By Odia Ofeimun
Ten years ago, I began my City People Anniversary Lecture, on the theme of Leadership and Electoral Reform, by telling the story of how Seye Kehinde was being pursued by security agents in the good old days of guerrilla journalism under General Sani Abacha. One day, they surrounded the office of the News and Tempo magazines where we all worked. Because the security group that came did not actually know the quarry they were pursuing, they insisted that I and another senior colleague must identify each of the staff as they came out holding their identity cards.
I saw Seye in the room, lining up with the rest of the crowd. We all knew he had been virtually sentenced to a shoot at sight order. But he was there holding an identity card. As he came abreast of the checkpoint, his face looked nothing of this world. I waved him on without actually bothering to look at his ID. A moment later, the screech of his car tyres told us that he was gone. He was swallowed up by the sea of people that Lagos knows how to pool as a city. In that sea, he could disappear underwater to his chosen underground without trace. By the time he came up for air, away from guerrilla into soft-sell journalism, he was no longer dealing with hard core analysis of the seedy and intricate shenanigans in the military and cabalistic overrun of the oil industry; he was holding a mint-fresh copy of City People magazine whose 20th Anniversary we are celebrating today.
I am here to congratulate Seye Kehinde for his artful dodger’s composure, and escape, and to wish all of you at City People and all readers of .City People a wonderful twentieth anniversary. It is great to be this old on the streets in a country where life expectancy for magazines is at the very nadir of the actuary. Life expectancy for sundry enterprises especially now that recession is the buzzword on every lip is truly not of this world. And recession is not the only source of mortality for enterprises in these times. Our friend, the new Minister of Information, Tourism and culture, Lai Mohammed, ordered bulldozers to the Artists Village at the National Theatre in Iganmu almost as he was being appointed. Among the casualties was the Dance Drama Troupe run by Hornbill House of the Arts, which we were daring to rank above South Africa’s Umoja.
We told South Africa’s story better with our own Siye Goli – A Feast of Return, and gave Nigeria a showpiece dance drama titled, Nigeria The Beautiful. Ten years of costumes, props and musical and other equipment were drubbed to a sponge by the bulldozers. To my knowledge, neither the visual artists, the musicians nor the other dance troupes at the Artist village have been compensated for what was officially described as an “error” resulting from a bad briefing. So let me truly congratulate City People for surviving the many such mishaps in the market place and in the cynical environment that haunts businesses in our giddy times.
Quickly, let me make a clean breast of why, after some hedging, I have agreed to deliver this lecture on How to Restructure the Nigerian Federation Without Tears! It happens that the theme of restructuring which is so much on everybody’s lips implies changing the arrangements in accordance with which we are being governed. It may imply just a change of arrangements but it means different things to different people. Or, it is virtually beginning to mean whatever anybody wants it to mean. Some elder statesmen who should be providing clearer perspectives, have turned the ground quite potty by viewing it in terms of a bid to dismember Nigeria; that is, seeing the demand for restructuring as a wager between a unitary system of government, which they confuse with national unity, as against true federalism which seeks to devolve power from the centre to constituent units.
They take the position of beneficiaries of a system who do not want things to change. Others see it as a matter of enthroning the old regionalism that was smashed by military coups in 1966 but is now being proposed for a revamp from three and four into six geopolitical zones. The latter, superficially, raises fears that, having six zones like former Yugoslavia, is tantamount to taking a leaf from a country that has since dismembered into seven different countries. These fears, it would seem, have yielded an extremist dimension represented by President Muhammadu Buhari’s wish, as reported in The Nation, Friday, September 16, 2016, for local governments to gain autonomy from state governments so that states will no longer be able to “act as if they own the local governments”. In the view of all political scientists that I have ever read, this would result in a Napoleonic overcoming of federalism by a conqueror’s logic resulting in an extreme case of unitarism, a bidding by the Federal Government to create local governments for states to run; but not as they wish.
Ordinarily, as states are supposed to be the creators of local governments, deploying them as necessary instruments and agents of development, a view of local government autonomy which insinuates federal power into governance at that level, prefigures a restructuring that is against restructuring. This is because it further unitarizes an already over-unitarized federal system. Unwittingly, by reversing the usual meaning of restructuring which contests such a format, it gives true federalism its agitatorial rationale which demands for constituent units of a country a form of self-governance within more or less protected cultural geographies that are coordinate with and equal in their respective spheres with the central government. In essence, what is true federalism is not necessarily resolved beyond question. But it is a striving to be in sync with K.C. Wheare’s classical definition in his book on Federalism. I dare say that what is true in true federalism is actually a backhanded response to the need to move away from the hangover of a militarized and unitarized federal system of government in order to embrace its more authentic mode or modality..
In the face of people who may see aunitarized federalism as a way of restructuring, it is not surprising that there are others who over-react to them by going completely overboard to reject the concentrated power of the Presidential system itself. In their bid for restructuring, they would rather have the collegiate leadership in a Parliamentary system of government which they consider a more befitting alternative. There are some other peculiar proposals which take virtually every re-arrangement in government, even a mere reshuffling of cabinet ministers, a reduction in the cost of running legislatures, or alteration of the revenue allocation formula, as amounting to restructuring. I think however that it is important not to harm focus by packing too much into the restructuring bag. Truly, focus is being harmed when the concentrated power and centralism of the Presidential system, which is not responsible for its habits of jumbo expenditure in the Nigerian circumstance, is allowed to yield distracting debates as to whether to have a parliamentary system in addition to part-time legislators either in order to save costs, or escape the tyranny of the Executive Governors.
The distinction between a Presidential system and a parliamentary one, or between full-time and part-time legislators is tangential to, if not completely outside the debate over how to restructure or not restructure. As I may not be able to look at the issues too closely in this intervention, I am merely mentioning it as a means of setting the stage for an appreciation of what restructuring is really all about in our climes. It is more crucial to concentrate on the hard core issue of federalism and its enemies amongst whom I would not like to add the name of President Muhammadu Buhari who, surveying the Nigerian maelstrom from a helicopter view, appears tempted to strike at powers that should rightly be exercised by other tiers of government rather than his own federal charge.
My purpose in this lecture is rather straightforward. I see restructuring as a change in the spatial arrangements by which we are governed. It calls forth the necessity to have protected and defended cultural and economic geographies for the exercise of power. The point is to bring it all down to the level of serious interactive discourses so that it is not left simply in the hands of those defenders of the people’s interests who, being human, can sometimes stumble and fall in the course of waging the good fight to right the wrongs of our time. Let’s just say that this intervention is about proper definitions, accounting, and monitoring of how we got to where we are, and may yet arrive at what is most desirable about Nigerian Federalism without falling into half-way houses, shabby compromises and complete reversals and displacements of goals – such as what I call the Khalifah Syndrome – which accompanied and mangled many of our national struggles in the past.
The Khalifah Syndrome
Here I want to make a special mention of the June 12 Struggle. Let us remember, that once upon a time, we all woke up to find that key stalwarts who were standing on June 12, began to ask for General Sani Abacha to intervene in order to unlock the jam and immobilism that had overtaken the country. Our own Gani Fawehinmi, Beko Ransome Kuti, Bolaji Akinyemi, Ken Saro Wiwa – all the pro-democracy princes were rooting for the man whom all those conversant with the politics of the Nigerian Army called The Khalifah, the successor. It was spooky; and it was clear that someone they had a reason to trust had overcome their sense of vigilance. I had to ask on the pages of TheNews magazine: how many battalions had they so that if the invited General began to fun-fool, he could be checkmated. Soon after, the General actually took over power and all the pro-democracy people including the avatars of the National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, were nominating their chosen ministers into Abacha’s cabinet. Even the custodian of the mandate, Chief MKO Abiola himself later admitted that he too agreed with General Sani Abacha that he could stay for a while. Except that nobody really cared to ask: how long is a while? That is, until the General proved his status as Khalifah by digging in so deep, it required his seizure of the custodian of the mandate to define what a while could mean. Thereafter, at his death, and after the passing away of the custodian himself, another opportunity arose to refocus. It became a turf war between the radicals in the pro-democracy movement who wanted pure democracy and the patriarchs who wanted a select group of elders from across the country to constitute a transition council. It was actually a fruitless debate because there was no way an electoral process – with electoral commissions etcetera – could be adopted without giving the military, already in power – a significant role. So, poor strategizing gave the baton back to the military. They promptly rooted for one of themselves, already appropriately civilianized after jail, to come to power. This created the opportunity for another chance when the Alliance for Democracy decided to work with the newly elected President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. It was made to appear as serious decision-making even when the real issue was no longer whether to work or not work with the government but who should be sent from the pro-democracy bracket. In my view, at such critical conjunctures, the pro-democracy stalwarts in our midst have always managed to flunk the test because of being too strapped to a personality profiling of issues rather than bother with core ideas or agreed goals.
In my view, the most heinous of such strategic failures and one that is being made to appear like a success story, is the pursuit of the coalition that yielded the fusion called All Progressive Congress, APC. It is a highly dispiriting failure that cannot be properly understood by looking at its presumed success in ousting President Goodluck Jonathan from Office. In itself, that ouster was the failure; especially, given the replacement that was rooted for with so much vigour by people who said they wanted restructuring. Only the day before, restructuring of the Federation had been the rousing mantra. It was so swiftly abandoned or let us say toned down to the point of denial, after the advocates discovered a beeline to political power as a more valued project. They began the distancing of restructuring away from themselves; they, who had literally driven the whole country to a frenzy, a virtual apoplexy, in pursuit of a Sovereign National Conference that was supposed to achieve restructuring! True, no matter how they defined the sovereign in the national conference, it was clearly an impossibility to get it according to their agitatorial designs.
But they ought to have been the first to know that. It turned out that the mode in which President Goodluck Jonathan eventually pulled it off was the only way to get it right without self-deception. Which still did not prevent the lack of sovereignty from being raised as a rationale for rejecting the Conference. The rejection thrived on other bits about its rushed nature, it’s coming too close to the General election, and therefore it’s being a part of a hidden agenda. I dare to say that only those who were not paying attention to the setting up of the Belgore commission, the civil society confabs, and the reviews in both houses of the 7th National Assembly, could stake such grounds for their rejection of the National conference. Anyhow, the big snag, and the actual source of delay in putting the conference on the road in the first place, was that some stalwarts who had once supported restructuring as the spine of their political projects, simply acceded to thoroughly unfounded reasons for joining the push against the President of a minority ethnic extraction whom a Doctrine of Necessity had put in Aso Rock. By the way, I mention the minority factor because no matter how well concealed as the ground for rejecting Jonathan as President, it stands on top of the reasons that the Northern catchment of the Nigerian political class had for deciding to move out of the PDP en masse.
Let’s put a finger on it: It was not just because there was an agreement inside the PDP that only a northerner could take over from Umaru Yar’adua. Even if there was, a private arrangement in a political party should never have been considered fit to overawe a national constitution. To concede office to the Vice President after the death of President Yar’Adua, should have been automatic for true patriots. The more plausible rationale for not doing so was that all former Presidents of Nigeria, and shadowy cabals around them, wanted to have their leg in the door for the next round of bidding for oil blocks. They could not trust a leader of minority extraction, whose siblings were sitting with explosives on the ready, on top of the oil reserves, to do it in their own interest.
President Goodluck Jonathan himself, not being a child of the bride’s chamber in his party, really could not have had any clue as to what the hullaballoo was all about. His trying to be his own man, as the whole country obviously expected, was at the heart of the crisis. No one knew this better than former President Obasanjo whose inability to put strings on either Yar’adua or Yar’adua’s successor, was his core reason for wanting to build a national constituency to oust a President regarded by many as his protege. President Jonathan was so very snidely, and so quickly, slapped with being clueless in a way that was meant to de-legitimate him before he could do any damage to his putative minders after the Doctrine of Necessity that brought him to power. This was compounded by those who knew that this President of minority extraction, who was already putting his foot down to hold a National Conference even before he was sworn in, was not averse to restructuring the Federation. Yes, in spite of Goodluck Jonathan’s wily naivety, they knew.
Another way of saying this is that the split that led a large Arewa bloc to exit from the People’s Democratic Party was, properly speaking, a move in the war to restructure or not to restructure the Nigerian Federation. The big salvo about Jonathan’s cluelessness had taken off within that famous oil war, the occupy Nigeria episode, in which many people fought against their country while imagining that they were protesting against a clue-less President. Along the way, while President Jonathan was literally bending over backward, through appointments and projects sited in the North, to win back the masses from those who had left his party, the leader of the pack, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, zeroed in. He had wasted his first term in office as President in so much grand-standing before he suddenly realized during his second term that he needed a third term in order to do grand things that he could make grandiloquent speeches about. The pity is that it was this searcher for a third term, through a successor, that the Action Congress of Nigeria ACN as a party had to embrace as Prince Henry The Navigator, as the party joined a standing open conspiracy. No question about it: it remains one of the great tragedies of the Fourth Republic, one great defeat of rationality in Nigerian politics.
As it happened, all the forewarnings about coalitions that could destroy the basis of decades-old agitation for restructuring and the politics of social welfare were ignored by the adventuring coalition-builders who soon landed a truly unique but quite unprepossessing fusion called APC. Every indicator of danger in the highly quixotic search for a messiah was poohpoohed for standing in the way of the search for Power. They saw restructuring of the Federation no longer as a core issue but a peripheral one to be dispensed with, according to the coming electoral heist. This was why very little was done to define what kind of restructuring they needed. It was a case of Get the messiah first, and restructuring would follow; that is, if it would still be needed. Or was it a case of if we have power, why should restructuring matter? Either way, it was another return to the Khalifa syndrome which had enabled Abacha to stay for a while and to dig deep without anyone having laid a basis for reclaiming the boggled mandate. The parameters were simply never laid out, nor was there a reasoned apportionment of personnel to guarantee commitment to shared goals.
Quite unsettling is that, listening to, and reading what is being poured down by many old and born-again champions of restructuring, it is clear that there is so much missing in the discussions, with too many people too much at sea to know what to do about it. Officially, having rejected the way of the National Conference, with President Muhammadu Buhari, interning the Report on a shelf that he may never return to, it has become obvious that those who wish to have Nigeria restructured have a fight on their hands that may be tougher than any they had yet seen. No one imagines an easy triumph but as I wrote in the book, This Conference Must Be Different, which was meant to anticipate the conference, “Even if there is some alchemy that can prevent it (the Conference) from taking place……..whoever succeeds in achieving such a negative feat will have to carry the burden of making it happen again, sooner rather than later. Or earn opprobrium that will never cease”
So to say, the battle for restructuring is not one that Nigerians can lose. But it could be won for the wrong reasons. And that would be tragic. Which is why advocates of restructuring need unusual thinking caps while they are at it.
So many are bidding for time to garner positions from all sorts of brain storms. Some are hoping that they could call for another conference to settle the matter. The Chairman of President Buhari’s Transition Committee, Alhaji Ahmed Joda, a very wise man, has thought of another three years of ruminating over how to hold another conference. But how can Nigerians who blamed President Goodluck Jonathan for waiting till too late to put his conference on the road, how can they be asking President Buhari to do the same; that is, jump the nation into a national conference, when the report of the last one has been left unread, undigested and without usable annotations even if it is only to stop the current pattern of poaching ideas from it in second-hand and haphazard fashion?
What one would have supposed is that those who distrusted the conveners of the last National Conference would by now have done their own thorough study, provided their own report, or do a close reading as a way of showing how much they disagree with it, or how much better they would have wished it to be. That is how people behave when they care about their country and are averse to either deceptions, or leaving people stranded waiting for answers to life-threatening situations. If the wish not to deceive or leave people stranded is their reason for putting the National Conference Report in the freezer, then it ought to be a reason to start debating it.
Let me quickly add that this lecture is not an attempt to look at the National Conference Report but to offer a reasoned historical analysis of the inevitability of restructuring. I am merely providing a narrative that aspires to put our implacable realities on the table so as to ward off the Khalifah syndrome. My approach to the question is essentially an abridgement of a number of other lectures which I have delivered in the past two decades and many of which are beginning to appear in books after publication in newspapers and journals. One such lecture was the one delivered on this same platform ten years ago on Leadership and Electoral Reform which would soon appear in a book titled Media Nigeriana. The others have been published in Taking Nigerian Seriously, When does a Civil War come to an end and This conference must be Different.
