Zoning, Fiscal Federalism, Panacea To Nigeria’s Power Problem
Let me first of all; thank the organizers of this seminar, The Anambra State traditional Rulers Council, under the chairmanship of His Royal Majesty Agbogidi Eze Dr. Alfred Achebe CFR. I am particularly honoured to speak at such gathering that has the finest traditional rulers as audience, it is a rare privilege. This is a gathering of royalty.
Your inviting me to this forum is not only a mark of royal recognition but very significant as it offers me the unique opportunity to speak out on one of the most peculiar political credentials of Anambra State that has made it the light of the Nation. As a matter of fact, when I reflect on the intimidating political credentials of Anambra State, I feel so proud and happy to be counted among a people who in all ramifications, have always decided to be ahead of others. Therefore, today’s seminar is a confirmation that our revered Traditional Rulers are well ahead of others and we are very happy for that. NdiEze, ekenemunu.
Essentially, the organizers of this seminar have outlined the theme of the seminar to be ‘’POLITICAL POWER ZONING FOR PEACEFUL ELECTIONS AND ALL INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY IN ANAMBRA STATE’’, while the objective of the seminar is: to expose the traditional rulers to some of the social, cultural and economic problems which the Nigerian Democracy is Facing and thereby equip the participant to deal with these problems whenever they arise; therefore, my speech will focus on these issues.
Nigeria have had a checkered and sour history, ranging from colonialism, military regime, neo-colonialism, political power puzzle, and the issue of which region gets what, when and how, especially as it concerns the distribution of the common wealth of the Nation.
As I ponder on today’s event, I remember with great euphoria that one striking beauty of democracy is the glamour and solidity of majority rule in which the greater number of the people participate in the decision making process of the system. Hence, de-emphasizing majority rule is a strong negation of democracy and an attempt to deprive the society that unalienable privilege. However, there is also, the other side of the coin in this discourse...’because the classical democracy oversimplified its essence to the exaltation of the tyranny of the majority and to the chagrin of the oppressed minority’. Thus it is the effort to diminish the tyranny of the majority that people came up with various ideas of which consensus democracy and zoning of political power, etc. are part of.
Nigeria’s multi-faceted problems can be encapsulated into economic, cultural, religious and political, but I am of the opinion, that if we can be able to get our politics right, the others will follow suit, this is because, no Nation can be able to achieve meaningful national development if the polity is corrosive, structurally imbalanced and defective, no matter the amount of abundant resources at its disposal.
As Nigeria’s nascent democracy advances, the key towards its sustainability in a multi ethnic society as ours, is to build the necessary structures that will stand as pillars capable of entrenching the basic tenets of democratic rule, such pillars must include the structure of our system of government, it must be one that will suit and recognize the diversity and behavior of the people that make up the entire Nation. A highly diversified nation as ours, must adopt a suitable system of government that only promote the advantages of its diversity, rather than exploit the disadvantages associated with such diversity.
For the purpose of today’s seminar, my speech will be tailored on one of the most vexed issues in Nigeria; the issue of zoning Political offices between the six zones, I will critically examine the issue of zoning in a broader perspective in the first aspect of my speech, before I discuss about zoning in Anambra State.
The concept of Zoning
Let me start by explaining what zoning is all about, of course my understanding or definition of zoning will be based on my background as a an active political activist. In other words, it shall be based on political framework rather than an academic view. I must confess that I am not an academic in the real sense of the word.
Number one, Zoning is a political arrangement, it has nothing to do with the populace or the electorates, at best, it is practiced and executed by politicians. Number two, Zoning is man-made (at least in the Nigerian context), it is a gentleman agreement that political power should alternate among the various components of the Nation, i.e. between the north and south, it is a concept that says what is good for the goose is also good for the gander, in other words, what is good for the north, is also good for the south. Thirdly, zoning is a common sense thing- for example, it is no longer news that the next president will still emerge from the north, ceteris paribus (like the economist usually say), it will be obviously foolhardy for a region to rule for 2 consecutive terms and still agitate for a president from the same region, therefore, zoning is a common sense concept where you need not to be told that once your zone completes its 2 terms, the next zone should be allowed to occupy power for the same period. Number four, zoning can be altered by natural occurrences, for example, the military scuttled the NPN zoning arrangement in 1983, where an Igbo or a president from the southern extraction was billed to emerge after the 2nd term of President Shehu Shagari, GCFR. Again president Umaru Musa Yar’dua, GCFR (may his soul rest in peace), died in office prompting the take-over by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, GCFR from the south, halting the PDP zoning arrangement. So, zoning can be altered by natural occurrences that man has no control of. Lastly, zoning is only a temporary solution to the political power problem in Nigeria. Severally, I have been posed with the question, do you believe in zoning? And my reply was straight, yes with a caveat- it is a temporary solution. The power puzzle in Nigeria cannot be permanently solved with zoning, but zoning is the first step towards ensuring that the right atmosphere is set in motion towards unzoning political offices in the land.
