How do you correctly answer the Nigerian national question? That has been the concern of patriots and nationalists for years. It was the issue during military rule and so it is now. What are the key components of the answer? Tribune’s Politics Desk attempts some answers.
RESTRUCTURING, true federalism, fiscal federalism, devolution of powers and political reforms are words that have dominated the national political space for more than 20 years now. Indeed, when you add the “national question: to the fray, you get to plough back as far as late 1960s.
The words really talk about one and the same question; how do we get Nigeria working for each and everyone? The country is made up of three major ethnic groups: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. But there are more than 250 others with dialects and sub-sects dotting the landscape. Just as there are differences in culture and traditional orientations, there are also differences in the periods of exposure to Western culture and education. This factor has invariably led to a variety in the focus, mission and vision for the Nigerian nation as well as attitude of different segments to nationhood.
There have been discussions on how to ensure proportion in size of the divides and equitable allocation of the resources. Each region has carved a niche for itself through agitations for issues of interest to them, with trademark topics that have continued to pose unanswered questions to the Nigerian entity. Resource control in the oil-rich South-South and the Niger Delta, fiscal federalism and restructuring in the South-West geopolitical zone, cries of political marginalisation in the South-East as well as the fear of economic marginalisation and domination from parts of the North.
While the cacophony of voices has been unrelenting, the nation has been perpetually in search of solutions. Some have advocated state police as one of the ways forward toward engender restructuring, others have canvassed fiscal federalism, which is a variant of Resource Control pioneered by the South-South geopolitical zone, while some have equally trumpeted the devolution of some of the powers currently contained in the exclusive legislative list to the concurrent or residual lists. In all these, there have always been discordant tunes, with each region already becoming quite predictable on it will take take and the issue it will espouse in any national debate or discourse whenever there is one.
For instance, it was becoming predictable what the attitude of the south-southerner would be to the debate on restructuring. The same was being said of a south-easterner and the south-westerner. In most debate platforms, many tend to see elements from the North presenting a status quo maintaining viewpoint, while the Southerners are portrayed as seeking to upturn the applecart. That perhaps accounts for the rowdiness that usually creeps into the debate at the different forums called to resolve the knotty issue.
The 1994/1995 Constituent Assembly under the late General Sani Abacha was unable to resolve the logjam. The same issue reared its head at the 2005 National Political Reforms Conference organised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo and also reechoed and almost truncated the 2014 National Conference convened by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Maybe the eye of suspicion that has been focused on this issue so far is excusable, but the proponents of the agenda are sticking to their corners. But then there must be a national irreducible pedestal, upon which enduring truth will be built. That is the task before the man who will provide the answers to the National question and that is the real burden of restructuring Nigeria.
Call for restructuring, a waste of time?
The North-South divide and what has been described as ethno-religious consciousness to this argument are not only constant but present. The concerns exist in the psyche of the proponents of the arguments at every instance. While key leaders of the South had, at various times, described the Nigerian federalism in the wake of military takeover of 1966 as “feeding bottle federalism,” leaders from the North appear to see little or no fault in the setup.
Social critic and a veritable Northern leader, Dr. Junaid Mohammed told this newspaper in a telephone interview that he would not be drawn into argument on restructuring, because it tends to be emotive, while proponents come into the argument with rigid minds.
He told this writer when asked to contribute to the restructuring debate that the debate is practically a waste of time: “I am sorry I have to disappoint you because, one, I‘ve never been involved in the restructuring debate, save within the context of the last constituent assembly. And I am very suspicious of the motivation of people who want to raise the issues or who want to join issues over the matter of restructuring. So I don’t want to waste my time, frankly speaking.
“It is not a meaningful discussion. People come to the discussion with their minds made up. And I‘ve seen people now busy enlarging the issue into a tribal matter by blaming some tribes and what have you. So, frankly speaking, I think it serves no purpose to join the issues, because it is not going to be an intelligent, respectable debate. People have their own motivation and their own agenda and I don’t want to join.”