They are books you won’t find in the next bookshop. But never mind, their time will come. This lecture is a promissory note to the one titled The Nigerian Agenda. What unites all of them is a concern for not just restructuring but bidding for true federalism that speaks to Nigeria’s history from the presumption that no part of Nigeria possesses interests that are so radically different from those of any other part as to warrant a different treatment. All the talk about an Arewa strategy, a Southwest approach, an Indigbo factor, or a South South or North East position must be taken as partial interventions, as of blind beggars trying to describe an elephant and, ending with the worship of various gods and schemes of incompleteness.
A case of Christians, Muslims and animists, each side-minding only their stalls, and therefore unwittingly empowering a raging fire to consume the whole supermarket. All the assumed solutions, frankly, are becoming so insidiously self-defeatist at a time when shoddy attempts are being made by some parts of the country to craft their own foreign policy, and others are seeking to fight poverty by engaging in external borrowing, as if the rest of the country will not be implicated in the amortization of any debts incurred. I dare say that the best way to have a handle on the theme How to Restructure the Nigerian Federation Without Tears is to look at the grating competitions and distracted conversations between North and South regions and the nationalities in-between in our history.
Along the way, while it may be trite, to say that the natives, Nigerians, were never involved in the construction of the system that has mauled their lives, it happens to be quite rational to ask: why has it taken so long to change the obvious lopsided architecture that distorts past present and future in our Republic? Why has the mischief of treating North and South as two separate countries, been sustained as a way to go? Why has every change attempted or effected become a means of reproducing the lopsided colonial architecture? These are questions that I wish to confront within the theme I have chosen. I take it that we all expect restructuring to imply a re-arrangement of structures, a movement that alters the architecture of the country in such a way that repositions the lop-sidedness and makes it more balanced, such that no side remains a dead weight upon the other.
It is no use running away from the reality that restructuring is a difficult subject because it is first and foremost about tackling the North in order to remove factors that have kept Nigeria backwards by sequestering that vast and potent geography behind a colonial facade. In relation to Nigeria’s history, restructuring does indeed imply that a way can be found to ensure that all parts of the country can be made free, relatively self-governing, and more creative than hitherto by streamlining relationships between all constituent parts that have been grating upon one another and hurting relationships. My approach is to indulge in a narrative that, first of all, removes the blinkers from the history, and lays bare the heart of the matter from which we get to know where the rain started to beat us, as Chinua Achebe would have put it.
Regionalism and National Regeneration
It is quite uncontroversial to note that, beginning with Frederick Lugard’s era, which closed in formal terms in 1919 but has not quite ended, there has been a rank competition between different regions of Nigeria for control of the whole Federation and that this stemmed from the manner of their creation. It is important, to consider first of all, how the structure of the Federation was consummated as different parts were taken over by different British authorities. The Colonial office took the Lagos colony and environs; the Foreign Office poached the southern protectorate, and the Royal Niger Company took most of the North before the trading company was dispossessed by the British Parliament.
Where better therefore to start the discussion of structure than the colonizer’s refusal to allow the North, three times larger than the south, to be split before or after the amalgamation in 1914! As readers of Margery Perham, Lugard’s biographer, can attest, proposals made by Charles Temple, Governor of the North, for an eight-region structure for the country and the one by E.D Morel, editor of the Daily Mail for a four region Federation, were thrown out by Lugard out of pure imperial mischief. The culture of One North versus the South was cemented with a universalized Indirect Rule System, a common culture of emirates with a tough-minded Fulani ethnic core, a more or less generalized Hausa language, a slowed-down educational system for the North, and a virtual veto based on gestimates of population that have hardened, over the decades, into an immutable law. The law must be seen as active today in the fact that every Census has been turned into a negotiated deal with distortive implications for revenue allocation, voters’ roll, employment, and admission into Federal institutions and departments.
The result is that more than 100 years after amalgamation, the question – when would Nigeria have a normal census? – cannot be answered well because it has become a loaded reference to problems of the divide between North and South. The problems were sharpened with the two-way split of the smaller Southern Protectorate into western and eastern region in 1939. With that split, the basis was set for the consequent three-way competition – one hegemonic North over the East and West – which has been the mother of all demarcations, a form of regionalism that has created unethical fixtures and distancing in Nigerian politics. Indeed, although most Nigerians like to see ethnicity as the prime fault-line that has fractured all national aspirations, the reality of the lopsided three-cornered structure deserves to be credited with being the real destroyer of fellow-feeling, promoter of distrust, and farmer of that lack of empathy that has been the constant generator of corruption in our society. It can be stated without fear of contradiction that not to seek to remove it, and to continue pumping hyper-inflated sentiments about building a united country, is to engage in absolute self-deception.
From the beginning, the regions were practically goaded into a culture of unwholesome competition with a mental and material infrastructure that has turned what could have been a healthy interaction into a very unsavoury case of mutual self-annihilation. It began with colonial officials who were determined that never the twain, North and South, shall meet. While they wanted money from the south to be used to cushion deficits incurred in the North, and they wished for personnel that the North could not immediately provide to come from the south, British officials in the North, under Frederick Lugard and after, did not want to have a form of interaction between the two protectorates that could unite the country against colonial rule. Or, more like the same thing, they did not want the kind of liberal governance that Sir William Macgregor and Sir Walter Egerton had established in the Lagos colony and southern protectorate where great development projects, schools, railways, electricity, town planning, and a critical newspaper culture made Lagosians think that they were a part of Britain.
Lugard and his men did not want the colony to contaminate the conservative control they had in the North. They saw it as the Indian disease: that business of allowing an educated middle class to emerge which soon begins to appeal civil rights cases to as far as the Privy Council. They wanted amalgamation of the North and South only as a means of access to the riches of the south. They were amalgamating protectorates, not peoples. They wished to retain the split between the two, including splitting up the Yoruba in Ilorin from their southern Oyo siblings who spoke the same language and had deep cultural affinities. The antipathy that they built into the interactions, or lack of interactions, between North and South, led to the encrustation of regionalism as a normal binge that has virtually grown into a seemingly immovable political culture. This culture is what restructuring seeks to break to remove the grump between North and South. There is no running away from it.
The place to begin in my view is the colonially tele-guided and manipulated All-Nigeria Conference of 1950 at Ibadan in which Nigerians were first induced to take active part in designing their own fate as one people. It was a conference between those who did not want to lose conferred advantages and others who did not want to be or remain hapless victims. The core issues at that conference and since then have centred on the management of, or the need to change, the structure of the country. Objectively, the goals have been about laying a basis for a new Nigeria; one in which the centre may not be controlled by one part of the country at the expense of others; and the whole country may accede to the cognate principle which allows equal rights for all citizens irrespective of their place of origin or where they live. It is the extent to which regionalism has prevented such a new Nigeria that has been at the heart of the search for restructuring from one national conference to another and has yielded so much investments in falsehood as a means of hiding inequities and making claims of dubious entitlements to sustain why, and why not.
The myth of one country, but two un-socializing parts was maintained by colonial fiat under Lugard’s aegis and his Dual Mandate. It simply said: we are British, we govern through your own chiefs; or conquerors as the case may be. In pursuit of heady strategic interests, they saw their charge as one country only by carefully distinguishing it from campaigns by nationalists who, idealistically and out of reckless optimism, made the presumption of a country that had become united with immediate effect simply by being amalgamated. We are all Africans was a good slogan for the nationalists led by the returnees from civil rights-suffused America but without an appreciation of a modus for working together within obvious differences. It was pure reckless optimism. The fact that the country was brought into existence as a geographical fact, by force of British arms, a semblance of Common Law and the English language, was turned into a means of flogging those seeking to defend their homelands, ethnic groups and nationalities, from undue exploitation and repression.
Idealistic nationalism made common cause with the colonial office in preferring regional arrangements for administrative purposes but seeing the expression of ethnic identity as an anti-nation phenomenon. It was called tribalism before it was even allowed to be seen as a necessary means of protecting people who needed to have their self-governance enshrined as part of whatever new dispensation was being consummated. Without providing a procedure for a truly cultural citizenship across the country, the imposition of regionalism made it a matter of strident gravity. Much later, when Ahmadu Bello, the Northern Premier, told Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Premier of the East, that it was better to understand differences rather than seeking to forget them, it was a catch lifted that should have led to a search for commonalities. The answer to both positions lay in understanding that a mere geographical expression, as Obafemi Awolowo described it in Path to Nigerian Freedom in 1946, needed to be acknowledged because it is no use forgetting differences, except as part of a design of the right educational, economic and political measures to reduce the differences, and hence turn the geographical expression into what, today, we ought to call and regard as a cultural expression.
Not doing this led to a virtual, but misguided, criminalization of ethnicity by those who think, wrongly, that unless primordial brackets were forgotten, they would displace the application of a common morality and law. Those who think in such outmoded terms are of course closet ethnic bigots, who see every difference as a basis for applying a different morality to other people. The point is that a common law across ethnic groups and fractions is possible and necessary for people who must live together. By the same token, it is supposed to aid the entrenchment of self-governance. It happens that there is always a tendency, in competitive situations, to dress shared commonalities in wrong tropes and robes in order to create differences. Such differences are then promoted as a basis for gaining advantage over others.
The reality is that having, for instance, common welfare programmes across the board, could be counted upon to end or reduce fissions. Without the security offered by such shared welfare measures, as a catchment of the nationalists campaigned for, there was no way of removing the inequality and inequities between various regions. The truth is that competitions tend to become less benign and more antagonistic the more each region seeks to have veto powers over others rather than creating a basis for genuinely shared decision-making. This explains the format that existed between Nigeria’s three colonial regions right into the independence era: thus keeping the issue of re-structuring permanently on the agenda . It has become, in this millennium, a case of we must re-structure or die. Surely, our wish is not to die but thrive.
Grating competition and Regionalism
At this point, let me note that Nigeria’s odyssey, particularly since the Lyttleton Constitution of 1954, has been hostage, to the different and incongruous ambitions of the three colonial regions. The most significant factor in the shaping and re-shaping of their interaction, was that, in each region, there was one hegemonic majority ethnic group against many aggrieved minority groups demanding regions of their own in order to have secure geographies for their cultural economic and social development. This factor has been the core de-stabilizer as well as the life-wire of the bid to ensure that democracy is not merely an issue of one man one man vote but that no group of Nigerians are lorded over by others. In the first Republic, each of the three majority ethnic groups was a prime sponsor of the ruling political party in each of the three regions: the Hausa/Fulani in the Northern People’s Congress, NPC for the North, the Yoruba in the Action Group, AG, for the West, and the Igbo in the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun, NCNC, for the East.
On the matter of restructuring, the Eastern region was seeking to take over the West in order to confront the North with a southern solidarity; the West sought to break up each region by creating states for minority ethnic groups to achieve a Federation in which no one part could hijack the centre. For the North, the goal was to stem the possibility of East and West cooperating to turn the Middle Belt into a proper and viable region whose ‘freedom’ could end the logic of the veto that size and population, no matter how disputed, had placed in the hands of the northern princes. The latter were the beneficiaries of the deliberate mis-structuring of the country by the hegemonic faction of the British in Nigeria. Each of the parties had an attitude to the demand by minority ethnic groups for regions of their own which had implications for the pattern of regionalism that eventually emerged.
The oldest of the parties, the NCNC, started out as a brilliant Congress, a catch-all of ethnic unions, labour collectives, debating societies and students organizations, but it soon lost nerve in the face of ethnic groups outside its fold that could not be pacified or wished away. It could neither disavow its strong Igbo base nor turn the country into a place of ethnic neuters, as it seemed to want to do. Also, it could not accede to a unitary format in accordance with the rhetoric of its leaders nor could it treat the campaign for federalism in any consistent manner. It tried but failed to treat federalism as necessarily a divisive ploy of the tribalists or those it called Pakistanists. The NCNC support for the demands of the minority ethnic groups was therefore consistently conditional and ruthlessly unforgiving in relation to its Eastern base where repressed and marginalized minorities were in a state of permanent disquiet.
The case of the NPC and the North was rather unique. As a virtual custodian of the heritage of the Jihad and the induced spread of emirate culture that Lugard had affirmed and extended with his indirect rule system, the NPC was heir to a conqueror’s imperative over the north. It could not countenance the demand for a separate region by the minority ethnic groups in the north without undermining its own heritage and it’s conqueror’s logic. It would have amounted to giving up the virtual veto based on colonially contrived size and declared population figures which formed the basis of Northern power in the Federation. The party could not disavow the ethnic geographies of the north, nor openly criminalize ethnicity, because it had a deep-rooted Fulani core which it sought to bury or hide under a common Hausa language and a commonly shared religion that was however not cover-all across the region. There were ethnic and other differences to contend with but this was counteracted by the imposition of the indirect rule system which, after Lugard, was ritualized into a means of building the North into a common bastion by the former colonial resident for Katsina, Richmond Palmer who in 1924-25 took over the North after successfully uncovering a Mahdist Revolt that was being planned to turn the North against British colonialism.
He organized what he called Conference of Residents in the North which brought all the Emirates together periodically to strategize for the North. He it was who created the format of local provincial organizations that detracted from the centralized control at regional levels and thus successfully cut off the North from the south. His organizational form aided British officials who eventually began to organize riots to ward off any threatening rapproachment between North and South. Although Palmer was Lugard’s battering ram for the more unsuccessful establishment of indirect rule in the south, the spirit of parochial provincialism that he helped establish across the North was reinforced when the electoral pattern of the parliamentary system was grafted upon it.
Accordingly, all that a candidate for parliament needed to do was to win an election in a locality and then go to the centre, by agreement with like-minds, or like-sharers, to become member of parliament, a Minister or Premier, making laws for and governing a whole region. In essence, candidates for office were not required to or encouraged to have a wider sense beyond emirate politics in the North, not to talk of a good sense of the larger country beyond the small constituency. Thus, an emirate sense was universalized that has since refused to go away. Although everybody complained of tribalism, all were hooked on this parliamentary system that encouraged it in a different format. It was therefore merely shadow-boxing with the idea of national unity when each group attacked the other for tribalism.
Clannishness, provincialism and ultimately, regionalism became the order of the day. It functioned in virtually the same way across all the regions as majority ethnic groups in each region dominated the ruling parties that fought relentlessly for ascendancy over one another. This meant that each region tried to impose a unitary code within the region but sought to federate across the lopsided gaps across regional boundaries. Specifically, the idea of the regional ideal implied a hierarchy of ethnic nationalities in which some are under other ethnic groups. Peculiarly, in the First Republic, the NPC and the radical opposition party, the Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, appeared agreed on this as they were both simply ‘Northern’ seeking to rule the whole country by ruling the north. To do this in a democracy implied a capacity to enforce a laager, or block vote, or at least a largely common view, for all in the region. The difficulty of achieving this meant that largely undemocratic methods always were needed to keep the northern veto in place.
The reality came to roost for all concerned, that is, for the majority ethnic groups and the political parties that they dominated, when ethnic minority groups in each region stood adamant in wanting the anti-colonial struggle to be not only a matter of securing freedom from British colonialism but wresting freedom from the internal colonialism of the majority ethnic groups. In a sense, although or because the resistance to the creation of more regions for minority ethnic groups had become virtually a colonial/national industry, the political parties of the minority ethnic groups were unrelenting in their pursuit of secure and protected, cultural geographies for self-governance within the Federation. If each of the minorities was considered too unviable to have a region of its own, more of them were prepared to band together to escape the annihilation that awaited their languages, culture and self-worth unless they had regions of their own. The United Middle Belt Congress, UMBC, sought to create a Middle Belt region out of the North; the Cross River/Ogoja/Rivers State Movement aimed at splitting the East; and, the Midwest State Movement pursued the breakup of the West.
The saving grace in the case of the Midwest State Movement was that the ruling party in the West, the Action Group, never stopped demanding creation of more regions along ethnic lines and in a manner that heightened the politics of social welfare. From 1914, after the death in exile of Oba Overamwen, the Obas of Benin had led a campaign to have Edo people in the Northern protectorate returned to the nationality fold, and gradually turned the West of the Niger, Benin and Delta provinces into a Midwest state Movement. As early as 1955, the Western Region House of Assembly had voted for the Midwest to be created out of the West. It was a dangerous vote that could weaken its regional position irremediably in the national competition for living space unless the other two regions also allowed their minorities to go at the same time. But this was not to be.
