Technically, Nigeria is not a legitimate country because more than half of the people and states that make it did not give consent to its creation. A country has legitimacy when ALL of its people give it authority to act on their behalf.
There is a standard procedure for establishing a country on the basis of the principles of federalism. You cannot claim to be a federal republic without going through this procedure. Nigeria did not go through this procedure, which is why the country is a mess today. Let me explain what I think this standard procedure is.
As a first step, the local people, involving tribes, communities, cities and towns, come together to form the first federating unit (whether as a state, local or community government). These local people decide for themselves which powers will be given to their new creation, and also how it will be funded and managed. The local people have full control of and hold the exclusive right to decide how powerful their first federating unit will be.
During the process of creating the first federating unit, there will be compromises. Tribes will unite (where necessary) and in the end, a sustainable autonomous state government will be established as the first federating unit. We must note that a first level federating unit is equivalent to an independent country, but because it wishes to federate further, it refuses to be a country. Please note that in this first stage, the local people created the state government and are therefore internally and solely responsible for its management and funding.
As a second step, if a first level federating unit (a state government) is autonomous as a country, why then should it go ahead to relate with other such federating units to form a country when it can form a country on its own? Its quite simple. There are several reasons why small autonomous states come together to form a bigger state called a federal government (a country). These reasons include security, economic integration, social mobility and the need to be part of a stronger and more powerful country. Afterall, the first federating units have nothing to lose if they form a bigger state. Becoming part of a bigger state does not make them lose their autonomy. Rather it makes them stronger.
Because of the above reasons, autonomous first level federating states then come together to create a federal government. Note that it is the autonomous states that create the federal government and can, therefore, also terminate it. In order not to lose their autonomy, the now united first level federating units decide which powers will be given to this their new creation (federal government) and how it will be funded. Each of the first federating units also have an inalienable right to pull out of the arrangement if it is no longer favourable to them in the future. This is why a referendum is fundamental in every federal constitution. At the end of the day and in most cases, the united first federating units end up giving a limited power to the federal government (which it just created), while holding back other powers. The powers given to the federal government by these units will likely include defence, foreign policy, immigration and customs. Every other political and economic power is withheld by the autonomous federating units (state governments).
This is the standard way of creating a federal government. Note that it is the local people that create their own local councils and state governments, and then the the state governments go ahead to create the federal government. This is what is called a bottom-up approach to governance. There is internal accountability from the top to the bottom. There is legitimacy and a sense of patriotism. There is no such thing as marginalisation or national resources. There is no fear of a Northern president using Southern resources against their interest. There is no ethnic tension. There is mutual respect. There is competition. There are no monthly allocations from the top, rather it is the bottom that feeds the top because it created the top. And many more benefits. This is what a federal republic looks like. This is what true federalism means.
Now, take a look at how the Federal Republic of Nigeria was created. Using the standard procedure given above, can you see why Nigeria is not working and why it will never work? Nigeria was created through a reversal of the standard procedure! The federal government created the states and local government areas and must therefore fund and sustain them!
Technically, Nigeria is not a legitimate country because more than half of the people and states that make it did not give consent to its creation. A country has legitimacy when ALL of its people give it authority to act on their behalf. If we doubt this, then lets call for a referendum and see the outcome. Standard practice.
If the people that make up Nigeria never came together to establish the country on an agreeable term, then where did the Nigerian state get its legitimacy from?
I find it alarming when purportedly educated people oppose true federalism in Nigeria out of ignorance of the subject matter.
Nigeria is not a federal republic. It is a unitary republic, whose status as a ‘republic’ is actually questionable.
It is time to restructure Nigeria for true federalism.
Tony Osborg writes from Port Harcourt.