…the greatest concern to Nigerians is the search for an alternative approach to politics… that would involve the rehabilitation of the concept of politics and of democracy, as we know it. For too long, the reality of Nigerian politics has been thuggery, violence, political exclusion, ethnic jingoism… Very few people benefit from this form of politics.
The demands for political restructuring is once again on the front burner in Nigeria and it would be wise to address the concerns around it. If we can seriously debate what we want to restructure, agree on the modality for restructuring and go ahead and implement it, the outcome would be happiness for Nigerians. The process of restructuring is simple, we should look at our Constitution, agree on what we do not like and go ahead and replace these with what we like.
In so doing, we should beware of simplistic solutions. I hear some demanding, for example, for a referendum on the secession of Biafra. Leaving aside the absence of constitutional procedures for organising a referendum, which can be inserted if that is what we want, the real problem is doing the heavy lifting of defining what we are talking about. What, for example, is the composition of the proposed Biafran territory? I have seen many maps and each new map is bigger than the previous one as more territory is added. What about the idea of consulting with different groups and getting an agreement of what groups would like to be members of this new community? Rather than sending in security operatives to attack and kill agitators for Biafra, would it not be more useful to discuss with them on what they want, where and how, and address modalities for getting there?
In 1998, a number of us tried to organise a national conference in the University of Ibadan in collaboration with the French Institute (Institut Français de Recherche en Afrique – IFRA) on the imperative of restructuring Nigeria. The security agencies declared that discussing restructuring is a plot to break Nigeria up and they would not allow the French, who have tried so hard to break up the country in the past (remember their support for Biafra), to try it again. The conference was cancelled by the Abacha junta but none of the issues have gone away. The papers for the conference were however published, and were edited by Kunle Amuwo, Adigun Agbaje, Rotimi Suberu and Georges Herault. The book published in 1998 is entitled, Federalism and Political Restructuring in Nigeria.
The book, far from being subversive, has a positive message. Its analytical foundation is to remind Nigerians that since K. C. Wheare’s classic work on federalism, there has been a consensus of opinion that the precondition for federalism is democracy and our history of federalism has been dictated by military fiat, rather than by the people through democratic processes. The demands for restructuring is, therefore, the voice of Nigerians saying they are not happy with what we have, so why should we not listen and allow Nigerians to discuss and agree on what they what? If they cannot agree, other options of alternative political futures could then be posed.
The primary element of the discussion should start with a debate on the First Schedule of the Constitution, which defines the structure and composition of the federation. The states of the federation and the local government areas that define them, as well as the Federal Capital Territory are spelt out. The choices are very clear – reduce the number of states in the country by combining or merging them or increase the number by subdividing them, as we had been doing since 1963 or 1967, depending on where we define the baseline. Secondly, we may want to dismiss the principle of how the states were constituted in the first place, which was done on the basis of the provinces created by the colonial administration. If we want to change the provincial territorial structure, a new principle has to replace this – possible choices would include ethnicity, nationality and religion; the passions for which has led to a penchant for killing one another in our recent history. On local governments, we have to decide whether it should remain a federal definition or be addressed by federating units of the country. This, of course, poses the issue of whether the federating units should have their own constitutions, as was the case during the First Republic.
The central object of federalism, it should be recalled, is the extension and expansion of political space, autonomy and institutions to the benefit of geo-political units in a context in which the political community accepts that ethnic, religious and cultural differences exist…
We should not forget that the assumption during the negotiations leading to Nigeria’s independence was that the adoption of a federal arrangement would provide the flexibility that would satisfy the different components of the society. The central object of federalism, it should be recalled, is the extension and expansion of political space, autonomy and institutions to the benefit of geo-political units in a context in which the political community accepts that ethnic, religious and cultural differences exist and that their management would benefit from differential levels of governance, with substantial autonomy to each level.
The point of departure of the theory and practice of federalism therefore is that such differences are legitimate and should be accepted and incorporated into the structure of governance. The political systems of federal states are therefore constructed in such a way as to accommodate such differences. Institutions for managing the differences, for seeking compromises and for negotiating conditions for living together are therefore central to federal politics, and when they no longer work they should be renegotiated.
From the First, we can then have to move to the Second Schedule of the Constitution. We have a very long Exclusive Legislative List of 68 items, on which only the federal government has the competence to legislate. We need to review these items. Why can’t states fix Federal Truck Roads, arbitrate industrial disputes, join or dissolve statutory marriage or build prisons or have police forces, as is the case in most federal regimes? Let us review the List and refine it to our heart’s satisfaction. Reviewing the list, I notice that Article 52 of the Second Schedule gives the federal government exclusive powers to conduct “public relations of the Federation.” The implication of this is that only one spouse in the union can talk positively of the marriage. Someone should explain to me why this should be the case.
While the federal government has exclusive competence in 68 legislative areas, there is no exclusive list that defines areas in which the state governments alone have powers, as is often the case in federations. What we have is a Concurrent List on which the federal and state governments can both act. The List includes industrial, commercial and agricultural development, health and education. In many federal systems, these areas are for exclusive action by the federating units alone. Yes, let’s discuss this and decide what we want.
The way forward is the creation of opportunities to talk seriously, to engage in dialogue and to have the results of the dialogue reflected in concrete plans for the restructuring of our polity.
In yesterday’s Leadership newspaper, there is a report that the House of Representatives has started looking closely at the Constitution with the purpose of reviewing the List, restructuring it and devolving more powers to the federating units. The strategy, which I support, is to decongest the exclusive legislative list through, ‘A Bill For An Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to move certain items to the Concurrent Legislative List to give more legislative powers to States; and for related matters’.
In the Fourth Republic, we have already had three national/constitution conferences that have addressed many of these issues. Unfortunately, all of them lacked legitimacy because of the hidden agenda that underlined their establishments. Let us, for a start, compile their recommendations and use these to initiate a formal debate on restructuring and the modalities for doing so. The way forward is the creation of opportunities to talk seriously, to engage in dialogue and to have the results of the dialogue reflected in concrete plans for the restructuring of our polity.
I believe that the greatest concern to Nigerians is the search for an alternative approach to politics. An approach that would involve the rehabilitation of the concept of politics and of democracy, as we know it. For too long, the reality of Nigerian politics has been thuggery, violence, political exclusion, ethnic jingoism, religious bigotry, electoral fraud and so on. Very few people benefit from this form of politics. Nigerians are seeking for a more noble conception of politics. Bernard Crick reminds us, that there is an alternative conception of politics as a great and civilising activity. That politics could be practised as: “The activity by which different interests within a given unit of rule are conciliated by giving them a share in power in proportion to their importance to the welfare and survival of the whole community.” Yes, let’s restructure and be happy.