Opinion

Northern Nigeria and Nigeria’s quest for true federalism

By Ugochukwu Amasike

Once upon a time, in pre-oil-dependent Nigeria, before the era of military coups, there were three (3) productive regions, namely: Northern Region, Western Region and Eastern Region.

These three (3) federating units all harnessed and maximised their unique comparative advantages for the socio-economic development of their respective regions and for the overall economic growth and development of the Nigerian Federation.

The Northern Region also elected and appointed competent and development-minded leaders, such as Sir Ahmadu Bello, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Alhaji Muhammadu Ribadu, Senator Joseph S. Tarka, Zanna Bukar Dipcharima, Chief Sunday Awoniyi and Mallam Aminu Kano, amongst others.

These were leaders, not rulers; leaders who were driven by a compelling desire to develop their region through the provision of excellent social services, solid infrastructure and the formulation and implementation of sound programmes and policies tailored to meet the needs of their people and residents of the now-defunct Northern Region.

However, today, the once blossoming and relatively peaceful Northern Region is sadly, now afflicted with insecurity, misgovernance, poverty, epidemics and a 12-year insurgency in the North-East, that has witnessed the gruesome murder of tens of thousands of innocent, poor Nigerians and military personnel and the displacement of millions of fathers, mothers and their children.

So What Changed?

How did the once blossoming Northern Region of Nigeria retrogress so badly? Why did its Textile Mills disappear? Why did its factories shut down? How did the harmony that once existed between its Muslim and Christian populations disappear?

Military Dictatorships did! That’s what changed.

After the invasion of the political arena by Nigeria’s erstwhile military adventurers and the ill-thought-out abrogation of the harmonious and development-enabling Federal Order by the adventurers, a unitarist, extractive political order was created (one that exists till today); one which we pass off as “Federalism”.

This new political order gave rise to a retrogressive, rent-seeking economy that feeds off of the oil and gas resources of the Niger-Delta region; a resource which was considered by Nigeria’s then-new, young and naive leaders, nay RULERS, as “the spoils of war”.

The promulgation of the Unitary system of government, that aggrandized and centralized all national political and economic power to itself, not only destroyed Northern Nigeria’s blossoming economy, but it also damaged National cohesion by giving birth to a morbid form of Identity-Politics; one that was predicated upon the tinder-box of Religion and Ethnicity, and this was the beginning of the end; the end of the harmony that had hitherto existed between the Muslim and Christian populations of Northern Nigeria and the rise of sectarian conflicts; the consequences of which, continues to permeate our politics and national discourse till date.

How Can The Situation Be Remedied?

To remedy the situation and to restore the North, and Nigeria as a whole, back to the path of national cohesion, stability and sustainable economic development, then Nigeria’s present Leaders and Rulers must consider reverting to the practice of Federalism, with modifications that take into account the grievances and aspirations of all of Nigeria’s ethnic nationalities, and also, the prevailing facts of our current political arrangements and economic situation as a Nation.

It is pertinent to remind readers that the legacy of Federalism in Nigeria was one of Economic Growth and Development, Excellent Social Services, Productive Federating Regions and Shared Prosperity, so much so that Nigeria was touted as potentially being Africa’s first Super-Power Country. The legacy of True Federalism in Nigeria was also one of Harmony and Unity, so much so that the first elected Mayor of Enugu, (then the Capital of the Eastern Region of Nigeria) was a Northern Muslim gentleman by the name, Mallam Umaru Altine, from present-day Sokoto state.

In contrast, however, the enduring legacy of our current Unitary, nay Quasi-federal system of government, that we disingenuously pass off as ‘Federalism’, has been one of arrested-development, multi-dimensional poverty, ethnoreligious division, separatist-agitations, unbridled corruption, and dependent-State Governments that depend on monthly hand-outs from the Federal Government, amongst other aberrations and avoidable tragedies.

However, in spite of the failings of the unitarist nay quasi-federal political system we practice, there remains a motley crew that largely consists of a predatory band of politicians and their minions who consider Nigeria and its resources as their patrimony, and are thus vehemently opposed to the idea of True Federalism, ie: the devolution of power and responsibilities to the states, a system which to all intents and purposes, would dislodge their venomous fangs from our political processes and commonwealth.

And then there are a few well-meaning Nigerians, who in spite of the avalanche of evidence to the contrary, sincerely believe that all is well with the current quasi-federal political system we practice. They insist that Nigeria does not need True Federalism, but rather the “mental re-orientation” of the citizenry and “Strong Leaders”, (a euphemism for Politicians with dictatorial tendencies). They insist that once we elect “strong leaders” that all or at least most of our national challenges will be solved.

It is submitted that such thinking, aside from being reductionist in nature, is also a great disservice to the Nigerian people, because it inadvertently encourages the outsourcing of governmental responsibility from government to the governed. It also seeks to encourage “Strong-Man politics” rather than the building of strong Institutions and the entrenchment of accountability in our political processes which is an intrinsic feature of True Federalism.

It is humbly submitted that if Nigeria is to realize its great economic potential, restore national cohesion and once and for all, put an end to separatist agitations, then we should as a people, strongly consider reverting to the practice of True Federalism; because just as former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, once eloquently stated: “the truth is that Nigeria as presently constituted is unsustainable…Our current structure and the practices they have encouraged have been a major impediment to the economic and political development of the country.”

Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State has also (in times past), lent his voice to the calls for the practice of True Federalism in Nigeria. He did so in his famous 2012 article aptly titled: “A Federation Without Federalism”, wherein, he stated thus: “Dream as we may for a better Nigeria; a country that works; a nation with egalitarian principles of equal opportunity for everyone…These ideals will remain mere dreams if we are unable to aggregate and articulate concerted efforts to first have elections that really reflect the wishes of the electorate, a decent judiciary, and then entrench a constitutional structure that enables true federalism…Until these are done, Nigeria will remain a federation in dire need of real federalism. And we will continue our accelerated decline towards state failure. That will be very sad indeed.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, the glaring truth is that Nigeria is in danger of becoming a failed state if we do not change course now and restructure our political-economic architecture, by amending the 1999 Constitution with a view to devolving power and responsibilities to the 36 states of the Federation, and restoring Nigeria back to a path of social justice, national cohesion, security of life and property and economic development.

It is suggested that our dear President, the 36 Governors, and the leadership and members of the National Assembly should rise up to the occasion and take advantage of the ongoing constitutional amendment process to effect the necessary amendments to the 1999 constitution required to pull Nigeria back from the brink of impending political and economic ruin, by simply devolving power and responsibilities to the states and local governments of Nigeria.

***Ugochukwu Amasike is a Lawyer based in Abuja.

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