Imperativeness of true federalism

My first contribution to this national debate was first published by the Sunday Tribune on July 14, 1996. It was entitled: ‘Imperativeness of Constitutional Federalism as against Federalism of Might.’

Today, the debate of an imperativeness of true federalism in the country has gathered new momentum, but with some scary dimensions.

In one breadth, the restructuring which had been the most popular subject in public debate in recent time can ostensibly be scaring. This has to be so in the face of various violent threats to the sovereignty of the country from some sections of the country in recent time.

In view of recent calls for either a Niger Delta or Biafra Republic to be carved out of the present sovereign country called Nigeria.

To these comic secessionist, restructuring to them may mean nothing short of a plebiscite to determine the desirability or otherwise of Nigeria as a single political entity and sovereignty.

With Boko Haram in the North-East, IPOB in the South-East and Niger-Delta Avengers in the Niger-Delta, any government with a President that swore to defend the indivisibility of the country as a sovereign nation has to be cautious and circumspect for any quick response. He should avoid any trap to break the country.

Some have always called for the implementation of the 2014 National Political Conference as the only panacea for the unity of the country. But the question is which aspect of the recommendation is the needed tonic to keep the country together? Is it the aspect that recommended the creation of more States in the country at a time when the present 36-State structure had been too burdensome for our national economy? To the extent of receiving memoranda on the state-creation at a time some discerning minds were calling for the collapsing of some of the States for a stronger zonal arrangement, the Confab had already undermined its own value in National Discuss.

To me, any meaningful restructuring has to start with a big caution. The first is the indivisibility of the country as one sovereign country. The second is any thought of any form of Confederation just as General Gowon warned at the 1967 National Conference. The truth of the matter is that Nigeria has gone a long way in history as a political family for any sane mind to contemplate its break. Any meaningful restructuring has to do with power devolution from the centre to States. For instance, Agriculture should be left for the States to develop their natural potentials.

Agriculture should be removed from the concurrent to the residual under any constitutional reforms. For any reforms to be made, the First Republic Constitution should be the most credible working paper for guidance. Another aspect that needs a revisit is education. A situation in which education policy is centralised is an antithesis to true federalism. If education was centralised in the First Republic, the Western regional government headed by Chief Obafemi Awolowo would have been hampered from formulating the free education policy at that time. Yet, it was that policy that made Western region a model for other regions and made Chief Awolowo a hero of all times. It was in the same vein that the West would not have been able to launch the revolutionary Farm Settlement scheme if it had depended on the centre for its agricultural policy.

Back to education, for Nigeria to be a true federation, the Federal Government has to be checked of some excesses in that sector. A situation in which the federal government regulates admission policy even for State owned universities through the FG owned Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board is the least desired in a federal set up.

The Federal might had also on many occasions led to arbitrariness in the so-called federal Intervention Fund in the tertiary sector of education. The same thing can be said of the so-called Ecological Fund which the federal government applies indiscreetly to destabilise the country randomly. In a nutshell, the excessive wealth at the disposal of the federal government had turned out to be a destabilizing factor for the unity of the country. A true federalism should be based on brotherhood rather than paternity like the one we are operating now.

But to me personally, and this is very saddening, it is unfortunate that the craze for a Shield of Federal Might had taken some section of traditional rulership in the country for the federal attention. This they make under the aegis of National Conference of Traditional Rulers. If we allow this to continue, it will not be long for marriage, burial and other customary matters be transferred to the Federal Government.

My opposition to the National Conference of Traditional Rulers is not borne out of personal hatred for any of my royal brothers involved, all of whom I hold in high esteem, but out of my conviction as a true federalist with the slogan ‘Unity in Diversity’. It amuses me when some of my brothers claim that they want a central law for national relevance. The first question is under what laws were they installed in the first instance? Whereas all those in the various tiers of government are there under a uniform system, i.e., popular election to either executive or legislative arms, the same cannot be said of traditional rulers. There are divergent sources of different monarchies line in any true federalism. Some like the caliphate is purely a religious institution. Under this arrangement, you cannot have a non-Muslim Emir.

To the Yoruba on the other hand, it is secular heredity. Under this arrangement, a particular religion has no place under the Yoruba royal institution. Even the word ‘Royal Father’ means different things to many cultures in the country. Whereas, the Emir and Yoruba Oba are accorded high reverence with some degrees of permanency, the same cannot be said of other cultures where their so-called royal fathers are not more than just one of them among subjects. That has to do with the Republican nature of such cultures.

Suffice to say, however, that the old functions of traditional rulers are still present in multiple forms to meet the challenges of modernity. Among such new functions which modernity had imposed on traditional rulers in their various communities is the modern perennial motor park disputes among Transport Unions. The traditional institution has to compliment the Police and other allied security agencies for necessary mediation whenever dispute occurs.

  • Oba Adeyemi is the Alaafin of Oyo and Permanent Chairman, Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs.