By Rich Odu
It is no longer a matter to argue about that the much sought after answer to Nigeria’s national question lies in the return to regional autonomy and, to be precise, the application of true federalism in both the fiscal and political life of the nation. Voices which were muffled in the past are now strident in the call for the restructuring of Nigeria’s political system which, at the moment, tends to be more unitary in nature and vests too much power in the central government.
From the Western axis, notable leaders have spoken in favour of restructuring. Yoruba apex group, Afenifere, has constituted a taskforce to traverse the country and awaken people to the realities of the time. Most unexpectedly is the voice of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar which began to sing the tune of restructuring.
But the team in charge of the present administration at the federal level appears averse to suggestions for restructuring. From their body movement, it is discernible that the status quo suits them. And this status quo is Nigeria’s problem.
Opposition to restructuring had come up with an argument that the terms “restructuring” and “true federalism” were nebulous and its advocates were yet to make known what they stood for. Those who hold such views are only wishing to remain in their mischief. They cannot pretend not to know the meaning of devolution of power to federating units. Besides, if they want to know, all it requires is a dialogue with advocates of restructuring.
Smart as they are, their point of view again had been that nothing can pass as “true federalism” since different climes are at liberty to craft the kind of federalism that suits them. Fine. But, does Nigeria’s federalism suit all the federating units? At this juncture, it is pertinent to point out that there is a federalism that fits the appellation “true”. True federalism is that one which every federating unit desires so passionately to belong.
Indeed, once it is a true one, there can never be any agitation to leave and if there arises any, it is with all pleasure that the agitators are allowed to go, perhaps after a referendum among that region had been conducted. A forced union is a false union, just as there cannot be a forced friendship. It is an aberration to say a country is engaged in a civil war with a part of it “to keep the country one”. In truth, this happens only for mere expansionist motives. And empires are no longer in vogue these days. This was why the Nigerian civil war, which happened despite agreements reached at roundtable conferences in Aburi, Ghana, and other places, is a perfect example of conceived genocide.
A true federalism is negotiated. Nigeria’s federalism is based on considerations of oil and who controls it. Natural justice demands that in a federal structure, federating units manage their resources and pay an agreed percentage to the centre. A true federalism is a symbiotic relationship of federating units and is devoid of elements of parasitism as we have it in the present Nigeria. If we are to mentally take off oil from beneath Nigeria’s soil, we would discover that there will no longer be a one Nigeria. Besides, truth is the desire of everyone even though it can be bitter, explaining why the mention of true federalism makes many so bitter in Nigeria. Yet truth has the capability to set one free. Call it ideal federalism or whatever, it is as constant as truth itself.
Everyone desires the truth. If something appears undesirable, then it is not the truth. They say truth is bitter, just as But, I believe Nigerians should get over the fear of not partaking in oil under a true federalism. It is the absence of this true and mutually agreed federal structure that is the major cause of unending strife in Nigeria and anyone opposed to it is the true enemy of Nigeria.
Anti-restructuring apostles advance an argument that the federating units have been fragmented into states, many of which are unviable. Again, we must be candid to admit that state creation was another mischief of the military and does not have any democratic endorsement. The hindsight of history educates us enough to know that it was a master stroke used by the Yakubu Gowon junta against Biafra during the civil war. Nothing, however, indicates that these states cannot fuse once again into viable regions or zones, as the case may be. Former vice president Alex Ekwueme gave the nation a brilliant formula to this problem when, in 1993 at the Abacha constitutional conference, he muted the idea of six zones, each of them consisting of people of close affinity. They are North East of mainly Kanuri descendants, North West consisting of Hausa Fulani, the South West of Yoruba, the South East Igbo the South South and the Middle Belt. It is incontestable that these zones are economically viable as well as politically compatible. Indeed, the un-viability of many states in the present structure makes it imperative that they must fuse with others to become viable.
In a perfect federalism, states are never created. They naturally exist as blocs consisting of people of common affinity.
Sworn antagonists of restructuring appear to be hooked to the sweet taste of crude oil which is located in the south south, envious that under a true federal arrangement, this region is likely to have full control of the oil wealth to the exclusion of other regions. This fear or envy is gradually becoming hackneyed with the free fall of the global oil market price.
Perhaps, the answer to our fruitless search for a panacea to corruption could lie in this much desired restructuring. An overriding psyche which hovers around politicians and those in public service is that Nigeria, as presently structured, is a jungle of sorts where only the fittest survives. And so, everyone is focused on grabbing whatever and running away with it. This psyche has its roots in glaring corruption cases of the past that were left uninvestigated while perpetrators walk the streets free. The scenario has not changed even under the new wave of change where public office holders are alleged to have spent whopping millions cutting grass.
But, when can this be possible, with a majority in the North unwilling to release their stranglehold on the nation, with Jigawa juggernauts claiming that “Bayelsa oil is Jigawa oil”, with Fulani herdsmen on the rampage, forcefully acquiring lands without scruples and with the tacit connivance of the authorities. It’s actually a long walk to restructuring, Nigeria’s long walk to freedom.