HAVE STATES REACHED THEIR ZENITH?
A debate on a revision from statism to regionalism is raging like wild fire. CHIDI OBINECHE examines both sides of the coin.
President Francois Duvaher, the then president of Haiti (fondly called Papa Doc, by his people) in a rare comment on the union of Nigeria, on March 22, 1969 had this to say 'Federal Nigeria has never since her independence shown the distinctive mark of a united Nation. It has been impossible for her to silence tribal rivalries, to achieve that mixture of ethnic/cultural blend required to forge National unity.'
Recently, a leading pan-Northern thinker and lawyer, Prof. Auwalu Yadudu, called for the abrogation of states, pointing out that 'statism has reached its zenith'. Yadudu, who was the late head of state, Gen Sani Abacha's Special Adviser on Legal Matters, bemoaned the rot statism has visited on his side of the wobbly union 'We have lost our cultural cohesion through it and our voice. Unfortunately for the North, we had more development in the days of the region than now'.
Yadudu is not alone here. A leading technocrat and former 'super' permanent Secretary, Chief P.C. Asiodu had equally suggested a return to regionalism, as a panacea to the stunted economic growth of the nation and a vent for political stability and financial vibrancy. He described the creation of states in 1966 as an exercise in political expediency which was merely designed to break the rebellion in the East.
In the South-west, virtually all the leading voices in the zone are canvassing for a return to a refurbished lose regionalism with a proposed economic integration. Five out of six States are rooting for the idea.
In the South East, the idea has become a fad amongst leading politicians and economic juggernauts. But for the opposition of Ebonyi State governor, Chief Martins Elechi, the programme would have long taken root.
The South-south zone is not left out in the melee.
Recently a conference on the idea was held in Asaba, the Delta State capital. So, there is an aggregate consensus among Nigerians on the way to go, which is the polling of human and material resources together as a zone to further cultural, economic, social and political integration. According to former Anambra state governor Dr. Chukwu-emeka Ezeife, 'the 36 states are unviable'. The stench could be felt in the large scale borrowing from banks and other lending institutions by majority of the governors, and the unabating controversies of revenue allocation formulae. Only recently, the Northern governors forum called for the abrogation of the 13 per cent oil revenue formulae currently enjoyed by oil producing states, and a revision of the entire process to accommodate 'other interests'.
Some proponents of the return to regionalism anchored their arguments on the failure of successive governments in Nigeria to convoke a Sovereign National Conference (SNC) that will discuss the myriads of problems confronting the nation, and find a lasting solution. Lending his voice to the debate, First Republic Minister of Aviation, Chief Mbazulike Amaechi has this to say. 'As a surviving apostle of Nnamdi Azikiwe, my advice to the leaders and politicians is to immediately arrange a National Conference that will be truly representative of every arm of the society, the tribes, the regions, labour, women, youth, and religious organizations, business, the media, traditional rulers, elders, etc to sit in frankness and mutual respect and fashion out a fair and balanced basis for UNION or decide to part ways in peace, if they think that the basis for staying together is no longer there. A deeply fundamental conference like this should not be left for the National Assembly for they will be tempted to approach the issue from a subjective angle and they are not truly representative of all interests.'
The evolving situation has left a fluid and balanced appreciation of the swinging of the pendulum. While the zones are in frenetic race to re-enact the zonal unions as in the past, the federal government, which by all intents and purposes is constitutionally bound to act as catalyst is playing the game of the hornbill. This indifference has therefore cast a doubt on the realization of the objective as many view the ongoing consensual race as puny and an exercise in futility.
On the baseline, the new resurgence has opened not just a new vista, but a disturbing can of worms on the state of the nation. It has raised pertinent questions on the survival of the states, whose debt conundrum has hit three trillion naira mark. It has reviewed the political incorrectness of the past, and regenerated a new vision imbued with zeal, impetus and the wherewithal for survival. Again, is the new drive, propelled by ennobling values and character? Or is it fuelled by the Nigerian past time of bandwagonism and flight of fancy? These are issues that regurgitate in the minds of the people, as the nation once again sits on the precipe, confused about the way forward.
Impact on Unity
The poser on the lips of many people is a proper evaluation of Nigeria's strives under regionalism and statism. For some, statism did indeed unleash the boxed- up energies of the people for accelerated development, brought governance nearer the people, indeed, created an ambience of a workable union as in the United States of America, Canada, and India.
For others, statism has dwarfed the potentials of the nation, elevated ethnic differences and broken economic and social cleavages and bonds. Former head of state, General Yakubu Gowon in blaze trailing the creation of states in 1967, in a broadcast said '…. suffice it to say that putting all considerations to test, political, economic, as well as social, the basis for unity is no longer there. It has been so badly shaken, not once but several times'.
How then, when situated against the new background does the new thrust protect the unity of the nation, and create a common understanding amongst the people? As the nation is faced with deepening sectarian and religious crises, the months ahead will mark the road to toe.