It was the legendary and charismatic Dr. K.O Mbadiwe, the bombastic man of words of blessed memory who introduced the zoning lexicon into the Nigerian politics, and I dare to say, he quite understood the limits of zoning; in his words in 1982, K.O Mbadiwe said and I quote ‘’zoning is a pragmatic and necessary policy, we have zoned to unzone’’.
Zoning to unzone was Mbadiwe’s unique way of describing a formula of accommodation for the distribution of power in the land. It was a transitory measure towards national unity, it was of course, an internal Party politics, not a national policy, neither was it a constitutional arrangement, it was no doubt subject to reconsideration. In other words, it was not considered a permanent policy.
What then is the real solution to the power problem in Nigeria?
Let no one deceive you, the solution to the political power problem in Nigeria is to return back to status quo, there was a workable federal system in Nigeria before the invasion of the military men who reduced the federal system in Nigeria to a mere ‘’unitary system’’ where excessive powers were domiciled at the center.
The federal arrangement as presently constituted will at all times encourage ethnic, religious, and political crisis; every region wants to have a taste of the center, why is it so?, there is no need beating about the bush, the center is too powerful, the center is vested with too many powers, responsibilities and control.
This present arrangement was not only designed to fan the embers of ethnic, religious and political crisis but designed to foster the interest of the elites-the ruling class. If no pragmatic step is taken to address and change the current political arrangement, mass revolution looms in this country.
It is a truism that the various states that make up the federation are no longer viable, apart from Lagos, Rivers state, and maybe one or two other states, that is if there is any, no other state can stand on its own without monthly allocation from the center, but I must commend Anambra State Government under Governor Willie Obiano, there is a significant increase in the IGR drive of the state. It is very troubling that despite federal allocations, states still find it difficult to pay basic salaries; the ones that are able to carry out huge capital project are debt ridden as a result of huge borrowings to finance such projects.
What then is the need to have 36 states that only maintain the Governors and their paraphernalia of office?
It is disheartening as it is also an aberration where you have 36 states were the Governors move on long convoy, thousands of aides, billions of security votes, while the workers are owed backlog salaries and allowances, some more than 14 months’ salary arrears, talk less of paying pensioners. Such an arrangement is elitist-inclined, defective and can only lead to mass revolution.
Again, I must commend our Governor who is neither owing nor does he pay late, he pays workers promptly, no wonder he was nicknamed- the alert Governor.
If we must put an end to the numerous ethnic and religious crisis orchestrated by the politics of who occupies the center, we must renegotiate the current federal arrangement , every good working federation came to being through agreement, there is the need to return to the negotiating table, and dialogue on the ideal federal arrangement that will carter for all strata of the Nation, the current composition only favour the elites, which is the reason why even in the midst of abundant human and Natural resources, the people still groin in perpetual poverty, lack and hunger pervades the land flowing with milk and honey.
To really help you understand my line of argument, let’s look at what Prof. K.C Wheare who is generally regarded as the father of contemporary federal theories said about federalism. Prof K.C Wheare in his book, ‘Federal Government’ defined federalism as ‘the method of dividing power so that general and regional governments are each within a sphere coordinate and independent’’.
Professor Ben Nwabueze, one of Africa’s finest constitutional lawyer sees Federalism in the following context- ‘Federalism is an arrangement whereby powers of government within a country are shared between a national (nationwide) government and a number of regionalized (i.e. territorially localized) governments in such a way each exist as a government separately and independently from the others, operating directly on persons and property within its territorial area, with a will of its own and its own apparatus for the conduct of its affairs and with an authority in some matters exclusive of all others’.
From the definition above, Prof. K.C Wheare and Prof. Ben Nwabueze sees both the federal government and the component units as ‘’coordinates’’ and not states being subordinate to the federal government, but the reverse is the case in Nigeria where the military made the center to be the alpha and omega as far as who get what, when and how is concerned in Nigeria; thereby causing unnecessary clamour for the soul of the center. What we witness in Nigeria is pseudo- Federalism metaphored in the manner of a master-servant relation.
What Then is the Ideal Federalism Nigeria Requires?
My proposition of an ideal federal system of government that will reduce the quest to occupy the center by the various ethnic groups in Nigeria is fiscal federalism with the six geo-political zones as component units, the component units will control the resources found in their areas and pay tax to the government at the center. Fiscal federalism will encourage just distribution of income, efficient and effective allocation of resources, economic stability and healthy competition among the component units leading to massive growth and even development. The day Nigeria adopts fiscal federalism, the center will no longer be over contentious, nor will it be too powerful to the extent that drums of war are daily beaten by each region just to occupy the center.
With fiscal federalism, government can easily be felt by all, the man in Enugu, Kano, Jos, Ibadan, Katsina, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom will have no need to run to Abuja before he could access or feel the impact of government. To me, this is the last stage towards solving the political power crisis in Nigeria
However, we of the South East geo-political zone must be allowed to have our own shot at the presidency.
