By Edwin Madunagu
What I intend to do here is, first, select a number of current or recent views, publicly expressed, which I think are representative of the main positions on the subject under discussion: geopolitical restructuring of Nigeria. This will be followed by the views of some compatriots who have dwelt on the subject for quite some time and with whom I agree at some levels. Next will be a narrative on the “experiment” in popular democracy conducted in Calabar between March 1988 and May 1989. I shall then, to conclude, expand my own proposition (collective presidency with rotational headship) summarised in the fourth part of The world “we wish to see” (4) (December 20, 2012).
Let me start with The Guardian’s front-page report in the paper’s issue of Wednesday, November 28, 2012. The report was titled: “Outrage as governors move against local government autonomy, seek more powers” with a rider “Sanusi urges scrapping of councils, civil servants’ sack”. The governors’ position, formulated at the previous day’s meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF), and announced by Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, may be summarised as follows: Opposition to what has been labelled “local government autonomy”, but which specially means the right of the country’s local governments to receive, directly, that is, without passing through the state governments, their shares of the federally-collected revenues.
The governors are determined to block any constitutional amendment aimed at making direct payment to the local councils mandatory and obligatory. To call a spade a spade, Nigeria’s state governors don’t want the local councils. They do not want more states, nor do they want the removal of the “immunity clause” from the Constitution. But they want more money from the federation accounts.
For a different reason the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, has advocated the scrapping of local councils, that is, the complete elimination of the “third-tier” of government.
According to The Guardian report, Sanusi, speaking in Warri on the same day as the governors’ meeting, said that it was a waste of funds for the Federal Government to continue to maintain 774 councils “with their attendant huge financial implication”. “Why not just remove the local governments and have only state governments?”, he was reported to have asked rhetorically. The CBN governor has also criticised as unsustainable, the spending of what he considers an atrociously high percentage of federal income on the National Assembly and the federal bureaucracy. To redress this, Sanusi called for the reduction in the membership of the National Assembly, the reduction of legislators’ wages and allowances, and the purge of the federal bureaucracy by up to 50 per cent.
Speaking at a public event in Abuja on Tuesday, September 18, 2012, the National Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN), Bola Tinubu, was reported to have said: “We have kept complaining about the cost of governance and the recurrent expenditure… but we have never examined the structural problems of even the constitution that we are operating. Why do we need two Houses of National Assembly…? Why not get rid of the Senate? To equip better and effective legislative activities, let us start examining that”. (Tinubu calls for abolition of Senate, Daily Trust, September 18, 2012, page 3).
At the event in which Tinubu spoke, a former Defence Minister, General Theophilus Danjuma, suggested that the power of state governors be radically reduced as, according to him, Nigeria’s governors are not only virtual “sole administrators” of their states, no national effort or campaign they jointly oppose can succeed. A former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, proposed the restructuring of the present six geopolitical zones into the federating units of the Federal Republic and the institution of a two- party system. He was also of the view that the present constitution makes the president a dictator. He, therefore, advocated a reduction of presidential powers. The governors concur.
Anthony Akinola, whose views on this subject were introduced in the first segment, believes that rotational presidency would complement and strengthen the country’s federal system in constitutionally guarding against the domination or alienation of any section of the polity by either the centre or a group of federating units (states or regions). For him, preventing domination and alienation goes beyond the question of “even development” and “sharing positions” – which can be measured – to that of sub-national psychological feeling of domination and alienation. Rotational presidency, he believes, will contribute to reducing or removing the problem of “cleavage” which, in his view, cannot be “wished away” in an ethically and culturally complex society such as Nigeria. It is also on account of this enduring problem that Akinola would not support the elimination of the Senate or the membership equality of federating units, which is a fundamental principle of its composition.
Akinola’s rotational presidency, to put the matter more clearly, simply means that, for the election of the president, competing political parties are compelled to select their candidates from the state or region whose turn it is to produce the president. He argues that this is a surer way of reducing the number of parties because to be able to survive beyond a presidential tenure, a political party is compelled to be national – as the presidency moves round. There is, of course, a double-assumption here: that the reduction in the number of parties and that the ultimate elimination of ethnic – based or ethnic-centred political parties are desirable national objectives.
I shall conclude this survey by looking back at what I have called an “experiment” in Calabar between March 1988 and May 1989. It was an “experiment” in radical social transformation where “social” here (with capital S) means social, economic and political. As Nigerians old enough will remember, and others not-too-old would have learnt, there was a national local government election in December 1987 with a re-run some constituencies in March 1988. Officially, the election was on non-party basis. But, as expected, it was not so in reality: the election was run in many constituencies on the basis of undeclared political parties and groups. In Calabar, which then comprised the present Calabar Municipality, Calabar South Local Government Area and parts of the present Akpabuyo Local Government Area, the undeclared platform on which we ran the election was a group called the Calabar Group of Socialists (CGS) in alliance with the Directorate for Literacy (DL).
The first election in Calabar was blatantly rigged. Protests were made to the electoral commission (then headed by Professor Eme Awa). The results were cancelled and a re-run ordered. In the re-run contest in March 1988, the CGS won the Chairship (Bassey Ekpo Bassey) and Vice-Chairship (Effiong Mbukpa) of the council, as well as a comfortable number of council seats. I may now summarise the achievements of the Calabar Municipal Council in the 15 months it was headed by Bassey Ekpo Bassey. But I wish to preface the summary with a categorical declaration: The Calabar Municipal Government under Bassey Ekpo Bassey remains the most resourceful and the most successful local administration in Cross River State (and arguably in the whole country) since the local government reforms of 1976 and Bassey himself remains the most popular and the most mass – directed local council head in Cross River State (and arguably in the whole country) since the 1976 reforms.
The first thing the Calabar Council (CC), Calabar Group of Socialists (CGS) and the Directorate for Literary (DL) did was to create Neighbourhood Organisations across the council area: one or more in each council ward. The functions of the Neighbourhood Organisations whose activities were coordinated by a designated councilor, included: community sanitation, security, maintenance and repair of minor, but very vital, road networks, maintenance and protection of public council facilities (including boreholes for free water supply), adult education, and monitoring, reporting on, and attending to, the needs of the vulnerable and the “abandoned” in the community.
The activities of the Neighbourhood Organisations were carried out through voluntary (unpaid) contributions (financial, material, and labour) and 50 per cent of tenement rates collected by the Council. The remaining 50 per cent was retained by the council. There were no other budgetary allocations to the organisations and the organisations retained no paid officials. But the organisations constituted, de facto, a level of governance below the local government.
The council, assisted by CGS and DL, dug water boreholes for free water supply, abolished fees in primary schools, abolished sanitation fees by private homes, established several companies, including; Garri Processing Company, Chalk and Exercise Book Production Company, Calabar Cassava Farms, Peoples’ Trading Company (run on the principle of cooperative). A general campaign against illiteracy was mounted by the council. It constructed, by direct labour, partly voluntary and partly paid, three big primary schools, which have now been upgraded to Government Secondary Schools: one in Bakoko (Eight Miles), one in Anyahasang and the third in Anantigha, now the headquarters of Calabar South Local Government Area.
Edwin Madunagu collection:
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