The flurry of activities in the country in the last couple of weeks underlines the fact that Nigeria is enmeshed in a crisis of state, in other words, drowned in systemic contradictions. Denying this reality will be at its peril. We believe we are capable of providing solutions to the contradictions, and all that is required is the political will of the incumbent state actors to act – before it is too late. This newspaper attaches a great deal of importance to the peaceful resolution of what we believe to be the ‘‘crisis of state.” In this respect, we have given attention to the subject of the restoration of Nigeria’s federal system instead of the prevalent unitary status quo misnamed federalism in two previous editorials.
In the first, we put federalism in contextual definition to the extent of an agreement of people with varied historical and linguistic backgrounds desirous of living together on the principles that allow each party to the agreement of political and fiscal autonomy in ways that are coordinate with the central authorities. In the second part, we catalogued the benefit of an unperverted federal system drawing on our historical past that saw competitive growth and development in the federating regions before the military truncateda the state structure and implanted a unitary system in 1966. This abnormality has been reified by several succeeding administrations as the norm. That has become a bane and blight on the nation.
In this third part of the serial on federalism, we acknowledge once more the imperative of restoring the country to the path of federalism. It is well that more voices of reason are urging a return to federalism. In a meeting with the Southwest traditional rulers, governors and ministers by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu in Lagos, a conclave of Yoruba leaders urged President Muhammadu Buhari to take concrete steps to return the country to true federalism to allow peace and stability, and also pave way for development and avert separatist impulses. In concrete terms, the Yoruba monarchs urged the Federal Government to devolve powers to the states in key areas such as internal security and economy. The meeting did not end without pointing the way forward for the Federal Government delegation. Indeed, the leaders did not re-invent the wheel but advised on the need for the central government to review reports of the previous constitutional conferences such as the 2014 National Conference and adopt recommendations that deal with the security, economy and social justice.
Similarly, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and premier convener of the United Action for Democracy, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, lent his voice to what he called ‘‘the restructuring logjam.’’ In a communication with the Senate President on the subject, Agbakoba, who underlined the absence of autonomy over several governance issues, argued that devolving power from an overweighed centre would restore the federal essentiality of the Nigerian state. As he put it, “Nigeria has been long engaged in the federalism question. It is clear that because of our diverse nature and large size, the political system best suited for Nigeria is a federal system. But the challenge has been what type of federalism. Many proposals, including restructuring, have been put forward without success…I believe there is a simple solution.
This is devolution of powers. The Constitution has two legislative lists namely, Exclusive and Concurrent. These lists have 98 items of powers.” He further noted the power variance between the Federal Government and the states in which the former exercises exclusive power over 68 items on the exclusive while the latter in concurrence with the Federal Government, exercise power over 30 items on the concurrent list. Besides, the powers of the states are also limited by the doctrine of covering the field that translates into the ineffectuality of the state governments. He, therefore, suggested a committee to review “the 98 items of power and assign what is best to Federal and what is best to the states, based on the principle of subsidiarity. I also suggest the Exclusive list and Concurrent list be renamed as the Federal Legislative List and State Legislative list. The Federal Government will exercise reserved powers. The states will exercise devolved power.”
It is to be noted that we have continuously acknowledged the fact that Nigerians have variously proffered solutions to the crisis of state and the application of the solutions has been sinisterly truncated by those who think that they stand to benefit from a system that is decrepit, unsustainable and killing the country. Federalism is enabling for rule of law, social justice and development. If we are desirous of developing from the current state of inertia, we must embrace federalism.
Relatedly, we are still reliving and indeed witnessing the beauty of federalism especially in the United States whose constitution inspired aspects of our state structure and dramatises the merits of the system. State governments in their autonomous sphere have averted the emergence of a dictator in that country, and the rule of law is operationalising itself in the country’s electoral system that the world is watching at the moment. These are some of the benefits of federalism from which Nigeria stands to gain if properly engrossed and implemented as part of the political culture of our dear country. All told, the diversity of our country in both linguistic and cultural dimensions are such that we cannot run away from the path of federalism. If we do today for strange reasons, people in authority should note that we would always return to it. We have dithered for too long. We can’t run a federation without genuine features of federalism. That is the voice of reason the Buhari administration should listen to at this moment to save Nigeria from coming to harm in his time.