Restructuring And Devolution: Developing A Constitutional Framework For An Inclusive Federation In Nigeria
1. Introduction: Nigeria is a classical example of a multi - national country. While the name, Nigeria, was a product of the casual thought of Flora Shaw who was Lord Frederick Lugard's concubine, the places and peoples found within that geographical expression metamorphosed into one country through executive fiat. This is enough to say that the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914 was done on unfair terms and without adequate considerations for the intentions, comfort and the continued peaceful co-existence of the peoples of Nigeria. The reasons or purposes for which the amalgamation was done were more extraneous than intrinsic. The result of this was that Nigeria became a united country without a united citizenry or people! Even the colonial amalgamator did not attempt to foster unity among the peoples of the amalgam called Nigeria; hence the adoption of different administrative methods for different parts of the colony. For instance, while the British practiced indirect rule in the North, direct rule was practiced in the whole of the South. This separatist administrative approach which was contradictory to the universal idea of amalgamation was carried on till the very end of the colonial period. It was the foundation of Nigerian federalism; the intentional practice of accentuating the existing fundamental plurality in Nigeria; and the habitual generation of negative prophecies and forcasts of the problems Nigeria would continue to have as an independent country. The latest of such prophecy was that the 2015 general elections was going to be the last that Nigeria would have as a united country. These abnormalities were intentionally designed by the British colonialists to enable them have neo-colonial influence on Nigeria after independence.
However, the desirability of the struggle for independence and indeed the actual struggle for independence was the first project that united the people of Nigeria, albeit in a fragile manner. The implication of this was that at independence, our founding leaders had a 50 - 50 opportunity to either unite the citizenry of Nigeria through formulation and implementation of equitable government policies and programmes or continue with the centrifugal, inequitable and nepotistic government policies and programmes which were by-products of colonialism. It is regrettable that at independence, the founding leaders of Nigeria and some other subsequent administrations failed to seize the opportunity the moment offered them to build a country of people united in name and in purpose. Government policies and programmes ranging from job placements, scholarships, projects, census, creation of states and local government areas, conduct of elections et cetera were skewed or manipulated to favour and protect nepotistic and personal interests.
The financial glut which followed discovery of the first oil field in Oloibiri on 15th January, 1956 did not help matters as it killed Nigerian leaders' interest in the virtues of diligence, hardwork, self and human development as well as on excellence by providing Nigeria with huge national income which had little or no correlation with work. This was the beginning of corruption and its hydra-headed vices which diminished the concern of our leaders for the welfare or feelings of the masses. It is this long affective disconnect between our leaders and the masses that has given rise to the various crimes, agitations and reactions we hear of and witness in various parts of this country. This is known as frustration - aggression mechanism. In his book, Why Men Revolt, Gurr explained that "the primary source of human capacity for violence is the frustration - aggression mechanism. Frustration does not necessarily lead to violence, but when it is sufficiently prolonged and sharply felt, it often results in anger and violence."
This frustration is manifest in the various calls for a review of the Nigerian federation; and it suffices that these calls underscore the importance of a discussion like this which is designed to develop a constitutional framework for an inclusive Nigeria where there will be equal opportunities for all.
2. Key words or terms: The key words or terms of this topic which deserve more than a cursory look are "restructuring", "devolution" and "inclusive federation". We shall examine them one after the other.
2(a): Restructuring: This word means different things to different people, but the definition that suits the purposes of this discussion is the definition given by Obi Nwakanma. According to him in an essay, 'What is restructuring?', "restructuring is the refinement of the institutional structures that undergird the workings of a system in order to either firm it up or prevent it from collapse, or make it more efficient and beneficial to those which the system ought to serve" (Underlining is mine). He goes further to add that "Restructuring means correcting the in-built structural problems that keep citizens down and alienated; that concentrates power in only a few dangerous hands"
2(b): Devolution : According to Webster's universal dictionary and thesaurus, devolution is "a transfer of authority, especially from a central government to regional governments; a passing on from one person to another". (Geddes and Grossets; 2007).
In another vein, devolution was defined as "the act of giving power from a national government to a group or organization at a lower or more local level". (Hornby, 2001).
2 (c): Inclusive federation: In his treatise, The Struggle for an inclusive Nigeria: Igbos to be or not to be?, Uwalaka stated that: "By inclusive Nigeria, I mean a Nigeria in which every citizen or component group enjoy all the rights and privileges of belongingness, a sense which imposes a corresponding obligation on members. It is a Nigeria in which there are no official policies or action to marginalize or exclude certain individuals, groups or cultures, and in which even unofficial or clandestine actions of private groups to do the same are officially combated. It is a Nigeria in which no one or group in the society should be treated in any way and manner that would constitute any real threat to their security and survival. For this inclusivism to be real and operational, it must cover the three important areas in which people's sense of belonging is immediately felt and experienced in the society". (2003 : 157) Here, Uwalaka has used "inclusive Nigeria" interchangeably for the term 'inclusive federation', and this suits our discussion. Uwalaka enumerated the important areas in which a people's sense of belonging is immediately felt and experienced in the society as political inclusiveness, social inclusiveness and economic inclusiveness.
The foregoing definitions are self-explanatory and as such, do not need further emphases. However, we must take note that both restructuring and devolution are purposeful exercises; and so should be ideally targeted at positive objectives which in the context of this discourse should be an inclusive Nigeria.
3. The problem with the structure of the Nigerian federation: Like we have seen, Nigeria at amalgamation was a product of fiat. The people of the various nationalities that constituted Nigeria were never consulted through referendum or allowed through any other means to express their willingness or otherwise to be part of the amalgam known as Nigeria as from 1914. However, I must say that with the effluxion of time, Nigerians ratified the 1914 amalgamation through conducts like intermarriage, intermingling, cooperation, political association and submission to constituted authorities both during the colonial and post-independence administrations et cetera and even fought a civil war between 1967 and 1970 to keep Nigeria together. It is pertinent to state at this point that the secession move was not made simply because some people wanted to pull out of Nigeria! The truth is rather that the secession bid of 1967 - 1970 was made because of the imbalances in the Nigerian constitutional framework which were fully exploited to the detriment of a section of the country. It was a last resort reluctantly embarked upon when all other protestations against the administrative imbalances and the concomitant injustices, inequities and hardships they worked against the people failed to educe necessary abatement policies and actions from the Nigerian authorities. The civil war was an evidence of Gurr's frustration - aggression theory, and both the secessionist declaration speech of 27th May, 1967 and the Ahiara declaration of 1st June, 1969 clearly evinced this. It is instructive that those who fought, saw or knew that war do not wish for its recurrence, but sincere and hearty dialogue is a sine qua non to peaceful co-existence.
Like I mentioned earlier, majority of those who had the opportunities to manage the public trust in Nigeria either in the military or civilian administrations since independence have performed below the expectations of the people. Even though it is said that 'the worst democracy is better than the best military dictatorship', we must acknowledge that the military administrations in Nigeria have demonstrated greater political will than the civilian administrations especially in shaping the political structures of Nigeria. For instance, apart from the Mid-western region, all the regions or states, the senatorial districts, the federal constituencies, the 774 local government areas and the state constituencies we have in Nigeria today; as well as the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria were all bequeathed to us by military regimes. Apart from Balewa who created the Mid-western region, it is doubtful that any civilian administration in Nigeria has created an electoral ward even when the various constitutions we have had in this country [including the present 1999 CFRN as amended] contained powers to create even states. The attempts to create local government areas by Ebonyi, Kastina, Lagos, Nasarawa and Niger states have not really succeeded as they were frustrated by the almighty federal government which threatened to withhold statutory local government allocations of such states and actually withheld local government funds of Lagos state.
The questions that agitate the minds here are: Why have civilian administrations been unable to play cardinal roles in shaping the structure of Nigeria? How have the various military administrations shaped the structure of Nigeria? Is the Nigerian federation alright as it is presently constituted?
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, observed, "Since amalgamation of Southern and Northern Provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country on paper… it is far from being united. Nigeria unity is only British intention for the country". (Osuntokun, 1979: 78 -79). To discerning minds, this observation is equally an acknowledgement of the fact that our founding leaders had failed at independence to recreate Nigeria and upgrade the unity of Nigeria from a mere paper work to reality! Regime after regime continued to dither over the unity and development of Nigeria and her people while using their positions of authority and government apparatuses to service and reposition nepotistic and personal interests in the scramble for the humongous oil money which did not demand work. The creation of the Mid-western region in 1963 by Balewa was done for the expedient political desire to balkanize and whittle down the political influence of the Western region which proved impenetrable to the NPC - NCNC coalition. Lamenting over the malicious creation of Midwestern region, a former Premier of the Western Region, Chief S.L. Akintola, queried thus: "If it is good to create states, why are states not created in the North … in the East? Why should the West be singled out for this operation?" (Omotoso, 2004)
After that historic adjustment of the structure of Nigeria, no other civilian administration ever did. Subsequent restructuring of Nigeria became the exclusive preserve of the military who, following the Balewa example, manipulated such exercises to hone queer and often nepotistic political motives which either conferred undue advantages to one section of the country or balkanized the unity of another section in order to whittle down that section's influence depending on the whims and caprices of those who wielded the military powers at that given moment. It is on record that in 1967, Gen. Yakubu Gowon's regime created 12 states; in 1976, Gen. Murtala Muhammed's administration created seven states; Gen. Ibrahim Babangida's regime created two states in 1987 and nine states in 1991; while in 1996, Gen. Sani Abacha's administration created six states. All state and local government area creation excercises in Nigeria were done by administrations led by Nigerians of northern extraction; and it is instructive that a schedule of the 36 states according to the three regions that formed the foundation of the Nigerian federation show that while the Northern region has a total of 19 states, the balance of 17 states were split between the Western and Eastern regions. The fact that the Eastern and Western regions which, alongside the Northern region, enjoyed federating-unit status since 1939; and respective regional governments and constitutions as from 1956 have altogether less number of states than that of the Northern region speaks volumes of the unbalanced structure of the present Nigerian federation! According to a report, "In the creation of states in Nigeria, the Igbo have been marginalized. Up till today, the South East geo-political zone is the only zone with five states, while others have six apiece and a zone, North West, has seven states ... Since the inception of the fourth republic, the Igbo has been agitating for an additional state on the grounds of fairness and equity vis-à-vis Yoruba." (Natufe, 2006) This is just an aspect of the structural imbalances behind the cacophony of agitations which rend our airwaves, create security tension and call to question the unity of Nigeria.
The abuse of the power to restructure the political landscape of Nigeria peaked when the number of states and local government areas became parameters for the distribution of federal funds and for the delimitation of federal constituencies of both the upper and the lower chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly. As usual states in southern Nigeria, especially those of Southeast geopolitical zone, still suffered disadvantages. For instance, the five Igbo states which make up the Southeast geopolitical zone have a total of 95 local government areas. This is painful considering that the present Kano state which is half of the old Kano state has 44 local government areas (which is about half of the entire number in the Southeast zone). It is generally admitted by fair-minded Nigerians that "Igbo are also short-changed in the distribution of Local Government areas". (Natufe, 2006). The present local government area profiles of Lagos state which had 4 divisions [LGAs] and Kano state which had two at the end of the first republic leaves no one in doubt about the inequitable manipulation of the political structure of the Nigerian federation. Lagos now has 20 constitutionally-recognized local government areas while the old Kano state [which has been split into the new Kano and Jigawa states] has a total of 71 local government areas which are all known to the Nigerian constitution! That these local government areas which are, ostensibly, parochial structural creations have become channels for accessing our national patrimony is a source of worry to many; and thus serves as fodder for the fireworks of protests and agitations we witness in various parts of the Nigerian federation.
4 Federalism and the Nigerian federation:
According to Wikipedia, "Federalism is the mixed or compound mode of government, combining a general government (the central or 'federal' government) with regional governments (provincial, state, cantonal, territorial or other sub-unit governments) in a single political system". (http://en.m. wikipedia.org/wiki/federalism) By virtue of Nigeria's plurality and the contiguity of her constituent nationalities, true federalism suits her. Arguing for true federalism in Chief Enahoro's historic motion in 1953 for Nigeria's independence, Sir Ahmadu Bello who was the premier of the Northern region arverred: "sixty years ago, there was no country called Nigeria. What is now Nigeria consisted of a number of large and small communities all of which were different in their outlook and beliefs. The advent of the British and of western education has not materially altered the situation and these many and varied communities have not knit themselves into composite unit ..."
Gen. Yakubu Gowon a former Head of State of Nigeria while emphasizing the necessity of federalism asserted that: "A country as big as Nigeria and comprising such diversity of tribes and cultures cannot be successfully governed under a unitary government." ( Ige, 1995: 34). Those statements are very true of Nigeria even now except that Nigeria is 103 years old and runs a federation which is unitary in substance! Apart from a single-document rigid constitution which declared in section 2 (2) that "Nigeria shall be a federation consisting of states and a Federal Capital Territory", there is absolutely nothing truly federal about either the 1999 CFRN (as amended) or the Nigeria federation. Commenting on the Nigerian federation, Justice Oluwadare Aguda (as he was) had these to say: "General Olusegun Obasanjo handed over the government of the country to an elected civilian president in 1979, he gave the the country a single-document presidential - type constitution which clothed the President with executive powers, transferred residual legislative powers from Regions (now states) to the center and at the same time gave a much increased percentage of the funds from the Federation Accounts to the center ... the 1979 constitution increased the powers of the federation at the expense of the states". (2000 : 8). Aguda concluded with an instructive remark: "Moreover, the military men who ruled the country from 1984 to 1999 virtually destroyed its federal system and left very serious socio-political and economic problems behind to bedevil federal - state relation". (2000 : 8)
The overconcentration of political and fiscal powers on the federal government at the expense of the states which still obtains in the 1999 CFRN (as amended) is antithetical to federal principles. In his book, The Federal Government, a foremost exponent of federalism - K.C. Wheare, posited that federalism is "the method of dividing power so that general and regional governments are each within a sphere coordinate and independent" (1946). This implies that fundamental and distinguishing characteristics of a federal system is that neither the central nor the regional governments are subordinate to each other, but rather the two are coordinate and independent. The scenario in the Nigerian federation is that the federating units or states are politically and fiscally subservient to the federal government; and some of the states are "more equal than others".
5.The inadequacy of the federal character principle: Section 14 (3) of the 1999 CFRN (as amended) provides for the federal character principles in the following words:
The composition of the Government of the federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and to promote national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.
This constitutional provision has been taunted, albeit erroneously, in many quarters and at different times as panacea to marginalization. Aguda's remark is apt here: "The distortion of institutions and processes under military rule between 1966 and 1999 have played havoc particularly with the financial and power-sharing aspect of federalism in the country as much as with other aspects of government and left most people unable to see clearly, or even objectively, what structures of government are necessary in a proper democratic federal system." (2000: 12) To discerning minds, section 14 (3) of the 1999 CFRN (as amended) is simply a life-bouy carefully inserted by the military [which wrote the constitution] to perpetually protect and preserve the parochial and sectional interests for whose benefits they (the military) distorted the political structure of the Nigerian federation. The federal character clause is there to protect the proliferation of the Northern region into 19 states of 417 local government areas to enhance its share of the federal allocation on the one hand; and to seal the contraction of both the Eastern and Western regions into one southern Nigeria with only 17 states of 357 local government areas to reduce their shares of federal power and financial allocations on the other hand! It is there to protect the status quo in a federation with six geopolitical zones wherein one of the zones has seven states, the other four have six states apiece and only the southeast zone has five states. In the table of spread of LGAs across the six geopolitical zones, the southeast has a paltry 95 against northwest's 186; southwest's 139; southsouth's 123; northcentral's 120; and northeast's 111.
The truth is that in the distribution of federal funds, projects, scholarships, job opportunities as well as other rights and privileges which are based on the number of states and local government areas, the southeast has always been and will continue to be marginalized, deprived and disadvantaged and dominated by the the other zones until the structural imbalances in Nigeria are corrected. The federal character clause in section 14 (3) of the 1999 CFRN (as amended) is therefore NOT a solution to this marginalization of the southeast; rather the federal character clause gives fillip and legal imprimatur to marginalization!
6. The way forward :
So far, we have established that there are fundamental faults in both the political structure and the power sharing formula of the Nigerian federation. These faults are structurally manifest in the low number of states created for the Southeast; and the low number of local government areas created for the entire southeast and Lagos states which put them in sever disadvantages during allocation of federal funds, projects, rights and privileges. Power-sharing faults in the Nigerian federation exist in the overconcentration of powers at the Centre at the expense and detriment of the federating units. These have forced the states into subservience which is unusual in an ideal federation. These structural and power-sharing imbalances are responsible for the plethora of security challenges, protests and agitations which threaten the unity and corporate existence of the Nigerian federation. The unity of the Nigerian federation may not be negotiable, but the preamble of the 1999 CFRN (as amended) clearly stated the common purpose of the unity of both the Nigerian federation and the Nigerian constitution. Both are "for the purpose of promoting the good government and welfare of all persons in our country on the principles of freedom, equality and justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people."