The AG was caught in a catch 22 situation. As it turned out, after years of stalling, it was actually that vote in the Western House of Assembly that would be used later in 1963 to achieve the actual creation of the Midwest state. Indeed, when it had to happen, it was done within a spanking strategy deployed by the ruling coalition of the day merely to split the home base of the AG whose leader had been making such a song and dance of the issue of state creation. However, as the leaders of the AG had hoped, and as Awolowo had written in AWO, his 1960 autobiography, once the Midwest was created, nothing could halt further agitations for the creation of states in the other regions. Not even the jail terms that later took AG agitators out of circulation into jail and exile, could squelch the demands.
In fact, the untoward and unconstitutional methods deployed against the agitators for states in the North and in the West hastened the breakdown, and military takeover, of the First Republic in 1966. Rather than kill off agitations, state creation came back on top of the agenda after the nature of the coups and counter coups of that year. Yakubu Gowon, a northerner of minority ethnic stock, on becoming Head of State after the July Revenge coup, released Adaka Boro, a most dramatic state agitator, who had been sentenced to death for armed declaration of the secession of the Niger Delta Republic. His release told many observers that new states were on the way, long before the announcement of the creation of 12 states in response to the imminence of Biafran secession. When it came, less to accede to state agitators than to stem secession, it opened the floodgates.
Ethnic Competition and State Creation
It does need to be highlighted that chronicling the subsequent patterns of state creation is important mainly because of what it reveals about the nature of political power in the country as it changed hands from one military dictatorship to another. Quite critical is that military rule removed the democratic factor in the process of state creation. This allowed for speed and also made the individual wielder of power more readily obvious as the creator of states. Equally important is that the displacement of the democratic factor exposed how the struggle between the three majority ethnic groups for the control of the country intersected with the bid by the minority ethnic groups for their own states. Essentially, there were genuine fears of domination marked by several movements for ethnic unionization which had led to the setting up of the Willinks Ethnic Minorities Commission in 1958.
After conceding that there were clear infringements of the rights of minorities in the modalities of management in each region, the colonial authorities however thought it was a matter to be settled by merely inserting fundamental human rights in the Constitution, as NEPU proposed, rather than providing secure political geographies for ethnic or regional self-governance. At all times, intra and inter-regional scuffles continued in the form of bids for advantages and affirmative actions that mixed xenophobia with straightforward bargains. Thus, the North embarked on a policy of Northernization in the civil service which proved its anti-south features through a blatant preference for non-Nigerians, Asians for instance, who were largely not as qualified as southern Nigerians for the positions on offer. After independence, it became normal policy for the northern political parties, radical and conservative alike, to join in ensuring that if the North could not catch up in education, industrialization, and general development, the South had to be prevented from moving too fast. Arguments for southern advantages to be reduced or hacked were actively canvassed by northern elites without any self-consciousness. It had taken on a very visceral turn in the mid-sixties when the pre-independence agreement between the NPC for the North and the NCNC for the East, was simply aimed at sharing power at the centre to the exclusion of the West.
Within that coalition, formalized from 1958 under British auspices, the East was granted leeway to take over strategic posts and offices across the Federal bureaucracy and public life. In a manner to which Easterners were initially indifferent, the North took over the commanding heights of the economy and politics. The weight of the sharing became bothersome for the Eastern coalition partners however because, too obviously, what the north got included the railway extensions, the Kainji Hydro-electric dam, military installations, iron and steel industry, and soon enough, control of the Federal Civil service that had been richly manned by the NCNC. The Western Region, with its prime leaders in jail or exile, had become mere pariahs in the share out. Premier Akintola taunted the AG with lack of Federal largesse to show for so called progressive politics. Since the struggle was about how to share and exclude rather than develop and equalize conditions across the country, it soon yielded an antagonistic interface between the North and the East. This led to leaders of the East and the North planning to carry out coups against one another. The first salvo in the coup bids came with President Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s refusal, in a speech already published in an advance edition of his newspaper, the West African Pilot, to call Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, to form a government after the General Election of 1964. No one could be sure whether he had the power to refuse to do so after an election; but he had refused because, according to him, the election was rigged. Among other infractions, it was an election in which 80 out of 134 candidates of the NPC were returned unopposed.
On sound legal advice, to the effect that only he could command the obedience of the military, Tafawa Balewa simply called in the army to put Zik in what was virtually protective custody. Zik capitulated. This was when Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had tried unsuccessfully to convince Zik and many of his own colleagues in the army including David Ejoor, Yakubu Gowon and Victor Banjo to let a coup take place. He knew only too well that on the ground, the East had the officers but the North had the men in the army. Zik had to write another speech that called the Prime Minister to form a government. From that moment, all innocence was lost. Both coalition partners thereafter began to plan coups, and organize riot squads, against one another. Even NEPU, which was in alliance with the NCNC, and had been helping to ferry Cameroonian militants to Eastern Europe for guerilla training, was not left out of the coup–making game. NEPU also needed to train tough resisters of NPC’s Dan Mahaukatas – ‘sons of madmen’ – the thugs, who did mayhem in the emirates. In the midst of all it, Tivland, in the Middle Belt, exploded in virtual Guerrilla warfare against NPC pacifiers.
In the West, after many Action Group leaders had been jailed or driven into exile, the promise that Awolowo had made – that he would make the West ungovernable if they, the powers that be, took it over by untoward means, began to materialize. The Wetie, the dousing of opponents with petrol caches to set them and their properties ablaze – was in full swing. The UPGA (NCNC and AG) and the NNA (NPC and Ladoke Akintola’s NNDP) entered unending fracas that made the streets in the Western Region unsafe. Soldiers were called in. Upon intelligence that a coup, supposedly organized by the Premier of the North would take place on January 17, 1966, the five majors, as some of them have since narrated, moved their own coup backwards to January 15 1966. Peremptorily, the era of military rule had arrived. As fate would have it, the January 15 coup was promptly hijacked by an Igbo echelon in the Army that was soon also dispossessed by a revenge coup organized by northerners who made genocide a part of the bargains that eventually invited a civil war. Ultimately, the civil war came merely as a struggle over the maintenance of the territorial integrity of Nigeria, and principally a struggle over the control of oil wealth in the East rather than dealing with the inequities that actually led to the coups, and countercoups in the first place.
Now, let it always be said that the absolute lack of justice in the heady competitive circumstance of Nigeria at that time led to vast calamities. The arrest and punishment of about ten majors involved in the January 15 coup could have assuaged those who decided that all Igbo people must be punished for the assassinations that took place in the January 15 coup. By the same token, the punishment of those who organized the pogroms, all of them clearly identifiable, led to generalizing their crimes to cover the whole North and therefore making the pogrom a crime without perpetrators. This was why the civil war, when it came, was merely an excuse for increasing the inequities and normalizing them as national standards. The critical issues were displaced. No. They were exacerbated especially as they concerned the structure of the federation, in terms of the creation of states, the share-out of revenue and development projects, access to office, and the determination of policy directions.
Specifically, on the issue of creation of states, the northern control of the army was virtually ritualized after the countercoup of 1966 into a unitary format. Under the presumed unity of command in the military, the unitarization of the country under northern control, was sped up. Although the Unification Decree which unitarized Nigeria was the spark that lit the fire of the pogroms and the counter coup, all the fixtures of that Decree were simply re-roaded in a different garb. Military control was accompanied by formal reduction of the power of the regions and states in relation to a centre that was under a Northern oligarchy. The structural changes, more than ever before, resulted in a case of one large North over the East, West and Midwest. The state creation odyssey tells the story well.
In 1963, four regions. In 1967, Yakubu Gowon created six states for the South, six for the North, one for the Yoruba and one for the Igbo. There was parity in the numbers if not balance. In 1976, the Murtala/Obasanjo regime removed the parity by creating 10 states for the North and nine for the South. In 1987, Babangida created Katsina State in the North and Akwa Ibom in the Southeast retaining the lack of parity 11:10 in favour of the North. Between the East and the West, a 5:5 balance existed although the Yoruba had 3 to 2 Igbo states. In 1991 30 states were created. North 16, South 14. With Abuja being treated partially as a state, the North had 17 to 14 Southern States. In 1996 General Abacha added six states: North 20, South 17. The East had 9 and the West 8. So four states in 1963, twelve in 1967, 19 in 1976, 21 in 1987, 30 in 1991 and 36 in 1996.
The case of the local governments was particularly intriguing: In 1970, as the war was ending, the local governments were 299 across the country. They were mostly determined by the states. In the 1979 Constitution, they were increased to 301 and removed from the ambit of states. An increase of the number to 480 in 1981 was cancelled by the General Muhammadu Buhari Administration in 1984. It reverted to 301.In 1987, with the creation of 21 states, local governments were increased to 499, and then to 589 with the creation of 30 states in 1991. In 1997, 774 local governments were created. In due course, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory ended up with six local governments. Of interest is that by the creation of 36 states in 1997, the northern states had 421 local governments, the old Midwest had 44 local governments, one less than Kano with 45, and the six Yoruba states had 137 local governments. The old Eastern Region got 175 local governments out of which the ethnic minority states of the Niger Delta were given 80 and the Igbo speaking states 95 local governments. Something rather peculiar is that Lagos with a population of 9,013,534, generally regarded as an under-count, was given 20 local governments and Kano with 9,383,682 got 45 local governments. Kaduna with a presumed population of 6,066,582 got only 23 local governments – the same as three other states – Benue with a population of 4,219,244, Rivers with 5,185,400 and Sokoto with 3,696,999. This has led to questions being raised about the criteria used in the process of demarcating the local government areas. The case of Lagos and Kano in particular juts out. It demands stretching the questions to cover the criteria used in the original creation of states. Besides, why should states not be left to determine the number of their own local government areas? What manner of Federalism allows the Federal Government to create local governments for states to run?
These questions are literally crying to be pursued; if only because every effort that has been made to create states and local governments has been financed directly from the Federation Account with monies derived from a few oil producing states in the Niger Delta. What this says about the nature of Nigeria’s Federal system has been very well summarized by Major General (Rtd) M.Chris Alli, former Chief of Staff of the Nigerian Army. In his memoirs, The Federal Republic of the Nigerian Army, page 154, he writes that federations are “moderated and conditioned by many factors which include size, population, wealth, tribes or nationalities, number of states or political regimes, for example, presidential in the United States of America, collegial in Switzerland, parliamentary in Austria, and hierarchical authoritarianism in Nigeria.
As some have postulated, true federalism must lie somewhere halfway between confederation and unitary state. The reign of absolutism of Babangida’s comprador regime and Abacha’s consquitador era allowed for excessive centralization, that placed all power around a small group of persons of questionable motives, capability and nobility, in the centre of the capital. More so, governance appeared to serve the mundane short term interest of the political elite of the geographical North”. Chris Alli adds on page 155 that “The Federal Government has become a regular and monthly paymaster, and the states, its waste pipes, accounting to no one in particular, not even to its subjects, or itself. Many otherwise vibrant and enterprising nationalities have been reduced to beggarly, unproductive natives living off the central government. Commodity and raw material produce for which Nigeria had been famous have been neglected and ignored. What is in place is a skewed revenue allocation formula that emphasizes land mass, need, population and other weird factors, rather than derivation, for sharing the national cake. It is a perfidious arrangement that reflects the greatest injustice in the national system. As successive military dictatorship sought legitimacy and local support, they created more of these states without regard for viability and considerations of the nation’s macro-economic conditions. Why not? It gave their base ethnic group greater and closer access to the wealth of others, in this case the Niger Delta resources.”
State Creation and Revenue Allocation
Major General Chris Alli (rtd) cannot be faulted. The military command, preceding but exacerbated by the civil war, simply unitarized the country and removed the weighted sharing of revenue based on derivation. The consistent reduction in the percentile devoted to derivation principle attests to the lopsided picture: From 100% in 1946, the Philipson Commission recommended 50% for derivation; in 1951, Hicks-Philipson recommended 50%; 100% was actually disbursed in 1953 when the Western Region pushed for it; in 1958, however the Raisman Commission set derivation at 50%; in 1960 it was 50%; by 1970, the regime of General Yakubu Gowon at a “time when the civil war and the creation of states had laid the regions prostrate” reduced derivation share to 45%. The entire offshore take of the oil producing states was reduced by 20%. In 1975 the derivation fell to 20%. The Obasanjo Yar’Adua administration in 1975 fixed it at 25% after the ‘service’ of the Technical Committee on Revenue Allocation headed by Professor Ojetunji Aboyade. The Okigbo Commission even more than Aboyade railed against derivation. Shagari reduced it to 5% in 1981. Under Buhari, in his first coming as Head of state, it crashed to 1.5%. General Ibrahim Babangida raised it to 3%. What is interesting about these figures is not only the progressive withdrawal of enthusiasm from any allocation to the states but the heightening neglect of the area that accompanies the reductions especially in the case of the Niger Delta which produces the black gold.
It is a serious matter: In a footnote to his Introduction to Nigerian Politics, Billy Dudley wrote: “Between 1967/68 and 1976/77, whereas state revenues grew by 650 percent, those of the federal government rose by 1,574 percent. Also where in 1968/69, 40 percent of state revenues were internally generated, by 1974/75 that figure had declined to 28 percent. The relative disparities between federal and state revenues is shown by the fact that out of a total of N11 billion appropriated for 1980 only N2 billion (18.18 percent) was allocated to the 19 states.”(p.342). It is commonsense economics to appreciate why states consistently getting less from the Federation Account would have less to invest to improve on internally generated revenue. Actually, with internally generated revenue averaging about 22% these days, it is clear that the Federal Government is truly playing colonial overlord in a way that British colonial officers could not do it.
From one revenue allocation commission to another since and even before the seventies, the scorecard has been grim against the states. In 1978 the Aboyade Technical Committee on Revenue Allocation gave 57% to the Federal, 30% to states, 10% to local governments and 1% to Special Funds. In1980, the Okigbo Commission reduced Federal allocation to 53%, kept states at 30%, local governments at10% and Special Funds at 7%. In 1981, the Allocation of Revenue (Federation Accounts etc) Act put Federal at 55%, states at 35% and extinguished the Special funds. Following CBN Annual Reports and Statements of Account over three decades, the great matter of interest in this regard is that allocation to the Federal governments, except for 1990-92 when it hovered between 44.8% and 28% while state allocation ranged from 18.7 to 12.9 with local government between 10% and 8.3%, hovered between 76.3% in 1998 to 54.2% in 1989. Never lower. Other federal accounts in the three years were between 27.5 to 50.8%. In the first term of the Fourth Republic, covering 2000 to 2003, Federal allocations appeared to have fallen to 31.33 with only a one year kink of 41.4 in 2002 while FCT and allocation to states with a high kink of 22.4 in 2002 stayed between 13.2% and 16.3%. Correspondingly, other federal accounts were at 49.3 in 2000 and 28.8 % in 2002. The fixed pattern, across the board, has been for the Federal government to take the bulk of the revenue while leaving the states to perform enormous functions without matching taxing powers. The fact that the Federal government is then having to be appealed to for grants and supports is part of the shame of a federal system in which the states are supposed to be, according to the theory, equal and coordinate. The hidden sword of Damocles is that a Federal government hijacked by a section of the country could then simply become a handmaiden of self-aggrandizing states, favoured in terms of access to federal revenue. Apart from the use of whimsical criteria to determine where to create new states and how many local governments to grant to each state, the real destabilizer of federal ethics and morality in the distribution that takes place is in the truly absurdist principles imported into revenue allocation such as land mass to counter ecological demands from the Delta and all the talk about even development, needs, and equality of states principles which end up presumptively to make the already unequal appear equal.
All these account for why a 48 percent take by all the states of the old Northern Region by 1982 could rise to about 52 percent by 1995. At any rate, to have announced earlier, as under Babangida, that allocation would be based on needs, “as the needs of the states are not the same”, turned absurdity into impunity. Giving more states or local governments to a zone and much less to another zone and then treating all of them as equal, or as having different needs, is to revel in open statutory robbery. Especially, when the favoured states are not encouraged to contribute a mite to the size of the Federation Account from which they derive so much.
The ritual rip-off that it constitutes would have been considered criminal but for the acquiescence of the unfavoured states or, shall we say, their inability to sue effectively for sanctions against marginalization, neglect, environmental degradation and the scary rise in the incidence of diseases rampaging from the prospecting for and exploitation of oil, the national bread winner. Interestingly, it had to take a court redress, initially met by an impervious streak in the hands of successive federal governments until joined by the rise of the Saro Wiwa phenomenon, for consideration to be given to a 13% rise in the principle of derivation as proposed in the 1995 and then the 1999 constitution.
The Federal deployment of special grants and sundry interventions like Petroleum Trust Fund, OMPADEC, Niger Delta Development Commission, VAT, and other virements to circumvent derivation and fair allocation to states is part of the matter.
The case has been well made by the Niger-Delta Project which has shown how in the heyday of River Basins between 1979 and 1983, three River Basins: Chad River, Hadeijia-Jamare and Sokoto-Rima Basins shared N1 billion while 8 River Basins, one in the Middle Belt, the Upper Benue Basin Authority, and seven in the South shared another billion. If this was not part of the dividends of internal colonialism, it was clearly a major revision of the concept of revenue allocation. That kind of solidaristic corruption, carried out in pursuit of regional cum ethnic hegemony, has now been further beefed up by the well-worn variety, always part of the game across Nigeria’s history, of people in power, in brazen plutocratic corruption (of the rich and well-placed) padding the budget. Emerging facts suggest that it could rise up to and higher than 46 percent. As a persecuted whistle-blower in the current 8th National Assembly argues, It could be matter of a few legislators sharing in advance what the padding of the budget is too slow to deliver. The pity is that the areas from which the funds are supposed to derive, the Niger Delta, gets to be treated as outright pariah. It shows the low ebb to which national consciousness has sunk among policy makers and reveals the sheer regionalist and partisan afflatus that has governed national standards. In a country where a federal character principle has been enthroned which grants the power of incumbency to people from one part, more than other parts of the country, it means that such plutocratic corruption, tends to be wrapped up as collective or communal benefits. The sham in it is that citizens from other states who are ritually discriminated against in strategic public employments and entrance into federal institutions, are then berated to accept that oil wealth belongs to all Nigerians.
Yes, those who pad budgets and share loot will insist that the oil wealth belongs to all Nigerians, including the three out of every four children across the North who are prevented from going to school by the mis-carriage of allocations that smudge out merit across the country with quota and federal character. Simply a case of leaders whose regionalism normalizes corruption or is so much in cahoots with it that no rational way of ending the latter can be imagined without dealing with the former. The discriminations that this pumps into the heart of federal finance and the wonky nature of devolution of powers that has become its camp-follower needs to be confronted in a special way. It may sound trite, but it is an absolute imperative to draw special attention to the area of education, which was supposed to be the site for pressing the equalizing conditions to enable the North catch up with the South so as to remove the colonial drawline in-between. Brusquely, northern control was insinuated into the area of education at the Federal level ostensibly to erase educational backwardness and to speed up the process of truly nationalizing education.
In the end, due to a misguided elimination of merit, and the quota propensity built into the system, it had the palpable effect of under-developing educational standards across the country without improving education in the North. Patently, less energy and ingenuity has been put into lifting the North to catch up with the south than ensuring that the Southern lead was reduced, halted or neutered. This has been achieved through deliberate under-funding of education, rejection of interaction between northern educational policies and southern personnel, and the disruption of the school year through an open hostility to standard international approaches to educational policy. The deliberate disruption of mass education, maltreatment of teachers and university administrations, in cynically rude fashion, has been nationalized in a manner that fits the half-serious joke about Northerners being sent to school merely to learn how to fight southerners rather than helping the North to develop.
In the face of the implacable divide, many southerners have made it appear natural that the south acquired education without the hassles across the North. To proceed with some clarity, it needs to be pointed out that in the fifties, while Obafemi Awolowo was sending riot police into the villages and towns of Western Region to force supporters and opponents of his free education and free health policy to pay a once-for-all levy, there was widespread gloat at his travails which included his party’s loss of the Federal Elections in 1954. In the sixties into the seventies, an arcane argument was crafted by Northern elites against free education for all Nigerians on the grounds that the South, which already had more children at school, would benefit more. If the North had more population, argued the free education advocates, southerners may benefit more at the initial stages, but Northerners, with a much-vaunted larger population, would reap the higher benefits in due course. It did not jell with the opponents. The argument was foreclosed when quota system and federal character were made the basis of granting admission into federal educational institutions as well as sharing government offices across the political economy. It was a rule based on permanently disputed but unverifiable population figures.
In a country that could not have a proper census, and therefore could have no proper register of voters, or a fair revenue allocation formula, it has been so much sham talking about a movement forward in genuinely modern terms. Besides, the organized demolition of national institutions in order to find room for quotas that shun merit has merely inspired a debilitating southern recourse to the withdrawal of faith in government-controlled organizations. This has given rise to the promotion of private sector orientations that favour down-sizing the public sector beyond what is normal for a developing country in need of all its got for goal-oriented pursuits.
Hence the distancing of the north from the south along the lines of the rejection of a common educational policy. It was institutionalized with the creation of a common services agency for northern states to reconnect the old interests of the divided region. This was specifically to separate their common interests from those of the South. In the West, a similar banding, to be in tune with the northern pattern was achieved by the Odu’a Investments which, shorn of hegemonic force, lacked the extended purpose of refreshing old regional security reflexes. The emergent pattern, entrenching caucusing by the Governors in the interest of their old regions, amounted to reassertion of the old lopsided contraption of the Federation which the creation of states was supposed to change. The case of the North was not merely better formalized than that of the West; it yielded an open trade union of Governors, and various other strata of decision-making in the region for the purpose of streamlining competitive moves, planting representatives – qualified or unqualified – in strategic employments, reworking census figures, battling for higher revenue allocation, and particularly inducing the weighting of appointments at the Federal level in favour of the North.
It happened to be within such a fare that the creation of states became a major ploy that every dictator had to add to his agenda. It had simply become a struggle for advantage in the sharing of revenue. The Federal Government’s control of land and mineral resources across the country became a robber baron’s approach to regional competition in the sense that whoever could hijack the federal government used the power of the centre to steal, loot or conscript resources that belonged in other regions. Military dictatorship under regional control made this a normal ritual of state action. With Federal control of oil revenues, agitation for more states was no longer a matter of minority ethnic groups seeking to defend their interests against majority groups but a demand by various groups to get an ever greater share of the so called national cake. It rose to become an incipient argument for even development in the sense that state creation enabled development to spread to areas that would otherwise have been neglected. This in itself would not have been a bad reason for creating more states, yes, to enable the hinter of the hinterlands to be reached by development. Oil money made it possible to reduce the exploitation of herdsmen and the peasantry with sundry taxations. It also lowered the tendency for the peasantry and the ethnic minorities to revolt. The core-content of NEPU and UMBC resistance to NPC power could very well be reached by cooptation strategies.
Once oil came into the picture, the agitation for more states by the minorities was hijacked by the majorities to create more states for themselves. Except that, with so many minorities uncared for by this venturous pursuits of more states, it proved to be the proof of internal colonialism. Call it a case of increasing the federal character of majority ethnic groups by increasing the number of states. As more states for the majority ethnic groups meant more money for them, the original criteria for state creation were being annulled, shifting from the strategic ethnic considerations of yesteryear to the merely contingent, even farcical and absurd. No criterion appeared to matter anymore beyond the whim of the reigning dictator or regional security jobbers. One certainty was that the maintenance of the old divide between North and South played out in a manipulative form with the minority ethnic groups across the country being overawed by the combined weight of all the majority ethnic groups. The contrived lopsidedness of the Federation became immutable: with both the majority and minority ethnic groups from outside the oil-producing areas being complicit in the exploitation of the oil-producing Niger Delta. Importantly, it bears emphasis that once oil money started flowing, from the sixties, and the oppression of the peasantry of the North was eased, the outs became ins in the matter of Niger Delta exploitation.
It has been more than a case of triple yoking of the areas that bear the black gold in the sense that apart from the environmental degradation that result from oil exploitation, the higher cost of meeting normal infrastructural development in the creeks was compounded by the ritual envy that denies the areas the benefice allowed by the independence arrangement which put the derivation principle at 50 percent.
OMPADEC and NDDC
It takes no special pleading to see how the progress of the revenue sharing formula has always been a matter of pure bad faith. This was especially the case as beneficiaries of the largesse from the Niger Delta found no accommodation for ameliorative schemes that cover environmental degradation, blatant biocide and sundry diseases and travails that follow oil exploitation in the Niger Delta. Bad faith it may be further described when the Federal Government established, supposedly, for the benefit of the oil producing states, a Federal quango called OMPADEC which was granted less than a fifth of its due fund for the purpose of correcting what a fair revenue allocation was meant to but never properly addressed. As it turned out, by 1996, OMPADEC had received an actual disbursement of a mere N13, 154. 29 billion out of a total allocation of N85. 489 billions. The significance of these figures lies in the fact that OMPADEC like all previous commissions devoted to the Niger-Delta were overtaken by the fiats of military dictatorships. It really had no chance of fairing better. It was merely an excuse for funneling loot to the ruling cabals in the rising Military/Agricultural Complex.
All told, OMPADEC’s mission suffered truncation to the point of non-payment while the creation of the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, which enjoyed a grant of N134 billion for similar purposes across the country, managed to have its funds paid. No one needed to be a cynic to see that PTF was for ameliorating conditions that should have been left to normal revenue allocation/fiscal schemes, but was vired more for the Northern states than any other part of the Federation. The successor quango to the OMPADEC, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has had no better format. Like its predecessor, it is the product of a Federal trap for oil producing states that ought to have, but were not allowed, access to their due share of revenue. It is only too well known, in this regard, that the Land Use Decree and the Petroleum Act remain the instruments that an unjust Federation has used to repress the peoples of the Niger Delta. Considering that oil is a wasting asset that may be exhausted when no other part of the Federation may have resources that the Niger Deltans can share out of, how would the national argument be staged to explain the literal scorched earth overcoming of the lower Niger where only an incommensurate recompense is available to prepare for the acid rains of the future that already started falling?
This is the kind of question that is not asked by those who suddenly, after years of preaching a form of regionalism that wards off other regions with quota and federal character propositions, have suddenly arrived at a philosophy which brings oil and minerals into federal exclusive jurisdiction that they hope to control with the veto built into the mis-structuring of the Federation. Ritual envy, quite pronounced, is what it comes to. More than this is that it has yielded a most grueling form of what Ken Saro Wiwa described as internal colonialism. The most brazen expression of it is the system of giving oil blocks to individuals or corporation who are then allowed to exploit it as they deem fit. This method has yielded protests from the Niger Delta against the pattern of virtually declaring other people’s hometowns as oil blocks which are then handed over to cronies or individuals to whom any brigand in power takes a fancy. Niger Deltans have consistently, in this respect, been revolting against a system which has allowed oil blocks to be given to northerners who, on their own, proceed to command more money than even the states or regions to which they belong. How does one explain an oil-block owner from the depressed North East whose catch earned more than 500 million dollars while the state to which he belonged could only scratch 250 billion from the Federation Account. What do people in the domicile of the lucky block-owner get? A 100 million dollars mansion as a tourist attraction that no tourist may see because the poverty in the area instigates so much violence, political and religious. Knowing this, it amounts to pure illogic to argue, as some misguided jingoists do, that the north is too poor to meet basic terms of social welfare for the people. The has been a matter for revenue allocators who use several underhand methods to pool resources in favour of zones that unfortunately would prefer to give fifteen percent of revenue for laundering traditional pomp across the federation rather than put children at school. The implication is that the rest of the country, is being underdeveloped by northerners who, having access to loot by seizing the nerves of the Federal Government in the name of their region, simply do not care a hoot about the region. The core reality is gross. Elites of the North continue to insist on taking an ever larger share of national revenue without making a contribution to it. This has truly become the National Question.
It does need to be seen in relation to a national circumstance in which, initially, land size and population had put a virtual veto in the hands of the ethnic core that served as overlords in the north and used that veto to overcome the rest of the country. Another veto it would have been in the hands of Niger Deltans if the oil-producing states that produce the bulk of the money in the Federation were not hamstrung by the veto exercised by the North. The 24 other states that live in sheer dependency would seem either to have agreed that the exploitation of the Niger Delta must be a matter of national duty or they are prepared to sleep-walk into a situation where the Niger Delta, to free itself, must treat the whole country in the manner in which all colonialists should be treated, as death-deserving enemies. This is the source of altercation around the restructuring of the Federation and the creation of special security forces to pacify the Niger Delta in order to make sure that oil continues to flow. The heart of the matter is not even that the Niger Delta wishes to exercise the veto that its resources have provided but that the possession of black gold has become a reason for others to wish them dead. At the 2005 Constitutional Reform Conference, a delegate actually demanded that the area should be cleared of human encumbrance to allow unfettered access to the oil wells. After decades of profligate consumerism, under unconscionable military/civilian leadership, a sense of entitlement has been so encouraged not only in the north but across the federation which makes states imagine that the Federal government is a Father Christmas that delivers largesse without regard to effort and achievement. Like the palmwine drinkard in Amos Tutuola’s novel, it is the case of those who do not work for a living who therefore must either die of hunger or cashier slaves. The choice that the Federation has made is to clamp a slave/colonial logic upon the Niger Delta rather than work out systems of production to obviate disaster.
Since it is too much of a strain for the political class across the country to slow down the profligate habits in favour of productivity, the situation has remained one in which most states and local governments in the Federation would be literally grounded if there was restructuring in favour of derivation as the prime principle of revenue allocation. In the best of moments, the question that many other states ask themselves is Where will the next tranch of allocation come from if restructuring takes place? In essence, there is a consensus, poorly disguised among non-oil producing states that the Niger Delta must be exploited, to the bone, if need be, if the largesse must continue to flow. The panic that overcomes all the states whenever militant groups rise up in the Niger Delta to cause the largesse from gushing should have been so much entertainment but for the tragedies that usually always accompany them.
It can be imagined how much more panic results when the militants can prevent the flow of oil at times when the oil prices are hitting close to ground level in the international marketplace. Rather than see the situation as an emergency requiring a thinking outside the box, the old moribund ways of thinking have remained: the more the conferences that are held from the states to the Federal level declaring the emergence of an era of development without oil, the more resilient are the habits of profligacy and un-programmatic reform-mongering that are usually hedged with the choking question: where would the next allocation come from if there is re-structuring?
Moving the question around to how to diversify the economy to remove the fiascoes of a mono-cultural economy that depends on oil for more than 90 percent of annual revenue, remains a question that the continuance of the flow of oil, even if in underpriced trickles, has actually tended to block. The saving grace so far is that stopping the oil flow completely in order to confront the country with the rude reality is still only a mere threat that the Niger Delta militants have represented on the scale of extremity. Unfortunately, they have so far not offered a solution, nor provided the people of the Niger Delta with a programme of development that is self-respecting, viable and capable of going beyond the craze for loot-sharing that is the bugbear of the Nigerian political class. Nor have they adverted attention to how to continue with the governance of the Federation even after we shall all have come to face resource control as an imperative beyond the balance of terror that is the vogue of our times.
All the same, to the extent that the withdrawal of the oil question is being posed in this extreme manner, the question of restructuring, very starkly, devolves upon its original motivation; not so much as a matter of the economy but a system of self-governance for each of the multiplicities into which Nigeria may be divided for the effective and efficient arrival at what the proponents call true Federalism. As things are, the choice confronting Nigeria, in more than fifty years of trying, has not moved from that of a country in which one region acquired a literal veto from colonial overlords that it has maintained with size, population and military power. The paradox is that the logic of a similar veto is available, though not being exercised, by the six oil producing states in the south south whose wealth outweighs what the rest of the country produces. The realities are stark. So to say, the North has a veto by size and disputed population which frustrates the South South’s capacity to exercise its putative economic veto. The real question is how to move from a country that must be governed by vetoes.
Arguably, for this to happen, diversification has to take place in terms of productivity and movement from a mono-cultural syndrome. The speed required by the urgency of the situation however has lagged behind the bragging and puffing about development without oil. Hence, it is still actually by depending on the rump of what remains of the internationally underpriced oil industry that Nigeria may get the take off funds to build without oil. It remains stark: how to stop the exploitation of the Niger Delta which happens to be made up of ethnic minorities that always wished to be free from the internal colonialism of the majority ethnic groups? Or how to entrench self-governance of the minority ethnic groups within the Niger Delta region without depriving the rest of the country of the means to climb out of the doldrums that must be the lot of the national economy unless a sensible formula is evolved that allows for oil production to be deployed less like a curse than an opportunity. As it happens, the search for a sensible formula, is not just a matter of the Niger Delta demanding and getting a return to the independence agreement of 50% derivation and more or even getting a 100 percent resource control with taxes paid to the Federal government. It is also about context: What kind of structures must Nigeria have in order for it to be possible to trust any agreement that is worked out as a result of ongoing skirmishes?
The answer must matter not only to those who have been reaping where they do not wish to sow, but to all Nigerians who know that in the coming months and years, unless a grand formula was found, recession and even depression could swing a sword of Damocles over the Nigerian economy to bring Nigeria back to the era when the peasants of the North and the minorities of the Middle Belt and the Niger Delta were being hideously exploited. It was an era in which the stabilization fund for cocoa, which beefed up the marketing Board, would have been viewed by the farmers as stolen money but for the welfare schemes of free education, free health services, added to industrial and agricultural estates, in the Western Region’s management of popular welfare. To be frank, it is because Nigeria can still be governed into the future along such lines of popular welfare that one can insist that it is possible to have a way out of current quagmire; or, that the seeming cluelessness of government and opposition can be remedied in favour of a truly great and beautiful country.
In a very basic sense, such a common pattern of social welfare across the states of the Federation, which some may regard as investment and others as waste, holds out at least, great hopes for the equalization of conditions and enhancement of commonalities between the states. This in any case is the import of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, whose champions have been angling for transfer from chapter two of the constitution to chapter four to make them justiciable. The snag so far has been that to find the means to realize it, requires enhancement of the revenue generating powers of the various tiers of government, matching them to the functions that they must perform, and finding a revenue allocation formula that can actually pull it off. In principle, the state governments are closer to the problems and ought to have the tax powers to match the functions. In reality, the Federal government has always appropriated critical tax powers that could meet the functions. The situation has been made critical by the fact that the greatest wealth generator is within the ambit of a few oil producing states in the federation. Which is why dealing with the Niger Delta question has remained on top of the discussion of revenue allocation in Nigerian politics.
Objections to the Niger Delta Position
In the search for solutions, the hard part is that the present-mindedness of the political class exposes Nigerians as hostages of the mind-set that Frederick Lugard, in what appeared quite a racist putdown, regarded as the modus operandi of the Nigerian/African approach to problem-solution. Like hunter-gatherers waiting for nature’s bounties, the average Nigerian leader has been more adept at scuffling and scrambling over the droppings from the tree rather than thinking of how to plant new trees or working out a means of climbing or plucking the fruits of nature. Without a thought about how to create a productive system different from the preceding love of waste, the Federal Government and therefore Nigeria’s political class like true profligates, have been asserting the right of might rather than the might of right over the Niger Delta. It is defended under a dubious form of patriotism that has used disreputable decrees passed by unconscionable military dictators to put all land and mineral resources in the hands of whomsoever manages to take over the Federal government.
The plume goes to Olusegun Obasanjo, before and after he became an elected President. He has been given to venting his sheer lack of empathy for the Niger Delta by arguing that the minority ethnic groups of the Niger Delta, too small in population to constitute a huge threat to the rest of the country, ought to be grateful for being freed from oppression by the Biafrans. To escape Biafra and for the oil resources to be treated as war booty by the so-called liberators is the fate therefore of the oil producing states. No greater admission of the internal colonialist ploys of the current system was ever more brashly acknowledged. It has amounted to saying that the travails of the Delta should be seen as the price to pay for having been freed once upon a time from oppression. A very crude colonialist logic has often been drawn from this, not only in terms of imposing organizations like OMPADEC and NDDC upon Niger Deltans as if the people require a consul from Abuja to tell them how to plan their development. There have been brazen attempts to demand that Niger Deltans should prove how they have spent the monies already granted to them to improve the lot of their people.
The latest of such demands was made recently by the Governor of Katsina state, Bello Masari, who imagined that it was such a progressive idea, in a party fighting an anti-corruption war to demand accounting from Niger Delta elites as to what they have done with so much from 13 percent derivation. The truth is that it does not have to depend on how well the money allotted to the oil producing states is spent for them to get their due. It is their due irrespective of how it is deployed. In a country where every state in the Federation and successive Federal Governments have been hostage to an elite padding of budgets and cantankerous looting, it is rather thick to have one side accusing the other of not fulfilling mandates. Who is so free of corruption as to be considered well-placed to throw the first stone! Which is not to argue that the leaders of the Niger Delta should be allowed to storm barns and loot as they please but that it is too presumptuously colonialist to require that Niger Deltans may only get their due by being of good behaviour in any form. It amounts to treating minority ethnic groups as minors, a very savage assault on the integrity of a people who are being robbed dry by those making the accusations. It necessarily challenges the victim to think of ways out of the oppressive and exploitative bind. Hence the hullaballoo over re-structuring and the armed militancy against the Federal Government and the multinational oil corporations licensed by the Federal Government to engage in oil prospecting and exploitation.
All the same, this is only one of so many jingoistic propositions as to why the oil-producing states should not be allowed to have their 50 percent derivation or 100 percent resource control constitutionally determined with taxes paid to the federal government as all states, self-respecting citizens, organizations and all earners should. Apart from Obasanjo who, in or outside power, has had the haughty obtuseness to voice the obvious that the Niger Delta has no strategic power, in size, population or military standing, to resist imposition, all successive military/civilian administrations have generally acted out the code of the internal colonialist that cares little about the welfare of the peoples of the Niger Delta but covet the largesse that the area produces. The sober truth is that there are too many specious and absurdist arguments that have been canvassed against derivation or resource control as it relates to the place. These include the simply ridiculous one that because the oil in the Niger Delta was formed by debris and sediments brought for eons from the Fouta Jallon and all along the course of the river Niger and Benue passing through Northern Nigeria, the oil at the end of the river’s odyssey must belong even more to the north than to the Niger delta. As I have noted in Taking Nigeria Seriously, the surprise is that this argument is not invoked as a reason for insisting that the oil in the Niger Delta belongs to all the people along the course of the river all the way across West Africa from the Fouta Jallon High Mountains. The oddness of the argument is so obvious that a supposedly more plausible claim is then made for the North; by insisting, as Professor Ango Abdulahi of the Arewa Forum has done, that it was money from the North that was used to prospect for the oil in the Niger Delta. There is the rider that it was money from Northern groundnut that was used to ward off the Biafran take-over of the oil wells.
Appropriate information provided by Professor Itse Sagay, once upon a time, demonstrated that the Western Companies that actually engaged in the exploration and exploitation of oil did not depend on Nigerian funding or state funding, for their enterprise. To so claim is an absolute falsehood being deployed to justify access to wealth that belongs elsewhere. But even if money from the North was used in the exploration and general prospecting for oil in the Delta, how does that confer ownership of the oil wells on the explorers. It remains the oil of the area where the oil is found irrespective of the entrepreneur who explores and finds it. To argue otherwise is literally to concede that the Western oil companies operating in the Niger Delta own the oil. Or was it the North that employed the British companies which did the explorations? It is too disingenuous as an argument for a true and proper citizen to make in order to share out of a considered patrimony.
The speciousness gets further compounded by the added claim that, in any case, the British colonized the whole of Nigeria as one country and granted independence due to agitation by all Nigerians as one nationality; so, supposedly, there is no reason for any region or part of Nigeria or group to lay special claim to the oil resources in its domicile than other Nigerians. But since when did the notion of common nationality eliminate the notion of individual and communal property? Otherwise, to say that all Nigerian citizens own the oil of the Niger Delta and have equal rights over it is to imply for instance that people in one region have the same rights in their region as they have in other people’s region. What is the point of creating regions if people from other regions are to be treated exactly as if there were no boundaries in social, politico-administrative or economic terms? To have no regard for regional boundaries and therefore to insist that the governors of one region can stray or barge into the administrative bracket of another region is to ask for anarchy as a norm of governance. It would amount not only to an attack on law as a bounded means of controlling behavior, it would be an attack on the notion of property; making a hunter gatherer’s case for whoever so pleases to walk into a farm and reap what others may have sown. Or what others have acquired as a matter of longevity of occupation.
Also, the implication is to press the thoroughly dangerous idea, amounting to a declaration of civil war, which holds that no ethnic nationality has a homeland which may nurture its language and culture and to which it can lay claim as a matter of identity. This would be a denial of the plurality of Nigeria and therefore a serious questioning of the principle on the basis of which one province, region or state has been distanced from another since 1914. If the principle of freedom of movement is what it is supposed to amount to, it does not require abuse of the freedom of others. Had it been considered acceptable for the British to use the same argument as a ground for colonizing the country, there would have been no need for them to grant independence at all. What we have we hold would have sufficed as a response to the nationalists who demanded exit of the colonizers. It happens to be an argument that, quite snidely, defies rationality and denies the possibility of an identity other than the one that stems from law. But what kind of law would that be which denies the essence of regional boundaries and insists that authority cannot be limited by such boundaries?
Generally, it is the denial of language and culture as particulars of association or bonding that has enabled anyone to press such arguments. It rejects any mandates of pre-colonial society and would rather that all Nigerians became ethnic newts or neuters, setting out on a clean slate, as if the world only just began when the British came and knocked all the tribes and nationalities together with gatling guns, a semblance of English common law, and the English language. This would give anyone the right to go occupy wherever whim and will may allow. As a means of absolute erasure of ethnic identities, this would have been a perfect way of solving the problem of diversity in the Nigerian maelstrom; except that the reality, which cannot be squelched, is that ethnic homelands have always existed and do exist in Nigeria and those making these propositions are doing so on the basis of, and to promote larger frames of access for their ethnic groups and nationalities. They ill-disguise the sheer bid to widen living space for their ethnic groups in order to take what has, from time immemorial, been allowed as the domain of others. Otherwise, it cannot be denied that even colonialism largely recognized the boundaries; and where assaults on the lands belonging to others had been carried out, there were agitations throughout the colonial era for restitution to be made. The idea of Nigeria as a multi-ethnic state has been so well entrenched that any attempt to change it at this late stage in the name of sudden notion of a Nigerian sovereignty that denies the notion of constituent units, will amount to an attempt to split the atom.
Once the reality of Nigeria’s multi-ethnicity is accepted, the proper engagement with it is not to attempt to forget the differences but to seek to appreciate and manage them aright. If a multi-ethnic perspective has to be adopted: the judicious approach is to have a horizontal rather than a vertical notion of citizenship, so that there is no hierarchical ranging of superior against supposedly inferior ethnic groups. Those who imagine that they have acquired a divine right to rule others may not understand this. They are the ones who get into all sorts of stratagems and spoils when confronted by the need to share space or power or revenue. Where urbanization and the general trends in internal migration pitch once distant ethnic groups into shared domains, merit and equity are, frankly, the surest builders of civic harmony. But, not to overplay it, be it noted that those who move into the domain of another ethnic group ought to try to become part of the new environment by not having disdain for the language, traditional culture and chieftaincy systems. Those who move into the domicile of other ethnic groups to wish to impose their own traditions, and language, and to entertain ambitions that displace the traditions of their hosts are not just uncivil; they are the wreckers of national harmony whom the rest of us must engage and turn into normal citizens. In the manner that hate speeches are being criminalized in many democracies, these days, such uncivil behaviour should be liable to judicial sanctions. The point is that in a multi-ethnic situation people have to learn to share in each other’s goodness and travails to avoid rampant incivility. I think the first rule is that individuals and organizations, local governments, and every state in the federation must be schooled to mind the trail of merit and equity. The feeling of not being imposed upon helps confidence in citizens, no matter how tribalistic, such that they become more civil, able to view merit as a necessary measure of access to education and employment. Once the vaunted sense of entitlement is brought down to the level of common citizenship, all attempts to solve problems begin to appear less harried, less of a game of hoodwinkers playing at missioners.
Nor is it historically tenable to insist that all of Nigeria was taken together by the British or handed back to the natives without differentiation. To begin with, relying on colonialism for a determination of such formalities is rather like using injustice as a standard. Whatever the British did or did not do is unfit as the basis for measuring what the future should be. Otherwise, to be historically objective, it is important to note that Nigeria was taken, kingdom by kingdom, by the imprimatur of the foreign office, the colonial office, and the Royal Niger Company. The movement towards independence was never at the same pace across the country. The three colonial regions attained self-governance at different times before eventual independence. Although, the reality of diversity upon which Nigerian federalism is based has been cavalierly determined more by regional rather than ethnic boundaries, there is a general presumption across all political opinions that putting people of the same ethnic group in the same state, wherever possible, is more conducive to peace and harmony than ramming people of different ethnic groups together. Those who seem not to mind the altercations that accompany such mish-mashing and mis-structuring of people and states must be charged with creating the basis for the disharmony and insecurities that they presume to be fighting against.
Ethnic Homogeneity and national harmony
Let’s face it: the old inequities within the regions, which the minority ethnic groups experienced and resented, have been so transformed that both the majorities and minorities across the country now literally live off the Niger Delta. The old power relations between the regions have worsened in terms of the north/south divide which provided the model for even the relationship between different states of the same ethnic group or nationality. In these days of hyping the six geopolitical zones as a way of imagining an escape from the North/South divide and the old regionalism, I prefer to present it as a juncture to be overcome. As a leaf borrowed from This Conference Must Be Different, I see the putative six geo-political zones – Northwest, North East, South East, South South, South West, Middle Belt as six types of regionalism mauling Nigeria at the moment. The most celebrated I describe as predatory regionalism which seeks to overcome central authority in the Federation in order to determine what others can make of whatever advantages they may possess. It instigates a second type, defensive regionalism, which seeks to enhance its power as a means of resisting the capacity of the predator to overawe it.
The third type is reactive regionalism which seeks to arrive at its due by demanding benefits akin to the ones others have derived from their predatory and defensive ploys. The fourth type is assertive regionalism usually designed to protect its more bountiful lot from being poached by others directly or through deployment of a hijacked Federal authority. The fifth type is insurgent regionalism based on organized armed resistance to perceived deprivation or poaching by other types. It may be distinguished from a sixth type, resurgent regionalism which attaches itself to the cover of predatory, or other types of regionalism in order to pursue its own arrival at regional status. What needs to be stressed here is that the six geo-political zones touted since Abacha’s constitutional conference but yet to be formalized, fall into each of these categories although they may behave with a mix of the characteristics of one or the other. The hard reality is that they are all responses to predatory regionalism which won’t change until the ground is altered for a different kind of architecture in the country.
Consider, in this connection that while the state creation bingo has not only not touched many minorities that really deserve secure geo-polities for their self-protection, the talk about zones appears grievously facetious, unrealistic and liable to being turned really into the kind of Yugoslavian mess where not even a rotational Presidency of the type some Nigerians are proposing, will ensure harmony. Poorly attended, the differences that are not taken care of can actually become the absolute dissolvers of the whole pack of cards called six geopolitical zones. Nor should we forget that there have been many states of the same ethnic nationality that discriminate against workers of the same ethnic group from contiguous states. supposedly to find places for so called indigenes. Thus, arguable as it is that the creation of more states has brought relief and development to the minority ethnic groups, and to all parts of the Federation, it remains true that it has been reduced to a matter of multiplying the federal character of some ethnic groups in order to take more money from the national spoils system while abusing if not neglecting others.
Nothing spells it better than to consider that although the ethnic minorities began to demand states as secure geographies for their own cultural, political and economic development, it has been reduced to a matter of how many more states to create in the North or South, in the West or East, in order not to unbalance a crude, lopsided system. This has allowed many genuine cases of old inequities to be ignored. At the same time, the absence of clear and determinate criteria has allowed many minority ethnic groups to be abandoned in the domain of truly bullish majority ethnic groups. The result has been marginalization without redress for the minority fractions involved. The altercations that have attended such evident disjunctions have yielded demands for a general revaluation of the whole state creation process; but in a way that goes beyond geopolitical zones and regionalism. The point is to grant secure geographies to ethnic groups that have always deserved but never managed to get the attention of the dictators and veto wielders. After that, we need to pay attention to the wisdom of the sage of Ikenne who demanded states created on an ethnic basis but asked relentlessly for common social welfare policies to cut across all the states.
As I have argued in This Conference Must be Different, the Gbagyi of central Nigeria deserve their own state if only because Kaduna, capital of the North, was hived off their domain by Lugard; and when the Federal Capital territory was going to be carved out years after independence, it was taken from Abuja, another part of Gbagyi territory. Having them scattered between six different states makes it seem like a concerted effort to disable them or literally wipe them out. Whom have they offended apart from the strong resistance they put up against slave labour administered by a chief who had no love for their self-governing ethic. They were punished with a British expedition which they defeated and which earned another expedition that literally destroyed their putative capital, Gusoro. For many decades, the people were denied all social amenities. Not even a primary school would be allowed in the area as if to show the people how not to resist internal as well as alien colonialism. But who is the internal colonialist that wishes to have them contained and neutered forever? Even the title that they gave to US President Bill Clinton, as I point out in Taking Nigeria Serioulsy, during his visit to Nigeria was promptly rendered as a Hausa title?
