Just as the agitation to review Nigeria’s brittle political structure intensifies, a cacophony of voices, including those from across the Niger, has joined in the debate. Apart from the usual campaigners, Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, has hammered away at the urgent need to restructure the country. El-Rufai was joined in the crusade by the Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, who admitted that the recent youth uprising vividly demonstrated the contradictions of the Nigerian state. Almost simultaneously, other notables; Pat Utomi, Tunde Bakare and Ayo Adebanjo, reiterated the call for true federalism at a virtual conference hosted by Gani Adams. This agitation is borne of true patriotism. Nigeria is broken: it remains in perpetual convulsion until it implodes.
The demand for restructuring has been persistent in the South for a while; there is a growing consensus in the Middle Belt and now in the North of the need for it. Courageously, el-Rufai is aligning with the proponents of restructuring with his encouraging speech at the 50th anniversary of the Centre for Historical Documentary and Research in Kaduna. His submissions, which are based on the All Progressives Congress Committee on True Federalism Report, point the way forward for a country that is more divided than ever. Its recommendations formed the core of the demands made by participants at the virtual conference in Ibadan. Some of those recommendations were also embedded in the final report of the 2014 Political Conference organised by the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
Essentially, the el-Rufai report, which was submitted to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in January 2018, has some outstanding provisions that could halt Nigeria’s descent into full-blown conflagration. On the issue of insecurity, it argued that the unitary police structure is a recipe for disaster and recommended state police. Currently, Nigeria is one of the most terrorised countries in the world and needs to redraw its unitary civil security architecture.
To make Nigeria a better place for everyone and have competitive units, it voted for resource control. The report “upheld the derivation principle as a primary component of fiscal federalism and recommended that control of mineral resources be vested in the states who will then pay applicable royalties and taxes to the Federation Account for distribution between all tiers of government.” This is a fundamental provision. It is unlike the current unitary practice in which the Federal Government is in charge of all revenue and doles it out to the states.
Along this line, the panel made a strong case for the devolution of powers to the states, suggesting that a good number of the 68 items on the Exclusive Legislative List be moved to the Concurrent Legislative List. That is a telling one. Currently, prisons, insurance, railways, policing, stamp duty, copyright, fingerprints, identification and criminal records, mines and minerals and public holidays are the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government. As this newspaper has repeatedly said, this is unhealthy in a natural federation.
Outstandingly, the el-Rufai report agreed with the 2014 political conference on the place of local governments in a federation. Both reports stated clearly that a federation is a union of the central and the states (or regions) as the federating units. The states should wholly be in control of creation and operation of LGs, which is the tradition in the United States, Australia and Canada, among others.
Although some sections of the country mischievously mislabel restructuring or true federalism, the practice is not new here. True federalism obtained under the Independence Constitution before the military turned Nigeria upside down in 1966. The agitation to restructure is just to return to a political structure in which the regions enjoyed autonomy with no overbearing central government hijacking a high percentage of the resources.
The country is imploding and the signs are too visible and scary. Instead of an undue preoccupation with the next electoral cycle, Buhari, the political parties and all other stakeholders, especially the National Assembly, should have a single-minded commitment to restructuring the country. Governors especially, should deploy their considerable influence in this cause. Together with the federal and state legislatures, they should invoke the doctrine of necessity to address the most pressing challenges that threaten to destroy the country.
Federalism is always work-in-progress and there is no perfect constitution. Moreover, 100 per cent restructuring to the satisfaction of all cannot be achieved all at once, but we must start somewhere. Since its adoption in 1789, the US Constitution has been amended 27 times; four amendments are pending. India’s has witnessed 104 amendments since 1950 and Malaysia’s 57 since 1957. Under the doctrine of necessity, 10 of America’s amendments, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were adopted simultaneously to cement the union.
Nigeria needs to move fast to do three things. First, those measures recommended by the el-Rufai panel and the 2014 conference that need only administrative action should be done immediately; those measures that need new laws should be acted upon by sending bills to the NASS for speedy action; third, swift action should be taken on crucial piecemeal amendments without waiting for another conference or completely new constitution. In this regard, measures like the revenue allocation formula, the derivation principle and control over waterways can be administratively resolved. Enabling laws and regulations should be rolled out to cede authority to the states over minerals, railways and ports to enable them become financially self-sufficient. Laws like the Railway Act of 1955 and the Minerals and Mining Act should be repealed.
Urgently, the doctrine of necessity should be invoked to make amendments to immediately actualise state police. The country is sliding fast into state failure as the anomalous single police structure has failed woefully. Confronted with new security challenges, Belgium’s federalising reforms saw its federal police system restructured in 2001 into a decentralised federal body and 188 autonomous local, municipal and regional police forces.
Jonathan set up the confab; Buhari must climb down from his high horse and advance restructuring. His arrogant dismissal of the 2014 conference report and the el-Rufai report is a direct challenge to the unanimous aspirations of Nigerians. He cannot be bigger than the majority.
We insist the current system cannot deliver prosperity and security, which are very basic to governance. Where the 36 states and 774 LGs are parasitic bureaucracies, with only the overbearing centre driving economic policies, poverty, mass unemployment are guaranteed.
Like its predecessor, the PDP, the APC and Buhari would go down as complete failures if by 2023, they do not move to actualise restructuring.
Perfect agreement on the structure of a restructured federation is elusive, but the basics in a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-faith polity like Nigeria are incontestable.