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MUCH ADO ABOUT “TRUE FEDERALISM”

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For some time now “true Federalism” has been hyped as the cure-all panacea for Nigeria's underdevelopment. The protagonists - mostly Southerners - point to examples like USA, Germany and Switzerland, conveniently forgetting that our history, ethnic heterogeneity and sense of nationhood are quite different negating direct transplantation of the American model.

In the United States all Americans are indigenes of whatever state they live and work regardless of their ancestry or state of birth. Consequently Barack Obama who originally hails from Hawaii adopted Chicago as his home town and became an Illinois senator. Jeb Bush who is Texan by birth became governor of Florida. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a naturalized citizen who is not even an “indigene” of America became governor of America's richest state - California.

In Nigeria on the other hand, institutionalized discrimination against non-indigenes is the norm. Indigene-settler dichotomy has even led to violent clashes in some Northern states notably Plateau and Kaduna.

Non-indigenes are rarely employed by state governments. Even in Federal establishments there is institutionalized discrimination in favour of indigenes. In state owned educational institutions non-indigenes pay higher fees and are discriminated against in admission to choice courses.

In effect state governments behave as if they are only responsible for indigenes rather than all Nigerians resident within the state. This misconception of their constitutional obligation to all Nigerians resident within the state, informed the abominable unconstitutionality of some states deporting non-indigenes to their presumed states of origin.

Sometime last year both Plateau and Lagos states expelled some non-indigenes to their presumed states of origin. Fulanis were “deported” from Bassa LGA to neighbouring states, while Lagos state deported some northerners to Kaduna. Similarly Niger state prompted the Federal government to shut down the Dar-ul Islam commune and deport its peaceful law-abiding citizens to their states of origin.

With such prevalent abuse of the limited powers states now enjoy, it would be disastrous to further empower them in the name of true Federalism. Nigeria is just not mature enough as a nation since we are wracked by invidious ethno-religious schisms. Until we do away with this divisive indigene/settler dichotomy that is inimical to our nationhood, we have no business talking about American type “true federalism”. Otherwise we risk aggravating the ethno-religious conflicts that plague our troubled nation.

The apostles of “true federalism” showcase the first republic with its powerful regions as a success story. If the first republic was so perfect, why was there a revolt against it as per the 1966 coup d'etat? Why did it collapse?

In the first republic, the regions were so strong that Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa who was supposed to be the commander-in-chief actually took orders from the Northern Premier Ahmadu Bello. This was definitely not healthy for the political development of our then nascent nation, and was one the reasons that prompted the Nzeogwu coup.

At the Aburi accord in Ghana, Ojukwu compounded matters with the outrageous demand of what sounded like a confederation. Even the United States - poster nation of Nigeria's “true federalists” - rejected confederacy and fought a civil war against it just as we did in the late 1960s.

The declaration of Biafra and subsequent civil war confirmed the worst fears about the danger that “true federalism” portends in a multi-ethnic nation like Nigeria bedeviled by unhealthy ethnic rivalry and conflicts.

It is highly unlikely that Imo or Ebonyi state in today's Nigeria can secede, but Eastern Nigeria could do it because of the powers and autonomy enjoyed by the regions in the first republic.

And it wasn't just Eastern Nigeria that had secessionist ambitions. Some Yorubas considered it when the then NCNC/NPC federal government instigated a violent upheaval in the West.

Similarly, many Northerners including some of Gowon's fellow coupists toyed with the idea in response to the 1966 Igbo coup that decapitated northern political leadership. Not to forget the Northern Premier Ahmadu Bello's threat to pull the North out of Naija if Southerners united to form a government in the first republic.

It was these disuniting and destabilizing centrifugal tendencies of the all-powerful regions that prompted both Ironsi and Gowon administrations to whittle down the power of the regions by first instituting unitary rule then breaking them up into smaller states. Whatever modest achievement in the first republic was not because of the hyped “true federalism”, but because Awo, Zik, Balewa, Opara & Sardauna were not thieves like IBB, Abacha, OBJ, Ibori and Odili.

Those agitating for state police in the name of true Federalism can already see some of the ugly consequences in Kano where the unconstitutional state Sharia police routinely harasses law-abiding non-indigenes operating beer parlours, destroying trucks/shipments of alcoholic drinks and legitimate means of livelihood.

With “true federalism”, such abuse and misuse of state police against supposedly troublesome non-indigenes could worsen particularly in states like Plateau with recurring ethno-religious indigene/settler clashes. Jang and his fellow Plateau irredentists would definitely find state police useful in their fratricidal feud with Jihadist Hausa-Fulanis.

Furthermore, state police can be used by the incumbent administration to intimidate political opponents and hijack electoral machinery. Such abuses already occur even with the Federal police and would be aggravated with “true federalism”.

Then there is hype about 50% derivation which I debunked in a previous write-up – "The Fallacy of 50% Derivation". Methinks this unreasonable agitation by some Southerners is largely to spite we “parasitic” northerners who insist on discriminatory religious law (Sharia), and massacre southerners during incessant religious violence up here in the North, thereby making our southern compatriots feel unwelcome in Arewa.

One can't blame our southern compatriots for thinking this way. The northern Islamist establishment whose abhorrence of secularism stokes religious extremism that sometimes erupts in violence, has only itself to blame.

The absurd allegation that northerners are parasites holds no water. Just because our enormous agricultural output which dwarfs that of the South doesn't fetch dollars like the crude oil which Southerners do not work for, does not mean we should be insulted as “lazy parasites”. With its proven natural gas reserves and solid mineral deposits, the north could well be Nigeria's future when crude oil dries up or is no longer the prized commodity it is today.

Akwa Ibom, which currently has highest oil derivation earnings with a monthly allocation almost as much as the entire North central zone, doesn't even produce a drop of crude oil. Thanks to unfair offshore derivation earnings, which is in violation of our constitution as pronounced by the Supreme Court in 2002. International maritime law confers the 200 mile territorial waters on Nigeria as a sovereign nation, not on any littoral federating unit.

Other littoral Niger Delta states similarly shortchange the rest of Naija as much of their excessive revenue is also unconstitutional off-shore derivation. Consequently, the oil producing states consume nearly half of all state revenue allocations.

50% derivation is just not tenable in a 36 state structure with our monoculture crude oil economy. Most of the so-called states are too small to be economically viable. Our underproductive sham economy would have to be diversified away from oil into manufacturing/agriculture; and our polity restructured into no more than 10 larger economically viable federating units with the number of local governments markedly pruned down.

This would free up funds for capital development, rather than the current situation where a disproportionally large chunk of revenue allocations goes to running 36 state and 774 LGA corrupt money-guzzling bureaucracies headed by thieving politicians.

Corrupt inept leadership is Nigeria's main problem not federalism. 50% derivation would not have made Ibori or Odili better governors but would have made them bigger thieves. We need a revolution to dethrone the present corrupt inept ruling class and develop our own unique federalism that caters to our peculiar development challenges rather than blindly ape America.

Nafata Bamaguje

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Articles by Nafata Bamaguje