Reporting from the National Assembly


When at our last outing I signed off with a promise of continuing with the subject matter of reintroduction to history I did not have in mind the topic I’m about to reintroduce. It became a compelling choice, first, on account of its coincidence with the theme of the celebration of the women history month and the typical misbehaviour of Nigerian lawmakers on the same subject matter. We would also have something to say on the understanding and disposition of the lawmakers towards the evergreen subject of Nigerian federalism. In the scriptures, the poser was raised, can anything good come out of lowly Nazareth? The answer was provided in the inference that from Nazareth came peace, from Nazareth came courage and above all else, from Nazareth came Jesus Christ.

Unlike Nazareth, the rhetoric is negatively applicable to the Nigerian parliament. Indeed can anything good come out of this national assembly? In recent memory was it not this same assembly that was  rooting for the perpetration of the culture of fraudulent elections otherwise known as the rejection of electronic transmission of election results? By far the most suppliant legislative arm of government in the history of Nigeria, they have confirmed themselves in this dubious distinction and self-abnegation by rejecting a constitutional amendment bill empowering them to override a presidential veto. Not to talk of playing the servile yes man to President Mohammadu Buhari’s penchant for profligacy in an unprecedented mortgage of Nigerian patrimony (with the committal of skyrocketing foreign loans) prompting the IMF to warn that Nigeria’s indebtedness is no longer sustainable. There is equally the double jeopardy of constituting a most exorbitant charge on the Nigerian public till. In direct contradiction of what obtains in sane societies, the emoluments of our lawmakers keep spiralling the poorer Nigeria gets.

Now they have confirmed the worst fears of all who had warned that their advertised intention to embark on amendments to the Nigerian constitution will end up a sham. At the conclusion of the ill fated exercise, two items are of significant import- and they all but confirm a reputation for doing what should be avoided and avoiding or negating what should be done. In a fit of cluelessness, it was practically on the date set aside for the celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women that the body chose to humiliate womanhood in Nigeria. Of the 68 legislations taken into consideration (and in compliance with the universally adopted Beijing declaration to which Nigeria is signatory) five bills sought to promote more opportunities for women in political parties, governance and the society at large. They were all rejected.

Nonetheless the fact that I would not do what the lawmakers have done does not detract from the reality that male paternalism is typically representative of an underlying African context of illiberal patriarchy. On this score, the assumption is that this is a cultural heritage and that the farther the historical past the more conservative the tradition passed down the ages. Thus I was taken aback, as I’m sure many others are, that in the hallowest of the hallow chambers of our tradition a woman was actually, once, the Ooni of Ife and the Alaafin of Oyo. Female Ooni ke? Female Alaafin ke? Didn’t our President tell us that the place of women in the household is limited to the kitchen, the living room and ze oza room? For good measure and lest we believe that the one off female Ooni (Luwo Gbagida, the Xth Ooni of Ife) and female Alaafin (the Warrior, Oba Orompotoniyun of Oyo) was an aberration, there were other extensive illustrations. Top of the pile were the five times female Owa Obokun of Ijeshaland and the three times female Awujale of Ijebu-Ode. There was the 27th Ajalorun of Ijebu Ife Oba Yebiwo Owoni  who is the great grand mother of Chief Chris Ogunbanjo. And not to be excluded is my own local Okemesi community which boasts of the first daughter of Oduduwa Oyelagbo as its founder.

