THOUGHTS ON NIGERIA’S UNITY & THE CAMPAIGN FOR FEDERALISM:
WE CAN DO WITH LESSER TENSION
By: Femi Adelegan
Federalism, as adopted by Nigeria is patterned after the system in advanced countries, and as practiced in plural nations. Nigeria is a very complex entity. A nation of about 4,000 ethnic groups speaking 250 languages and dialects. Nigerian nationalists never bothered about the arrangement before independence because they were united in ensuring the exit of the colonialists. The various constitutional conferences held in Nigeria and London at various times in the 1950s all pointed in the direction of a group united in purpose and principle. However, they were dis-united in the modalities and dates proposed for the attainment of independence for Nigeria. We have since had several constitutional reviews under the Presidential, Parliamentary and Diarchy or Military forms of governance. But the issue of national unity is still plaguing the nation. Why has national unity been threatened under all forms of government operated by Nigera? Terrific Headlines beams its search light on a number of issues to wit:
SOCIO-POLITICAL ISSUES: It is evident that calls for restructuring and true practice of federalism is a long standing one that has its roots in the First Republic. These fears have been provoked by perceived injustice and economic downturn. The ordinary Nigerian would not mind living in any part of the country, or who governs, provided there is Good Governance and the impact is felt generally.
FEARS AND DISTRUST
Various constitutional conferences did not fully address the reality of the strong differences among the various tribes in the country. There were also the fears of the minority, which contributed significantly to the belief of many people that the federal nature of Nigeria existed merely on paper and not in practice. Some fear the sheer weight of numbers of other parts which they feel could be used to the detriment of their own interests. Some fear the sheer weight of skills and the aggressive drive of other groups, which they feel have to be regulated if they are not to be left as the economic, social, and possibly political, under-dogs in their own areas of origin in the very near future.
INDIGENESHIP, RACIAL AND ETHNIC PREJUDICES
These are too pronounced such that they must be matters of concern. There was a crisis of confidence among the politicians and the emerging intelligentsia of post-independent Nigeria. The country was at the edge of precipice and was drifting dangerously towards a possible collapse. This was the genesis of the military intervention of January, 1966, which eventually terminated democratic rule after only six years of independence. Issues that demand urgent attention would be the problem of state and local government of origin and rights and obligations of settlers in any community. How can we regard Nigerians living in any part of Nigeria as aliens? All the talks about Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo or Ijaw nationalities may be necessary; but we must treat this issue cautiously. For instance, an Ogun indigene may not be employed by Oyo State, an Enugu indigene may never be employed in Imo State, a Rivers indigene may never be employed by Bayelsa; and an indigene of Kaduna may never be accepted in Katsina State. Yet we are all Nigerians. We need to address the problem of indigeneship that makes a Nigerian an alien in his/her own country.
STATES/LOCAL GOVERNMENT CREATION:
This will not solve the problem. States should rather be merged than for new ones to be created on account of the current economic downturn. Calls for the creation of more States are unreasonable as those currently in existence are destitute. This position is supported by Luke Onyekakeyah, a columnist in the Guardian Newspapers, who submits that: ‘’If anything, the existing state structure has done more harm than good to the socio-economic and political development of the country. ‘’We are worse off belonging to states rather than to Nigeria as it were. It is a fact that most of the landmark developments found in different parts of the country were accomplished under the former regional government. Agriculture that thrived and placed the country on the world economic map disappeared with the creation of states. Basic amenities like good roads, healthcare centres and schools that worked under the regional government disappeared with the creation of states. Besides, most of the States are destitute, depending practically on the monthly allocation shared from the federation account. Without these allocations they will fizzle out on their own and would even seek to be re-merged with other viable states. Why then should the country be creating problems that are avoidable when other countries of the world are making new strides in different spheres of human endeavour? Should we allow the greed and over-ambition of some individuals and groups to override the corporate interest of the country? “As a matter of fact, if creating states is an experiment, we have tested it and found that it is anti-development and not working. The underdevelopment, virulent corruption, looting of treasury and hostility that have bedeviled Nigeria are attributable to States creation. A situation where an Igbo man from outside Enugu State is regarded as non-indigene in Enugu; a Yoruba who is not from Oyo State has no say in Ibadan and a Kanuri cannot walk tall in Kaduna is dangerous for the country’s unity. We are already in a situation where by an Ekiti man has no say in Ondo and an Oron man cannot talk in Calabar, among others. Even within the same state, your zone and where the governor comes from determines who gets what. We are in a terrible situation and the federal government is pretending not to be aware of what is happening”. (The Guardian Newspapers of Tuesday, January 13, 2009)
MINORITY GROUPS: This issue needs to be properly examined. There is considerable concern about the perceived imbalanced in the nature of the structure of the federation.
POPULATION CENSUS: Such important issues like national population census need to be addressed. The need for an accurate demographic data is necessary.
THE ELECTORAL PROCESS: This also calls for a review to plug all loopholes. Strengthening the electoral process and democratic institutions to remove deep-seated acrimony and rancour which always accompany elections is necessary.
