Dr. 'Layi Abegunrin, Department of Political Science, Howard University provides additional views on how to sustain Nigerian federalism
Federalism presupposes that the national and states/or regional governments should stand to each other in a relation of meaningful autonomy resting upon a balanced division of powers and resources. Each state/or region must have power and resources sufficient to support the structure of a functioning government, able to stand and compete on its own against the others. In today's Nigeria, inter-ethnic intolerance has reached its peak and become endemic. Consequently, the nationalities within the Nigerian state are mutually distrustful of each other and there are many evidences from such festering issues as the violence in the Niger Delta areas, the ethnic clashes in many of the northern and Middle-Belt states, and insecurity all-over the country, the unresolved debate over the sharia question, and the call for resources control by the southern states. In light of all these crises and mutual distrust among all of us Nigerians, there is definitely a need for the Nigerian nationalities to enjoy state autonomy while uniting with each other through true federal government exercising some basic powers, and running some common services. Our union and cooperation should be based on devolution of power and resource control to the regions. True federalism, fiscal federalism, and restructuring of all our national institutions through a sovereign national conference are imperative. There is a need to revisit and restructure our present association we call "Nigeria." Since the independence the northern led military and their political class had dominated the political power and economic resources of the country, this is supposed to be a federal arrangement. Why then should one section of the country be in control at all or most of the time? Professor Sagay said "Political domination and economic centralization has characterized the current arrangement in Nigeria since 1966." Chief Obafemi Awolowo warned against the inherent dangers in the present structure of the Nigerian federation and said:
"If a country is uni-lingual and uni-national, the constitution must be unitary.
If a country is uni-lingual or bi-lingual or multi-lingual and also consist
of communities, which over a period of years, have developed divergent
nationalities, the constitution must be federal and the constituent states must
be organized on the dual basis of language and nationality. If a country is
bi-lingual or multi-lingual, the constitution must be federal and the constituent
states must be organized on a linguistic basis. Any experiment with a unitary
Constitution in a bi-lingual or multi-national country must fail in the long run,"
(Obafemi Awolowo, Path to Nigerian Freedom, 1949, pp. 48-49)
Nigeria is a nation within nations. With about 450 ethnic groups, unitary constitution/system cannot solve Nigerian problems, but genuine federalism. And with our chaotic situations since the end of the civil war, we should convene a sovereign
national conference to restructure the Nigerian polity. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo underscored the seriousness of a national conference in 1998 before declaring his intention to run in 1999 presidential election and said, "Every Nigerian has a stake in the survival and prosperity of the country. This stake should be recognized, no section or group should be made to feel disenfranchised or alienated. The obstacles to voluntary and enthusiastic identification with Nigerians should be removed. I believe this can be achieved through open dialogue among the constituents of the Nigerian Federation" (The Guardian, Lagos, November 3, 1998). Obasanjo went further and said, "Nigeria was taken captive by conspiracy of deception, oppression, corruption and injustice all for greed and selfishness and it needs liberation. Nigeria is too fragile and the situation is too dangerous for anything but the truth and justice and too small for anything but brotherhood and sisterhood. And the world is moving fast that it may leave us behind," (Olusegun Obasanjo, This Animal Called Man, 1998, p. 219). This was Obasanjo the retired General, but since he has been elected and sworn in as Obasanjo the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he has retreated from his original statements of 1998.
After the April 2003 presidential election, Obasanjo has forced out his opposition to a national conference when he claimed that, "Nigerians do not need national conference if genuinely what they want is to be part of Nigeria. They want fairness, justice and whatever is given other parts of Nigeria is given to everybody. There is a platform in my
Party the PDP to achieve all these." Now Obasanjo is carrying out the platform of his party, the PDP by organizing the "Conference for Political Reform," and loaded it with his hand picked PDP loyalists. President Obasanjo is out of touch with the voice of reason in Nigeria, and the reality on the ground. These hand-picked party members will not be acceptable to decide the Nigerians' future. What Nigeria needs is a Sovereign National Conference with elected representatives of Nigerian ethnic Nationalities. All ethnic groups must be represented either big or small.
Some of the contributors to this forum have pointed out the importance of Nigeria in Africa and in World affairs, and of A Pan-African Agenda for the National Conference. First of all we should not forget that charity begins at home. Our priority and number one national interest is the protection and security of our citizens; and stability, peace and survival of Nigeria as a sovereign nation. When our country is not stable, secure and at peace at home, how do we contribute to Pan-African Agenda and be respected and be able to maximize the power of Pan-Africanism? As a people, our interest should be to have maximum opportunity for individual and community development without let or hindrance. We need an enabling socio-political environment that provides the best opportunity to individuals for self-actualization and fulfillment so as to unleash their creative energies for development and transformation of the local and regional communities and the national polity as a whole, which will help us continue to contribute to Pan-African Agenda.