His views were reechoed in another interview by the former Governor of Nasarawa State, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, who told Sunday Tribune that restructuring was a waste of time. He said that proponents have made it look too broad and, therefore, unworkable. According to him, proponents should have restricted themselves to seeking sectoral restructuring such as health and education, rather than seeking total restructuring of Nigeria.
But Chief Ayo Adebanjo, a chieftain of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, sees things differently. He believes that the debate is not a waste of time but indeed central to the survival of Nigeria. He traced the struggle for the restructuring of Nigeria to the period after the coup, which got heightened after another coup against the June 12, 1993 election, won by the late Chief MKO Abiola but annulled by the military.
Chief Adebanjo said: “If the leaders know the problem of the country, they would be able to apply solution. But not knowing the problem, they couldn’t apply the solution and those problems arise because of the lopsidedness of the Constitution. And those of us who have been championing since Abacha days, since NADECO days, since the military era that the country must be restructured, because after the military coup, it was not the structure that was handed to us at independence that the military continued after the coup. We were federal in name but unitary in practice.”
Adebanjo declared that no amount of the economic committees set up by the leaders to dissect the situation would endure “without giving us the right Constitution, without solving this issue of National Question. National Question is solving the problems of the various nationalities and solving the problem of how they will together in peace.”
He believes strongly that the 2014 National Conference has provided key answers to the National Question and the quest for restructuring the polity. He said that the sum total of the various nationalities in Nigeria want to live together in peace adding that the conditions under which they are going to live together were settled in the 2014 National Confab.
“Anybody not implementing them or opposing or not replacing them with something identical is the enemy of the country…And I want to say if Buhari continues to be opposed to that constitution, he is paying a lip service to the unity of the country. And I challenge him again that is he not honest about keeping this country together. He should implement the report of the 2014 National Conference and I challenge him that he is reluctant to give us a balanced Constitution because his people are the beneficiaries of the lopsidedness of the Constitution. I want him to prove me wrong.”
Chief Adebanjo added: “Without political stability, there cannot be economic stability. Settle the political problems in the country; all other things would follow. For instance, if Buhari listens to yearnings of the people calling for restructuring of the country, so they can have autonomy; they can have control of certain aspects of their lives; if that is done, they wouldn’t be breaking those things (pipelines).
“If they don’t break the pipelines, there would be peace and the money you are spending on security to combat them will be available for development. That is the solution, so the solution is clear. Stop the cause of the problems. So, not solving the cause of affiliation means you want the affiliation to continue. People who are under slavery want to get out of slavery, you can’t suppress them by killing them, if they kill them, others will rise up.”
He further explained that before the military took over the affairs of the country there were four regions but that the military handed over a federal structure only in name while it became unitary in practice. For instance, he defended the position of the 2014 National Conference, which recommended the creation of states across the geopolitical zones adding that the minorities of the North did not favour a return to regionalism because of the fear of domination.
“It is the minorities in the North that were opposed to regionalism that called for that (creation of states). They claimed that the North would oppress them if you put them under their rule; they were oppressing them. They said we should give them their own states and then they can combine with those states they are comfortable with. That is why in the recommendation of creating those states, which people were condemning, any area they believe they can go together with, and are convenient with, they are at liberty to do so. The minority are not with the North in oppression, so we liberated them by giving them states.”
Interestingly, however, ome voices from the North are, however, in link with the submissions of elder statesman, Chief Adebanjo, above. Former Commissioner of Police in Lagos state, Abubakar Tsav insisted in an interview with Sunday Tribune that the question of Nigeria’s muddled structure was ignited by military rule, adding that the First Republic leaders were able to put in place structures that sustained competition and development.
He said: “The whole problem started when military took over on flimsy excuses that the then politicians were corrupt. The military used this to rubbish the then politicians, whereas, these people were trained under the colonial masters and they have moral value; highly discipline, honest, selfless service were the hallmark of the set of people. So, at the time military intervened, all the structures put in place were destroyed.”
The Deputy Chairman of the Elders Council of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Benue state, Abu King Shuluwa also held a similar view in an interview with the Sunday Tribune.
