As this newspaper specifically noted here on September 1, 2016, restructuring and federalism have become the most misrepresented words even by those who should understand and work for their actualisation in the interest of peace and progress of Nigeria.
To some political commentators, it is an idea whose time has come. To some others, it is a secret weapon by a section to break up the country so that others would not have access to the oil and gas resources, invariably the mainstay of the economy, available only in one part of the country. This perception issue is quite unsettling.
As we have been stating unequivocally, honest pursuit and enthronement of federalism in its true meaning will be hugely beneficial to all Nigerians from all the geo-political zones in the country.
The first and most fundamental point is that there is a common denominator, poverty, and mass illiteracy, all over Nigeria. The effects of those decades when the military overthrew the finesse, as well as practice of federalism, are still being felt nationwide. In other words, the real trouble with Nigeria is not just poverty nurtured by corruption and illiteracy but lack of understanding of the impact of the overthrow of the principles of federalism, a system that once triggered the rapid growth of Nigeria on all fronts.
It is worth repeating that the first military Head of State, Lt-General Thomas Aguiyi-Ironsi might not have envisaged the consequences of his action when he thrashed federalism through a Unification Decree No.34 in 1966 before he too was killed in a counter-coup that did not restore the paradise lost, federalism.
In fact, successive military governments, beginning from General Yakubu Gowon’s through General Murtala Muhammed’s to General Sani Abacha’s kept creating states that have become mere administrative capitals and peripheral beggars instead of federating units of development. The states have since 1966 been depending on crumbs from the centre, a monster that has become a blight on the finesse, federalism.
Since a proper federalism that triggered an exponential growth of the Northern, Western, Eastern, and Midwestern Regions was destroyed by military politicians, Nigeria has not recorded any tangible growth in any economic or political sense. The selfless leaders from the North and South of Nigeria in the first republic were arguably the last of the great men this country has had. Since federalism or regionalism that propelled them to greater heights collapsed, crass opportunism and enlightened self-interest have given birth to small minds as ‘Big Men’ who have led the country to the nadir of reproach.
It is, therefore, a time to tell all Nigerians, including those who profit from misleading the people about the many benefits of restoration of organic federalism that, just as there was oil in the South, cocoa in the West, rubber, and timber in the Mid-west, the North of Nigeria used to play host to most of the best textile companies in the country and indeed West Africa. As we have repeatedly claimed too, the same North used to be the home of the famous groundnut pyramids in Kano and a place where cotton, millet, among numerous other economic crops were grown. It is, therefore, a shame that Nigerian leaders would not be eager to harness this vast mineral, agriculture, and water resources in the area from Northcentral to the North West within the context of a truly federal Nigeria.
Kogi State, for instance, can go to Nasarawa State and invest in some mineral resources and employ the people there. Just as Lagos State once did with Kebbi State in rice production. While the partnership lasted, Kebbi’s citizens were employed and taxes were paid to the state, after all. That way, there will be a balance of opportunity to exploit what is available in all states.
Therefore, instead of shooting down and foreclosing discussions of opportunities that abound in fiscal federalism, all Nigerians should encourage their representatives to take another look at the recurrent and exclusive legislative lists. The exclusive list that gives too much power to the Federal Government in exploitation of mineral and water resources should therefore be relaxed and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) should begin the process of devolution of powers to the federating units for the rapid development of the country. This is a covenant they already have with the people from the document they have produced through the el-Rufai Committee on restructuring Nigeria into federalism as it once worked – before darkness fell in 1966.
Besides, those who wield federal powers now should seek to renew their minds and be persuaded that Nigeria cannot be broken or hampered by the practice of federalism as some have mischievously submitted. Indeed, federalism will even strengthen democracy and make the country grow economically.
If the 36 federating units are not allowed to exploit all the natural endowments in their states and develop state policies based on priorities and then pay their workers according to what they can afford, development even at the centre will be a mirage. At the moment, poverty in the federating units, which keeps asking for bailouts from the centre before they can pay even basic bills is shameful and unacceptable.
In the context of competition, which used to exist when Nigeria was a really federal entity, Lagos and Kaduna states are now setting some instructive examples. Just as the Western Region did in those days, the Kano and Kaduna state governments, for instance, have decided to invest heavily in compulsory and quality education as a matter of priority. This is how a good federation should be. And it is hoped that other states will follow this example. Lagos too continues to invest heavily in education to enhance its status as the economic capital of West Africa.
Therefore, the time has come for Nigeria’s leaders at all levels and from all regions to remove politics from discussions of the many benefits of federalism and focus on how ventures such as cattle rearing, grains, gum Arabic, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, rice production, etc in the North can be exploited for the glory of the region. This does not remove any steam from the efforts at finding oil in the North East, which may just be some added value.
The Eastern Region, comprising the present South-South and southeast, is already showcasing the gains of self-dependence as Anambra State, for instance, is gradually finding its groove in agriculture and industrialisation.
Against the background of diversification, with emphasis on agriculture and mining as central elements in the political economy, that all things are available in every state but not exploited till now is the shame of a nation. Governments should step forward and remove obstacles to these resources and the value that would accrue to all citizens therefrom.
No doubt, the country is already factionalised over this matter. The elite caused the division, which Nigerians do not need. And the country was not always like this. In 1993, this same country organised a presidential election in which a political party fielded a Muslim-Muslim ticket that no one complained about anywhere. It was a pan-Nigeria mandate, which Chief MKO Abiola won convincingly before the military cancelled the result. Now, history beckons on Buhari to see his mandate as one to be exploited to listen to what Nigerians are saying: that he should get cracking for true federalism. And history will reward his effort for restoring our ‘paradise lost’ 54 years ago.
As we also noted before, Nigerians, especially members of the power elite, must show an understanding beyond the dubious position of those who associate true federalism with the balkanisation of the country. There is no controversy about that: federalism will be a propeller of peace and development and that is what it is doing all over the world including the United States where every state determines the mode of counting ballots that will determine the outcome of even the presidential election.