The aforementioned structural and power-sharing imbalances in the Nigerian federation are critical because at the affected states and geopolitical zones, they impinge on the most essential purposes of both the Nigerian federation and the Nigerian constitution.
The present crop of Nigerian leaders are in strong agreement that Nigeria is better together. This salubrious resolution comes with a challenge. According to Nyan, "The critical factors in the failure of the modern African countries have been the inability of these nations to analyze and provide solution to institutional ills which may be cultural, political, and economical. Most of these African countries operate systems and institutions that exist as a byproduct of colonial rule that were designed to create rivalries and distrust among groups" (2010). Bringing the analysis home, Achebe posits that:"The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership".(1983)
By this token, the present crop of Nigerian leaders are challenged to invoke the relevant provisions and procedures in the 1999 CFRN (as amended) to further amend the constitution to :
* create one state out of the present southeast geopolitical zone,
* create more local government areas in Lagos state and in the Southeast geopolitical zone to at least bring the present number of 95 LGAs in the southeast up to 111,
* return all residual powers taken away from the states in 1979, power over tax and minerals as well as other necessary powers to the states; and
* restore fiscal equilibrium between the federation and the federating units (states).
7. Caveat: Given the present balance of the political structure of the Nigerian federation, this proposed landmark amendment of the Nigerian constitution to address the imbalances threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria and bring Nigeria in conformity with the purposes of both the Nigerian federation and the Nigerian constitution cannot happen without the cooperation of Nigerian leaders from other zones, especially those of Northern extraction. This is where the challenge lies: All Nigerian leaders are challenged to show leadership example by matching their preachments on Nigerian unity with patriotic actions of amending the constitution to remedy the imbalances in the political structure and devolve necessary power to the states. I have confidence that the present crop of Nigerian leaders can handle this great challenge!
1. Achebe, C (1983), The trouble with Nigeria, Enugu, Fourth Dimension Publishers.
2. Aguda, O.O (2000), Understanding the Nigerian constitution of 1999, Lagos, MIJ Professional Publishers.
3. Akintola, L (1962), Western House of Assembly debates, Official Report 11th session, Ibadan: Government printer's col.
4. Awolowo, O. (1968), Path to Nigeria federalism, Ibadan: Oxford Press Limited.
5. Geddes and Grossets, (2003), Webster's Universal Dictionary and Thesaurus, Uk.
6. Federal Government of Nigeria (1999), The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, Abuja: The Government printer
7. Gurr, T. (1970), Why Men Revolt, Princeton.
8. Hornby, A.S. (2001), Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (Special Price Edition), Great Clarendon Street, Oxford University Press.
9. Ige, B. (1995), Constitutions and the problems of Nigeria, Lagos: Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies.
10. Natufe, O.I. (2006) "Nigeria's Presidency, the issue" in Adeyemi O.O, The politics of states and local governments creation in Nigeria: An Appraisal, (DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.14207/ejsd.2013.v2n3p155) Accessed on October, 10th, 2017.
11. Nwakanma, O. "What is Restructuring?" (https://www.google.com.ng/amp/s/www.vanguardngr.com/2017/07/what-is-restructuring/amp/). Accessed on October 10th, 2017.
12. Nyan, G. (2010) in Adeyemi O.O, The politics of states and local governments creation in Nigeria: An Appraisal, (DOI:http://dx.doi.org/10.14207/ejsd.2013.v2n3p155) Accessed on October, 10th, 2017.
13. Omotoso, K (2004) “The Nigerian State and The Problem of State Creation” in Agagu, A.A and Ola, R.O.F (Eds) Development Agenda of the Nigerian State, Ibadan: Fiag Nigeria Publisher.
14. Osuntokun, J. (1979) “The Historical Background of Nigeria Federalism” in A. B. Akinyemi, P. Dele Cole & Walter Ibekwe Ofanagoro (eds) Reading on Federalism, Lagos: Nigerian Institute of International Affairs
15. Uwalaka, J, (2003), The struggle for an inclusive Nigeria: Igbos to be or not to be?, Enugu: SNAP Press limited.
16. Wheare, K.C. (1946), Federal Government, London and New York: Oxford University Press.