It appears that there is no issue that attracts a greater and broader consensus in Nigeria than the need for restructuring the Nigerian Federation. Almost all ethnic nationalities and socio-cultural groups have cried of marginalization and made very strident calls for restructuring, and even produced agenda for restructuring.
By Frank Ojeme Anyasi
The two major political parties during the 2019 general election campaigns either publicly announced their positions on restructuring or made true federalism the focal point of their manifestoes for a better Nigeria. However, there is no agreement about the nature and content for restructuring.
Nigeria is conceived in compromise, nurtured in aggressive geo-ethnic competition and sustained by hegemonic blackmail. The Nigerian colonial state project has been described by many as a failure. This is because the colonial administrators understood very well the country’s social cleavages and exploited them to the fullest, to serve and promote their economic interests.
The amalgamation of the protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria, in 1914, regarded by many as marriage without engagement, did not only deepen and institutionalize those cleavages, but also politicized them, in a manner that accentuated and exacerbated North-South antagonism which seem unabated even till date.
Nigeria, at independence on October 1, 1960, inherited an unusual and lopsided federal structure, which encouraged ethnic politics and irredentist movements, and the polarization of political rivalry and the country on a North-South axis. Nigeria was a federation of three regions and a Federal Capital Territory with one of the regions, the North, having a veto power over decisions affecting the country because of the land mass and population.
Obviously, Nigeria’s federal system in the post-independence era was a negation of a fundamental requirement of federal practices. As Kenneth C. Wheare warned: “It is undesirable that one or two units (in a federation) should be so powerful that they can overrule the others and bend the will of the federal government to themselves. There must be some sort of reasonable balance which will ensure that all the units can maintain their independence within the sphere allotted to them and that no one can dominate the others”.
By conferring, the privilege power of a political veto on the Northern Region, Nigeria’s federal system in post-independence era encouraged and fostered the politics of regional rivalry, nourished and nurtured in mutual suspicion and morbid fear of Northern domination.
The fear of continued and permanent Northern Nigeria domination of federal power in the country was undoubtedly and deeply resented by many politicians from Southern Nigeria.
The regions rather than the center became the centres of power in the post 1954 Nigeria when the country adopted a federal constitution. This can be explained by the fact that the leaders of the (Northern People’s Congress) NPC, Action Group (AG) and the National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) were the premiers of the Northern, Western and Eastern Nigeria respectively. Other factor which explains why the pendulum of power tilted from the centre to the regions include among others the explicit language in Section 5(1) of the 1963 Constitution which states unambiguously that subject to the provision of this constitution, the Constitution of each region shall have the force of law throughout that region, and if any other law is inconsistent with that constitution, the provisions of the constitution shall prevail and the other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency be void.
On the contrary, federal-regional (state) relations during the military regime were characterized by the political and financial dependence of the federating units on the centre. Essentially, Decree No 1 of 1966 not only conferred upon the Federal Military Government unlimited legislative powers but also heralded the trend towards increasing federal authority over the federating units. This dependence of the federating units on the centre has continued even in the democratic dispensation. This ‘feeding bottle’ federalism has effectively stunted Nigeria’s growth and development as the country nudges more and more towards an uncertain future.
The 2014 National Conference failed to resolve two major issues which have created much uneasiness and engendered much acrimony among Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities namely fiscal federalism and political restructuring. On March 28, 2015, Nigerians went to the polls to elect a new President, and with the election of the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, millions of Nigerian breathed sigh of hope and relief given the party’s manifesto which promised to amend the Constitution with a view to devolving powers, duties and responsibilities to federating states from the centre in order to entrench true federalism and the federal spirit.
Restructuring means many things to different people. The ordinary dictionary meaning of restructuring is to reinforce or rearrange, alter or change a current structure with a view to enhancing its overall performance and efficiency. Restructuring the Nigerian Federation means a return to the era which witnessed considerable autonomy enjoyed by each region until the Military smashed everything, with the centre over-centralizing everything, resulting in a unitarised federal Constitution.
Since the outlook of the economy is not good because of the global recession occasioned by the Covid 19 pandemic, the time is now for the Federal Government to go for the clusters of consensus and low hanging fruits by initiating a Bill for the structural unbundling of an overburden centre through reducing the current Exclusive legislative list and its devolution to the constituent states in a way and manner that does not endanger the fortune of the country. The principle of rotational presidency should be adopted by all the political parties in Nigeria because of the heterogeneous nature of the country and fear of domination by any section.
The point that needs to be emphasized here, and this is very significant in appreciating the strident calls by various ethnic nationalities for restructuring the Nigerian federation because of the stranglehold on Nigeria’s political development by some major ethnic nationalities, is that other nationalities can only rule the country if circumstances make it impossible for the major ethnic nationalities to remain in power.
For instance the south eastern geopolitical zone of Igbo extraction has not produced any executive president since independence. In the interest of equity and fairness the various parties should create platforms for the zone to produce the next president in 2023. A situation where some ethnic nationalities have feelings of being “second class” citizens or subject people, are absolutely unhelpful and unacceptable, if truly we want to build a united, strong and self reliant nation.
- Anyasi is a retired Director of the Ministry of Defence