By Law Mefor
Unitary Nigeria is essentially a military legacy for the country has always been a federal environment. Colonial Britain recognized this fact since the 30s. Thus Bernard Bourdillon, the Governor-general at that time initiated and laid the foundation of federalism in Nigeria in 1939 by creating three provinces. He later handed over the draft constitution to his successor Arthur Richards and it became the Richards Constitution of 1946.
Federalism as a system of distributing power between national and state governments progressed in Nigeria since then, until the military coup of January 1966 when the military imposed a unitary system in Nigeria. The concept of federalism is embodied in the 1999 Constitution, which refers to the division and sharing of power between the national and state governments.
But the powers allotted to the states in the 1999 constitution are on the fringes and almost trivial matters. All the powers for economic development and security are on the exclusive list, such as electricity, police, solid minerals, fiscal federalism, ports, rails, State Assembly and LG autonomy, and many more.
The nation’s economy cannot be effectively tackled by the federal government alone. Nigeria is in a peculiar mess essentially for two reasons, namely, toxic leadership (the type provided by the Buhari administration) and an unworkable structure. The carrying capacities of the leading presidential candidates will be taken up in a different article because the present treatise is looking at the real challenges facing Nigeria and how the leading candidates are positioned to take on them.
Everything rises and falls on leadership, and it will take an exceptional leader to reset the country. To begin with, Nigeria’s federation is skewed right from independence. This contrived imbalance was however fairly contained by the seeming true federalism practiced in the first republic, which allowed the four regions to take care of their growth and development. However, the military incursions into the nation’s governance space transformed the country from a thriving federal system to a unitary system, with almost all the powers meant for the development of the federating units tied in the exclusive list of the unitary 1999 constitution. Unlike what obtains in functional federal systems, power, security, railways, ports, LG and state assembly autonomy, solid minerals, and so on are all on the Exclusive List that is reserved for the federal government of Nigeria. This has turned the country into a unitary system in a federal environment with over 250 ethnic nationalities bunched together by sheer force.
This makes Nigeria federal only in name. For example, the claim that the power sector has been privatised is also a ruse since the federal government is still holding 100% of transmission, one of the three components of power, and 40% of generation, yet another component. In a federal system, federating units generate their electricity and distribute it, and yet, this is not permitted in Nigeria.
On security, of all 26 countries of the world practicing federalism, only Nigeria runs a centralised police system. No surprise that security has failed woefully in Nigeria, with terrorists and bandits running amok and operating freely and attacking even the federal capital territory.
The point being stressed here is that none of the three leading candidates can resolve the nation’s dire condition unless he is ready to take on resetting the nation’s dysfunctional structure from unitary back to federalism as the numero uno priority. And doing so will take quite a lot. It will take deep negotiations and statesmanship. There has to be an immediate revisiting of Goodluck Jonathan’s 2014 Confab report, which has over 600 prescriptions, and the El-Rufai committee report of restructuring, which also has several overarching recommendations, for the resetting of the Nigerian nation-state.
One has carefully followed the positions being canvassed by the three major candidates to see who is positioned and committed to the restoration of federalism. APC’s candidate has never said anything in that direction. Tinubu has rather harped on continuing from where President Muhammadu Buhari stops, and Buhari has resisted all attempts to move Nigeria away from its present unitary structure to federalism. Apart from archiving Jonathan’s Confab report, Buhari has also rejected the El-Rufai committee report on restructuring. Tinubu saying Emilokan and promising to continue from where Buhari stops simply means there will not be such deep and radical constitutional change under his watch as President.
Peter Obi has made some statements signifying his inclination to restore Nigeria to federalism through the devolution of powers. However, like Tinubu, Obi has avoided the word – restructuring – like a plague, ostensibly not to alarm regions of the country benefiting from the present skewed unitary structure that has crippled the country.
Restructuring Nigeria means renegotiating and rebasing the nation completely. Since resetting Nigeria should be the first task for the incoming president if he will succeed, it is important to weigh who among the three can push it through to set the stage for unity, economic recovery, and development. For the avoidance of doubt, resetting Nigeria here means restructuring, and restructuring means restoring Nigeria to federalism. If still in doubt, restoring Nigeria to federalism or restructuring simply means returning the powers enjoyed by the regions to the states of the federation that are today the federating units.
The route to this restoration in a democracy is through the legislature and grand constitutional amendment. It is a tortuous path because amending any clause in the 1999 constitution would require 2/3rds of both arms of the national assembly and a minimum of 24 state assemblies to concur. In both considerations and going by how the country is reconfigured by the colonial masters and variegated military regimes, the north holds the key and can make or mar it.
Who then among the three can gain the confidence and understanding of the north to vote in favour and restore the country to federalism, move the country to nationhood, and restore unity, growth, and development if not Atiku Abubakar? The future of Nigeria hangs on it.
· Mefor, a forensic/social psychologist, is a fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought and can be reached via 09130335723 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @DrLawMefor