GOVERNANCE, DEMOCRACY & THE RULE OF LAW: The citizenry must demand responsible leadership and deep commitment to deepening democracy. The people must decide to be the masters and call their representatives n Government to order, whenever desirable. The quest for political office is being pursued with unusual desperation and utter ruthlessness. The way out of is for the political class to pay serious attention to the economic emancipation of the citizenry and seek ways and means of growing the nation’s economy.
RESTIVENESS AS A RESULT OF ECONOMIC DOWNTURN
There is no society, even the advanced countries of the world without its own measure of tribalism and regionalism. Britain and Belgium are classic examples of societies where these occur but there have not been hues and cries over this phenomenon. In Nigeria, the problem of state or place of origin, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and related ills have combined to present themselves as formidable constraints to development. Over the years, the question of resource allocation has been a great one which has tasked successive administrations. The revenue allocation formula before and immediately after independence gave 50 per cent of revenue accruing to the regions to these parts of the country, while 50 per cent went to the national purse for redistribution. The military came with its unitary system which gave the federal government the lion’s share of the country’s earnings to the detriment of the states and local governments. This problem has caused restiveness in the Niger-Delta region with youths of the area demanding for a fair deal for the area which produce the bulk of the crude oil which serves as the major foreign exchange earner for the country. Other parts of the country are also becoming agitated as a result of what they consider as the inequality between the federal and the state government who constitutionally should be equal partners in the Nigerian project. But the answer lies in dialogue, dialogue, and dialogue. No conflagration; no shedding of blood.
Religious activists have succeeded largely in destabilizing the society, while governments have not been able to apply the full sanctions and bring the full weight of the law to bear on culprits. This trend has made it possible for those who engage in heinous crimes on account of their religious persuasions to continue to fan the embers of religious prejudices and fanaticisms.
According to the Encyclopedia of International Development corruption “refers to bribe-taking or dishonesty by people in authority, but its meaning and definition vary between places and contexts. It is the flouting of rules by willing partners, with consequent loss of accountability. Unlike fraud, all the parties to corrupt practices must share a guilty knowledge of corruption”. If Nigeria’s resources are well managed, things would be better. Let Nigerians, particularly the leadership make better use of resources, improve extractive capacities and pursue rapid growth. Government must also be able to put social security schemes in place that would cater for the present and tomorrow, or future of people. If this is done, it would definitely reduce acts of saving money for unborn generations by the privileged and the tendencies and getting rich at all costs, which is rampant and pronounced partly because people have no confidence in the state system and its ability to provide for them.
THE PROBLEM OF YOUTH AND SOCIETAL DEVELOPMENT
It is important for the nation to address the problems confronting youths, particularly unemployment, creation of an enabling environment for youth development and the eradication of some social vices in which youths are involved. There must be attitudinal changes propelled by good policies and programmes designed and implemented to guide youth development and by implication, the country.
The issue needs to be on the front burner to see how the constituent parts of Nigeria and the citizenry can cooperate for security of the nation. Governments owe it a duty to provide a secured environment for the populace and this is one of the prime reasons why government is in place. The fact remains that in a true federal arrangement, other tiers of government must have the right to put their security machinery in place without prejudice to the arrangement made by the federal government.
RULE OF LAW
Respect for due process and the fundamental human rights of the citizenry is another contentious issue that needs to be addressed. Nigeria has been exposed to a very long military rule during which human rights were abused and violated with impunity. Respect for human rights, the courts and the laws of the land are some of the requirements for good governance.
GENERAL REVIEW OF THE CONSTITUTION: It is necessary to review the constitution to take to account of our differences and realities. There must be discussions about how we wish to co-exist as a nation, having learnt from history. Let Nigerians come to the negotiating table to determine how they want the country to be managed. In this connection, it would be wise for Nigerians to refrain from heating up the polity. Nigeria is stronger with its current size and any balkanization would render the nation weak in the international community.
No society is perfect. It is very easy to criticize at any level of the society. But it is important for critics and cynics to get all the facts right before jumping into conclusions. But people must ask questions because their lives are being managed by their representatives. It took America a considerable period of time to stabilize its democracy. The nature of this country is that there are too many drivers, that are manipulating the steering of the ship of state. The country appears to some people like the Autonov1 vehicle that was invented by late genius, Prof. Ayodele Awojobi. The vehicle could be controlled from both the front and rear simultaneously. While some are driving the vehicle of the nation forward, some others in the same vehicle at the rear are driving it in the opposite direction. That has always been the case for decades; hence the stunted growth. Therefore, we must continue to expect disagreements. And we must continue to relate and dialogue over our preferences and differences as Nigerians. Dialogue is certainly better than confrontation. Founding fathers of Nigeria held no fewer than seven constitutional conferences between 1953 and 1960 that eventually earned the nation independence. No blood was shed. The truth is that the political terrain is slippery. But we could do with lesser tension by being democratic, patriotic, selfless, and cosmopolitan in outlook.