The case of the Gbagyi, a contiguous people, who never wanted to be divided and placed in different states, and who would have preferred a chance to nurture their ways and culture within a common fold, is different from that of the Fulani who wish to have the freedom to move not as individuals but as groups into cultural geographies that have always been occupied by other well known ethnic nationalities, Their demand for special grazing reserves in local governments across the country is generating altercations at the moment as herdsmen have been mounting armed propaganda for living/grazing space all over the country. The civilized solution which requires herdsmen to build ranches in cultural geographies with which they have cultural empathy and from which they can gain economies of scale by living in contiguity in a state of their own, has been spurned by political stalwarts who appear to think that using guns to clear lands for takeover would work some alchemy of national unity.
What if every ethnic group, especially those dispossessed by herdsmen, decide also to buy guns and constitute raiding squads to do unto others what has been done to them? Surely, it would amount to a concerted effort to dissolve Africa’s most populous state with virtual mfecanes, anarchies and traumas, not too dissimilar to what Africa experienced during the era of the slave-hunting wars that literally despoiled our continent and prepared the way for colonialism. This is actually what some people have been asking for in the tradition of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya for decades. To set in place another millennial waste of Africa, rob Nigeria/Africa of a chance of genuine developmental pursuits, by fighting internecine wars of possession and dispossession while other continents are virtually getting ready to move to another planet, is too grim to think about. Who wants such a fate for Africa’s most populous state? This is the kind of question that has prompted many Nigerians to craft slogans such as restructuring or death!
For the Ekiti as a people, it is thanks to Frederick Lugard’s initial two country policy that those in the North were never allowed to join their kith and kin in the South. Now it may seem quite a battle royale for the current Kwara and Kogi states to seek to keep the Ekiti in the north from being united with the Ekiti in the south. Actually, it ought to be agreed that one way of dismantling the north/south divide is to simply have a state that is made up of Ekiti of the North and South. Now that a fraction of the Ekiti sub-nationality is actually an Ekiti state in the South west, it was time the old colonial bogey was removed which kept one fraction in the North and another in the South. Why can’t all Ekiti, being contiguous, be in the same state? In my view, there are other ethnically homogenous zones in this country which ought not to need special pleading for them to be granted states of their own.
Beyond the matter of relieving ethnic groups of divisions, there ought to be a pro-active pursuit of state creation which recognizes the necessity of having ethnically homogenous states and local governments freed from the overlordship of others. The struggle for Apa state, as the Idoma people have been struggling for, is a case in point. When the lopsided ethnic divide between the Tiv and Idoma in Benue state is considered, it becomes obvious that a colonial type relationship is being encouraged as a permanent reality that breeds animosities where mutual respect ought to be norm. The case of Anioma state follows the same pattern. The idea that there should be a Nupe State or a Kanuri state, or that no people of the same ethnic stock be separated where it is possible to keep them together ought to be adopted as a national dictum. In the case of the Kanuri, we ought by now, so many years after independence, to be thinking of an African Federation bigger than Nigeria which should make the Kanuri, on the Anglophone and Francophone sides, part of a common nationality. In the same way that the peace of Indian democracy was secured by the decision taken two years after independence not to disrupt the homogeneity that ought to attend the affairs of ethnic nationalities, we owe ourselves a similar restructuring. The seeming criminalization of ethnicity that says it is wrong for people of the same ethnic group to stay within the same principle of governance, is actually a creator of disharmony in a Federation.
It is unethical: quite a source of the many schisms that have resulted from the mis-structuring of the country. Indeed, the fact of having minority ethnic groups crammed into the same states with fractions of majority ethnic groups is like a bidding for slaves in the 21st century. It shows a critical lack of empathy and fairplay as factors in our national decision-making. All the same, although there are even more puristic arguments than the ones expressed here about ethnic banding, it really ought to be argued that where a people, even within a homogenous set up, feel different enough to want a state of their own, irrespective of their assumed homogeneity, a mere referendum ought to be all it requires for them to have it. An Ijebu state in this connection simply reminds us that the Egba had a United Government before Lugard’s over-graft of British suzerainty. The proviso should be: So long as issues of viability, not to be overplayed, are accommodated studiously, let Nigerians be free to avoid over-lordship of any kind.
In a way, it may appear like good moral suasion to say that ethnicity ought not to be allowed to interfere with issues of governance. But the salience of ethnicity is not to be removed by insisting that it should be ignored while it mangles the lives of millions. It happens to be true that ethnicity manifests through the language and culture of a people. It cannot be wiped out just like that. As an aspect of social reality, with very resilient features, it needs to be recognized so that its more deleterious features can be addressed with appropriate policies and programmes. To deny it while those features are active is actually the bane of the current logic of distancing. Actually, the more the spread of self-governance, the easier the empathy that aids shared values. People who feel unsafe or insecure hardly give the benefit of the doubt to the other party. The higher morality that it requires to make people of different ethnic groups co-exist in harmony is easier to generate when each group, assured of its welfare and security, has little reason to be in fear of the other. This is one reason why state creation based on ethnic groups should also always be accompanied by welfare and security programmes which do not detract from the feeling of wellbeing that self-governance implies.
From the standpoint of relationships that must exist between one ethnic group and another, the golden rule, if common nationality across the Federation is to be assumed, is that the welfare available to a citizen in the domicile of one ethnic group should be available in the domicile of other ethnic groups. So long as no disability accrues to people of one group when they move into the domicile of another, a basis can be assumed for intercourse within a common morality. This is why those agitating for the creation of states on the basis of ethnic groups have always been rather vociferous champions of common social welfare programmes like free education, free health service, full employment, old age pensions, and integrated rural development. The goal is to ensure a basis for genuine intercourse and interaction that respects ethnic identity without letting it become a basis for disabling others. Ethnic differences must be given their due acknowledgement while freedom of movement and association are accommodated through a shared sense of welfare and therefore commonality of interests and rights across ethnic and cultural boundaries.
It is of interest in this regard that the bid, across several constitutional conferences, to move welfare programmes from Chapter Two of the Constitution, on fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy, to Chapter Four, on fundamental human rights, in order to make them justiciable, has been one of the most critical defenses of ethnic harmony in Nigeria. This is because they are aimed at removing the source of inequality, inequity and therefore friction between ethnic nationalities. Hence, those who think that they need to impose a unitary view under the aegis of one region, religion, ethnic group or state, as a way of uniting the country, ought to be made to see that they are the ones pursuing the un-natural way to national development. Otherwise, it is by recognizing the diversity of the country and providing a means of common intercourse at the level of welfare, that a sense of shared well-being can be entrenched as a normal factor in national life. Those who wish to eliminate, criminalize or simply defeat ethnic identities and consciousness, are pursuing the whirlwind. They are creating a source of permanent dissatisfaction that they may then always throw at their fellow human beings. Simply put, ethnicity is not a problem until it is turned into one by those who are afraid of diversity at the level of culture. How do we help such people in a world in which diversity is the very stuff of life itself?
This question, answered wrongly, has always been part of the assumption that ethnicity destabilizes national unity. The troubles that such evident mis-apprehension and therefore mis-management of ethnicity have caused across the country is the reason that those who dismiss ethnicity as unimportant are often heard blaming tribalists instead of beating them at the game by relying on appropriate programming. The short of the matter is that ethnicity does not destabilize national consciousness; ethnic diversity is actually a creative boost; unless it is denied its place as an ineradicable datum. It ceases to be an obstacle to progress when it is recognized; and allowances are made for its manifestations. In the circumstance, it actually becomes and can truly be seen as a difference that aids vibrancy in ethnically heterogeneous societies. It is fair to be reminded that the idea of creating states along ethnic lines was what saved India from having Nigerian-type conflicts along mis-primed ethnic and regional lines. Once it was realized that the ethnic factor could not be eliminated through wish-full thinking, the creation of states along ethnic lines was treated as palpable necessity. This point bears repeating even in the face of a country like Somalia where people of the same ethnic nationality have waged a virtual civil war upon one another for decades. The reality of that situation bids the doubter to remember that different parts of the Somali territory were colonized by different European countries and that the differences that this brought into Somali homogeneity needed to have been given proper administrative coverage. People of the same culture separated for a long time may well learn to device a federal arrangement that accounts for the acquired differences. To insist on running such a wounded culture within a unitary formality without minding the differences occasioned by decades of distancing is truly unfair to all concerned.
It is all about reality that cannot be changed: if ethnicity matters enough for quota and federal character and rotation of offices to be proposed and to be allowed to gain some centrality in Nigerian political life, it may be asked: what hypocrisy makes recognition of ethnicity so crucial at such levels but discountable in the matter of actually defending the cultural geographies that state creation amounts to? What cannot be fairly denied is that ethnic groups are endangered, or feel unfree, in the present dispensation in Nigeria. This should be taken as datum enough to require redress. The feeling of insecurity that it has generated almost as a national culture is one that a country wishing to be free ought to begin by eliminating. Ethnic groups need to be free for Nigeria to be free. Otherwise, those who are opposed to restructuring because they want to continue with the imposition of one ethnic group upon another, are digging graves for their children to jump into.
Viable and Unviable states
The sheer necessity to have ethnically homogenous states may well, in the opinion of some pundits, amount to creating so many unviable states in a country of up to four hundred different ethnic groups – among the highest rated of such societies in the world. But what makes a state unviable? In India, Kerala used to be rated among the poorest of the poor. Not just in India but world-wide. It was a socialist state that offered free education and free health and basic amenities that covered the whole population. The value of her social welfare policies did not become so obvious until the emergence of the World Wide Web when those educated in Kerala began to ship to the United States to work in blue chip companies. The funds they repatriated home made all the difference to the poverty of the state. They turned the traffic around when they discovered they could still work for those companies by remaining in Kerala. Suddenly, Kerala began the journey to self-regeneration, outstripping other states that once scoffed at the developmental model of the poor free education state. The short of the story is that Kerala survived on its own steam, by doing just the necessary and needful within secure borders untrammeled by the central government of India. The obverse of the Kerala story is the example of California, a state within the United States that, on its own, is among one of the richest countries on earth, able to pool and exercise the power of its knowledge industry, with innovative and challenging links to production.
In effect, between the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich, the elixir, if it might be called that, is about what Niger Delta agitators call resource control. States that have it within a normal democracy can turn their turf into their own type of Eldorado. It is also about living within the framework of the resources available. So to say, the term viable is relative. So long as the poor do not bid for a life of profligacy as may be happening among richer neighbours, viability is indeed very relative. This is not to say that there is no reason to worry about creating so many more states without considering their viability. In Nigeria, in the face of the critical dependence of the whole Federation on a few oil producing states for upkeep, the issue of the unviability of any new states ceases in my view to be a matter to be overplayed. The reason is that most of the states in the Federation are simply unviable if judged by the existing patterns of profligacy that mark their management. There ought for this reason to be a decided constitutional position on how much of the revenue of a state ought to be on recurrent expenditure. An expert assessment of the basic minima for a state ought to be considered part of the job of the Revenue Mobilizattion and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Rather than let every state remain a spoilt child of the oil industry, a scheme for the viability of every state needs to be entrenched while phased granting of full resource control to the oil producing states should be rigorously set out. So long as it is agreed that each state ought to be able to retain 60 percent of funds derived from its ambit. Public officers who fail to abide by the constitutionally prescribed position must be held responsible for their acts of commission and omission.
Simply: there is no reason why state administrations should be so expensive. The conqueror’s logic that leaves gladiators, once in office, free to seize state power and to personalize it for self-aggrandizement, must be addressed through an Incomes Policy that devices upper and lower limits of remunerations in the public service. This should cover allowances and other perquisites. Also, beginning with electoral laws that provide for subvention to political parties, the pursuit of low-cost government must be firmed into a national political culture for the purpose of restructuring. It is more politic to go after cutting down on the high cost of running a state than going after the wilder bid to cancel or merge already existing states as some Nigerians are tempted to demand. This is an important issue.
Otherwise, if an ethnic nationality that is part of an actually existing state is to be granted a state of its own, its normal share of the resources of the state should be considered within the requisite criteria: that it must have enough to keep it in stable self-sustenance after its creation. Beyond the mere creation of the new state, it should also be assumed that a new format of state finance needs to be adopted which emphasizes internally generated revenue rather than the current dependence on Federal handouts which is another name for undue exploitation of the Niger Delta. Properly speaking, many ethnic groups that wish to have states of their own may be considered viable, even without federal subvention because of so many panaceas already at the centre of national fiscal management which should be further entrenched not deleted or reduced simply because, for instance more states have to be created. What must be changed is the bloating of executive powers that has made leader-centred misappropriation the soul of our governmental systems at all levels: Federal, State and local. Besides, the notion that a state needs to be of a particular size to be viable is old hat. Nothing should prevent a state from collaborating with a neighbouring state for the purpose of undertaking projects that such collaboration could enhance.
On this score, I have argued elsewhere that: “Talking viability is a way of avoiding the core issue of the injustice meted out to people who, on their own, without the weight of a country that maltreats her people, would eke out a living and round out a self-respecting circumstance. Arguably, how to ensure that states will live within their means is a matter deserving of attention. Across Nigeria, there is proof enough that the creation of states has brought development to so many parts. Although this is a great impetus for more demands, it is also true that the initial conditions making for the demands have not been exhausted. There is room for so many more states. Fifty two, as has been proposed for the National Conference, is not out of place. But certainly not the kind of states that we are having at the moment. This brings up the question of the cost of governance; and how states are to cope with so much that is being pressed for justiciability in the current constitutional process. Of great interest here is that only the reports of the National Political Reformof 2005, among all the reports of several decades, addresses the question of the cost of government. A country intent on making so many social welfare measures justiciable does need to be concerned about the cost of governance. Social welfare measures, as Awolowo taught Nigerians, most of whom have been running from reality, are genuine and serious investments that prepare a society for a future of shared prosperity. The prosperity of the future could be dissipated however by feckless and unruly expenditures through feckless creation of the kind of states that we have been having.
Hence the necessity which the NPRC observed to reduce federal ministries, commissions and parastatals. With so many special advisers, special assistants and personal assistants to contend with – up to 90 for the Presidency alone – it is understandable that a culture of waste is being valorized across the public sector; that is, when it is not being imposed through monetization measures. In a situation where for instance state-owned houses for one generation of legislators and other public officers are sold before it gets to another generation, the costs of governance are bound to be high. More so, when people go into government expecting the government to provide them with cars for personal rather than official engagements. The idea of having everything sold off so that every generation starts afresh with new demands is clearly a drain on national coffers. How better can waste be described? Travels at home and abroad, and health and entertainment expenditures by public officers at home and abroad, ought to be seen as matters for statutory discipline, mostly to be banned, so that chief executives across the tiers of government would come together to build and support substitution agencies. To think of it: Teaching Hospitals used to benefit from Big Government people purchasing equipment for hospitals because of their wives, relations and cronies. Now that our doctors are being forced to expatriate and everyone tends to go abroad to India or wherever else, leaving the local houses of illness for the hoi polloi, where do the hospitals even find the Bigmen to blackmail for equipment and proper medicare facilities? How ensure that there is a proper institutional means of controlling expenditure? How prevent government from helping foreign organizations to triumph while our domestic services are pushed further into doldrums? Nor should it be allowed for security votes to overwhelm the budgets as happens in every state at the moment! A constitution can at least make it mandatory for the cost of all services – travel, security, entertainment, living allowances – at every level of government to be subjected to quarterly oversights by the legislature if only to keep things within laid down codes of conduct. The conqueror’s logic that puts a chief executive and legislators on the road at the high cost of current interminable motorcades, and general pompous living, encourages more than waste; it creates a culture that becomes intrinsically and rudely malfeasant.
