. Public confidence is invoked as a guiding principle in relation to the conduct of the government in the betterment of the lives of the citizens. It is high time the President addressed the nation on the insecurity challenges being faced across the country. There are insinuation that some cabals within the corridors of power are the ones ruling the country while the President is sitting at the rear, distant from the ruled. Section 5 of the 1999 Constitution has placed the executive powers of the federation in the hands of the President and he must take the bull by its horn.

In conclusion, it must be noted that the issues addressed by the Southern governors are not unusual as they represent the agitations of the citizens of the country and the Federal Government must address them head-on.