Is true, Nigeria has made important contributions in African continental affairs, starting with the Nigerian troops serving in the United Nations peace keeping operations in the Congo in 1960, sent her troops to help put down army mutiny in Tanzanian in 1964. The Nigerian government made moral, materials and financial contributions to the liberation
of Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and the end of apartheid system in the
Republic of South Africa (Olayiwola Abegunrin, Nigeria and the Struggle for the Liberation of Zimbabwe:Š, 1992, PP. 78-123). The nation's troops were sent for peace keeping operations in Liberia, Sierra Leone and currently her troops are serving in the Darfur Region of the Western Sudan to rein in peace in that part of Africa. Nigerian troops have served in peace keeping operations not only in Africa but also in the Middle East- Cyprus and Lebanon and in Central Europe- Bosnia. Nigeria would continue her active role in African affairs and as a leader in Pan-Africa Agenda and respected in the World affairs, if she could keep her house in order domestically through a stable and secured true federal system of government.
Thus, for Nigeria to continue making these contributions and respected and accepted as the giant of Africa she has claimed to be, we need new arrangements of a genuine Federalism that will allow us and future generations to renew our faith in a union whose spirit had been severely wounded. The structural problems that have bedeviled Nigeria since the 1914 amalgamation in the name of British crown have not been resolved. If today, Britain, the former colonial overlord and creator of Nigeria, is talking of autonomy with its constituent nationalities: the Welsh, Scottish and Irish in this twenty-first century, obviously, Nigeria needs to see the handwriting on the wall. With the current situation Nigeria cannot survive (should not continue) as quasi-federal country, but as a complete federal state with full autonomy for the regions. According to K.C. Wheare, "Federal Government is an association of states, which has been formed for certain common purposes, but in which the member states retain a large measure of their original independence," (C.K. Wheare, Federal Government, 1946, p. 1). Under the current federal government in Nigeria, all power is centralized, and the states/or regions do not have any control over their resources, or police. Nigeria's economic development, political stability, security and peace depend on extending the freedom, benefits and choice of autonomy to each ethnic nationality within the country.
Under a new arrangement, the regions, or geo-political zones or whatever you call it should be allowed full fiscal autonomy and be free to manage their economy within the limit of their resources. Every state or region at the present stage of development needs its revenue to carry out much needed development projects. Professor Pius Okigbo gave an insight to this problem and warned that, "Any attempt to subsidize and give grants to each unit of the federation without due consultation with and approval of the so-called, well-to-do sections of the country will lead to abuse of power in the center, interstate animosities and feuds, as well as charges of favoritism," (Pius Okigbo, Nigerian Public Finance, 1965). Since the military came to power in January 1966, sectionalism, nepotism, ethnicity and political favorism had been rampant in Nigeria. On the issue of revenue allocation, the land belongs to the people, and there is no sovereignty, but the people, therefore, each region within the Federation of Nigeria should be empowered to levy taxes on its own people for its economic development projects as needed. A sovereign national conference should come up with a constitution that will develop cooperative, competitive and innovative federalism that respects the universal norms in intergovernmental relations, transparency, accountability, justice and mutual confidence, respect and trust.
Some of the states created by the military regimes are not viable, thus, there is a need for boundary adjustment. The classical authorities in political economy have emphasized that the land and including all that it contains belong to the people. Therefore, it is imperative that the 1978 land use decree by the former military administration of General Obasanjo should be abolished. People should and must have right to use their lands the way they want for their own benefits.
If there is no struggle there is no progress, and nations are built out of struggle and ours will not be different. Thus, in restructuring the Nigerian institutions, a new orientation should be included to establish discipline and enforce it at all levels of our society. Nigerians from all walks of life should respect the rule of laws and be a society of laws and order. Let no one be afraid of diversity. We all should be Nigerians because we want to be Nigerians, not because we are forced to be Nigerians. Therefore, for Nigerian state to survive, prosper and restore her purpose, it must be restructured, and this is our chance to establish an acceptable peoples' constitution for political stability, security, economic development, peace and progress. Therefore, a sovereign national conference is imperative, and is the viable option for our survival, peace, stability and sustainable development of Nigeria.
Unless, we have an appropriately constituted sovereign national conference by representatives of all ethnic nationalities (i.e. regardless of the number or seize of each ethnic group, all must be represented to voice their views), and all concerned interest groups (civil society, civil rights and women organizations, labor unions, student organizations etc), within the country; the various nagging issues holding Nigeria like an albatross won't be resolved. The final document agreed upon at the national conference should be put before the Nigerian people for a national referendum. People should decide their own constitution, and it should not be imposed on the people. It should be Nigerian constitution and Nigerians should decide its shape.