If anything, this is why the viability of any new state must be assessed outside a prevalent mind-set that takes the job of government as that of giving leaders the freedom to do as they please rather than following a law-governed budgetary process guarded by a bureaucracy that is answerable to executives monitored by proper legislatures. The fear that no proper legislatures can exist in our Presidential system of government is another matter: it has led to quite bizarre suggestions about fielding part-time legislatures that will, assumedly, be less profligate, more disciplined and less prone to padding budgets. I cannot see the relationship between having a part-time legislator and the presumed benefits. Nothing follows. It is not because the legislators are full-time that they over-spend or fail to take their jobs seriously. Actually, an underdeveloped country that chooses to go by part-time legislators is priming an irresponsible executive into place that would brow-beat the nation with impunity. Nor will part-time legislation prevent the kind of robber baron affairs that are mangling mandates, padding budgets and lifting more than forty percent as loot outside executive proposals. Basically, it is a factor of a political system that is a regular kleptocracy. I should add that kleptocracies tend to be products of situations where a common morality is made impossible of application due to prevalence of unpunished malfeasance in a divided society. The profligacy of governments in such situations enters the discussion of viability along a very unhealthy weighting of rationality in favour of tradition and incumbency, rather than innovation. The abuse of bureaucracy that this leads to is why it is generally said not only that nothing works but that anything goes, thus creating a self-immolating national culture in which all are complicit hostages to a pile up of scams and debilities.
It is of course assumed that new states would benefit from having every new addition to the population through birth or migration being entitled to a federal subvention that must cover education, health, employment and pensions. In effect, if the old competitions must be annulled, a Federal assertion of responsibility must make the insertion of any new comer to a state a necessary and sweet burden by providing fiscal coverage. If some states are more attractive than others, whether because they have better climate, more jobs or more friendly people, they deserve to be compensated for the crush and weight of population pressure they must bear. No situation should therefore arise in which a state expels citizens from other states, not for security reasons, but for weighing down finite resources. The more the load, the more the federal subvention should be. This should reduce the kind of angst that has bedeviled states in which people of the same ethnic stock, civil servants from contiguous states, are expelled to make room for supposed indigenes. An Igbo-speaking state driving away Igbo people from other states to make room for indigenes, or a Yoruba state refusing to employ the wife of an indigene who happens to come from a neighbouring Yoruba state is callous to a degree that must pass as inhuman. How would such states respond to non Igbo or non Yoruba in their midst? Of course, the bad behaviour may be defended in the jaundiced spirit of competition between different parts of the country and humoured as necessary banding to resist old and new laagers. But this is the of point of the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy: a Federal arrangement to make sure that no child is denied rights by reason of birth or domicile. Those who have objected to such federal coverage for all Nigerians especially because they abhor the insistence on merit as a determinant of access across the board, must be deemed the arch-despoilers of the commonwealth. If they are unavailable for a restructured Nigeria, they may be given a special dispensation such as in the old arguments against allowing states that are opposed to sale of alcohol to share in taxes involving alcohol.
What many do need to appreciate however is that the North/South divide turned such national programme into obstacle races: derived from bad habits of travelling without maps, bedeviled by unreliable census figures, the miscarriage of the National Identity Card projects, and sheer wheedling and using fictitious statistics to bid for national largesse. If however a revenue allocation policy based on derivation is made the touchstone of national restructuring, and those states losing populations to others get deprived of federal subventions, it is likely, I believe, to induce a change in behaviour consistent with rational expectations. The idea that states can get away with so much malfeasance, taking more than their due share, can be brought to an end, once the principle of derivation is properly emplaced, especially with more items on the Exclusive Legislative List taken to the Concurrent List.
Ideally, no state ought to be allowed to fall below a declared national standard; by the same token, the deepening of advantages that any part of the country may have should be a means of promoting development. The El-Rufai doctrine, which argued, at the height of the de-Federalizing angst under Obasanjo, that Lagosians wished to, but should not be treated like special citizens, needs to be made more difficult if not impossible to invoke. The older, Buhari doctrine which preferred to use Federal might to pay for a metroline not to be established in Lagos, should be abnegated in advance by new principles. The idea that basic education should not be granted free to all Nigerian children because a part of the country might benefit more, an argument that has led to literal carnage in the education sector, ought not to be allowed to generate new versions in the public space. Any government that allows educational institutions to be closed down for any reason must be considered obtuse and backward in this regard. Otherwise, the grand ideal is to encourage every citizen, group or state that has a unique gift to develop and enhance its use. This must be seen as the way to make Nigeria, as a country, more buoyant rather than wrecking the advantages that one side or the other may possess. In the end, it amounts to making Nigeria poorer without making anyone else better if what makes a state or ethnic group unique is destroyed in order for others to catch up or feel comfortable. The latter merely leaves room for a withdrawal of commitment to the country by those who, as a result, feel repressed or marginalized. To think of it: in the same way that the unique position of Lagos deserves to be continually upgraded as a national strategy, so the city of the confluence, the city of wheat, of coal and cities of oil and gas ought to be granted leverages as national assets. It can be argued that the smashing of the old dream of turning the North East of Nigeria into a great producer of wheat partly yielded the pauperization that has helped the rise of Boko Haram. This raises the hotly contested issue concerning how much the state that bears a good or gift should derive from it. It goes beyond the derivation principle but it is part of it.
I hold it as uncontroversial, in this regard, to argue that every local government should hold all wealth within its authority and coverage for itself on behalf of the state of which it is a part; as the state holds its own for the federation. It is absolutely wrong for any region to play the tail wagging the federal dog by using access to centrality to steal or privatize what belongs to any other part of the country. It would amount to such regions existing merely to swindle the rest of the country. This is one reason why the discussion of restructuring falls within the format of a war between the haves of the South South and the have-not states of the North that have been wielding incongruous power over the rest of the country. To deny this of course is more than fraudulent. Even if the scars of old battles have yielded a certain form of indifference to the travails that the deprived and marginalized undergo in our climes, dealing with it is part of what restructuring is all about. Because a serious country cannot be built on such a basis.
For the same reason, to return to it, the kind of haughty assumptions that have enabled many to argue that the poorer states should never have been created and should now be merged with others should be side-stepped. It makes a lot of sense only at the level of the old angst of states grating against one another in competition. What it does not attest to is that, if the grand purpose is to support development in every part of the Federation, the steps to be taken would actually reduce the burden that they constitute. This is also what restructuring should be all about. While I think it should be procedurally allowed for states to agree to merge after due referenda, I am strongly opposed to campaigns for states to be merged or for new states not to be created. In the first place, it does not liquidate the populations that must be covered by welfare policies. The size of the problems that a state must face are not necessarily pared down as the result of a merger. Whether we reduce or increase the number of states, the population to be cared for will not thereby reduce. So it is first and foremost about resource management. It is not as if the creation of states is an escape from accommodating the welfare needs of the people in any of the areas. The principle must be to appreciate that state creation has been one great means of spreading welfare, for good or ill, across the country; also for purposes of enhancing freedom and equity, ethnic nationalities have been granted states of their own. As such, those measures must be considered wrong which suggest the removal of any part of the country from benefits as a means of maintaining efficiency, political order, or fair restructuring. It is not merely a question of being your brother’s keeper. It is a self-upkeep to ensure that neighbours in distress do not become a source of depression for others.
Still the question must be answered: what happens to the poorer states without resources to stand up to the over-expensive administrative infrastructure that mauls the nation at the moment? It is a question that must be confronted, not merely parried. In the run up to the last National Conference, PRONACO provided a way of dealing with the issue of viability of states by going truly formalistic arguing for revenue sharing on the basis of fifty percent derivation, 35 percent to the distributable pool and fifteen percent to the federal Government. It was rather pre-emptive on the assumption that there has to be a first line draw from the Federation Account in favour of education, health and housing, full employment, citizen’s wage and old age pension. Similar thinking informed the position of the Seventh Senate which merely voted for the existing format of the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal commission to continue outside direct constitutional determination. But none may be taken as solution. What must be said is that too many states in the Federation are truly ‘parasites’ that take but add little or nothing to the national income. A change cannot be asserted by verbiage. Proper restructuring must mark how all states can be supported by a Federal Fund and National Plan that will take the states out of parasitism. It wont do to have a trickle down economics of the nature we have been having at the top, with jingoistic central bankers who give away charity instead of standing by instrumental theories that can revive dead textile factories, comatose machine tool industries and flagging domestic production – as ought to be demanded in an emergency. Industries must be established through a deliberate Federal targeting to raise standards that make a difference to issues of viability of states. A deliberate apportionment of funds in favour of such states need to be considered and ought to be enshrined in the Constitution.
Necessarily, therefore this goes beyond the notion of an equalization fund. States without much natural resources need to be specially placed within a grand development strategy that covers planned redress of the imbalances in development. Specially targeted projects to meet the establishment of industries in the poorer states must be such as to be able to amortize debts. The common denominator is that all the local governments created by such a state must be viewed as production bases, each with its own essential product, monitored by the state, as the state is monitored by the Federal Government, along the lines of supportive interventions. The necessity for all states to abide by national standards, and not be allowed to fall below them, requires that treating a local government as a production unit, turns a state into a coordinator of development plans. State governments must look towards the local governments rather than sit pat awaiting federal largesse. The idea of the Federal Government barging into or disrupting the relationship between the states and local governments should not arise. This is actually a case where normal revenue allocation sorties have to be set aside to beef up industrial targeting funds for states across the federation. The understanding must be that they are not grants but investments that must make returns and should be monitored as such.
It requires emphasis, that the matter of all states acceding to common standards, or some states enjoying national affirmative allocation of funds, should fall within a proper warrant. Or, it would amount to punishing enterprise in some states and thus giving comfort to profligacy. The idea of giving money to a poor state for the maintenance of national standards goes beyond providing free education and free health services to children up to a certain age. Such welfare quotients we hope should be generally taken for granted. If a civil war has to be fought to ensure that schools are kept open and for all children to be at school, why not?. It should, however, be properly designed to ensure that it does not become a case of giving money to the ruling class of a state to play fast and loose with. A major task is to prevent state governments from stealing what belongs to the people. Proper sanctions should be invoked to deal with states and state officials who connive to defraud the system through padding of budgets and distracted expenditures outside statutory suasion. At any rate, a state that is not so rich should, through open campaigns and statutory guidelines, be dissuaded from raising the cost of governance to the astronomical limits of the richer states.
At any rate, while viability, so much dispensed with, need not be over played, it should mean that all future creation of states ought to be structured upon well considered management of internally generated revenue. Over a temporal distance, a newly created state should be assumed to need special funding, marching grants – but not on a platter. It should depend on performance along specified criteria that entitle a state to matching grants for thriving production systems. More critical is that Federal subvention to a state must meet criteria available to all states in similar circumstances. This should be based on population and verifiable performance, but not land mass or some such shenanigans, between the new state and the other fraction of which it was a part! An obligatory assessment procedure should exist which, as with other states, determines when internally generated revenue, should be specially augmented to achieve specified national goals. It must be clearly understood that nothing in the arrangements between a state and Federal authorities prevents one state from cooperating with another to perform a function or service.
Restructuring as Resource Control
To borrow a leaf from an earlier intervention on this theme, let me note that “since 1966, most Federal instruments of law making have been heckled by the likelihood of the Niger Delta seceding from the Federation or obstructing access to her resources. After the attempted secession by Isaac Adaka Boro and his group in 1966, followed by the trauma of Biafran secession, the matter literally caught fire. Adaka Boro’s secessionist move was directed against the Eastern region government for neglect and repression of the peoples of the Niger Delta. However, the prospect of the whole of the Eastern Region seceding from the federation was so much more of a threat to the Federal Government that it had to take over the “protection of the Niger Delta” from the Regional Government. The price of that “protection”, as it seems, was the seizure of the oil wells in the Niger Delta and the rank deprivation of the people of the oil producing areas. It has been a case of exploitation without redress.
The nature of what happened has left other states in the Federation, not so well endowed, complicit in their own abasement; except that the case of the Niger Delta is more visible because of oil. Hence, whatever is claimed for the Niger Delta has become a way of drawing attention to the travails of every other state that has watched the Federal Government literally gobbling up the bulk of national revenue, and leaving all the states to be mere mendicants at the gates of revenue allocation. Virtually all the states today are looking for changes locked in constitutional provisions that have yielded controversies and altercations for more than six decades. Take it from Section 140 (1) of the 1963 Republican Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It provides that “There shall be paid to each region a sum equal to fifty percent of the proceeds of any royalty received by the Federation in respect of any minerals extracted in that Region and any mining rents derived by the Federation from that region”. This implied a factor of ownership which the central government could not, and did not deny. It was like our writ of independence.
However, in the 1999 Constitution, a convolution is inserted to the effect, as stated in Section 44 (3) of the Constitution that “….. the entire property in and control of minerals, mineral oil and natural gas in, under or upon any land in Nigeria… shall vest in the Government of the Federation and shall be managed in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly”. Irrespective of the prescribed necessity for the National Assembly to take into account, any “allocation principles” in determining the formula to be employed, as stated in Section 162 (2) of the Constitution, what is critical is that there is no implied ownership by the states of the on-shore or off-shore oil which, in the 1963 Constitution, were in the determinate ownership of the region in which oil was found. It raises the question: Are states tenants of the Federal Government rather than associated citizens holding their land in trust for the whole Federation? If not, why would Part 1, item 39 of the 2nd Schedule of the Constitution state that “Mines and Minerals …and Geological Surveys are within the sole purview of the federal government”.
The implication is that colonialism may have ended but Nigerians, irrespective of where they live, are denied proper citizenship. In effect, no state is adjudged by the Constitution to be citizen enough to have rights of equity. This is one of many core items making Nigerians wish to remove the whole constitution itself from Constitutionality. It has not only turned the Federal Government into an overlord, with powers to traduce the natural rights of whole nationalities, it has made too many people subordinate in their own country to prospectors for oil and gas in the Niger Delta. Whoever is prospecting for oil and any other minerals across the country acquires rights above indigenes and may be said to have superior rights over Nigerians. To repossess the rights of citizenship over the oil wells and minerals wherever in Nigeria any prospecting and exploration may be happening, the spelling of restructuring must itself become a right. Restructuring must lay the basis for other rights across the country. An appropriate procedure for ensuring that this occurs may yet be quite unavailing but there is a natural rights issue involved which cannot be browbeaten by invoking the years of impunity that have transpired since the first decrees that enabled the Federal Government to take over the oilfields. It turns the matter of restructuring into an emergency which the desperate situation during the civil war gave an air of normality. Once the war ended, a reversion to status quo ante bellum was simply imperative. No dice! If Nigerians are not all conquered people, it must mean that the time to assert full citizenship has arrived.
It is of great importance therefore that in the discussion of restructuring, the over-weaning weight of the Exclusive Legislative List that took oil and minerals from Nigerians must be pared down in favour of the Concurrent List whereat the states and federal government cohabit. The latter List may have been beefed up, in the past decade by accretions of judicial interventions in favour of the capacity of state governments to extend the exercise of their powers. But the grand imprimatur of constitutional instrumentation is what is actually required to remove them from proactive but disputatious judicial pronouncements. This was what, as I have noted in This Conference Must Be Different, the 7th National Assembly had done at its plenary. The Senate had removed pensions, prisons, railways, stamp duties, and wages from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent list; adding road safety, healthcare, public complaints, arbitration, aviation, and environment. The House of Representatives added health, housing and electricity to the Concurrent list. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha ….. explained that health and housing were moved from the Residual to the concurrent list because “apart from the extensive practical involvement of the Federal government on both matters….the decision to transfer the right to primary and maternal health care and Basic Housing from Chapter II to chapter IV as fundamental Human Rights would bring undue pressure on the governments of the states. Hence the decision to cast the burden on both the states and the federal government”.As I added: “ There is a reason to believe that much more by way of wresting burdens from the states would have to be undertaken by the Federal Government in the face of Basic Education which would now be justiciable. In the process, the area of first line draw pertaining to the Federation Account is being judiciously enlarged to meet the increased responsibilities. This in my view is the only way for true federalism to be properly registered in a multi-ethnic environment. It follows a trend in the disposition of all Federal Governments across the globe. Strictly, it is by following the suasions of the Seventh National Assembly, as we hope the current National Assembly would, that Nigerians across all the states can begin to have back the rights of equity retrenched from the constitution.
With equity assured, a firm reversion to the provisions in the 1963 Constitution on the principle of derivation is actually no longer to be considered a fit and proper response to the situation on the ground. More appropriate is the demand for resource control not for one or a few oil producing states as usually haggled. The demand is for resource control for every state of the Federation over all that is within their domain. As the Federal Government is only a proper state through its constituent parts, to deny any of its constituent parts their due implies a derogation from its presumed wholeness as a state.
