Imperative of restructuring the federation before the general election
By Nnanna Egwu
It has become pertinent to advise the APC- led Federal Government to make haste to restructure the Federation before the 2019 general election.
The British colonial masters had confided in the Northern oligarchy early in the life of the nation that military power was the surest route to political and economic power, and if they lost it, they would be doomed. Invariably, the Northern dominated military officers perfected the Northern hold on political power in Nigeria by crafting the 1999 Nigerian military supervised constitution, which could best be described as Federal/Military contraption.
The imbalance which the imperfect constitution created in the political institutions like the creation of states and local governments and the national assembly is duly safeguarded by the 1999 quasi federal constitution.
The provisions made any desired amendment to the constitution very cumbersome. This is a major source of conflict in our economic, socio-political management. The configuration of the imperfect constitution gave the North undue economic and political advantages, thus being a serious threat to the fragile unity and co-operate existence of the country.
The consequences of the plethora of anomalies has made restructuring of the federation a desideratum to correct the imbalances to assuage the cries of marginalisation by other constituent Ethnic Nationalities that make up the Federation. The ugly state of affairs triggered the Olusegun Obasanjo 2005 National Political Conference and Goodluck Jonathan 2014 National Conference. Those who still stand opposed to this great idea are inadvertently courting the disintegration of the country.
The course of socio-economic and political events has occasioned that the North is no longer monolithic. The eyes of the minorities of the Middle Belt, now referred to as the “North Central geo-political zone” are opened and they are determined more than ever, to fight for their independence. Equally true, the minorities of the South are prepared to go to war for the same reasons. All the ethnic nationalities are determined to pursue their socio economic and political aspirations and exploit their God-given natural resources to create wealth and employment for their people. One thing is however clear, that every ethnic nationality is part and parcel of the country, and wishes to remain so, and is therefore entitled to its opinion on national issues, and to have freedom to realise it’s destiny. It is time to have a people-oriented constitution fashioned after the 1960-1963 independent/ republican constitutions. Competitive federalism is what is needed to advance the fortunes of the diverse people that make up the country. The federal/unitary practice propped up by the 1999 military – imposed constitution has been a severe constraining factor in national growth and development.
Here lies the imperative need of restructuring the federation to release the dormant potentialities of the ethnic nationalities caged by the 1999 contraption. The pattern of creation of local government system in the 1999 constitution is fraud. It was designed by the military to favour the North in the delineation of federal constituencies and allocation of the Federation Account. The North has a total of 417 local government councils and the South just 350. The distribution of local government councils stemmed from the military political equation and not based on any known scientific indices like population. There was no moral justification in allocating 44 local government councils to Kano State and 20 to Lagos State, since the population of Lagos is more than that of Kano State.
The inherent advantages in the lopsided structures make the Northern oligarchy to kick against the restructuring of the federation. They stridently rejected all the national conferences where the grievances of other ethnic nationalities would have been thrashed out and peace made to reign in the country.
Constitution amendment in the National Assembly is almost impossible because of the lopsided structures which give the North undue advantage in the National Assembly on any deliberation and law-making that does not favour them.
Chief F.R.A. Williams of the blessed memory had described the 1999 constitution as a “false document, which tells a lie about itself”. The legal luminary explained that the 1999 constitution is false because, although it was in truth and in fact, imposed upon the country by the military, the constitution falsely declared that it was made by “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.” Yet the Northern establishment is tenaciously holding unto it because it confers great advantages and privileges unto them at the detriment of the Southerners. I wonder what would have been the stand of the Northern hegemonic phalanx if the constitution was crafted to favour the South. Your guess is as good as mine. Going by the anger in the Southern part of the country, those who stand opposed to restructuring the federation to achieve equity and justice to all the federating ethnic nationalities are inadvertently plotting the disintegration of the federation. The balkanization of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are still fresh and should be borne in mind.
Unfortunately, there are not many options left for us, other than to allow dialogue in a fresh national conference organised by APC government. This is the most realistic option since we cannot rely on the National Assembly as presently constituted, to fashion a truly federal constitution. The National Assembly was unduly manipulated by the Northern – dominated military to give the North an undue strength in the National Assembly, and therefore the ongoing constitution amendment remains a make believe.
One could assert that the intractable socio- economic and political problems of this country started with the cannibalization of the regions by the military and replacing them with states and mushroom local government councils, as a deliberate effort to create a unified central Administration in governance, which the North is the ultimate direct beneficiary. Well-meaning Nigerians would like to go back to the “Old Path” of the 1963 Republican Constitution, which remains the original federal constitution agreed upon by the founding fathers of Nigerian independence.
The slight amendment will be for the six geo-political zones to be transformed into six regions, which should be regional governments. The local government councils as presently constituted should be scrapped and the states changed to provinces and made the third-tier of government. The provinces will then be at liberty to use the present structures of the disbanded local government councils as administrative units, but without direct allocation from the Federation Account for their operations. The regions would become the federating units, and the Federal House of Representatives should be de-centralised and allowed to operate as Regional House of Representatives. This type of structure if adopted would reduce the cost of governance in the country drastically.
Provincial Assemblies would set up Community Development Councils at the community and urban levels. The communities would be encouraged to run their affairs in line with “clear- provincial rules” and under its supervision. The Community Development Councils (Town Union) do not require permanent staffing, but just voluntary undertakings with marginal remuneration in form of allowances by the provincial government. The provincial government should fund projects in the communities. Voluntary donations will augment the government funding as a way of encouraging community development.
The clarion calls for restructuring the federation stemmed from the fact that the 1999 Constitution concentrates too much power in the hands of the Federal Government to the detriment of the federating units, thus rendering these levels of government less- autonomous. There should be substantial devolution of powers to the sub-national governments to enhance the operation of true federalism, with federating units exploring and exploiting the natural and mineral resources within their domain. The neglect of the principle of true federalism is responsible for the fierce struggle of the political class to secure political power at the centre and was the main attraction for military intervention in governance.” In a paper I presented in a two day workshop organised by the Anambra state government on 19 -20th September, 2003 for appointed political office holders and permanent secretaries I contended that the numerous conflicts and crises of socio-economic, religious and political spheres in the country are the precipitates of the absence of a true federal constitution that addresses the national questions, defines the nature and sphere of political authority and power, provides for the autonomy of the constituent units of the federation, and guarantees the rights of citizen in the context of a larger democratic frame work.”
Dr. Nnanna Egwu, a management consultant and public affairs analyst wrote from Awka.