Anambra: the Zoning Question
Back home, the issue of zoning in Anambra state have been a contentious one, some are of the opinion that zoning does not exist in Anambra state, while some other persons argue sharply to the contrary.
The zoning idea as a workable political option started with the former governor Peter Obi’s logical insistence on zoning as one sure way to achieve equity and fair play in the distribution of political offices in the state, insisting that the governor after him must come from Anambra North Senatorial zone of the State on the basis of equity and fair play. It was on that basis that the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano emerged and people including political Parties, have been clamouring for its continuity while others insist it is undemocratic.
To me the debate is unnecessary, to those who argue against zoning in Anambra state, I refer you to my third definition of zoning as a commonsense ideology, so I urge you to allow commonsense to prevail as far as zoning is concerned in this state.
To those who are agitating that the turn of their zone was short-lived and should be allowed to finish the tenure, again, be guided by my fourth concept of zoning, which says zoning can be altered by natural occurrences, so wait for your turn again, it will get to you . It therefore makes sense that the North should be allowed to complete their 8 years in government house.
Zoning of political offices is a harbinger of peace in the state because it creates and nurtures a sense of belonging in the people wherever they may come from. For instance, the people of Anambra North now feel stronger. Peace reigns in this type of political environment and arrangement, because the people feel recognized, accommodated and are convinced that if it is not their turn this time, it would be theirs next. This is political inclusiveness, this is democracy in action.
The political tension and do or die type of elections that are synonymous with unbridled political contest in the state is also reduced to the barest minimum as only candidates from a particular zone are fielded by the political parties. The high level of stability Anambrains enjoy today cannot be divorced from this political arrangement because spirit of oneness is also engendered.
It could be recalled in 2013, I strongly expressed regrets that various candidates in the November 16 governorship election in Anambra State failed to adhere to the zoning arrangement put forward by the State governor, Mr. Peter Obi. I argued that adherence to zoning in the state would not only have reduced the current political tension in the state but also create a mutual understanding among the various stakeholders and political gladiators in the politics of the State.
If we all agree on this, then there is every need for public enlightenment at every level: State, local government and community and this is where the royal fathers have tremendous role to play. When all the traditional rulers key into the strategy, it becomes easier to be better explained to and understood by members of their domains. Again, when people see their royal fathers involved in the process, they will understand the seriousness and have no other option than to acquiesce. The political parties and civil society organizations should also rise up to this challenge believing that in all ramifications, zoning of political power in the State is not only an all-inclusive stratagem but also a multi-generational blessing.
What Anambra requires is meaningful development, the politics of Anambra usually have its own way of arranging itself by the inter play of both natural occurrences and the choice of the people.
As the Governorship elections draws closer, I urge our political gladiators, let us not over heat the polity with derogatory words and hate speeches, capable of throwing the state into chaos.
Let me make it clear, whether we adopt zoning or adopt a suitable federal system, if the right leadership is not in place, the system will still be in a mess, so the combination of an ideal structure of government and a credible, focused, visionary leadership will provide the desired change that we desire, restructuring alone will not solve the problem, our leaders must rise up to the occasion of providing stellar leadership that will transmute into prosperity for all.
Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Thailand, India were able to get out of the tag of failed states through strong, determined and purpose-driven leadership. Nigeria can achieve same if we have the right leaders in place.
In conclusion, there is no way I will conclude this speech without mentioning the quit notice issued to the Igbos by the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum(AYCF), the quit notice order was callous as it was also unfortunate. It is a set back at the efforts towards uniting this Nation.
I call on the leadership of the Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, South –East Governors forum, South- East National Assembly caucus, South-East traditional Rulers forum, major Stakeholders and Leaders from the South-East to meet as soon as possible to review the recent happenings in the country and take a holistic and united stand on these issues.
I equally call on the Northern elders to as a matter of necessity condemn such sinister statement from the Arewa Youth forum. I thank those who were Nationalistic enough to condemn such irresponsible statement.
The security agencies must be on the alert of those who fan the embers of ethnic crisis in the country. There must be no sacred cows in this land again.
The Youth Forum organizations of the various ethnic groups in the country must be agents of unity, rather than agents of division.
Before I take my seat, let me leave you with quotes from notable leaders.
“Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts, differences will always be there, peace means solving these differences through peaceful means, through dialogue, education, knowledge , and through humane ways’’.
“Where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can’t; we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people. Yes we can”.
It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future”.
“I have one advice to give to our politicians. If they have decided to destroy our national unity, then they should summon a round-table conference to decide how our national assets should be divided. Before they seal their doom by satisfying their lust for office. I make this suggestion because it is better for us and many admirers abroad that we should disintegrate in peace and not in pieces. Should the politicians fail to heed to this warning, then I will venture the prediction that the experience of Democratic Republic of Congo will be a child’s play if ever it comes to our turn to play a tragic role”.
Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
Thank you for your attention, and may God bless you all.
***Being a speech delivered by High Chief Sen.(Dr.) Ben Ndi Obi, CON on the occasion of the
Anambra Traditional Rulers Council Seminar, on 14th June 2017.