…. Jonathan Says ‘divisive politics’ rather than amalgamation problem of Nigeria’s Unity
By Chibuike Nwabuko
Abuja (Sundiata Post) – The immediate past Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Attahiru Jega has said that Nigeria operates one of the worst federation models in the world in terms of the management of diversity, political accommodation as well as power and resources sharing.
The university don stated that a major objective of a federal system is non-conflictual management of diversity and sharing of power and resources for stable societal progress and socioeconomic development. Both in law and in practice, most federations strive, and take care, to ensure equity and justice in the division of authority and resources among the federating units and in compliance with the rule of law, because doing this, nurtures conducive environment for peaceful coexistence, proactively blocks irredentist tendencies, and facilitate stable socioeconomic development, especially in the context of good, democratic, governance.
On whether Nigeria operates a federation, Jega acknowledged that technically and substantively, Nigeria is a federation, and operates a federal system with the states as the federating units.
He said though there is no perfect federations or for that matter “true federalism, but that every federation is a product of the dynamics of its historical evolution and inter-group (ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural, etc.) relations.
“However, the better the framework/structure for management of diversity, power and resources sharing is in a federation, the more stable, peaceful and socioeconomically developed it would be, he said. What accounts for the difference, the intervening variables, are: 1) elite consensus; and 2) good, democratic, governance. Without these, it can be said, that federalism would exacerbate rather than mitigate ethnic and religious conflicts.
Jega observed that, for its stability, progress and development as a modern nation-state, Nigeria’s current federal structure needs refinement and improvement, or some form of what can be called restructuring. We need elite consensus to bring it about, and we need good democratic governance to nurture and entrench political accommodation of diversity, as well as equitable power and resources sharing. The near absence of the two intervening variables has obstructed the attainment of the aforementioned desirable objective of a federal system, he added.
Earlier in his opening remarks, former President of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan said contrary to the believe in some quarters, too much emphasis on ‘divisive politics’ not amalgamation is the major problem of our nation’s unity.
According to him, “when we were to celebrate golden jubilee in 2010 and the centenary of our amalgamation in 2014, some Nigerians challenged the intentions, arguing that the amalgamation was faulty. They insisted that there were no reasons to celebrate because they believe that the amalgamation has not helped the growth of our country.
But my belief is that all nations have their unique history; the amalgamation is not the problem. Rather, there was too much emphasis on divisive politics and this has greatly affected our nation’s unity.
“As a country, we have our peculiar challenges and we should device means of solving them, but we should not continue to vent our spleen on the amalgamation. As Shakespeare in Julius Caesar said, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves, he said.
According to the former president, a nation is an organic being whose life is characterized by reforms, adaptation and structural changes. At Independence in 1960, the population of Nigeria was 45 million and our early leaders and the British colonial government, decided that the young nation was too vast and complex to be governed centrally from Lagos, Jonathan said.
Also before the Civil War Nigeria operated with four regions. At the onset of the war, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, then Head of State, thought that running Nigeria under the regional structure posed a threat to the unity and sovereignty of our country, so he opted to restructure Nigeria into twelve states. There were mixed reactions, for and against, across the nation by our people. But in the end, the 12 states structure stayed. What Gen. Gowon did, in a war situation, preserved our nation and saved us from disintegration, he noted.
“Sixty-one years after independence, our population is now estimated to have exploded to over 200 million. In the same vein, the call for restructuring has continued to grow louder. Within these six decades, our political space has assumed many colorations. We had gone from the three regions to 36 states and 774 local councils. Yet, all that did not seem to have provided the answers to the questions on the administrative structure of our country and how best it should be governed.
“It was the need to address these issues that my administration elected six years ago to convene the 2014 National Conference, which I inaugurated on March 17, 2014 in Abuja for the specific purpose of addressing some of the issues that have been agitating the minds of Nigerians.
“My conviction is that discussion on restructuring will not help except we restructure our minds because some of the challenging issues at the national level still exist at the state and local levels. For instance, in some states, it is not easy for some persons to win an election because of the area they come from, the language they speak or their religious belief. Take look at how local government elections are conducted at the state level. Why is it very difficult for an opposition party to win a chairmanship or councillorship seat in a state, despite the fact that the same party probably secured seats in the State Assembly and National Assembly elections, organized by a federal election management body? This shows that restructuring alone may not solve all the anomalies in the system.
Jonathan said he believes that restructuring for a better nation is good but there are other fundamental issues we should also address. We cannot restructure in isolation without tackling the challenges that polarize our nation. These includes nepotism, ethnic and religious differences as well as lack of patriotism. The issues of tribe and religion have continued to limit our unity and progress, as a nation, he added.
In his own submission, Prof Jega suggested that the best way to restructure the Nigerian federation is to pursue systematic, incremental positive changes and avoid “once for all”, wholesale, undertakings, because they are time consuming, energy sapping, and constraining. The National Assembly’s efforts to do constitutional Amendments since 1999, “all at a go!”, consequently with little value addition, has lessons for us to draw from.
Specifically, the best way to go about it would be to:
Reduce powers and resources of the federal government specified in the Federal and Concurrent Legislative Lists
Increase powers and resources of the state governments on the State Legislative List
Devolve powers and resources from the states to the local governments
Require the states to create “Development Areas”, as the lower level tier of governance at the grassroots level, below the LGAs
Accordingly, review the resources allocation / revenue sharing formula between federal, states (and local governments) taking into consideration the new sharing of power and responsibilities.
For example, what could be termed as the global best practices in federal systems is that, unlike what obtains in Nigeria, healthcare provisioning, education provisioning, agriculture, housing and urban development, are all state responsibilities, with the role of the federal government in these matters limited to setting standards, regulatory framework, and incentive structures in form of grants-in-aid and so on to ensure balanced and even development throughout the country. In this context, there would be no need for behemoth Federal Ministries of education, health, housing and urban development, rural development, etc., controlling resources, which ordinarily should go to the states. Even the role of the federal government in roads and transportation could be limited to Highways, which promote inter-state commerce in the federation, while many of the so called “Trunk A” that are within states urban areas, or linking towns within the states, should be made the responsibility of the States.
The major responsibilities of the federal government should be limited to Inter-state Commerce, national banking, currencies, foreign relations, communications, aviation, seaports, foreign loans, armed forces and security services, postal services and telecommunications, mining and such. States should have a role in policing, which should be on the Concurrent Legislative List.
Given issues relating to capacity and competence, the handing over of these powers and responsibilities should be phased, in accordance with the imperatives of systematic, incremental positive changes.