A state that has resource control is assumed to be one in possession of its wealth and holds it perpetually in trust as part of the body Nigerian. Each state in effect is an owner, not a pariah, and not relating to a superior colonial state but to its own resources as an ultimate carrier of equity. The proper presumption must be that as a citizen, the state government will pay taxes to the Federal Government of which it is a part, rather than be an absence, without equity holding, to be treated cavalierly in relation to resources, mineral and otherwise within its domain. In a truly buoyant situation, a rule of thumb concession of 60% derivation to the states ought to be assumed as quite uncontroversial. A responsible federal government should be seeking ways to help the states exploit and improve on those resources rather than play the albatross distracting from the wager that being a state, a constituent part of the Federation, constitutes. Resource control, in effect, implies a sure wager against the evident centralism imposed by the Federal Government in the face of states in the Federation that are not experiencing the same level of incidence of exploitation and taxation.
Not to forget: the Federal Government has always taken a preponderant share of the Federation Account without leaving a proper margin for the removal of environmental disasters in the Niger Delta. As Federal seizure/ownership of the oil wells has not led to a proper management of the environment, nor to the establishment of an efficient oil industry, nor altered the necessity for each state to mind its ecology as a matter of environmental health, the implication of resource control is that it is not the business of the Federal Government, but the states closest to the problems, to handle them. Every state in the federation is therefore to be understood as having original jurisdiction within its domain which cannot be alienated even in war time. It is for the same reason that the part of the country that is closest to the sea is deemed to entitle a country to any portion of the sea that is in contention in any dispute. Without the abutment of land, you search in vain for seaward caper. No seaward claims are defensible without its abutting a constituent part. This is what resource control means in a federal state that has accepted the coordinate status of its constituent parts. It is the basis upon which, in a foreseeable future any neighbouring country wishing to join the Nigerian Federation may be viewed as an additive of equity.
In this regard, one significant rationale for restructuring and therefore the emphasis being placed on resource control is that at the present time virtually all the states of the Federation have internally generated revenue capacity of only about 22 percent of annual budget. It suggests that a crisis of grave proportions has always existed. In recent years, this has manifested in many states lacking the capacity to meet monthly salaries and wages thus requiring the federal government to arrange bail out funds. All authorities are agreed that one of the reasons for the impecunious state of the states, apart from what may be considered the profligacy that characterizes their expenditure patterns, is the lack of correspondence between the functions that the states are required to perform and the means, the equity holding capacity, and taxing powers, which are allowed to states by the constitution.
A federal state that has barged into the domain of the state governments to appropriate equity without minding the functions to be performed, creates a vertical imbalance that makes the whole system appear too lopsided to be functional. Leaving the states with functions too big for their revenue base is tantamount to a form of injustice when what belongs to the states is already over-appropriated without attention being paid by the federal government to developing them. This is proved, very amply, by decades of the federal government’s neglect of minerals that are known to exist in various states of the federation but untended and unexploited in the face of world demand and national needs. What is the point of having a super-leviathan overtaking and overcoming the rightful ownership of minerals by states barred from exploiting them. Nor are they even allowed to survey them. What a general resource control perspective implicates is the necessary acknowledgement of this fact and an appreciation of how the current shambolic economics of misery may be negated by each state having the right to deploy the resources in its domain to achieve its goals.
At a time when alternatives to oil in the world market are being heatedly pursued by many industrialized countries, the point is to consider how all the states of the federation currently depending only on Niger Delta oil may be unfettered to embark on exploiting resources in their domain that are currently simply untouchable even if accessible. Should the crisis in the oil market persist, all the states across the country will be left equally high and dry. Although oil prices may improve in the world market, and soon, the war on oil in favour of other alternatives has become such a project and a challenge in the international market place that sooner rather than later a decision will have to be taken as a matter of serious strategy. If care is not taken, what would be left, when the real Armageddon comes, are oil producing areas looking like sinkholes of rot and disease without prior investments to withstand encroaching hard times. Knowing this, and since state governments across the Federation are actually more involved with provision of welfare and services than the Federal Government, it was time to let the states embark on developing and controlling resources within their domains to meet great challenges and opportunities. Once this is done, it will become obvious that, over the years, too much slack funds had been kept at the Federal level for the kind of unconscionable expenditures that have become the norm. Now, the time has come for State governments across the Federation to take back their due in order to become genuine production units, not just enjoying resource control, but with each one accounting for investments that could ensure, within the term of the present administration, that Nigeria would be producing as much as 70 percent rather than the twenty or so percentile, of what she consumes today.
To achieve such a goal, the anti-federalist provisions which litter the pages of the 1999 constitution must be accosted and changed. This is to give a sense of self-determination to the states within the ambit of the Nigerian Federation. For instance, if only to be sure that where there are opportunities to be tapped one state may be able to choose to merge with another or split from one for more effective participation in and exploitation of the resources that abound, it is important that the frigid nature of the Nigerian state represented by the unitary format of Nigeria’s militarized constitution is put to rest once and for all time.
To be faced promptly is the necessity to give a sense of order and solidity to existing states so that they can achieve any of their aspirations within the constitution. May it be noted here that state creation is not merely a matter of people bidding for a share of the national cake as it has become. State creation began as a matter of the integrity of ethnic nationalities and their right to develop their linguistic, cultural, political, social and economic interests. It has involved the correction of aspects of inequities that continue to impinge on citizenship rights as in the cavalier cut and paste approach adopted by the colonizer who created royal kingdoms for republicans and a free people to bow down to; putting people of the same ethnic stock in different but contiguous regions instead of allowing all of them to be in one state. As things are, anyone thinking of state creation has to worry about the virtual impossibility theorem built into Section 8 (1) of the Constituion which sets out a cumbersome procedure that requires that to create a state, there must be a concurrence of two thirds of the population of the areas and 2/3 majority of members in the National Assembly, state assemblies and local governments representing the area demanding, and the area affected, by the boundary adjustment and that a particular request must receive a simple majority of members of each House of the National Assembly and House of Assembly. Whereas, the Senate of the Seventh National Assembly was out-rightly against the creation of more states, the House of Representatives …. offered terms for the creation of states that makes it much easier than the existing provisions. The House …. brought in practical good sense by providing for only two thirds of the registered voters in a state as against 2/3 of the population of a state. States where registered voters have always been inflated are the ones in trouble if they are never able to make two thirds for any purposes of this nature. It shows how far Nigeria had gone on the road to restructuring before the impingement of the General Elections that handed over the baton to the 8th National Assembly.
With specific reference to the case of local governments, it may well be stated that a near sacrosanct life-line has been given by the 1999 Constitution to the 36 states, and 768 local governments listed thus ensuring that, whatever injustices were perpetrated in the exercise of state and local government creation in the past, will remain unchanged almost indefinitely. Among the injustices: Sections 3(6), (5) and 162 (5) (7), dealing with local governments, introduces so much ill humour into our federalist tradition by granting the central government powers that should normally belong to states. Accordingly, the Federal Government creates and determines the funding of the local governments, granting responsibilities but grossly inadequate powers to the states in the maintenance of whatever political structures exist at the local levels. It spells a unitary intervention in the affairs of a federal state which, properly speaking, can only constitute a disruption of the relationship between a state and local governments. How does the Federal Government create local governments for states to run; above whatever the state governments may wish? Rather than wait for disorder and lack of coherence that may obstruct planning for development, the purpose should be to prevent the assault on the local government system by chief executives. This was already on the way when the House of Representatives of the Seventh National Assembly recommended that only an elected local government, with a mandatory 4 year tenure, shall be recognized or allowed any share of the Federation Account. It was a form of protection for local governments under pressure from chief executives of state who sometimes swiped as much as 60 percent off LGA allocations thus leaving the chairpersons to view the funds in their charge as sharable loot.
Except for our need to caution against direct local government access to the Federation Account, it is important, from the standpoint of restructuring, that the establishment of a Local Government Council Allocation Account into which all monies due to the local governments shall be paid would be a better arrangement; that is, so long as it it tied to an indissolubility provision so well entrenched in the constitution that in the performance of its functions, a local government cannot be cavalierly displaced within its area of competence by a jealous chief executive of state. The implication should be that a chief executive that interferes with the funding of a local government ought to lose immunity and be liable to punishment like a petty criminal while still in office. Such an apt constitutional cover should carry the presumption that local governments must constitute production and development units for the states in the manner that states should do for the federal government.
At one level, it may well be argued that current difficulties in the way of creating new states and local governments, should be regarded as protection for community rights. But what does it profit a state to have secure boundaries if, as several provisions of the Constitution stipulates, laws could be made for the state by the National assembly literally if not out of whimsy? Section 4 deprives all other tiers of legislative rationale once the National Assembly chooses to barge into their area of jurisdiction. Section 4(2) for instance stipulates that the “National Assembly shall have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation and any part thereof.” This should be standard for emergencies. But by making no distinction between Federal jurisdiction over the Exclusive legislative list and shared legislative competence on the concurrent list, the National Assembly (Federal Government) is granted near absolute powers to change the grounds of performance and to make a chief executive redundant even if the National Assembly may lack the powers to remove a govenor from office. The powers are made even more absolute by section 11(1) with respect to the maintenance and securing of public safety and public order, providing and maintaining and securing of such supplies and services as may be designated by the National Assembly as essential supplies and services. We must propose that just as the powers of a state chief executive to overawe a local government needs to be made less whimsical, the powers of the National Assembly and the Presidency to intervene in the affairs of a state ought to be made a factor of democratic promptings through which all interveners must operate. In the case of a local government, federal interference ought simply to be deemed unconstitutional unless through the agency of the state assembly and state chief executive as the constitution may stipulate. Otherwise, Section 11(1) is tantamount to a retrospective endorsement of the Federal Government’s intervention and takeover of the Government of the Western Region in 1962, an anti-Federalist move that set the basis for the demise of the first Republic.
As in the old Western Region where a State of Emergency was declared after a brawl on the floor of the house of Assembly, an emergency could simply be declared in a state because two legislators exchanged blows on the floor of the House. To depend on the whims of a National Assembly of such a stamp that may be hostile to a particular State Assembly is simply not good enough. This is one reason why a State Police, which can be misused, as all police systems have always been misused in Nigeria, requires a special crafting. Anyone who has seen the virtual life and death scuffles between Chief Tony Anenih and Adams Oshiomhole in Edo State should not ask whether state police will be misused. But to have a law making body that has no statutory means of effecting its laws should be considered incongruous. The proviso may be entertained that a police board be established at the level of both the state assembly and National Assembly which assesses periodically, if need be, quarterly, in the format of the Judicial council. how to get a police system that truly works. A board made up, not of former Police officers but proper human rights lawyers, criminologists and nominated exclusively by ASUU, NBA and NLC may be preferred.
Above all, there is the matter of the economy. In the 1999 Constitution, which shows that a daring state, with an ambitious economic programme is promised a liberal drubbing by section 16(2) (4) which empowers the National Assembly by a resolution of each House to declare certain economic activities as “major sectors of the economy which shall be managed exclusively by the government of the Federation. What does this mean? States intending for instance to take advantage of “market forces” will have to do a rethink until the National Assembly makes a resolution to the contrary. This is in conformity with sections of the constitution which deny a state Executive or House of Assembly powers over subjects on which there is a distance from a Federal law. Unlike India’s Kerala, a very poor state which, unwilling to join in Federal grandiosities, could carry out daring socialist programmes that laid the basis for a future prosperity, an ideologically ambitious state, could get frozen out of buoyant sectors as in the case of the oil industry which is at the heart of Nigeria’s resource control crisis. Here, the Federal Government has had a coverall suzerainty over the whole economy that freezes out the states. Pity, the residence of oil and oil-mining on the Exclusive Legislative List has not however ensured a well-run oil industry. Item 39 on the exclusive legislative list which takes mines and minerals, including oil fields oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas away from the states, takes away all the economic leverage residing in the states. Now, no community as in the Middle Belt, where solid minerals have become an European community-coveted resource, would be able to look to the future for benefits from the solid wealth of their environment as a result of this exclusiveness which, properly speaking, should be ruled as invalid in so far as it relates to state governments. To put it straight: Government ought to be taken as just government if the extant business, of a commercial nature, unrelated to security issues, takes place within the jurisdiction of a state.
Beyond the economy, the inhibiting power built into Federal legislative capacity is exacerbated by the fact that the judiciary in the state is a handmaiden of a National Judicial Council which recommends the appointment and disciplines State High Courts. State Executives are constrained by the predominance of federal appointees in that council; which is part of the reason why there have been proposals by some judicial activists that there should be an Attorney General of the Federal Government and an Attorney General of the Federation in the same way that there should be an Accountant General of the Federal Government and an Accountant General of the Federation. No wahala! I think the officer of the Federation should be the higher officer in the circumstance and ought to be considered the norm-server in the sense that the officer of the Federal Government represents only one of the many ‘coordinate’ governments in the Federation while the officer of the Federation represents the whole. Even as a matter of mere formality to emphasize the federal nature of the Nigerian society, It ought to follow that although the President of the Republic may send the names of both to the Senate for approval, the presumption of one being a representative of all the states should be given special constitutional recognition over the other.
In the same manner, i think some out-of-the-box intelligence is necessary to raise the possible source of independency in the electoral process in the states as against the distortionate code of unitarism that requires that the independent National Electoral Commission may not ( in accordance with section 223(b) register a political party unless “the members of the executive committee or governing body of the political party reflect the Federal character of Nigeria.” This provision effectively annuls political parties that may choose to operate only in a state. In a country with ethnic demands based on histories of marginalization of minorities and supposed majorities, this dis-allows formation of political parties aimed at defending the integrity of ethnic groups and fractions. For instance, no political movement devoted to off-setting the specific pains of the Niger Delta would pass the test of section 221 which stipulates that only political parties shall take part in or fund elections.
The short of this is that grievances un-accommodated by the political parties registered by the independent National Electoral Commission would be deemed to be non-existent within governing frameworks and circles. Given the status granted to political parties as the only means by which interests could be aggregated and articulated in an authoritative manner in the political system, it follows that the only way to pursue the special interests of the people of any particular section of Nigeria is first to seek the “permission” of those whom the people accuse of neglect and marginalization. If this is the case, what happens if the interests of the majority is to continue with the exploitation of the minorities? This leaves undemocratic means as the only instruments for seeking redress. After the hard example of the Niger Delta in which militants have had to remain faceless while choosing those who may speak on their behalf, it ought simply to be considered unbecoming in a democratic society for people who wish to express themselves to be so incommoded as to resort to undemocratic means. Political parties that seek to govern just a state, so long as they can win the local government prequisites for registration as political parties, ought to be allowed to exist as political parties. Such parties will necessarily be parochial and federally ungainly. But to deny them their right to govern local governments or even a whole state in which they may actually have a majority is an infringement of their freedom of association and freedom of speech.
In my view, so long as the people of any Nigerian cultural geography consider it a viable proposition to remain part of the country, it is for them to determine how they may organize the political party or parties that will enable them navigate the system. Once a state wide party decides to join a nation-wide movement or party, it should lose the perquisites that parochial party formations confer. It is baseless homily to demand of such parties that they should not project their ethnic or regional frame, as the old NPC and NEPU did. Except that they cannot decide in the manner of the Northern People’s Congress to operate outside their region until they abide by the national standards prescribed for national political parties. They may operate only within the state and cannot send legislators to the National Assembly. In a properly restructured country, there is every reason to suppose that the state-bound party will sooner than later join the mainstream. The point is not to block freedom of association at that level in order to be politically correct on the side of oppressive national behemoths.
Specific to the pursuit of restructuring, it stands to reason that all Nigerians who are agreed on the kind of restructuring that they want, should have draft provisions or draft constitutions, to which they may solicit adhesions and supports from far and near. When they are able to get a critical mass of supporters from other parts of the Federation for a provision or even a whole draft, they may seek to make an issue of it in a referendum. Alternatively, motions and bills may be sponsored in local government councils and state assemblies to begin the process of not just raising awareness but priming legislators at the federal level to act correctly. Constitutional bills need not originate only from the top but can emerge from groundswells at lower tiers of government. Where local councils and Houses of Assembly fail to perform their role as expressions of the wishes of the people as it pertains to restructuring, an election issue can be made of particular provisions. This may be the more efficient approach as a referendum does not necessarily allow for item by item adumbration of constitutional provisions.
Uncooperative Houses of Assembly or an uncooperative National Assembly could be voted out of office for dithering or watering down or abandoning critical provisions. In effect this is proposing that restructuring is not about breaking up the country but ensuring that the democratic promptings in our social fabric be not abused by whoever may be, or wishing to be, in power. To fight for Nigeria to become and remain a real democracy in which constituent units are free to be free and productive is what restructuring is all about.
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