Home Opinion Forging ahead to our origins

Forging ahead to our origins

By Owei Lakemfa
There is no Nigerian I know who is happy with the country’s state of affairs. Every group or nationality complains of marginalisation. Sometimes, the marginalisation beat gets so loud that you will think the drum is about to burst.
There are varied solutions suggested, mostly fired by parochial interests. However, there is a common agreement; that the country should be a federation. Even the military-imposed constitution bears the lie that the country is a federation. In practice, it is unitary and every group I know wants to wield the awesome  powers of the Presidency which mainly accounts for the marginalisation wailings and the life or death struggle to be in power.
The powers of the centre is so enormous  that it can send a policeman from the Niger Delta to determine the fate of villagers in the Sambisa forest where he has never been before, whose language he does not speak and culture he does not understand. A bureaucrat from Kano can seat in Abuja and determine the site  of a school or clinic in Orlu, a part of the country he has not been or can’t l. ocate on a map. The government can seize your ancestral home or village because  the law gives it power over all lands.
There are so many appointments to be made into offices  that a President of the country can spend his entire four years in office, just making appointments. The sheer number of appointments to be made are so many and varied, that we have come to run a clientele system. We have gotten so addicted to this system that  rather than improve  efficiency, we simply multiply the bureaucracy. For almost every problem, we  create a bureaucracy so much that for example, simple jobs  the police can do, we have over half a  dozen agencies created. The latest is the normal police duty of maintaining law and order for which a Civil Defence has been created and armed as if it were the army, yet it is ‘civil’
The constituting states of the federation come, bowl in hand to the centre for handouts. And when they are too hungry, extra ration can be apportioned or bail-out funds administered. Power is so concentrated that if it wishes, the centre can decide when and who you can marry.
Legendary nationalist, Anthony Enahoro who moved the motion for Nigeria’s independence had suggested that a way out is to return to the parliamentary system; more specifically, the Westminster variant of it. His hope was that this will reduce the cost of governance and make it more accountable.
However, one of the foremost scholars on federalism, Professor Eghosa Osaghae, who is also Vice Chancellor of the Igbinedion University, Okada has a different solution; the establishment of the office of six vice presidents in the country. The six are to reflect the assumed  geopolitical zones in the country. This,  the  Nigerian GUARDIAN of June 20, 2016 quotes him as saying,  will address the clamour for equal representation  and the competition for the centre. First, I do not see how the multiplication of vice presidents will solve the problem, more so when the President will still come from one of the zones, and may still wield the powers of an emperor. That means, one of the zones will produce both president and a vice president.
On the second tier of government, the political scientist proposed a governor-general for each of the identified six zones but argued that the constituting states should retain their governors because the  state structure has come to stay, and  no state will be willing to lose its existence to  the zonal superstructure. In Professor Osaghae’s  view, his prosed arrangement will make the states and zones more attractive for competition for power  while the centre becomes less attractive.
I am not so persuaded. This suggested arrangement makes no fundamental  difference in  the current power structure. There may be power sharing between the state and the new zone proposed, but the powers of the centre may remain. I think what is required is a fundamental constitutional review which gives power to the constituent bodies and reduces the powers of the centre as was the case in our 1960 Independence and 1963 Republican constitutions. That structure worked so beautifully well that  Alhaji Ahmadu Bello who was the Premier of the Northern Region and leader of the ruling  NPC party preferred to stay in the zone, rather than move to the centre as the country’s Prime Minister. Instead, he seconded Sir Abubakar  Tafawa-Balewa to do the job.
We can  improve on our past constitutions  and solve our divisive and dangerous political arrangements by adopting or modifying the Swiss political structure.
Switzerland like Nigeria is a diverse multicultural country composed of different nationalities. Nigeria has the advantage of having a single lingua franca, the English language. In contrast, Switzerland has four; German, spoken by 64 percent of the populace, French  by 23 percent, Italian, by 8 percent and Romansh, 1 percent. In addition, English is adopted as the bridging language. So Swiss official documents including its  laws are in four different languages rather than the single one in Nigeria. Yet they are able to evolve a political system that gives every citizen, whether majority or minority, a sense of belonging.
It is a federation like Nigeria proclaims itself. Where it has 26 cantons or states, Nigeria has 36. Each Swiss canton makes its own laws based on the popular participation of  the people. It is mandatory  that important parliamentary decisions at state and federal levels such as joining international organisations and constitutional amendments, are subject to referendum.  Most importantly, the country is run at the national level not by a single individual, but by a Federal Council which is the collective Head of Government or Head of State. There is a Presidium of seven members elected by parliament with the Chairman/President rotated annually amongst members. An out-going president cannot immediately be re-elected. Also, the culture of  rotating the Presidency is done taking  into consideration the cantons and the linguistic groups in the country. I rest my case.
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