He said that the structure of Nigeria as seen today would make the founding fathers cry in their graves. “It is understatement to say the labour of the nationalists have been in vain, because everything they struggled to build have been destroyed by these present crop of politicians,” he said.
Not a few other Nigerians see the issue of restructuring as a necessity to ensure the progress of the country. Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu is one of those who believe so.
In a paper he delivered at the Sixth Annual Oputa Lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School, York University in Toronto, Canada in 2012, entitled “Nigerian Federalism: A Case for a Review,” Ekweremadu identified Nigeria’s structural problems as emanating from “feeding bottle federalism” foisted on the nation by successive military governments since 1966.
While situating the problem, Ekweremadu posited that the crisis of restructuring and federalism in Nigeria are offshoots of its deviation from what can be called the classical centripetal federalism that had worked in other settings like the United States of America and the old Soviet Union, USSR.
He submitted: “Therefore, Nigeria’s cannot be said to be a centripetal federalism as we have in the United States, for instance. Neither is it loose-centre federalism as the former Union of Socialist Soviet Republic (USSR). It will rather be best described as a centrifugal federalism with vast and heterogeneous populations. It is also a coercive or forced federalism where the colonialists lumped groups together, while riot police and soldiers have been used at different times to quell dissidents and insurgencies.”
He said the nature of federalism in existence now which he described as “highly centralised and coercive federalism” is a product of the command structure and characteristics of the military took over the reins of power shortly after independence.
A key component of the flawed federalism, which encompasses the restructuring question in power sharing among the federating units. For instance, it has been identified that rather than gradually whittle down the controls exercised by the Federal Government on the federating units, the powers had increased substantially since the collapse of First Republic.
Ekweremadu had submitted in his paper that: “For instance, at independence, the Exclusive Legislative List contained 44 items while 28 items were contained in the Concurrent List. However, 40 years after, out of 28 items on the Concurrent List in the Independence Constitution, 16 items – which translates to roughly 57 per cent – were lost to the Exclusive List in the 1999 Constitution. They includeitems like arms and ammunition, bankruptcy and insolvency, census, commercial and industrial monopolies, drugs and poisons, fingerprints, identification and criminal records, labour, regulation of the legal and medical professions, national monuments, national parks, prisons, quarantine, registration of business names, traffic on federal trunk roads and so on.”
According to him, the key issues of problematic federalism has got to do with the greedy accumulation of power at the centre, which saw the Exclusive list balloon with items like matters of evidence; fishing and fisheries, public holidays; regulation of political parties; stamp duties; taxation of incomes; profits and capital gains; trade and commerce. The states, which inherited the relics of the old regions lack the power to control resources within their territories, maintain diplomatic relations abroad, appoint Judges, maintain a local Constitution; coat of arms and run a police.
With such sharp drop in the powers of the states, compared to what operated under the regional structure, the cry for political reforms cannot but rent the air; especially as the loss of political power and influence was followed by the loss of financial capacity.
For instance, earnings of Nigeria’s federating units have continued to dwindle from 50 per cent derivation at independence in 1960 to 45 per cent between 1969 and 1971, and again 45 per cent excluding offshore proceeds from 1971 to 1975. Between 1975 and 1979, earnings dropped to 20 per cent excluding offshore proceeds and the zero per cent from 1979 to 1981. From 1982 to 1992, it climbed back to a paltry 1.5 per cent; 3 per cent from 1992 to 1999, and 13 per cent from 1999 till date.
That every state of the federation had to go to to Abuja to receive some sharable funds every month became a curse rather than a blessing and so did the attendant attack on productivity.
While speaking at the Second Annual Conference of the Young Parliamentarians Forum in Abuja in July, Ekweremadu pointedly insisted on restructuring, adding that “feeding bottle federalism” was doing the country more harm than good.
Ekweremadu said: “I disagree with those who say that Nigeria does not necessarily need restructuring, but good governance that will eliminate corruption. The truth is that it is difficult to tame corruption where the federating units virtually run on free federal allocations that some people see as national cake, not their own sweat.