History, according to Princess Ronke Ademiluyi, is replete with achievements of great female figures: from the unforgettable Queen Moremi Ajasoro and the legendary Ooni Luwo Gbagada of the Ancient Ife, the trailblazing Pupupu of Ondo kingdom, Alaafin Orompotoniyun of Old Oyo kingdom, the well documented  female Owa Obokuns of Ijesa kingdom, the memorable female Awujales of Ijebu-Ode, and Yeyeniregun of Ado Ekiti, among others, to the great Queen Makeda also known as Queen of Sheba, the outstanding Makare Hatshepsut of the areas around the pinnacle of Ancient Egypt, the extraordinary Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, to the amazing Dahia al-Kahina, Queen Tiye, and Ann Nzingha of precolonial Angola, among others. In her book, Nwando Achebe tells the story of Ahebi Ugbabe who rose through the societal ladder from the position of a local village girl and later on a sex worker to becoming a Warrant-chief and subsequently the only female king in colonial Nigeria and probably colonial Africa.
But following the tendency to minimise and diffuse uncomfortable facts, the incumbent Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Atanda Adeyemi III, had this to say of his distant predecessor “the Alaafin Orompotoniyun was neither a man nor a woman, rather she was a strange being that had both vagina and penis, referring to her as a hermaphrodite. He also adds that when women looked at her, they saw a vagina, and when men looked at her, they saw a penis”! It was also news to me that in certain kingdoms like that of Ilesa, the gender neutral culture persists and allows for both male and females ascension to the throne. And contrary to received wisdom, some historians are actually of the view that westernisation came to reinforce the culture of gender bias patriarchy in contradiction to its perception as the harbinger of liberal modernisation. Perhaps it shouldn’t be all that surprising given that it was only between 1918 and 1920 that British women (over 30 years in age) Dutch and American women acquired the right to vote.

Now we take a look at the other side of the coin- that of the lawmakers doing what they should not have done and this is the defacto creation of a third tier of government- so called Local Government autonomy. “The bills seek to amend the Constitution to repeal the state joint local government account and provide for a special account where all allocations due to the local governments councils, from the federation account and state government shall be paid. The legislations also mandate each state to pay to local government councils in its area of jurisdiction such proportion of its internally generated revenue on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly. For administrative autonomy, the bill seeks to allow local governments to conduct their own elections”. In essence, these bills represent the perpetration and consolidation of the extant anti federalism status quo. It is a step that further takes away Nigeria from federalism whose effect and impact is the weakening and derogation from the power of the second tier of government vis a vis the federal government. Net of revenue allocated to the federal government should accrue to the second tier which is constitutionally at liberty to appropriate and expend the accruing revenue as it deems appropriate. The creation and funding of local governments is an inherent power of the state government and the abrogation of this power- as represented in the creation of a third tier of government is a violation of federalism.

It is true that the state governments are tendentiously corrupt and profligate but this is an entirely different argument and portends no relevance to the federalism stipulation of two tier governance structure. At any rate, the local government operators are no less abusive of public trust. It is illogical in contemporary Nigeria to presume that conferring autonomy on the local governments would potentially result in public accountability and the efficient management of public resources. So, as rationale, we are left with no other conjecture than the ulterior motive of perpetrating a revenue sharing imbalance that favours one region over the other. This is indicated in the lopsided political inequity inherent in the distribution of the 774 local governments. Just one example will suffice. At their creation, Lagos state and Kano state of comparable population had 20 local governments apiece.Thereafter Kano state has been subdivided and has had Jigawa state created out of it and as we speak, the former boasts of 44 local governments while the latter comprises 33 local governments. In sharp contrast, Lagos state remains rooted on the same spot at 20 local governments. So the original Kano state has been reimbursed with the revenue accruing to the additional 57 local governments relative to Lagos state. Since the present number of local governments, 774, is etched in the granite of the Nigerian constitution, it will require the obstacle race of constitutional amendment to correct the anomaly. And since local governments are directly funded from the federation account, revenue allocation is further skewed in favour of the region advantaged by the contrived third tier of government.

We are often cautioned by the ideologues of the status-quo that there is no true federalism and that federalism varies from one territorial jurisdiction to another. My clarification is that the verbiage of  true federalism was prescribed by the wrong citation of what we practice in Nigeria as federalism. If what we call Nigerian federalism is a wrong attribution then there must be the authentic version. In truth Nigeria has violated and breached the threshold of the irreducible minimum of federalism. To argue otherwise is to imply that federalism is indeterminate and you can christen any constitutional structure including a unitary state with the name federalism. To buttress the point is the epistemological clarification that “although today’s federal systems vary in design, five structural characteristics are common to the United States and other federal systems around the world, including Germany and Mexico. First, all federal systems establish two levels of government, with both levels being elected by the people and each level assigned different functions. The national government is responsible for handling matters that affect the country as a whole, for example, defending the nation against foreign threats and promoting national economic prosperity. Subnational, or state governments, are responsible for matters that lie within their regions, which include ensuring the well-being of their people by administering education, health care, public safety, and other public services. 

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