By DAN AMOR
It is a commonplace to say that in the last period of 55 years when the military banished the practice of true federalism in Nigeria, our understanding of the barenness of our forced union has been profoundly modified. Our speculations now extend to embrace the infinite; and, whether we are aware of it or not, our daily life has taken its tone and colour from this tremendous realization in our outlook. We have only to open our eyes to the reality on ground to echo in our hearts and awaken a similar sensation of anguish, from which the humblest intelligence amongst us is not immune.
But the truth is that Nigeria’s federal arrangement is a blatant fraud, abinitio. Nobody is saying that it is absolutely bad to copy any political model from elsewhere. The only problem is that due to greed and our inherent intolerance, we lack the political will and courage to practise what we copy from other climes. The American federal system which we claim to have copied is in truth a partnership in which the doctrine of dual federalism, held generally for upward of a century and still widely embraced, and has, in fact, given way before the practice of cooperative federalism. The last and least thing that could be said of America’s federal system is that it is fixed, formal, and certain in its distribution of powers and in the relations between the partners.
On the contrary, it remains to this day an experimental system, one which probes constantly for pragmatic accommodation where legal principle fails. It is, above all, a practical system. At this critical stage of our national life when there is palpable tension in the land due to ravaging effect of the prolonged attempt by some to lord it over others and the dissatisfaction on the part of those at the receiving end of injustice and marginalization, a central question for those engaged in constitution writing or amendment must be how to distribute powers territorially.
If truly our political managers want this country to remain as a single entity and in peace they should contend with these pertinent questions. How can national and state powers be delineated with clarity and precision sufficient enough to minimize uncertainty and conflicts? What will be the basis of representation for the nation and also for the component parts? How can national supremacy be assured? What provision should be made for intergovernmental relations? What will be the relationship between national, state and local governments? What percentage of tax should the component units pay to the central government for the control of mineral and natural resources? When you ponder on these questions you realise that those against restructuring of Nigeria are truly those who want the country to break up.
Our “leaders” must also be reminded of the fact that in making territorial arrangements for government, two methods are commonly used: unitary and federal. The former concentrates authority and power in a single central government having legal omnipotence over all territory to which it holds title. In practice, central (unitary) governments have no states but establish local units to serve as their agents. Examples of unitary states include France, Great Britain and most of the other smaller nations. On the other hand, under the federal form of government, authority and power are divided between the central government and self-governing parts, with each operating in a sphere defined by the fundamental law of the land called the Constitution.
The self-governing parts, which may be referred to as “Provinces”, “States,” “Regions,” or something else, usually organize internally along unitary lines and establish local governments to serve as their agents. Besides the United States, Switzerland, Mexico and Canada, are examples of federal states. Under the federal arrangement, matters of primary importance to the country as a whole are assigned to the federal government. Usually these include foreign relations, defence, regulation of foreign and large-scale commerce and the monetary system. Taxes such as Value Added or First Taxes are controlled by the component units or centripetal forces. All over the world, the Federal or Central government does not control VAT.
Functions of more localized interests such as public education, protection of lives and property, construction and maintenance of roads, and highways and regulation of small-scale businesses, are given to the federating units. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, a unitary constitution is imposed on a federal arrangement by the military because it suits a section of the country. What makes it even more unfortunate is that rather than proceed to some penitence, those who have held this country hostage for too long, those who are openly associated with this orchestrated process of domination, are still making provocative statements and actions that portray other nationalities as second class citizens even when they are the life blood of the nation. The humiliation of the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen from office by President Muhammadu Buhari is a case in point. The spiteful removal of Onnoghen did not follow any due process.
Since Hon. Justice Ayo Irikefe vacated the office of the Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1985 during the military administration of former President General Ibrahim Babangida, no Southerner had occupied that position until Onnoghen was confirmed by the Senate in March 2017. We all know how hesitant President Buhari was in sending Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for screening and confirmation following the retirement of the immediate past CJN Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed on November 10, 2016 much against the seniority tradition of the Supreme Court and the nation’s adjudicatory system. It was the Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who did the needful when President Buhari was on medical vacation in London. More than two years after his removal, the Judiciary as an arm of Government has been pocketed by the Executive arm of Government. If Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State go to the Supreme Court, we all know how the case would end.
The refusal of the Buhari administration to include the South East geopolitical region in the nation’s security architecture and the deliberate flooding of the leadership of the country’s security forces with Fulani Muslims of Northern extraction to the exclusion of others since Buhari came to power in May 2015, is another case in point. Even up until now, President Buhari has not deemed it fit to appoint an Igbo as head of any of the security forces in a country as diverse as ours. Despite the braggadocio and flaunting of tribal and religious bigotry, the North brings nothing to the table.
Aside from proceeds from the ports and the Value Added Tax (VAT), largely generated from Lagos, the nation lacks creative ideas and competitive ability to generate revenue from the bounteous natural resources the country is blessed with. For instance, the country has been overtly focused on oil with impunity and vehemence without caring a hoot about what becomes of the oil producing areas when the oil wells eventually dry up. These self-seeking rulers do not bother about the fact that widespread gas flaring and oil spillage have inflicted incalculable havoc on human, plant and animal life in the oil producing region. Not as if they use the oil money to provide infrastructure for Nigerians, they rather steal the huge revenue from oil leaving the country to rot. How do we rationalize the fact that after states from the far North destroy millions of beer bottles as a result of Sharia, they still share from monies generated by states in the South from VAT?
Given the pains and traumas of our past and present experiences, the very basis of our existence as a united entity needs a fundamental restructuring. Nigeria has been taken to the cleaners by the military in cahoots with an irresponsible and opportunistic political class. It is lamentable that the country’s national socio-political and economic score sheet indubitably reveals that giddy hopes of many have been overtaken by the inordinate ambition of a few. But those who think that things will remain like this forever are making a terrible mistake. Nigeria is too large and diverse to be tossed like a dice by just a section of the country.
What is required is the unity of other sections to call the bluff of the arrogant interloper. For too long, an all-powerful central government has been sweeping away rights of individuals and the minorities. If Nigeria is a federation, the National Assembly must give the people of this country a federal constitution and not the unitary constitution foisted on us by the military. We must go back to the tenets of the 1963 Republican Constitution in which one was made to eat what one killed and paid tax to the Central Government. Federalism all over the world, is a compromise between the centrifugal and the centripetal forces. There is no alternative to a restructured Nigeria. Our politicians know the implications of making a peaceful change impossible.