“Conversely, the people will be more vigilant and ready to hold their leaders accountable when the federating units begin to live largely on internally generated revenues and their sweat. However, restructuring should be on incremental basis to ease the country into a more prosperous future.
“We need to reinvigorate the youth arm of our political parties as in the days of the First Republic and pre-independence era when vibrant youth movements and arms of the political parties thrived and served as platforms for political apprenticeship for aspiring political leaders. Unfortunately, there is little we can do about meaningful youth economic inclusion and employment until we restructure our behemoth federalism,” he said.
“I still hold the view that this feeding bottle federalism, this act of robbing Peter to pay Paul, which we have gradually enthroned as state policy since the fall of the First Republic, remains cause of our economic quandary,” the Deputy Senate President concluded.
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and Human Rights Lawyer, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, (SAN), in a submission in June 2012, also identified restructuring as key to Nigeria’s growth.
His suggestions included the knocking down of the current 36 states structure to six geopolitical zones, which should produce six “super governors,” while the existing states should be converted to provinces or administrative units.
That proposal was in 2012 hailed by the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), whose spokesman at the time, the incumbent Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Comrade Osita Ikechukwu insisted on restructuring. The CNPP had said then: “The CNPP supports the convergence of national consensus on the imperative to return Nigeria to a true Federal Republic as distinct from the unitary system of government being practiced today; hence the clamour and urgency to amend the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“Public commentators have queried the inelegant manner in which a Constitution with the tag Federal Republic is structured and chartered along Unitary System of government. It is our considered view that the inherent capacity for true federalism to accommodate multi-ethnic nationalities and their diversities without undermining national unity; was what made our founding fathers to adopt Federalism in the London Constitutional Conference of 1953.”
It is obvious that even when politicians modify their submission on this issue from time to time, the reality has continued to stare everyone in the face. The issue of restructuring, has refused to die like a cat with nine lives. If it survived the military, if has refused to be swallowed by political considerations on either side.
On a general note, some proponents have declared that restructuring and true federalism have the potential of releasing the creative and productive abilities of the different federating units. For instance, a survey mapping of mineral resources available in states of the federation at the Nigeria Export Promotions Council (NEPC) and the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC) indicate that no state of the federation is lacking in resources.
A summary of the endowments in minerals per state include Abia 19; Adamawa–13; Akwa Ibom–11; Anambra–8; Bauchi–35; Bayelsa–4; Benue–32; Borno–23; Cross River–28; Delta–12; Ebonyi–8; Edo–11; Ekiti–13; Imo–8; Jigawa–10; Kaduna–13; Kano–20; Katsina–23; Kebbi–10; Kogi–14; Kwara–12; Lagos–6; Nassarawa–15; Niger–17; Ogun–11; Ondo–6; Osun -10; Oyo–13; Plateau–16; Rivers–5; Sokoto–10; Enugu–11; FCT–10; Gombe–11; Taraba–18; Yobe–15 and Zamfara–8.
Incidentally, most of these minerals are largely unexploited and lying fallow as we speak.
Fiscal Federalism/Resource allocation
With restructuring, a lot of commentators have argued that the resource harnessing capabilities of the states would get bolstered. A number of commentators have condemned the current tax to GPD ratio of Nigeria as a federation and the states in general. For instance, reports have indicated that of the 36 states, only Lagos State, which generates an average monthly package of N25 billion, can independently meet its obligations.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Honourable Yakubu Dogara, who also spoke at the Youth Parliament in Abuja in July, decried the failure of the states to exert energy on tax collection and buoyancy.
He said: “Our tax buoy does not leave us with any much to cheer as well at -3.21 in 2015 from its previous levels of -0.08 for year 2014. Combined contribution of the states to tax revenue stood at 15.43 per cent of total tax revenue with Federal tax revenue making up 84.57 per cent for year 2015.
“This was only a 2.38 percentage point increase in States’ Internally Generated Revenue. Among the states, Ebonyi State tops states with average annualised growth rate in Internally Generated Revenue of 98.59 per cent, while Kwara State is lowest with 0.77 per cent. On the basis of IGR per states’ population, Lagos understandably tops the chart with N22, 954.65 per capita, while Zamfara is lowest with N652.15 per capita as at 2015. This means that Lagos is more able to serve its people 35.2 times with tax revenue over its Zamfara counterpart.”
Proponents of restructuring would say that the creative energy that enhanced the capacity in Lagos would also work in Zamfara if true federalism is adopted to ginger competition.
States versus regions
A return to regionalism is a vexed issue in the restructuring campaign. There are vociferous voices for and against and both sides want to believe in the sanctity of their arguments. It was a contentious issue during the 2014 National Conference, which nearly saw to the collapse of the talks.
The truth, however, remains that many more Nigerians favour the creation of more states during the 2014 National Conference, a recommendation it eventually adopted as well as during the 2014 Constitution amendment exercise. As of 2012, the National Assembly had received request for creation of 46 new states, which should have brought Nigeria to 81-state structure if it had been adopted.
The realities of today appear to negative the quest for a return to regionalism. Many of the current state capitals are finding it difficult to return to era when they were seen merely as local government headquarters, while the ethno-cultural schism in the existing states such as Kogi and Benue, among others as well as the perennial fear of domination among the smaller groups appear to knock the return to regionalism.
Some commentators have also seen the system of local government as a source of restructuring. The 1999 Constitution left the local governments in confused state with the states being able to “legally” confiscate local governments’ 16 percent allocations that come from the federal level.
The National Assembly had twice made provisions for amendments to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution during the Constitution amendment processes of 2010 and 2014 but both failed to rescue the councils. The Governors’ Forum had at different times argued for a two-way federating unit, which would see the councils as properties of the states. But the Constitution as it is recognises the councils as the third tier of government. A true restructuring in this regard would either ensure freedom for the councils or their subjugation to create clear focus for federal funds currently being looped between the states and local governments.
State police/federal police
In the golden era of Nigerian federalism, from the colonial era to early independence years, the federating units operated a police system that was acceptable to the federal authorities. But the coming of the military ended that and instituted a centralized policing system.
Current arguments have, however, highlighted state police as one of the key components of restructuring that would endure. There are questions of excesses of the state authorities which could undermine the independence of the Police at the local levels, but others have posited that with clear rules of engagement and Non-Governmental Organisations alive to responsibilities in monitoring human rights violations, multi-level policing can survive in the polity.
Any way out of the quagmire?
For Chief Ayo Adebanjo, restructuring is the only way to go. He believes that the 2014 National Conference has already provided the way to go. “I say for me, these who are opposed to restructuring are opposed to a united Nigeria in peace and when there is no peace, there is no government and if there is no restructuring, there is no Nigeria,” he said.
Ekweremadu, who had presided over two constitution amendment processes, also maintained that constitution reforms would get Nigeria out of the woods. He said that Nigeria must design ways to manage its diversities and ensure equity, fairness and justice among the contending ethno-cultural forces.
According to him, ensuring integration is “one of the very important and urgent steps Nigeria must take to reclaim her federal arrangement and unity from a worrisome level of ethno-religious consciousness and much discrimination. No matter how much constitutional reform we carry out, little progress will be made unless Nigerians rise quickly enough to build structures for the proper management of the nation’s diversities.”
He also posited that in a heterogeneous state like Nigeria, values like fairness, equity and justice must remain the watchwords.
He concluded: “I, therefore, advocate constitutional reforms to have equal number of states per geopolitical zone as a prelude to restructuring the country along a six-regional structure.”
In a similar vein, Abubakar Tsav also posited that the country must continue to honour her heroes past while encouraging dignity of labour.
Shuluwa, in his submission insisted on restructuring the polity and a return to regionalism, saying “Nigeria needs restructuring in a manner that will not divide the country. For instance, consider the number of governors across the states of federation. See the number of them that had ruled and imagine how they plundered their respective states at the expense of the masses. So for me, let us revert to regionalism. Let us have six regions according to the geo political zone of the country.”